Saturday, February 22, 2014

How The Hell Did I Get This Poor? [aka: Stacey's Story]

I remember when the internet was new and shiny to my older relatives.  They were trying out group emails to family members.  They didn't know that replies are sent to everyone in the group.  Because of this, I learned what one of my relatives really thought about me...

My mother was turning 50 and a few of them asked if I was planning anything special.  I sent out an email inviting them to join us for dinner, cake and gifts in the banquet hall of a local family restaurant.  Shamefully, I had to add that I could not afford to pay for their meals, but that cake and ice cream was on me.

Aunt C. emailed me asking why my plans for her sister's big birthday were so lame (but in nicer words, she's a Christian).  I privately emailed her that that all I could afford were decorations for the banquet room at a local restaurant (the room was FREE with the purchase of dinner) and to get her a cake.  I also said that if any relatives wanted to pitch in for their sister's 50th birthday, I wouldn't mind at all.

Seconds later, Aunt C. sent out an email to Aunt T. stating that there was nothing special going on for my mother's birthday because I was too poor.  She also added "They're always poor."

While it may have been aimed at Aunt T., it was sent to the whole group.  I felt like the bitch had stabbed me.

I didn't lose my cool.  I just let her know that in a group email, everyone can view her posts and left it at that.  She came to the party.  I ignored her.

Familial snub aside, this was nothing new.  People have always expected big things from me, even if I lacked the ability.  When I fail, they're shocked.  I'm very good at that 'put a smile on your face and keep moving' shit.  If I have bad day, my guy is probably the only one who knows.

I grew up an hour north of Chicago until 1993.  Times were tough and my mother had had enough.  She quit her 70hr/wk job, sold our grungy little house and moved us to a quaint town near an Amish steak in Pennsylvania.  It was a huge culture shock.

I never realized I had an accent until then.  Twenty years later, I watch movies set in Chicago and cringe at how strong my '"youz guys" dialect must have been.

I was in highschool and the level of bigotry and general "hilly-billyness" blew me away.  They hated blacks and gays.  They loved guns and Jesus (the clean, white one).  They hunted.  Not only did they hunt, they got two days off of school each season to go hunting and then they would hang the deer from their front porches to bleed them and gut them.  Everything was camouflage clothing and country music.  Their speech was horrid and I honestly felt like I needed to speak slower every time I had a conversation.  The big thing to do was to sit in a bunch of mudded-up trucks in a field and drink Yuengling.

Just, so incredibly not my thing.

The high school was a joke.  I graduated with guys who couldn't read, but could throw a ball.  I made perhaps 3 friends my entire stay and wouldn't you know that nowadays, one is gay, one is a vegan and the other is an occultist.  I guess Pennsylvania never really took a cultural hold on me.

Anyway, I graduated high school in 1997, just like a zillion other kids in America.  I worked at a photography shop that summer and reorganized his filing system and wrote him a training manual for the next girl he'd hire when I left.  I moved to Pittsburgh that fall to attend a technical college.  It didn't work out.  I moved home within a year.

I worked at a gas station full time.

I traveled.

I dated.

I worked part time at a gift shop.

I hung with friends.

I paid off my loans and never really gave school anymore thought.

I got a cat.

I was a bit scattered.

Suddenly, it was 3 years later and I was engaged to a guy that was the exact opposite of anything I'd ever really wanted for myself.  He was dumb but sexy and did anything I told him too without question.  I had a moment of clarity in early 2002 and called off the engagement, but a week later found out that we were pregnant.  My mother freaked out, so I married the guy.  Long story short, big mistake.  We've been separated for 11 years and he never saw the kid.

In those 11 years, I have been a single mom (to what turned out to be a special needs child), worked full time at minimum wage while going to school part-time.  I have struggled with boredom.  Nothing stimulated me.  I dated locals and dumped them when things got stale.  I delved into non-profit work for a bit.  I traveled some more.  I started a home business and tried to go to school full time.  I blew through credit cards.  Aimless.  Wasted.  Stagnant.  These are good words to describe my life in the 2000's.

One day at work, the higher-ups were struggling with something a client needed.  The scientific aspects were beyond them.  I waited as long as I could before mentioning the answer to them as I walked past, with vacuum cleaner in hand.

Later that day, a co-worker came at me red-faced and demanded, "Stacey, why are you here?  You're way too smart to be here!"  I didn't have an answer.

I still don't.  

I turned 30 and it was a miserable year.  My son was diagnosed with autism and found to be mentally retarded.  I couldn't afford my next semester of school and my roommate moved out without notice.  I was working part time as a hotel maid, drowning in debt, borrowing money from my family to pay utility bills and trying to get out of a lease I couldn't afford.  My son changed schools and started up all kinds of therapies and confusing services.  (It was during this hellacious time in my life that I met Mr. Right... like something out of a romantic comedy!)

Mr. Right and I found a crumbling ghetto apartment that we could afford (seriously, the windows didn't open, the previous tenant had used a hole in the drywall as a garbage can, and there were paintball pellets lodged in the closet doors).    Knowing how financially fucked we were, I had an IUD put in so that there was no chance that we would have a kid.  We were trying to be responsible while figuring out my son's needs, going to college and finding temp work.  The hormones in the IUD made me sick.  Not fluish... suicidal.  I had a complete mental breakdown.  I slept all the time.  I had fantasies of cutting my arms open and playing in the blood.  I had impulses to swerve my car in front of oncoming semi-trucks (with my son in the car!).  I cried all the time.

I lived like that for two years.  It. Was. Hell.

I finally had the IUD removed.  Within 12 hours, I felt like a giant weight had been lifted from me.  It was like someone turned on the lights.  My depression and all suicidal thoughts vanished.

The only drawback (financially)?  Is that we were pregnant 3 months later.  I love my daughter, but I have to admit that my family and friends have bought us everything for her (cradle, clothing, carseat, blankets, toys, etc.).  The only thing we can afford is her diapers.

I'll be 35 this year.  I haven't worked in 3 years.  I am 13 credits away from a Bachelors degree that I fear I'll never get.

I am a Stay-At-Home-Mom not out of desire, but out of necessity. My 11yo son is mentally disabled, for which I collect Supplemental Security Income to care for him.  The state of Pennsylvania gives my family medical insurance, food stamps and energy assistance (help with our heating bill).  US Rural Development gives us money towards rent.  If I go to work, we lose tons of these supports.

I tried to take a part-time job last year.  I would have earned $11.80/hr.  Fantastic, right?  After taxes, I would have brought home around $600/month after taxes.  I was ecstatic.  I even thought it would help a friend out because I could pay her to babysit.  She was happy because it was going to put Christmas money in her pocket.  So, I called around to the various agencies you have to report these things to and had an abrupt reality check.

We were going to lose $180 in rental subsidy, $218 in foodstamps, and $376 in SSI.  I would have also had to pay for work clothes, gas to and from work, and the $20/week I was going to give my friend to baby sit.  

We would have gained $600 and lost just shy of $1,000.  And my son would have had to walk home alone from the bus stop. 
I actually added it up and I need to earn around $16/hr AFTER TAXES to even equal what I make staying at home right now.  

I’m not saying that our assistance should be less, because we aren’t even making it as it is… but something is broken in America’s economic system when this is the reality.  

I am an able-bodied, 34 year old woman with skills and a desire to work, but I MUST remain unemployed for the sake of my family.  

As a side note, to those who might be wondering where my guy is in all of this financial mess: Sweetheart is looking for work, but is an inexperienced, unskilled 24 year old without a driver’s license (he has a phobia). He spent all of 2013 trying to conquer that fear and has already taken his first road test (he failed, but is set to try again next week). When he can find work, it is as a 3rd shift temp in a shitty assembly line for low wages in poor conditions. It frustrates the piss out of me that instead of going to college to finish his Psychology degree, he has to job-hop so that our family can survive.

Well, that's most of my story.  See more from our other Admins soon.  Stacey

No comments:

Post a Comment