A quick google-fu of the subject reveals that there are a whole bunch of Americans living paycheck-to-paycheck. I don't think anyone really understands what that means unless they've lived the lifestyle. Much like I have no idea what it means to be wealthy, or upper middle class. But I know poverty and paycheck-to-paycheck like the back of my hand.
I used to look at living P2P as something to be attained, believe it or not. I would hear the phrase and feel envy and even a little indignation. Who could possibly complain about having enough to pay their expenses in each and every paycheck?
Funnily, I think the one percent probably see it the same way.
I didn't start here, and I hope I don't end here. I am the nearly extinct bootstrapper.
I had a rough start as an adult (a series of poor choices and random misfortunes, and a story or two for another day). Medicaid, food lines, hospitals, legal issues, the whole nine yards of systemic pain in the ass. But a person needs food and medicine and if the legal system wants to take issue with you it will. So if that means you need to wait in line for food for your family and take off the public dole for your insulin, that's what it means.
There were fears for the lights, the heat. There were sick children, sick me. There was a fire and nowhere to go. There was walking home carrying two toddlers and three sacks of groceries in the rain, and not accepting a ride from the teenaged girl who stopped because the carseats were in my broken (again) car.
There was night school after working all day. There was not knowing what to expect upon my return home. Would it be the angry sadist? Or the quietly disparaging judge? I could always tell by the eyes.
There was making 32k at a full time job as a secretary. Not knowing if today was the day he was going to eff with my job or my classes. He usually did this by using the kids in some way. He didn't work, so he could threaten to leave them somewhere. He did that a lot. He threatened to call the police once or twice and tell them he was leaving the kids at the house/apartment/wherever we were calling home at the time.
I always came running home. I don't think that was a bad choice at the time. Probably leaving the house again without the kids was. But it was the only choice I could make. People need food. People need medicine.
There was 9/11 and getting laid off and sinking into the worst poverty I had ever known. There was Christmas courtesy of Toys for Tots and Thanksgiving dinner left on the door step in a box.
There was begging the pharmacist on Christmas Eve because you had scraped together just enough for insulin and didn't know that they had raised the price by three dollars since the last time you bought it.
There was the new job, with a portion of the pay funneled into a brand new secret bank account without his knowledge. There was resisting the temptation to buy food with that money. 34k wasn't that much more than 32k...
There was the alcohol. The insanity. The talks of demons walking the streets with us. The talk of the time he killed the puppies, or the time he beat up the "retarded kid." The realization of the insanity birthed absolute terror.
There was the fire, which seemed like a curse but was really a blessing. There was signing a lease while he was still sleeping it off in the motel. There was freedom.
Freedom came at a price. I had to leave my job and school, but I had survived.
There was waitressing, bartending, late-on-rent-being general misery. But there were beans and rice and water and insulin and canned vegetables and meat in frozen tube form.
There was no insurance and no medical care. There was the doctor saying that since I hadn't seen him in two years he really couldn't write me another letter to keep my power on.
There was November 1, when they couldn't turn my power off for a few months.
There was the time I didn't get charged for my insulin. The girl at the pharmacy let me put it in my cart and finish my shopping. I stuck it in my coat pocket so it wouldn't fall through the slots in the cart or get crushed by the groceries. I forgot about it. When I found it later going back to pay was never considered. I am not ashamed of that. That 18 dollars wouldn't matter to walmart. It certainly mattered to me.
There was all that.
And now there is a house, a career, a marriage, two preteens, a toddler, two acceptable cars, only one of which we make payments on. There was hard work, a little bit of luck and a lot of help to get here. It's been a rocky road from one lifestyle to the other, plenty of ups and downs along the way. But never a down as bad as the bottom was.
Looking back on where I have come from, I hardly feel as if I have a right to complain.
Living P2P means I have enough for the cost of surviving. Food. Medicine. Housing. And the things that facilitate those big three (gas, work clothes, taxes, etc and so on).
It means we get up, we go to work, we come home, see the kids, go to bed, do it again.
It means every two weeks we go move money around on the computer from our bank to the people we pay money to for our lights, our cable, our internet, our heat, our car, our insurance, our mortgage. The we go and buy the rest of the things. The food, the medicine, the school supplies, the whatever.
Maybe I have even crept past P2P, because I can occasionally spend a few bucks at the hardware store on paint or seeds or a new faucet. Make little improvements to the living space. No big vacations or anything, but we did drive to see my sisters in Arizona last year. We have a good Christmas, good birthdays.
But there are things to object to. So many that I don't know where to start. Do I start with my daughter being sick last summer and counting the weeks until my bonus (3 to go!) so I can pay my share of the bills? I probably shouldn't complain about that. We have really competitive benefits and a robust compensation program.
Do I start with my husband now in the hospital, and how guilty I feel for worrying about how to keep collectors away until next years bonus, when we can pay the bills for this still undiagnosed and scary as hell illness? No, not that either. We have really competitive benefits and a robust compensation program.
What if my husband doesn't recover? What then? He works for a small business. He doesn't have disability insurance. He also wouldn't be able to tend the children while I worked solo.
What of his quality of life? I can't afford the best care for him. He plays guitar. He started lessons when he was five. When you put a guitar in his hands, you get to watch a somewhat awkward geeky guy turn into a master. An expert in proficiency. The economy of movement by a truly masterful musician is something to behold. I can't afford the best care for him, even though we have really competitive benefits and a robust compensation program
Do I start with the fact that I don't believe in a system where I have to go work for the profits of another, just for enough to survive? With the fact that they can keep me coming, and keep me producing, because they control the food and the medicine?
Or is it the fact that I keep coming merely because they promise me those things, but when times get tough it's not really enough?
Is it the fact that I have boot strapped as far as the boots will go, largely because the terrain has become far more hostile since I started walking?
Or do I start with the fact that there's a woman-child out there somewhere, in a situation I was in, who made some bad choices and had some misfortunes, but who is smart and strong, who would do the things I did if only she could. But even those slim windows are gone. Pell grants? Cheap rent? 18 dollar insulin when you don't have insurance? Jobs? .....fire departments?
I think that's where my complaint starts. Neither she nor I is going anywhere anytime soon, but she has a hell of a lot more to worry about. She is Why I Occupy.
UPDATE: Thank you everyone for the rec list! flattered, honored and humbled
The huz is home! Walking with a cane but his hand strength came back! Last night I was very very worried it wouldn't. Still no idea what is wrong, but now expecting a full recovery. Thank you, flying spaghetti monster!
UPDATE (sub 2): I realized reading through the comments that I come off as sounding like some kind of uber warrior. And I just want to use this opportunity to put a very well deserved THANK YOU out there to my mom. My mom who gave me and my kids a place to stay the first few times I tried to leave. My mom who paid my rent when she could and I couldn't. My mom who stretched her too few resources to cover me and my kids too when she had to. Who paid the security deposit on that new apartment after the fire. Who provides child care so we can both work, while working herself. She makes me coffee, good coffee. Grinds the beans and everything. And she held down the fort over the past couple of days while I was running around like a crazy person, trying to cover all the bases. Word to my mother!