poverty

Look at me. I am the face of poverty. It’s laughable really. How dare I call myself poor. I own my own house. My husband and I made my last payment on my minivan this month. I have excellent healthcare for my many ailments. My kids have beds, with clean sheets (mostly), I their own rooms (although they all sleep in my son’s – the girls on the floor. Yes they attend public school, but they would if we had rakes of money. The have plenty of clothes. We went to Europe this summer, albeit with some help from my parents. There wasn’t much choice in the matter. It was my sister’s wedding. We do buy more take-out than we should – I am not stable enough to cope with daily cooking. I am ding the dishes and started laundry this week.

The kids and I could not connect to the internet this morning. I have been receiving reminders from Comcast to pay the bill. I did not have the money. Now our first service had been cancelled. There is a stack of other bills, all unpaid, sitting on a counter in the kitchen. The house phone bill, my lifeline to Ireland, cut off last month, back in action. For how long. Doctor and hospital bills. How close are they to the debt collectors, as they have been in the past? Several from The City of Chicago. Water or parking/speeding tickets. Both. I already know that. I also think I have enough tickets to warrant my car being towed. What then? The hefty towing fee and daily storage making it impossible for us to bail the car out. We already ignore the house alarm and computer security bills. Luxuries we can’t afford.

I was sitting in the car just now. Finding it difficult to get out as usual. A number came up that I recognized. It was the billing department of the place the kids and I attend for therapy. A call from them had gone unanswered by me, telling myself I didn’t recognize the number so I shouldn’t answer it. I knew the number. This time I did answer. The woman on the other end was lovely. She told me my balance was $1,400. That is had to be paid in full. Our payment plan of $100 was void because we hadn’t made a payment since July. It’s October. I burst immediately into tears. Internet off and this in one day. I asked her if I stopped therapy could we figure something out. She told me let ‘s do something without that drastic. I paid the 10% minimum, immediately understanding that our internet would not be coming back online any time soon. I was so upset. Everything was falling apart around me. I subsequently sent an e-mail to my therapist telling him I could no longer do therapy with him, or attend the weekly therapy class he gives. It scares the shit out of me. He has really helped me out of this hole of depression. is stopping seeing my psychiatrist next. And then my pills? If this were the case, I would relapse into severe depression. I know I would.

My husband and I are in the process of separating and subsequently divorcing. We have been able to remain civil thankfully, down to a huge effort on both of our parts. We recognize that we will remain in each others’ lives as co-parents ’til death do us part. We are still pooling money. He has mostly moved out. The thought of having to run two households instead of one is terrifying. I we cannot afford our current situation, how do we add an apartment large enough to fit him, my three kids, and an 80lb dog? Us being apart has helped us calm ourselves. Two out the three kids seem to be taking it all in their stride. After some initial upset, questions, concerns they are moving through their lives as before. Hanging out with friends, dodging homework, and fighting for the best seat in the car. My husband and I have been with them as a pair over and over, both on their own and as a three. As for our other child, we are letting him/her cry it out. He/she does not cry about the divorce. It is always about different things, but there has been a huge uptake in tears since we told him/her. My husband went through his parents separating at the same age as our son/daughter. It still hurts him today. He and I talk about it. He explains how he felt. I will never fully understand what he and my child went and are going through, but his perspective certainly helps me be there for him/her. When my husband has been over for a couple of hour, and is heading home, we hug and kiss each other on the cheek. Sometimes I don’t want to. Sometimes I am angry. It makes a huge difference to our kids. Our hug is genuine, even when we don’t want to. We do still care about each other. As people who’ve known each other, and as the other most important person in our children’s lives. We’re happy, they’re secure. Anyway. This has veered down the separation post. Possibly a different post someday. Perhaps never a full post.

I’m now in Starbucks typing away. I guiltily ordered a coffee and something to eat. How can I do this when my financial house is in such disorder? As I tucked into it a call came in from the YMCA. The kids are cared for by the YMCA after school. Our automatic payment due on October 1st had been declined. Today is October 17th. They want payment today. It  is $328 per child. Almost $1,000. Should I laugh or should I cry? I told the guy on the phone that I did not have my credit card on me, and that I would pay in person later today. I even asked when they closed tonight to make my lie more authentic. To him and to myself. It has gotten to the point that I need to liquidate one of my retirement funds. This is something we are told not to do ever. Well I have to think of the now over the then. I already did this with another plan recently enough. I wasn’t allowed liquidate this most recent one. I am still a University of Chicago employee for benefits purposes even though I lost my job 18 months (or more) ago. They dictate that employees must keep the funds in the plan. I need a job before year’s end for health insurance. At that time I can liquidate the plan. So that money could pay off everything we owe, and have change. And I would be earning again so hopefully be able to live within my means. So how do we get through the next two plus months? Does everything fall apart? Will we have all our utilities shut off? Could we lose the house? How many payments do you have to miss to have it taken? I am likely unrealistic I my thoughts that I’ll get a job so quickly? I probably am. The more I think of this mess the more crazy and out of control I realize it is. It would be comical if it were in a work of fiction. This is not fiction. This is my life.

So back to me being the face of poverty. It is ridiculous. I suppose if we sold our house and cars, then paid off our debts, we would be in the black. That is vastly better than millions of Americans find themselves in a far worse state. Many live pay check to pay check, with no assets at all. And then there are the millions of unemployed. Their fear must be hug. So I guess I’m not the face of poverty. I probably am above average in terms of wealth. It seems ridiculous. My father, living in socialist (compared to the US) Ireland, uses a phrase to describe people like me. People in a professional job. People who own a home. People who have a car. Have plenty of food on the table. Who through job loss, a health problem, and whatever other may befall them lose it all. We my friends, are living The American Nightmare. A completely reasonable description of my predicament, when compared with living The Dream.

I will try to remember tonight, as I lie in bed feeling this immense level of stress, that all over the country, children are lying in their beds hungry. Their parents hungry in theirs, worried sick about their future and present. Will the paychecks keep coming in? Will they be enough to pay rent and buy food? Will they be able to heat their home? Will they have running water? And on and on… I would like to say I do not have any of these worries. I have. I also have a house I can sell. I checked my credit score today. It has dropped 200 points. I have been out of work for two years. It’s probably impossible for me to remortgage the house or rent a three bedroom apartment. God bless The American Nightmare. All men were apparently not created equal.

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