One of the hardest things for people to understand about being poor is that money is everything. We didn’t have a license and people always treated us like we were idiots. They dwell on the fact that we can’t get around or live without a car and how we need a license. However, what they fail to realize is that having a license means nothing if you don’t have the money to get a car and put gas in it. We recently bought a car which is in the thousands range. Putting insurance on it costs in the hundreds and getting the car registered was damn near a thousand. If we couldn’t afford food, how the hell were we going to get a car? Furthermore, driving lessons and the test also costs money. No one was willing to pay for my lessons or drivers test, so perhaps they should have been a little more understanding of our situation.
People like to say things like, “it’s only $50.” When you have $60 for the month to eat with, $50 means starving. People ask how we got around. We walked… a lot… for miles. When we had change, we rode the bus. When we were given a bike, we rode a bike… until it was stolen. When someone was gracious enough to give us a ride, we were grateful. If we got stranded a long way from home, we hitch hiked.
When you are poor, you don’t have money. No money means NONE. People who aren’t poor think in terms of negligible cost. When you are poor, no small amount of money is negligible. Pennies can lead to a $1 which is how much that tasty slice of strawberry pie costed that we walk a few miles to eat. $20 is food or needed hygiene products.
Let’s talk about hygiene. After paying rent and buying food, we still didn’t have enough to eat properly for the month, let alone buy soap and toilet paper. While at work, I’d role up a bunch of TP and sneak it home. You try rationing one square of toilet paper when you’re taking a shit. It’s not going clean shit… pardon the pun. Have you ever wiped with a paper towel? I have. It’s not pleasant. It’s a far cry from Cottonelle. When you’re desperate enough, you might use a sock. If there’s no other option you scoop with your hand and hopefully you have soap. We were smart, when things were dire we’d walk a mile to the gas station to use their bathroom. Sure it was disgusting, but at least there was toilet paper or paper towels. After a while they started to ask us to buy things. So we started to go to Kroger, which was a further walk, but you have to do what you have to do. You had to plan around your bowel movements. You can only ask your neighbors for toilet paper so many times before they get mad at you.
If we had soap it was the only soap we had. I’ve washed clothes in the tub with body wash and dish soap before. I’ve washed my body and hair with laundry and dish soap. I’ve washed dishes with laundry detergent and body wash. We couldn’t afford the luxury of shampoo, body wash, laundry detergent, and dish soap. We used whatever we had available. Soap is soap. When there was no soap at all, I took a soak in a hot bath to try to feel clean. When we had no gas, we would heat up water on the stove for bath time.
When there was no soap we couldn’t wash clothing. We didn’t wear an outfit and then just throw it in the hamper. One day wasn’t so bad. We could wear the same thing for longer to make clean clothing last. We’d reuse towels to get as much use out of them as we could before they had to be washed. We didn’t have deodorant either. You do what you can, but we had to accept that we weren’t going to smell fresh any time soon.
Charities didn’t give us hygiene or cleaning products. Someone might say a single bar of soap is less than a dollar. Do you remember me saying that we dug in the couch hoping to get a dollar for a slice of pie? That’s wishful thinking. By the time we need soap, we’ve already hunted down change in the cushions, outside, and borrowed a quarter from every friend, just to eat… let a lone buy a bar of soap. When you’re poor, every penny counts and priorities matter. Food or soap? Just remember, no money is no money, and any change we get is already destined for another necessity.
When you are that poor, how can you afford drugs and alcohol? The funny thing is, there are people more willing to share poison than food. Getting drunk or high with friends is easy. It’s Surprisingly easier than convincing someone to give you food. When you can’t afford to pay bills, you might split what you have between food and poison. It’s incredibly difficult to have fun when you’re poor and would you rather be depressed or drunk until you feel like you’re having fun? It’s no wonder why poor folk often have drinking and drug related problems. When you’re high, you don’t notice the pain and hunger quite as much.
I’m thankful that we got out of poverty. I’m thankful for those who helped us along the way. I’m thankful for my experiences and the understanding it brought us. I’m also very grateful that we made it out together. Poverty can split up families and end relationships. I’m thankful that my husband and I weathered the storm and now we can reap the rewards together.