Poverty is a blight, a disease, a cancer, a kind of rust that never sleeps as it erodes dignity and injects anxiety into the host, slowly saturating the soul and taking the body for itself. Poverty is the manifestation of failure, sometimes deserved, sometimes not, but once marked the stain lasts forever. Recovery is slow, and the heart never fully heals.
It’s always the math. That math consumes the mind in feverish, compulsive ways. The math and the questions. How much is left? How many days til payday? Til there’s more? What bill to pay? What can I not pay? How much do I have per day? Can I make it? How many meals can I get from a pound of hamburger? Count, count, count. Try to calculate the amount of pay and subtract the bills and do it over and over hoping I didn’t forget anything. Hoping the balance will be more. Wait. Did I forget something? Do it again just to be sure.
The stress of being at the mercy of a system that doesn’t care and in which work is survival, not fulfilment, takes a toll. In a “bust” economy I was always one bad day away from no more paydays. I couldn’t speak up and that was killing me. To see an injustice go unmentioned fed those fires called rage and shame. I was trapped. I couldn’t breathe.
My only move was lateral. Same shit, different pile. Having no money means having no choice means having no freedom. That is sad, simple math. You start at zero and go down from there.
So I put my head down and endured the gauntlet and, through sheer force of will, I found a kernel of hope untouched by the rust and hid it away. My secret antidote, so small yet so potent. It’s this tiny morsel of hope that saw me through to better days, allowed me to face another grey day. A day that was the same as all the yesterdays. A day that will be relived tomorrow.
But one day the sun did come and burned away the questions and the math, and killed the infection. Sleep came, I could listen to music, I found funny things funny, and, with a bit of practice, became good at laughing.
I shake my head and wonder how I made it through. I keep a tiny kernel of despair among all my hope and light. I want to remember what it was like so gratitude becomes my new infection. This is my inoculation.
Money doesn’t buy happiness but it can pave the road, smooth out the bumps, and facilitate a way to happiness.
I’ve been broke and I’ve been flush. I don’t question which is better. That is simple math that requires no thought at all.