Let’s set the record straight on this one: I was born into what many people I have associated myself with over the years would call abject poverty. There is one fatal flaw in the assumption that financial income equates to socioeconomic status – and that is the fact that certain people know how to handle their money, and certain people don’t. It sounds like common sense, but in fact the idea of spending at your own income is something that a lot of people just can’t seem to grasp ahold of, least of all myself.
I don’t make a lot of money, but that doesn’t make me a poor, does it? My parents have never made a lot of money – I lived with my father for the majority of my youth and he never, in his entire lifespan of 67 years so far, has made more than 12,000 in a single tax year. But he never thought of himself as poor. He knew how to handle his money effectively, and if he had wanted it, he could have been a millionaire.
But he didn’t want it.
I am not a poor, but I am broke. There’s a big difference.
Being categorized as “a poor” makes you vulnerable to outside influencers like USAID and Save the Children who keep us all in line by telling us how poor people are more likely to do this or that. Psychologically, being called poor makes someone very unable to accomplish their goals or achieve their dreams of success.
As someone who grew up poor, I can tell you that I have never once thought of myself as poor.
In 2010, when I was a junior in high school, I had $5,000 saved up in my bank account for college. It was my life’s savings up to that point.
Today, I am in debt to my university over a thousand dollars, and I’m struggling day-to-day to get the essentials I need to live comfortably. Food’s pretty easy to come by. But medical expenses, insurance premiums, gasoline, airfare. These things cost money that I am just not making.
If I had a regular job, I probably wouldn’t have this problem. I could just wake up and go to work every day, satisfied with my life. But I don’t have a regular job. I have a government job that pays shit wages and expects me to know everything there is to know about soldiering. Sure, there are programs out there for people like me. But I’m not one of those people. I’m not a person like me, and I never will be one of those people. I am a go-getter. I am disciplined and I can handle anything that life throws at me. I will get out of this hump, and I will come out on top. You’ll see.
I groggily open my eyes to a room that was exactly as I had left it ten hours earlier. I literally fell asleep at 4am after having been awake for 32 hours. I seem to run these stints a lot.
I attempt to roll out of bed, only to realize that I’m not actually in my bed – but I’m in the hotel bed at the DC Hilton. The never-ending queen-sized hotel bed.
What the fuck am I doing here?
I need to get back home and sort my shit. I need to make that 2,000 dollars I need to get out to Africa. Flying back and forth in CONUS is easy, I just take a military hop for free. But to get to Africa. That costs me a lot of money. Money that I don’t have right now.
And I NEED to get to Africa for a certain engagement I have coming up.
As I begin to get out of bed I see the remnants of last night strewn about the floor.
Papers. Documents. Newspaper clippings. Photographs. Spilled coffee. A half-eaten pizza box. An empty carton of ice cream.
Dammnit, my highlighter’s dried out.
You know those movies that show the awesome spies and soldiers shooting shit and blowing the whole world to kingdom come? Yeah, that’s not me. I don’t know anyone like that.
In the real world, you’re not young for very long. Especially in my profession.
Arthritis, phantom pains, nightmares, hernias, grey hair, PTSD, and broken bones eventually begin to pile up on people like me, as the ever-looming presence of death becomes more familiar.
More to the point – this life is full of paperwork, textbooks, power points, and classrooms. In basic training, they taught us how to withstand the pain of what is known as “death by powerpoint.” Anyone caught falling asleep in class would be punished severely. Anyone in the room was also punished for not keeping them awake. I never fell asleep in class, but a few times I came very close. The Army really screwed me on that one. Before I joined, I went to bed at 11pm every night. Now, I can hardly find a decent sleep routine.
Which is probably why I find myself in a hotel room in Washington, D.C., waking up to a pile of shit strewn all across the room, wearing the same clothes that I was wearing the night before.
If you want to have a normal life, don’t get a job in government.
Normality. That would be an interesting notion, given what I’ve learned about the human condition the past few years.
So. How did I get here? Where did all of my money go? I have given my life for the American Dream, only to realize that it’s a fucking myth. I might die in debt. That’s the scariest thought I’ve ever had. That I might die a slave. I fucking hate money. It’s society’s greatest curse. It’s the Devil in disguise.
The answer is simple: I had money, so I spent it. I spent all of it. I spent it on airfare, at dance clubs and titty bars all over the country. I spent it on amusement and entertainment. I bought nice clothes. I lived the American Dream because I thought – foolishly – that the party would never end. I thought in the immature recesses of my mind that since I had money, I could just get more and it would all be grand.
Life isn’t an episode of Downton Abbey, and I have spent the past few years coming to terms with this. Life is more like an episode of Breaking Bad. Some people find abnormal ways to fill in the gaps of their financial health. Some people get jobs that they are unhappy with to put food on the table.
I have this immature notion that there is something out there just for me. A job that is just right for me. If I wait out the storm long enough, I will find it. Unfortunately, that is looking more and more like a shitshow than a reality.