an unamerican dream

I have a real checkered past with the $5 bill. My mom used to get $5 of gas one to two times per day. I remember sitting in the backseat, thinking how if she would just fill ‘er up a little more, we wouldn’t have to be back here on our way home, but she was set in her ways. And I know she does something like this even still. The amount may be $10 now, but even with her arthritic limbs, she pulls herself up to the pump about 75% more often than needed…because she can’t let go of more than the bare minimum each time — the crippling thought that the small wad of cash in her pocket could do things she needs today. In the past, that additional $5 could feed all 4 of us kids (the Taco Bell 59/79/99 menu was incredible — in more ways than one!) and hell; maybe there would be more money tomorrow…

Naturally, I picked up those ways of thinking and behaving and I put them to work in my own life. The other day I had $5 and I spent it on CANDY. I spent $4.35 on candy. Had I added that $5 to a $5 the next day, and the next day and the day after…well, I woulda had $20, and with that — enough gas for the week. Instead, I fed my inner fatalist and rotted my teeth. When it’s time to hit the dentist, I will sit in his chair with fear in my heart and entirely too thin a wallet.

I actually don’t mind the haphazard, necessary budgeting that comes with restricted finances. Competitive to a fault, I find a twisted thrill in the decisions regarding wants vs. needs. To choose one is to throw down the guillotine on the other — but therein lies the thrill. I can’t have it all; so I choose between today and tomorrow. But because I will always choose today, my tomorrows will always be harder. Because more than ANY OTHER THING — poverty is inefficient. It left my mom crippled, standing by the pump and it crippled her ability to forecast a good future for her children and for herself. It wasted time and it wasted promise. It’s blazing inefficiency burns me up.

In my salaried days, I could lose hours looking at boots online…I’d add 12 or 13 pairs to the basket, enjoying the satisfaction of every single ‘click to add’ — and then I’d knock them down, until the 1 absolutely unforgettable pair stood….and methodically enter my debit card number. I knew I could have them without going hungry. But I didn’t build a landing pad. I didn’t create a safe space. I wasn’t sure that I’d need one — and I assumed if I did, I’d find $5 on the sidewalk…or just go back to Taco Bell.

So – struggling streamlines desire and that’s great. It is quite hard to find yourself in the throes of desire for something you simply don’t deem possible. But it also can eat up dreams for independence – something else you never deemed possible…and that, therefore…never will be.


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