It’s a funny thing; I’m an educated, middle class woman who is poor (by U.S. standards). I could probably qualify for free government cheese (I think I still occasionally see notices about free cheese. I wonder what the chances are it’s any good, like a nice Provolone or Havarti? Of course, it wouldn’t be Brie…. oh who am I kidding? It almost certainly would be gummy, processed American.) What was I talking about? Oh yeah, qualifying for free cheese. I wouldn’t do that, or anything like it, unless I found myself desperate. It isn’t that I enjoy being poor so much that I know I’ve always had options. I just didn’t like a lot of them. What I’m trying to say is that I’m in a bed, or maybe it’s more like a cheap cot, that I most certainly made.
I tend to get treated to one of two responses from other people. The first is a kind of envy; how nice it must be to have free time and minimal obligations, how lucky I am to be able to spend so much time outdoors, how it all must be so easy for me. Don’t even get me started on what I think of this. It’s too early in the day for a rant.
The second response is what I believe is a deep unease, demonstrated by people making suggestions and encouraging me to do this or that. Mind you, I haven’t – I promise! – been complaining or asking for help before someone starts down this particular path. I know they are just looking at me, unable to make heads or tails of the way I live.
I’ve had people suggest I go to school (I don’t usually bother to say I’ve been to school and have the diploma to show for it). They’ve wondered why I don’t have or get a car (I’ve had one and it was like supporting a dependent and I concluded that was unwise – I spent more on the car’s health than I did my own, and that, my friends, considering my part-time income, was whack.)
An old boyfriend suggested I take a full-time job (not a particular one, but a full-time job) for one year, I guess the idea being if I gave it a mental end date, somehow I’d find it more palatable, or realize at the completion of the year’s time, that it wasn’t so bad or I “loved it!” I told him if I DID take a full-time job, the first thing to go would be him. (To be clear to you the Reader, I have worked like that and I know myself, and there’d be no spare time, no spare energy left.)
At a different time, yet another boyfriend (unwisely) brought me a job description, claiming it was passed along by a mutual friend. “Why does she think I’m looking for a (full-time) job?” I asked. He looked uneasy and didn’t answer. I then knew damn well why – the two of them had been discussing me and my shabby little situation. I read the description. I had no foggy idea, what with all the gobbledy-gook, nonsense speak of the typical white-collar job description, what it meant. They all sound like death on a spit.
One time years ago, a cousin got table-pounding angry (there was beer involved) over what I said about my lifestyle, namely about its good points. He lived in another state, was someone I saw at reunions, and in no way supported me, financially or otherwise. The attack – and it was one – floored me, although admittedly my cousin seemed to be going through an angry phase in general. I like my cousin and the incident proved to be a one-time anomaly, but it isn’t as if he ever apologized or we specifically cleared the air in the years since.
I could understand people’s discomfort better if my situation somehow infringed on them. If they were supporting me, or carting me around because I was always asking for rides, or I was just a big mooch. But none of that is true. Or ever was. Nobody is talking about my prospective happiness or fulfilling my destiny or making the most of my talents either. Again, all that I could see. I think the unease is inside them. Something about what I’m doing is scary, unsettling, even threatening. I don’t think they’re afraid for me or on my behalf. That never enters the conversation, nor does any fear I might have. It strikes more of a free-floating existential fear.