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Poor Little Rich Me

By Kathy Y. Wilson · September 12th, 2012 · Kathy Y. Wilson
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I am poor.

This election-era talk about lifting, taxing or not taxing America’s middle class doesn’t land or resonate with me.

When I hear numbers like the possibility of $250,000 tax breaks for the wealthy, it’s drowned out by the white noise poverty thrums through my head or the rumbling hunger makes in my gut.

It’s official: I am distracted by my own poverty.

I have dreams of dying so that I will be released from the anxieties poverty quietly cloaks me in; all the literal counting of coins, the food vs. bus fare choices. Being poor in America means a high-fat, high-salt, value-meal diet, a death sentence for an insulin dependent diabetic who hasn’t had health insurance in so long I’ve forgotten what a luxury it is to swoosh into an air-conditioned doctor’s office, sign in and wait to be called to be cured.

Oh, how I long for my doctor’s touch.

As much as I have yearned to be a mother, I do thank God everyday I don’t have to consider the health and feeding of a child while I am living this way.

And we who live as the Poor Party of One are the ones most ignored by and rendered ineligible for the goods and services that would get us through until our meager paychecks arrive. Somehow, we’re expected to be survivors — just fine by ourselves, even though as single folks we don’t have the benefit of husbands, wives or partners and therefore secondary incomes; neither do we get any type of tax breaks nor can we claim anything or anyone that will give us that pot of gold at the end of The Hunger Games: the tax refund.

I’ve nothing to claim besides my poor-ass self.

According to the Department of Health and Human Services, the federal poverty guideline for a household of one — like mine — is $11,170. Last year I barely ... not quite raked, but something like ... Swiffered in a few bucks above $10,000.
And that was by following the American dream: working hard (two teaching jobs and freelance writing) and spending money (some food, an occasional pair of shoes and maybe some compact discs).

When I do spend money, even on groceries, it’s at the expense of a bill.

I do this occasionally because I refuse to have a hand in killing myself like so many misshapen, morbidly obese, salt- and grease-eating poor black and white folks I see everyday. And when I am buying lean cuts of fresh chicken, a good piece of fish, when I am thumping and squeezing fresh fruits and vegetables or drinking all the water my bladder can handle, it feels like revenge against an invisible system that holds an implicit, unspoken agreement with black ghetto denizens that we each will have a hand in our own demise.

I feign pride carrying my food bags into an apartment filled with art and books, a place I can no longer afford. I am proud of any incremental way I can take care of myself but privately embarrassed by the downturn in my own narrative.
Poverty feels like failure on a Hollywood scale.

I have been poor before but it was when I was a younger woman and, therefore, energized by the challenge of knowing where to find cheap food or how to make gas last longer.

Back then, I laughed as I layered on clothes, socks and a hat to climb into bed in wintertime. I felt good about keeping the thermostat low and cheating Duke out of my small fortune.

Now, I am in the constant throes of self-flagellation, of feeling small and guilty any time I make myself comfortable in my own home.


Because the psychosis of poverty quietly whispers that I am not supposed to be poor and comfortable and I know other poor folks in America hear that whisper, too; however, the longer my poverty status chugs along, the more I’m beginning to think this whole thing is fraught with gimmicks.

So, besides not losing my apartment I’ve been preoccupied by beating poverty’s ass by praising God in this valley (that’s right: I said ass and God in the same sentence) and by simply getting up every day and staying connected to humanity.
Because when I do a mash-up with the family of man, it does lessen the intensity of my navel-gazing and it puts my fight for my shitty life in the right perspective.

So, after I’ve properly nourished myself, I am again clear-headed. Only the poverty dreams of death and homelessness return with even more vividness.

And I do wallow in them when I’m at my worst.

But when I want to stave them off, I do what I was shown by my mother when I was a young girl. I consider that things — my life, my health, my station — could be so much worse. Then, God always puts me in the path of someone who proves that’s true.

Sunday afternoon on my way into Washington Park I ran into Cliff, an older black man I’ve known for more than a decade, since Tucker’s on Vine Street was my “office.” Everyone who knows him knows what his issues and addictions were and still are, but I have never judged him.

I have been afraid for him and I have worried about him, but I’ve never judged him.

I called out to him and we walked toward each other — well, I walked and he sort of limped — and we gave each other a big embrace. Like me, he may be one click away from homelessness.

I don’t know.

He told me he’d been thinking of me and asked how I’d been.

Usually my answer for that is: fighting for my shitty life.

I told Cliff I was just fine.

I slipped him my last available $5 bill.

Perfect. He said he was on his way to the bar.

Well, good, I said.

Have one on me.

CONTACT KATHY Y. WILSON: letters@citybeat.com



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