At the start of each school year, in homeroom, you had to fill out these little cards that contained emergency contact information for each student. My senior year, I filled it out dutifully and passed it to the front. The teacher looked through them and stopped at mine. “Missy, you didn’t fill out the work information for your parents.” She said this in front of the whole class. You could have heard a pin drop as I replied, “There is no work information. My parents are unemployed.” No one said anything and then, the teacher simply moved on. Her lack of tact never left me.
This is part of my experience growing up in poverty. I have a collection of stories within me that highlight the hard times of Salvation Army Christmases, standing in impossibly long lines for government surplus food, and waiting at the food stamp office for the multi-colored bank notes that preceded the current debit card system named the Bridge card. As a kid, you think everybody lives that way until proven otherwise. Your scope of the world is small. Then, you grow up.
As an adult, I belong to the middle class. I live in a house, I own a car and a computer, I have a college education, I work part-time, I have health insurance, I have dental insurance, and I’m able to pay my bills with money left over for food and gas. I live paycheck to paycheck like most people but I don’t stay up nights worrying about money. It’s a different life for the millions of poor who sleep on the ground and rely on soup kitchens for sustenance.
Once, on vacation, in Toronto, I witnessed tourists filming a man sleeping outside a Tim Horton’s in the chilly October air. They were pointing and laughing at the man, speaking in French. I don’t know what they said but the cruelty stuck with me. The disregard for the poor in North America is shameful. We do a terrible job of reaching out privately and publicly. Three cheers to the non-profits and churches for trying to fill in the gap while government programs continue to fail to bring up living standards. What are your thoughts on the poor? Maybe you are one of the poor and want to leave a message here for our readers. Please do. Your contribution to the conversation is necessary and welcome! Below is my poem, Kitten, about one made up character struggling to make ends meet.
She walks unfettered as a beach
ball bouncing down steps in her
black spandex pants with kitten
plastered in pink across the back.
Off the bus, she strides into the
community center, the haven for
the homeless and otherwise cash
strapped citizens of nowhere.
An orchestra of muttering begins
from toothless mouths to ears
who have heard it all before that
it’s going to get better, you know.
Feds just cut food stamps but
Kitten can’t read a vowel from
a consonant and relies on Tom
for court updates and comfort.
Bleak worlds unfurl from birth
as Kitten’s children learn soup
kitchen etiquette and sit down
while mom smokes outside.
Will the social security check
cover the insecurities of the
un-digital age for the poor with
government issued cell phones?
Kitten’s minutes long expired,
she tucks a greasy blonde strand
behind a determined head, no
one will tell her what to do.