Happy birthday to me! Blah blah blah blah blah blah. This year as a gift, I received a Kate Spade wallet. It’s new. Whoa. Not gently used, not opened and unwrapped and resold. Brand-spanking-gleaming-fucking new. Also, I’ve been shopping this last month, and gotten swell new shoes, bodacious outfits, and really nifty makeup. I have to say that it feels mighty good.
But before you think this is simply obnoxious birthday braggadocio, let me continue.
Last year, if you had asked me what I wanted for my birthday, I would have said money. The year before that, if you’d asked me what I wanted, I would have said money. The year before that, the same, etc., all the way back to when my baby brain thought our dirty green currency was only good for chewing and barfing on.
That’s because, until a few months ago, I was in debt that spiraled out of my control. During and after college, I’d never had a job that paid the bills and still had some dough left over for luxuries like non-ramen dinners. Nearly all of my wardrobe had been donated or bought second hand, and my shoes were always on the brink of wearing out. Every once in a while, I’d splurge ridiculously, and I’d berate myself for days, weeks, even months. Why did I spend that money? How would I pay it back? I’d lay in bed after going out with friends the night before, agonizing over the $60 I’d spent on food and drinks that could have gone towards *insert bill here*. I’m not asking for pity. I didn’t live in poverty, and I didn’t starve or suffer. I worried, yes, I was constantly stressed, yes, and I endured embarrassment and the occasional nervous breakdown over finances. But I paid my important bills (usually), I never lost my car (although I got very close), I managed to look like I knew what the fuck I was doing with my clothes and makeup (although I was shocked to learn that when you pick up your clothes from the dry cleaners, you just throw away the hangers and paper-wtf?).
But despite the fact that people admittedly have it much worse than I, I can still remind myself (and hopefully you) that it isn’t a contest to see who suffers the most. Sometimes I have to remember that just because I didn’t have it the worst doesn’t mean I had it easy. There were days where I’d call up friends, steeped in anxiety, crying because I was sure the next time I went out to my car, it would be booted and I would be fucked. I’d pace in my living room, hand on the “Call” button, embarrassed to ask somebody if I could please join them for dinner because if I had to eat ramen noodles with eggs one more fucking time this week, I’d puke (in which case, Lois would have gladly eaten it, but that’s besides the point). I’d lay awake in bed, sleepless for hours, wondering if I’d feel guilty for defaulting on that credit card so I could take my monthly payment and put it towards a gym membership so I could finally lose that fucking weight I gained from eating like shit for years. (Not that you care – but I did default, I got a cheap gym membership, I lost 40 pounds, and I never regretted it – even after I finally paid off the balance of the card in collections, plus numerous late fees, etc.)
But okay, you get it. Enough about how tough things were. How did things untough themselves?
Well, in my opinion, I caught a couple of very lucky breaks. First, even though I’ve always been sexually active, thanks to #PLANNEDPARENTHOOD and other sliding-scale health providers, I have never had children. That alone makes a huge difference. Second, I found a job that I loved that paid a decent living wage. Third, a few months ago, I was matched with a recipient family and donated my eggs. Between the small financial windfall of egg donation and a consistent paycheck from a job where I feel respected and valued, I’ve managed to get myself out of debt except for my car and my student loans.
That feels fucking good. It feels too good to be true. And now, I have more pocket money every week than I used to have for my monthly food budget. Every bill is paid on time – no more late fees, either. I’m not rolling in dough. But I don’t need anything bad enough that I’m going to take my Kate Spade wallet and sell it for cash. And that feels miraculously lucky.
So, I’m turning 25 and sitting in my cozy queen-sized bed with a feather comforter, with my iPhone charging next to me, and my Chromebook on my lap, my fancy anti-aging cream on my face that I bought on clearance from Amazon, and my kinda fancy perfume and jewelry on my dresser, and my piano against the wall, and my closet full of reasonably priced clothing from Target. I feel humbled that I have enough pairs of underwear and socks to go two weeks without doing laundry. I’m amazed that a parking ticket or a necessary doctor’s visit doesn’t spell financial disaster anymore. I’m #blessed that I don’t lose sleep over how to pay the rent. All kidding aside – I am solemnized by gratitude.
Some might argue that I was always middle class because I’m white, in possession of a college degree, and more literate than most native English speakers. That’s true. Some would say that I didn’t have it all that bad because I had a solid cohort of people I could go to for help. That’s also true. And I’m on my dad’s health insurance, I’m tall, I’m fairly good looking, I have a name that doesn’t keep me from getting callbacks on interviews, and all those other stupid, superficial attributes that make it easier to be successful in America.
Due to circumstances out of my control, I had so many things working for me that when I paid my dues (whatever that means – I think there’s a way to give people a decent living without requiring them to suffer beforehand, right?), I got out of petty debt and into a surprisingly easy standard of living.
And it was hard. So how much harder is it for people without any privilege whatsoever? Because they’re out there. In, like, droves. Copious numbers of poor people have we here in good old America. There’s a lot of them and they could all use a lucky break. Maybe, as some of us move into the middle class, we can do a little less self-congratulation and think (aka do) more about others less lucky than us.
I have yet to figure out how best to do that – suggestions accepted.