In some sense, where I am today completes a circle in my life path. From the time I was born through my first five years, my mother did the best with what she had, which wasn’t much. Eventually she enlisted in the Army and served five years as a military police officer during the late 70s. She met my adopted father, and, after they were married, we left the United States for 11 years of tours in Japan and England. I would not revisit poverty in my life for 16 years; in fact poverty was replaced with a silver spoon.
As a military dependent living overseas, I was privy to travel on a whim to exotic locales, and to experience the finer things of life. I had full medical insurance coverage, a place to live, an education equivalent to private school…I wanted for nothing. While living the military lifestyle overseas, I was not exposed to Americans living in poverty but when I returned to the UnitedStates as a fledgling adult, I found myself living below the economic poverty level. When my parents returned a few months after me, I found the decision to move back in with them a financial relief.
Shortly before my 19th birthday I met my now ex-husband. During the first year of our relationship we lived between his family and mine. As the second year approached, we moved into our first apartment. I remember our christening dinner of macaroni and cheese on the top of my hope chest as we sat in lawn chairs eating off of paper plates with plastic forks and spoons from work. Our financial trend would continue until I joined the U.S. Army just after we were wed in 1996. Although I was discharged six months later, my experience would remind me of my youth and set the bar for my desired standard of living that I have not since achieved.
In 1999 my daughter was to be born and questions of how we were going to satisfy our basic needs were at the forefront of every thought, conversation, and motivation during every day. For the first time in my life I was left to file for food and medical assistance from the state in order to receive prenatal care and nutrition. We had jobs, and yet we ate ramen noodles, stolen leftovers from my job at Burger King, and the occasional meal out if his mother paid. I remember all we had in our home at the time was a television stand with anon-working television, two lawn chairs to sit on, and a futon to sleep on. We had some other basics like tooth brushes and plastic silverware I would steal from work, even a pan to cook our ramen noodles in. . .in the end though, that was all we had.
We didn’t know where our next meal was coming from. With a child growing inside of me, I considered putting my daughter up for adoption, fearing I would not be able to provide for her. But I did not give her up. Rather, I called my parents and went home after my husband tried to strangle me. This was not our first physical altercation and it would not be the last before our divorce.
Today as I look back, knowing what I now know about relationship dynamics and stress, I am left to wonder just how much of the violence was related to not knowing how we were going to survive.
Flash forward six months after my daughter was born. I was living with my parents, trying to rebuild my life, post-divorce. I would take two very hard steps for my pride before I would become stable and live on my own with my daughter. The first was filing for state aid again. The second was applying for subsidized housing.
As a person, I have had a difficult time trying to comprehend that it is okay to ask for help, . . .to ask for a hand out to get us through to the next day. As a parent, I have an understanding of doing whatever it takes to provide for my daughter beyond swallowing my pride. There have been times when she ate and I did not, times when she needed clothing and I had to ask for help from others, and times when I have begged for assistance from her father to no avail. I have succeeded in raising my daughter for 12 years on an income less than $12.000 a year, and it is satisfying to know I know how to make two dimes out of a nickel per se.
Today, I am a senior in college majoring in Interpersonal Communication due to graduate this May. My goal is to continue to complete my master’s and then on to a Ph.D., eventually, and teach at the undergraduate level. When I reach my goal of having a steady salary, I’ll feel like I have hit the lottery. To finally be able to live without state assistance will be a relief, and I will be able to start giving back to the system that has supported me for so long. I believe that when I achieve my goals, I will complete another cycle in my life returning to a similar lifestyle of my youth.
Unfortunately, my daughter will be a budding adult by the time I accomplish my goals, and I will not provide her with the lifestyle I grew up with. What I have given her is the truth, a deterrent to returning to poverty as an adult. I have shared with her the realities of living on a budget provided by the state, asking for basics like toilet paper from family because we just don’t have the money. I have told her how I feel emotionally, having to ask for state assistance, taken her to recertification appointments as the social service workers dredge into every aspect of my financial life, all in an effort to keep her from living in poverty and repeating the cycle.
I’m facing poverty today so my daughter won’t have to face it tomorrow.
— By Deeandra Shad
Ball State University
Interpersonal Communication Major
Class of 2012
This story originally appeared in Facing Poverty, a publication of The Facing Project that was organized by TEAMwork for Quality Living in Muncie, Indiana.