We were sitting on the couch and they came in and said, “Your daddy passed away.”
I was 6.
I felt so alone.
They couldn’t get me to stop crying.
The first clear memory I have after that is spitting in my history book, and slamming the book shut. Man, I hope my kids never do that. The teacher made me wash windows during recess.
I didn’t have a very good bond with my mom. We didn’t get along until I was 18. I didn’t connect with anybody.
I carried a feeling of aloneness for a long time.
I didn’t know I was poor until I was in middle school. I think it was 6th grade. A bunch of girls were getting together for a slumber party and pitching in for snacks and stuff. My mom didn’t have any money for snacks.
“Holy crap!” I realized. “I’m poor!”
We went without. My little sister always wore hand-me-downs. We didn’t go to the dentist regularly. I didn’t get contacts until I was a freshman in high school, even though I had needed them for years.
I remember getting the government cheese. I loved the government cheese. It was Colby cheese wrapped in paper. That was the best cheese ever! Real cheese! I never talked to Mom about being on assistance. I’m not sure if she knew about the other programs available to help us.
I was totally going to be a teacher. In high school, I was so excited to get to college to take the classes I wanted to take. I was introverted until my junior year and then I came out of my shell. I was really active in theater,debate, and track.
The kids’ dad was my first love. He has a name, but I never use it. I met him my second year in college. We were over at a friend’s house playingDungeons & Dragons. I never played; I just liked the stories.
We dated for three months the first time. He was a leech and never got a job. I broke up with him, but regretted it. I felt like he was my soul mate. I was just a stupid 20-year-old kid.
By the time I got my act together, I was pregnant.
I thought we were going to have this great, wonderful life. Three days before the wedding we went to get the certificate and found that he was still married. Everything just kind of crashed down.
I hung on. I grew up without a father and I didn’t want my kids to grow up without a father. That’s what really kills me. I didn’t want to be a single mom. I watched my mom do it and it was horrible for her.
He left. I was still signed on for a lease, which was way too much for just me. I went to the housing authority and said, “I have two babies and I don’t have a place to stay.” The lady there told me that Delaware County doesn’t have any emergency housing. She didn’t send me anywhere. I didn’t have a job. I was holding my three-month-old baby and my toddler stood right there beside. The lady didn’t even tell me about the women’s shelter. Later, when I found out about the shelter,
I was so frustrated and angry and hurt.
They should know.
Two months later he came back into our lives. “Man,” I thought, “we can probably work this out.”
That week was a happy week. But I think I was so desperate to make it work. So desperate not to be a single mom that I ignored everything that was going on. I was an idiot.
One night at 2 a.m. we were in bed and just all of a sudden he said, “I don’t want to hurt her again.”
“Who are you talking about?” I asked. He was talking about our daughter.He said he had abused her.
I jumped out of bed and called the cops. They arrived at 2:32 a.m., but he was already gone — out of my life in a half-hour.
“Why did he tell you?” the cops kept asking.
Why do they think I have the answer to that? Everybody asks me that. I took her to the doctor and there wasn’t any sign of abuse, and she wasn’t old enough to say if he did or didn’t. She was two. I had to file a restraining order. Someday I’ll have to tell her why she can’t be alone with her daddy.
I was so angry, and I felt like no one did anything.
Conveniently, around the time of our court date, he started to go to church again. He found Jesus and a new girlfriend in a month. Eventually they got married. Part of me was like, “Why didn’t it work out with me? What was I missing?”
I felt like I was in the biggest, deepest, nastiest hole. Being alone was horrible. It was the worst. There was no one to talk to.
I have to do everything by myself or with my kids in tow.
I bought a car from one of those places that will sell you a car when you don’t have any money or credit. “Don’t worry about your credit,” they told me. “Bring in a paycheck stub and we’ll get you out of here today!”
I paid $6,000 more than what the car was worth. The Blue Book value was$3,000 and I bought it for $9,000. I pay $237 . . . every two weeks! Can you believe that?
I go to the store by myself.
I’m on WIC [Women, Infants, and Children] food assistance, which allows me to buy certain staple foods like cheese. But don’t buy the wrong kind of cheese! The other day I bought deli slices instead of regular, and the cashier told me WIC wouldn’t pay for it. I had both kids, like always, and I was sick. The cheese was on the other side of the store, so I asked if someone could run and grab it for me. He said they couldn’t. What kind of service is that?
I prefer to go to the store around the corner. They know me there. The prices are higher, but the service is better. If I go in there without my kids they’re like, “Where are your kids?”
It’s nice when someone knows your name.
I worked at a popular restaurant in town. I’ve probably served you. I love meeting people and knowing that when I do a good job, I make a difference.
Someone from TEAMwork called one day asking if we could donate food for the weekly Circle meetings. They told me a bit about their program and how people living in poverty are matched up with community members who want to help brainstorm a path out of poverty. When Dorica from TEAMwork came in wearing her big earrings and bigger smile, I just automatically liked her.I still remember where we sat. She told me more about the Circles program,and I think she was kind of surprised when I said, “I wanna do that!”
God picked her up and put her right there in my life.
I always asked for money help: “Hey mom, I can’t pay rent. Can I have some money?” It was easy to ask for government assistance; I needed help with my kids. But the day I met Dorica was the day I found myself asking for help that wasn’t just to get by for a little bit. That was the very first time I felt that I was doing exactly what I was supposed to be doing.
Ever since then, it has been great. I took Circles’ Getting Ahead class. The classes did so much for me. Well, it really wasn’t the classes to begin with, it was meeting people who had something in common with me.
The class taught me about programs I did not know about, such as Toys for Tots, and Christian Ministries’ food pantry program.
The class taught me how to set realistic goals. I set goals and I met them.
My first goal was to get a better job. I found that right away.
School was my next goal. Now I’m in classes at Ivy Tech.
I didn’t make the decision for the kids’ dad to leave us. A lot of this stuff I didn’t choose. But now I’m choosing to be self-motivated. I’m choosing to take responsibility.
I love the Circles meetings. It’s my time. This is the longest I’ve ever stuck with something. And I guess, it’s the longest something has stuck with me.
There’s still a lot of stress in my life.
I have one friend who I’ve known forever who has been with me through everything. But now there’s a gap in our friendship. She doesn’t understand where I’m at. She’s still in the poverty thinking. It’s hard to talk to her and hard to relate to her.
I have an eating disorder. It’s been better since I joined the Circles community and started setting goals, but I recently had trouble again. It was in between semesters when I had no goals set. Nothing. Why didn’t I think ahead? I kinda got depressed and it got really bad. That’s something I really need to work on because my kids are starting to notice.
I tried to get help and I went to counseling. It was $10 a session. $10! Are you kidding me? I can’t afford $10! So I called them and asked if they would take whatever I had. I brought $10 in change. That’s all I could find. They didn’t take it, just told me I could pay next time. They were supposed to get back with me, but they didn’t. They forgot about me. Three weeks later they called and apologized. I was done with them.
They still bill me for that $10 every month.
I don’t usually want to talk about my past. This is the first time I’ve really been able talk about the past and be okay with it. The past is like spit in a history book – something I’d like to forget.
When people talk to me about Circles, they ask me, “Where were you before?” It’s a huge story. I’m like, “How am I going to tell you in three minutes? Let me tell you where I’m at now.”
I want to celebrate my success. I feel like I’ve done really good. I want people to realize that you aren’t going to be stuck where you’re at if you really want to move. If you really want to make a change, it can happen.
You have to put in the hard work. The beginning of the hard work was saying to somebody else, “I’m ready to change. I need help.”
If I could go back to where I was before I was ready for help, when I was really depressed and having a lot of problems, I would tell myself:
“It’s going to be okay. There are people in your future that will love you for who you are no matter what. Just hang in there.”
I’m not alone anymore.
— As told to Kelsey Timmerman
Blogger & Author |Where am I Wearing?
This story originally appeared in Facing Poverty, a publication of The Facing Project that was organized by TEAMwork for Quality Living in Muncie, Indiana.