We’re Worth More Than What We Don’t Have
and being broke isn’t a moral failing.
We fight about money in my house. About not having enough. About whose fault it is. Some weekends our partnership devolves into fiscal logistics. How to get more. How to get by. How to merge incompatible ends, pull funds from thin air.
On the 31st like clockwork, tension builds for the next day’s dues, and stress-induced self-deprecation ensues full-force.
We deliver low blows to ourselves. We reduce ourselves to our earnest contributions. Our identities are tied up in it, these consecutive crises of wants and needs. As parents, as providers, as people with something to prove — we weigh our worth in many modules of productivity.
Because there’s shame attached to not-having. To needing. To asking. It’s a vulnerable position to not have the means to make a life. We equate silence surrounding struggle as the more dignified approach, or curated facades of decadence on social media. We get in the way of our own survival for fear of this potent shame. We provide unpaid propaganda for a system that’s failing us.
We fight about money in my house. Despite my husband’s 12 hour days. Despite me writing this with my lap and left arm full. We fight each other because fighting stigma is a loftier goal. Instead we scroll and berate ourselves for succumbing to sleep. Sleep is time that could be spent producing.
And there are a dozen others ways we could make it our fault. Our demand to raise our kids somewhere safe, despite knowing safety is above our paygrade. The articles I couldn’t write when depression swallowed me whole. The pizza we ordered when my husband’s feet were swollen from standing and mine from pre-eclampsia. The overdrafts. The luxury of letting ourselves forget our place.
I went to small claims court for a card I couldn’t fund, last week.
“You been here before?” asked a woman waiting on the bench.
“Nah, you?” I said.
“Yup, plenty,” she said. “Don’t know why, though. You can’t squeeze water from a stone.”
“True, so what do they do?” I asked.
“They just call you in the back to talk to the lawyers, tell them what’s goin’ on. Sometimes they be nice, but sometimes they be mean, like you doin’ it on purpose. I would pay it if I could,” she said, “but I cant.”
In my house we hardly say we can’t. We say “give me some time,” until we run out of it. We say “let me see what I can do,” like we can think our way out of a cycle. Can’t feels like a resignation, like accepting yourself where you are. And for debtors that’s a cardinal sin in this country. We’re supposed to keep working in circles that don’t touch what we’re up against.
Hearing the woman state so plainly what she couldn’t provide made me feel like a fool. I’m the type to pretend that a negative balance on payday will rise miraculously. I imagine myself a person with more, in the temporary position of nothing. I imagine that this is a pit stop on the path to my birthright. To abundance.
At the root of this belief is some part of my psyche rejecting the notion that I’m not entitled to survival. The dichotomy of worth says good people get to eat and bad ones don’t. I know that I’m worth a full fridge, a safe place to live, and the maintenance of my body. I’m worth not having to choose one over the other.
But the sky won’t part and rain my needs down on me for trying. And the universe doesn’t delegate wealth on a moral code. There are systems in place to keep people like us unstable — and shame is the sword with which our potential is clipped. Shame is how we reinforce hierarchies that don’t serve our goals.
We fight about money in my house, and then we retreat, always retreat. We remember we’re worth more to each other than what we owe to a stranger. And in all of life’s fixed and fluctuating can and cannot affords, we train ourselves to be unwavering about our own value. We teach ourselves tenderness where we’re told to be hard on ourselves. We work to divorce who we are from what we don’t have. Because what we do have is what this life is for.