I’d Rather The Rumble Of Hunger

Inspired by What I Learned After Taking a Homeless Mother Grocery Shopping

Twice I was without money for food, both times because of divorce:

I was 22 years old the first time. It took every penny I had to hurry-up and get my own place. The alternative was to stay with a big, drunk Russian bear. (Abuse can sneak-up on a person. If you don’t believe me, let’s talk.) I was a nurse’s aid at the time, making about $4.50 an hour. I worked double shifts as often as I could, which thankfully was usually several times a week. My apartment was cheap — cheap for a reason — but still, without savings, I had no money until my next paycheck, and then I could barely afford anything, now that I was on my own.

One day, I found forgotten change while searching old purses, so I went to the bodega next door to see if I could afford food. The store was small, so the owner couldn’t miss me counting the coins in my one palm while regarding a tiny macintosh apple in my other. When I stepped-up to the counter, he smiled and gave me a second apple to take for free. At the time I worked second shift at a nursing home. If I was lucky, a resident wouldn’t finish their dinner, so I could sneak a few bites before I dumped their tray. Jackpot was when the kitchen would accidentally send-up a tray for a resident who’d been taken out to dinner by their family. Note: In both cases, I was breaking the rules. Unfinished food was to be thrown away. Accidental trays were to be returned to the kitchen.

The second time, I was 34 years old. I had a good job making a pretty penny, but wouldn’t you know it, grown-up divorce is expensive, even when amicable. I was paying half the mortgage, association fees, and utilities on a vacant McMansion as it languished unsold, while paying my own regular bills independently. That all basically amounted to paying for two separate lives, with lawyer’s fees on top of it. My salary was good, but it wasn’t that good.

Trough the divorce, I continued working on my bachelors degree part-time. For one of those semesters, I worked on an archaeological dig in sunny downtown Vineland, NJ, about a two and a half hour drive from Bridgewater, NJ (where I was living at the time). I had to get to the dig site for class, but there was no way I was going to make it there and back without filling the tank. The problem was, I had no money in the bank, and my credit cards were at their limits — all but my corporate card — which was not meant for personal use. I used it to get to class. I was stressed-out until the bill came, which I paid back myself, but I always kept the excuse of accidentally pulling-out the wrong card near the surface, in case I was questioned.

During this time, I used to have my nine-year-old nephew over for weekends quasi-regularly. Coincidentally, my financial situation offered excellent math practice opportunities! I would tell him the plans for the day, and how much money I had left on each card. Using this knowledge, he was able to help budget our fun, and understood why I couldn’t afford everything and anything. He actively forwent a trinket at Sesame Place knowing he was “probably just going to get bored of it and throw it out” and agreed to share a water with me at the movies because “he wasn’t going to drink a lot anyway, so he wouldn’t have to pee during the movie.” Smart kid.

Why share these stories? I wanted to add mine to that article to further drive-home the point that healthy, hardworking, honest people can find themselves without food, and poverty, or fear of poverty, keeps some people in bad situations. What is a person to do if they have no support? I was fortunate in my misfortune, in that it was only the sound of my own stomach rumbling, and my own studies in jeopardy. If I had little mouths to feed and little brains to educate, you’d better believe I’d have signed-up for temporary assistance, rather than stay in harm’s way. Being embarrassed is better than being dead.

First appeared in SMITH Magazine, smithmag.net.

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