Essay I wrote while going through divorce.
I’m getting a divorce. So last night I couldn’t sleep for worrying about money. Bills performed the conga line behind the backs of my eyelids. Cleopatra never learned to work a microwave; stock brokers in the 20’s didn’t have the option of trading on the internet. In a sense we are victims of the time in which we live and at a time and place where the majority of households seem to survive on two paychecks; I will survive on one. One paycheck. My paycheck.
I should explain that the kind of work I do is not exactly that of a salaried, 9 to 5’er. I’m more the equivalent of a financial scavenger. I work part time and also make money doing odds and ends that involve working with other people’s computers, selling things on Ebay, taking photographs and writing. The income just isn’t as reliable as the outflow.
Numbers dance behind my eyelids again. The instigator always seems to be the cable bill. Cable bill forty dollars, bum bum, bum bum, bum ba! Except the cable bill isn’t forty dollars; I think it’s closer to fifty. And shouldn’t I know? Shouldn’t I have it memorized? Shouldn’t I be able to shout out with confidence, “The Cable Bill is $47.57!”
Don’t get me wrong. I have all of those numbers written down. I have it figured out and, in theory, I should be able to float and not sink. In theory. Besides, why worry about the cable bill? If things get rough, couldn’t you do without cable?
That’s exactly why the cable bill. I begin to consider, couldn’t I get by with fewer channels? What channels do I lose by going down to the next lower package? Maybe I could get by with the channels I would get if I just rehooked up an antenna? Why do I even watch tv?
My Mother warned me that Nonnie, my Grandmother, had similar tendencies when my Grandfather died. Nonnie apparently decided that his death signaled the lean years of her life. No more luxuries. All bread and water from now on.
Nonnie? The woman who didn’t appear to me to have ever had a job in her life, didn’t have a driver’s license, yet took yearly vacations on tramp steamers? Nonnie? The woman who saw Macha Pichu and sent postcards from Ireland and Trinidad/Tobago?
I began an only child, protected, sheltered, who lived in the country at least three miles away from any other kid. My family wasn’t wealthy, but I didn’t ever want for anything so I wouldn’t have known the difference. My knowledge of the world was nearly non-existent, but the world I lived and played in was enormous. There was so much to see and explore. As far as I knew, everyone was pretty much like me and everyone’s life was pretty much like mine.
Then I went to school and I made friends.
One of my best friends in grade school was not an only child; she was the second eldest of five daughters. Her family lived in a studio house. Yes. Studio. Meaning "one room." Her parents slept in the car every night. While they were living there, her father was building them a “real house” – my friend’s words, not mine. I don’t know how long it took. By a kid’s standards, it took forever. That friend, and each of her sisters, probably didn’t weight 100 lbs. before they were 25. You know those girls, the ones we joke about having disappeared when they stand sideways. None of them got their periods before they were 16. After the “real house” was built, which by the way was not so big that everyone didn’t have to double or triple up on bedrooms, the family had a sixth child: a boy, who they had apparently been trying for all along.
Anyway, my friend was a bit outspoken and she could see the discrepancy between her lifestyle and that of her friends. So most mornings when I met her at school, she’d cast a cold, measuring eye at my clothing and say, “That sweater looks new. Is that a new sweater?”
Now maybe I received two new sweaters during that time period of my life, maybe I received twenty; but after I met that girl, I “officially” didn’t receive any.
“This? No this isn’t new, I’ve had it for years. In fact, I think maybe my Mom wore it when she was my age.” I didn’t enjoy nearly anything I owned and I spent a good deal of time thinking up stories to tell her to prove the age of things.
That girl made me feel guilty about everything: clothes; toys; my own room; being an only child; knowing an answer in class that she didn’t know; getting my period first; that a boy we both liked, liked me instead of her; everything.
No that’s wrong. She didn’t do it to me. I did it to myself. “This isn’t new. I don’t know the answer either. That boy? Who would like him? Ewwww.”
Maybe it’s those chain-dancing bills and the thought of doing without. Maybe it’s the barrage of introspection that comes with “Big Life Changes.” But that childhood friend has been in my thoughts frequently. I told another friend, one of my adult friends who was never a part of my childhood, about her and that friend said, “How awful! She sounds like an awful friend.”
But she wasn’t. She was a great friend. She was funny; she could turn her eyelids inside out and was never shy about making faces that made her look like a troll. She was a tomboy; never afraid to wade or climb a tree or jump from a ledge. For such a small framed girl, she had a laugh that should have split her in two.
She also had a crow’s eye for new, shiny things and she wanted a little too badly to be an adult . . . now.