Climbing the Socio Economic Ladder from Poverty.

When I was little I remember the “dance” my parents played with each other while driving down the road. Mom loved garage sales, but considering she was slightly near-sighted, rarely could she see them in time to request my father to stop as we drove in the car. Dad of course, would remain silent if he witnessed one first simply to prevent from having to stop, often accelerating to increase his odds of avoidance. If by some chance Mom did notice a shopportunity in time, arguing would ensue just long enough so that Dad could validate not stopping by saying he had already passed it. I eventually felt bad for my Mom and began to aid her with pointing out these rummage sales (I also secretly enjoyed shopping at them too). This was often met with dirty looks in the rear-view mirror from my dad to censor my observations. I should also point out my father is a lovely man, who on occasion, out of the kindness of his heart, permitted us to stop without persuasion.
Shopping in Cardiff

Yet I remember a time earlier in college I asked for $5 for an Indian blanket in Arizona after not seeing my parents in over six months (so silly now) that resulted in cursing and crying (on my part). The result was an embarrassing denial of money in front of an Interstate-40 Indian Market and my girlfriend at the time. Of course, now I understand that we just never had money back then and these days, not much has changed for me. I was asked today if I had ate and my answer was “yes, yesterday”. This was at 3 PM, “I’m on a budget” I replied. Being poor is normal to me, I’ve never known anything different. It’s only when I’ve studied abroad  (now and in the past) and attempted to participate in a socio-economic class that I didn’t belong to that I realize how starkly different my concept of money is. £5 for a bar of soap at Lush? No thanks, I’ll just smell it. That’s still free right?

Up till today I’ve been using the same plastic fork for the last three weeks to eat with and a washed out Ramen noodle bowl for microwaving food. I went to Pound-Land (U.K. version of a dollar store) today and bought my first set of silverware, five forks for £1. I actually hesitated for a moment and wondered if I should spend the money. After all, “the plastic one is just dandy”, said the voice of guilt in my head. I literally felt shame over spending £1 on silverware. Inside my head I rationalize that this can’t be normal, but still secretly fear of finding myself in a financial crisis later this year over a darn fork.

As I walked through Saint David’s (a posh local mall) I try to permit myself to look at things. It’s a new thing I’m trying. I was brought up with the discipline that if you can’t afford something, you shouldn’t bother to look at it. Unfortunately that creates a certain level of awkwardness when you’re with friends shopping who don’t know the demons in your head. Even by myself I find that as I gaze upon the windows of expensive jewelry or a clothes store in which I clearly don’t belong in, I’m struggling between habitual self-exclusion and rationalizing that it’s okay to look.

“Just act normal Liv”, I tell myself. Don’t misunderstand me,  I still know I’m lucky. I’m grateful for all the opportunity I have (and had) and I realize I live far better than many do around the world. Just to walk among all the glimmer and the glam is a privilege.

What people don’t understand is that when you’re poor you can climb the same economic ladder as everyone else in society, but the steps are much further apart. Being in Cardiff and doing my masters is like a ten-foot ladder with two steps. I’m reaching for the next step, grabbing on with the tips of my fingers and hoping I have the strength to pull myself up.


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