Takers, Makers and Shakers

I sit at my computer trying to come up with a solution to the current state of affairs I find myself in. As the sole breadwinner in my two person household I have constantly walked around with the buzzing awareness that if I don’t make money, my child and I won’t eat.

Without money…….my child and I do not eat.

This statement is subjective since both my daughter and I have quietly adjusted our eating habits in response to our lack of money by only eating one meal a day.

I thought it was just me, but they say, a daughter learns how to run a home from her mother and so I guess she did take notice how I make accommodations to our lack of resources.

Ever since she was a child, I would feed her first and go without eating in order to make sure she did not.

Lately, I’ve had friends and family compliment me on my new slim physique.

What diet am I using?”

Have I cut out carbs?

Did I go vegan?

They want to know my secret?

Poverty, I respond.

They check my face for the big grim that normally accompanies my outlandish one liners. I smile weakly for their benefit and change the subject to something less traumatizing for their senses. I long ago learned that displaying despair is looked down upon.


Now back to Tracy…

I hadn’t the time or the energy to explain that this is how I’ve lived ever since finding myself homeless with a child at the age of 19 when I came home from work to my foster mother pulling away in a U-haul truck without me and my daughter and no warning.

Good luck with your life.

The bills are paid up until the first.

You’ll figure something out. 

How would they feel to know that I am smaller than I’ve ever been in my entire life because I stopped eating on a regular basis nearly a year ago?

Old habits die hard and I’ve been here before.

How would they feel to know that I’ve suffered from an eating disorder which has been turned upside down these last few months because I simply cannot eat what I can afford and I now cannot afford to simply eat?

But since Black girls don’t have eating disorders my words do nothing more than draw confused looks and uneasy smiles.

Surely, by now you’re wondering why don’t I put my pride to the side and see about obtaining some of those great free programs out there for people who can’t or won’t make it on their own?

You know, the news makes is clear there is an abundance of free shit out there for folks like me who can’t figure out how to be grown ups.

After all, the Department of Social Services is conveniently located around the corner from my home. I realize I am fortunate to be able to walk there to inquire about all the great free stuff they have.

At 19, I had to walk the entire distance across Newark from one office to the next, repeating my story to the disinterested person across the desk who would nevertheless find one reason or another to tell me that my hunger and poverty wasn’t included on the magic list that determines who does and does not get to ‘take’ from delicious, bulging pool of aide.

The only problem is….there is no free stuff. At least there is no welfare program that I qualify for, nor have I qualified for, or rather, my inability to ‘established need’ so that I may qualify for their programs, and its been this way for the duration of my time spent as a single mother.

My eyes glaze over after waking early, early, early and standing in long, long, long lines for a chance to speak to a ‘case worker’ who doesn’t do much of ‘work’ part of their job title.

After I am herded into one of several rooms with other humans in various forms of destitution to wait on more long, long lines in order to have the privilege to one day have the privilege of eating, obtain medical insurance, housing assistance or an array of other programs I see advertised on fliers of which I will surely be denied.

Either I am not impoverished enough, do not have the sufficient number of children to ‘establish need’ or am given one reason or another on how the computer is down either here or in Trenton, or the paperwork misplaced that I have repeated provided, or my neglect to satisfy instructions that I don’t recall being given or made aware of.

And there was that one time that the I was denied for non-compliance of welfare because the case worker simply tossed my entire application in the trash by mistake. I fought and won that welfare appeal only to then be told that since I was now working I would not be back dated any money due to me by being unemployed even though my bills had piled up while I waited for checks and money due to me that never came.

Of course, this is only unemployment and not actual welfare, so my feelings of dejection are an indulgence.

I’m being dramatic.

After all, I am a white collar worker who has every right to use the unemployment benefit available to me, so there is no shame in asking, right?

So where do these feelings of guilt I feel from ‘taking’ something that is my just due come from. These programs are here for this specific purpose so that people like myself, who find themselves suddenly without a paycheck, can survive until new employment is secured.

This is usually an easy task, but for the fact that Hurricane Sandy has left much of the state of New Jersey in a state of confusion and disarray. I have checks in the mail from concerned family and friends, I think, which have not yet made their way to my mail box.

I also have an insufficient funds paycheck in my purse, drawn on a now closed Bank of America account, which is my former employers version of satisfying his payroll and paying his vendors. It took six days to get a curt email response refuting their knowledge of checks that their ass can’t cash. I pleaded for them to pay me, reminding them that they have a legal obligation to do so, and that I am a person who needs money in order to fund my existence.

Imagine my surprise when I learned that I couldn’t cash my paycheck, in light of a major hurricane approaching……it’s now been over a month since I deposited money in my bank account. My perfect record of checks and balances is now a never ending pit of over draft fees and rejected auto debited payments.

My business as a web master is destroyed, as I have been unable to pay even the smallest bills incurred, server space and domain names are up for grabs. My writing is gone, my images lost and possibly my trade names easily obtained by whomever wants to be me now.

At unemployment, phone calls go unanswered, internet sites do not work, and when you can get an audience with a human, you find yourself at the mercy of case workers who are even more helpless and clueless than they are during normal business hours without the storms victims, without the sudden increase in displaced workers.

I’ve been standing on lines for the past two weeks, with the disabled, with the elderly, families with new born children, pregnant mothers and single working fathers. We all stand on this line seeking some assistance because we have no where else to go.

I listen to the stories of people who’ve lost everything they had and were told to come here for help.

I am unable to offer any knowledge of whether the mail is going out, because disability checks have not been received.

Home health aides are not being paid. The elderly and infirm stand on line wanting to know what became of their assistance.

I hear Fema is coming to NJ to help. 

Does anyone know if the computers are up? I’ve been here twice already and each time they say there’s nothing they can do until the computers come up. 

I did my application a month ago and have heard nothing. I don’t know what to do at this point. No one has any answers. 

I listen, pull my coat tighter around me and will myself not to cry for being back on a line asking for help. I tell myself that it this is only temporary, like I used to tell myself when I was a young woman…..before college, before a career, before……..when I thought I could hop over the cracks in society that swallow up so many of my friends and family.

I think back to when I thought poverty was a jail one is released from after doing honest hard time and paying their dues and not a prison from where one escapes, only to be found while sleeping peacefully to be dragged back into its dark coldness.

I didn’t realize I had to start all over again after I checked the boxes and moved the tassel from left to right, twice…nearly thrice.

I stand in the cold with people who walked across town, hitched rides with friends, or were luckily enough to afford the inflated cabs or over priced gas in order to make the trip in comfort while our transit system figures out how to return to normal after a major hurricane followed by a nor’easter left them devastated and ripe for exploitation.

There are no answers here. In exchange for my time spent online I am allowed the pleasure of being told to go home and wait for mail that has not yet come. Waiting is not a stressful activity except when you take into account the fact that you’ve been living on stale bread, canned goods from the back of the pantry and McDonald’s.

I take it all in stride and prepare to go through the motions of applying for free help. They say most people are one paycheck away from being where I am but I bet they don’t believe the truth in that cliche’ like I do. I try not to look frustrated at work readiness training, and information about grants that I am not qualified for……Sallie Mae paid my way. I’ve gotten my free pass, I owe 18K as proof, that too will soon be defaulted because I have no paperwork to prove to her that I am destitute.

Instead, I gain the attention of a few African American men employed by the state and end up with a $5 donation from the pocket of one, a banana and a cup of water from another.

I am grateful to eat, dishearten and ashamed that I am here and needing to accept the charity.

I am grateful for the money as it will allow me to purchase toilet paper and possibly sanitary napkins for my daughters approaching need for Always.

The attention of the men does not come without a price, strange stares and cut eyes alert me that I am not playing by the rules. I am being shown favor when there is no room for slippage; I am compelled to use what I got to get what I want.

I’ve been here before, and so I entertain the men with stories and tongue in cheek one liners.

I am back on stage, in character, enticing and working pockets that are in close proximity to the real motivation of their interest in me. I’m grateful for every last thing that allows me to one up my demise.

Deep in thought, I go home and begin to research the easiest and quickest way to earn a buck. And since there’s nothing new under the sun, I am well aware of what this means.

I’m livid that I am in this position because of the unethical and unscrupulous behavior of my former employer.

Without a phone I am unable to participate in a vanilla lifestyle.

Without an internet, I am unable to perform any task that I may be paid for through my work on the internet.

Without food and basic necessities I am forced to consider ways to come across cash that may not be morally acceptable or legal.

Pride has no place in poverty.

I long ago lost the comfort and privilege of considering the means of which I obtaining money to be off limits.

Its been a long, long time since I had to paint my face, plaster a smile across painted lips and charge a fee for my beauty.

Sold to the highest bidder is indeed the world of slave wages.

Without money my child and I do not eat…..she’s an adult and I am her mother but regardless we are hungry and who shall provide for us?

It’s not as easy to hide a scandalous life from a person who can read and comprehend the ways of the world but as usual, I’ll subject myself to whatever I gotta do in order to save her from having to suffer or barter her body for a few crumpled dollar bills.

Am I ashamed of anything I have done or may go on to do….?

No…..because I’ve forged an existence and survived against odds that would send any sane person swan diving over a high bridge.

Without much recourse or alternative, shame becomes an indulgence only spent on people who were under the impression that things ‘shouldn’t be this way’.

I’ll need a food, a cell phone and internet before I can begin to pretend like I have options.

I don’t recall things as ever having been different; the only thing that is guaranteed is that a woman’s body is consumable.

I take pride in the fact that I find a way for us to have live to see another day. This is old hat..nearly twenty years and counting.

I will find a way and the personal cost to me means nothing if it affords my child the chance to never, ever, ever have to be me.

In times like these it would be nice to reach out and request the assistance of her father, but since he’s on Facebook posing with his luxury cars and proclaiming love for the daughters he has decided to support….I’m her only life line and example of who not to become.



Follow Christelyn on Instagram and Twitter, and subscribe to our YouTube channel. And if you want to be a little more about this online dating thing, InterracialDatingCentral is the official dating site for this blog.