Today, I threw away my old EBT card. I haven’t been on food stamps in ages, but I was afraid to let it go for fear that I would slip back into poverty and then have to wait the extra few days for the county to reissue one. I’ve had many EBT cards in my short history of adulthood. You get the new job and think, “Hey! I’m really gonna make it this time! I don’t need this thing!” But then something happens – you get sick, injured, have a childcare crisis because your kid keeps getting kicked out of daycare – or you simply burn out and give in to your depression and despair with all life has thrown at you.
The card is actually still sitting in my garbage can. It’s one I don’t use and therefore empty very often. I wonder if I will actually bring myself to take the EBT to the trash bin where it will be taken away to some far away garbage dump. I remember garbage dumps. When I was a kid, we were too poor to pay for garbage service. So our family of two adults and five kids would let our trash pile up for weeks at a time until we could afford to pack all the trash into our Volkswagen van and haul it to the dump site ourselves. We would help our parents unload it and watch as the seagulls parsed through endless mountains of multicolored refuse. Trash. To see the bulldozers driving over it all and squashing it down into neatly flattened ground in order to let more people in to add to the pile. I wonder if future civilizations will uncover our billions of pounds of plastic and shake their heads at how disgraceful and irresponsible we were with our earth.
I don’t think one ever really gets over extreme poverty and lack. It nags at you – haunts you – and taunts you with its threats of return. “You can’t make it. You’re not one of them.” Voices I often have to shut out so that I can have a chance at giving my kids a more assured life. When you grow up in extreme poverty, you know you are not like everyone else. You know you are different and you train yourself to hide those parts that others wouldn’t understand or judge. You hide the piles of dirty laundry because you’re ashamed you have to wash your underwear by hand in order to have clean ones for school. You hide the car you drive in because it’s filled with trash and sometimes the door falls off. Sometimes you even hide your parents because you are wise enough to know that other parents know – that yours don’t work. And they judge. And they pity. And you feel it like a heavy dichotomy because you’re so proud of them for who they are and how they raise you but you know society has shunned them.
Today, I shall just be content that I took the EBT card that has been visible daily – and placed it in the trash. Today, I shall rise for the millionth time and try and build a life that ensures I’ll never have to use one again.