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Apathy Girl and Other Tales

Musings of the Overly Naive Cynic

To say I grew up poor would be diminuative. But yes, I grew up poor. The daughter of an uneducated single parent of two. One of my earliest memories is waking up in the trailer we lived in with my hair frozen into a three inch thick sheet of ice that had crept up the wall and spread onto the ceiling. My father would bring home groceries in brown paper bags, groceries that didn’t make sense, as if pulled from a food bin. My Mother had moved on to a new family. I worried about the things all little girls worry about, not having new clothes, new toys, not having heat or lights, not being able to have friends over. And then came the proverbial boot-strap pulling. My Father put himself through school, getting three bachelors degrees and completing his masters course work.

After my dad got a job at the local university my family went from zero to what felt like sixty. We ate out at restaurants, we bought clothes. We moved out of a run-down rental and into a real life house, on the same bus route as the wealthier kids in my school. I began to forget what it felt like to not know where the money was going to come from, or if it was going to come at all. I got a car for my sixteenth birthday, I worried about how old it was. I went to a private university for college, I complained about having to work and go to school. I got to go to Washington, D.C. for a semester, had to wait tables while I was there instead of enjoying the night life. I was upset when I didn’t get to travel to Egypt with my classmates, or New York for Model UN, or England for Regents. I watched people with more money than me continually get more opportunities, and I could see nothing but their dollar signs contributing.

Today I was sitting in my favorite coffee shop in my home town and a man came up to me and held out a lily. “Ma’am, I am selling some flowers because I can’t feed my two kids tonight, anything you could give would be appreciated.” My automatic reaction was “There is no way this guy is going to take this money to feed his kids, this is a scam.” But his eyes looked down, he did not smile, he did not plea, he did not invoke God. His clothes were clean, his hands well calloused. I had tracked him coming through the tables, stopping at each one. He took a dollar, two, change, anything.

I had spent four dollars on the cup of coffee I was drinking. I was watching a movie on a MacBook. Sitting next to me was a brand new smartphone. I saw the coffee as a necessity, the computer as being four years old, and the phone is not an iPhone. When had I become spoiled? When had I become so cynical? I looked at the flower in his hand. A tiger lily, its stem carefully trimmed. My favorite kind of flower. I reached into my purse and pulled two dollars out of the wallet my best friend gave me years ago. I don’t care if the man really has two kids he is trying to feed. Exchanging green money for pink flower all that I can care about is there was a time where that man could have been my Papa, and there are days when I need to be reminded of that. Days when we all need to recall that our comforts are not things that we are entitled to. That every spring doesn’t mean flowers, and certainly having lilies in your life is no guarantee.

 

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