Other stories filed under People of JC
I am on Welfare and I Own an iPhone 6.
November 18, 2014
The writer of this piece wishes to remain anonymous, and we will respect her request.
It happened sooner than my nail polish dried from my toes. We became poor in the blink of an eye.
My dad hadn’t told me that he filed for bankruptcy. He hadn’t told me that he lost his job. I was painting my nails when workmen came into my room and began to take my belongings. My drawers full of notes from my friends, my dresser where I hid my childhood diary. They took it all as I ran on the heels of my feet, chasing them down the stairs as I tried not to get nail polish on the floor.
Maybe I didn’t understand the seriousness of the situation in that moment. My daddy could get my stuff back. This was a misunderstanding, a mix-up in addresses. Surely the workmen meant to raid the house of anyone next door. But not us. Not me.
I live in a very nice house in a very nice neighborhood. Our kitchen is custom-built. Our front lawn was beautiful, the source of envy for many of our neighbors, because my parents had paid landscapers to craft it. My hard time understanding that we were, in fact, poor was not because I was arrogant or spoiled. I just didn’t think any financial situation could get so dire, so quickly.
But I soon realized that my dad didn’t feel the need to worry me with his finances. My parents had made a pact not to tell me anything until they were forced to. Let her have a childhood, they thought.
And so I drove in my expensive car as our money vanished before my eyes. My parents had bought me the newest iPhone by pre-order. I don’t think even my parents ever realized that it would get this bad. My dad never imagined that he would lose his job in the matter of a two-minute conversation.
Among the many things I have learned in the past few months, it is that money is required to maintain what you already bought with money. An expensive car requires expensive maintenance. A smartphone needs expensive data plans. My nice house? It sucks away funds because of upkeep. Our giant lawn, all those colorful flowers needed to be taken care of. As my life went on, I saw money for our sustenance used on fertilizer our hydrangeas, for the gas in lawn mowers. So my parents stopped trying to keep our house from looking nice. We stopped trying, because we knew how money snowballed, money we could no longer afford to lose. My mom no longer bought makeup, and she began to look like a ghost of her former self. My dad stopped going for regular haircuts, stopped shaving, stopped trying.
And me? I try to live life as I used to live it. Although everything around me is changing, I try to have something to hold onto. Although my dad asked for electronics that we could sell to buy food, I still protect my iPhone. My car may be gone and I may have eaten cold cereal for dinner last night, but I still clutch my phone at school. My parents cannot afford service for it anymore. I cannot call or text on it. Yet I pretend that it still works. Partly so that I can save myself from embarrassment, and partly to keep myself sane. Will we have heat to keep us warm tomorrow as I sleep? Will we run out of canned soup by next Tuesday? I do not know.
But how many meals can a seven hundred dollar phone buy? The irony is not lost on me. I know what it looks like: a welfare child who has an extravagant phone, wasting the taxpayer’s money. But as I stand in line at the food bank, clutching the phone deep in my pocket so no one can see, I hold my only piece of the past so that I can hope for a better future.