It is funny. A lot of people like to talk about the difference in class and how we should raise our kids to dream, even if they are poor. Now, I say I grew up poor but I grew up, not poor in the sense of money. We were a roughly lower-middle-class family. My father worked full time selling lumber at a local lumbar yard. He made doors, walked properties to do bids for materials for contractors. It wasn’t the best job in the world, of course, but it did put food on the table. I never really knew about the families money problems.
As many of you know, recently, my life partner of nearly 20 years has decided to move out. She’s moving in with a guy who is younger than me, and thus younger than her, by about 10 years. He come from money, he makes a lot of money, so much that she will have a very comfortable life style with him.
So what does this have to do with dreams?
When I was a small child, I used to dream of being an astronaut. I wanted to see the stars, I learned all I could about space, about the space shuttles, the rockets that took the men into space. I watched in 1986 when the Challenger exploded after launch. Later, when the Endeavor disintegrated on reentry, I didn’t watch.
See, I’m blind in my right eye. This was my first dead dream. I was told by someone at the school, for career day, that being an astronaut required perfect vision and that I would never be one. I redirected my attentions, I had been online on the budding Internet by then and so, being good at computers, I wanted to be a programmer and program software for the space shuttle and NASA. I didn’t tell anyone how much it hurt that I would never be able to accomplish my dream, that I would never see the stars. In the way of being a child, however, one forgets about such things. I was going to be a computer programmer.
Everyone has dreams of being something they cannot be as a child. Secretly in the back of my mind I imagined something like you’d see in a movie, that maybe I’d be a programmer for NASA and they’d need me to go on a mission to fix something, like in the movie 2010. The dream of being a programmer for NASA was a lot more realistic, it was attainable, with a lot of hard work. Of course, hard work isn’t the only thing that was required. Money. See, I didn’t grow up with much money, not enough to attend school.
To get into college the first time, I lied and said I was living with my, then girlfriend, Jen (yes, the same one) so I could get financial aid. My parents had told me many, many times that they could not afford for me to go to school. It isn’t their fault. I grew up with more than many, a roof over my head and food in my belly. She pushed me to go to school, what I didn’t realize at the time is how poor of dreams I grew up. It took years, many years, probably over a decade before I realized that I truly had no ambition. I grew up without dreams really.
I couldn’t afford dreams. I wanted to join the Boyscouts… We had the money for my mom to do copious amounts of online shopping, but we didn’t have the money for me to join the Boyscouts, besides, my dad hates groups. I was warned about groups more time than I can count. Groups make you do things you don’t want to do, groups have it out for you, groups are political and will use you… A myriad of other warnings. I wanted to learn to fight, I felt so weak, I saw people on Karate Kid and similar movies that learned to fight and found confidence. We didn’t have the money for that either. I learned not to ask for things that cost money, as I rarely got them. I learned not to think of things that cost money, as it never mattered why. I learned to be quiet, accept the status quo. No one told me I was wrong until she came along, and told me that I had no ambition. Finally, got me to see. Got me to see how messed up it was, the attitude. Not joining the Boyscouts or not learning a martial art are individual events that mean little. The pattern, the attitude, the learned helplessness. Those matter.
People talk about being poor on the news. They talk about privilege and the 99%, freeloaders or saints in bad situations get talked about. What they don’t talk about is the fear. The learned helplessness, the lesson that you don’t deserve anything better. Jen had reminded me of the dreams of being a child, the dreams of being a programmer, so when I left home to move in with her and go to school, I tried. Then I found out that it’s hard to go to school and work. At the time Jen’s mom was living with us, being cared for, I won’t pretend that I worked as hard as I should at school, but I can honestly say that money made the difference.
That dream died because we didn’t have the money to have both Jen and I go to school and take care of the house and her mom. I failed, I flunked out. She stayed in school and got her degree, but it was a long, long time before I thought I might be able to do something else with my life. In a way, I paid for Jen to have the opportunity to be educated and get a degree. I took care of her mom, I took care of the house, I worked 2 jobs often to pay the bills. I stopped dreaming. The status quo had to be served. I suppose I always assumed that she’d return the favor if needed. I should have known.
She would never return the favor. The coming years had us asking for money from family to make ends meet, again… Money. Life has to be paid for, most of the time I’ve known her she has not worked. About half of that was school, but the other half was depression induced, she has bipolar disorder that she refuses to admit to (to get social security) or treat (the drugs make her feel like a zombie). I wonder if she realizes, how much I had to give of myself to take care of her, to make sure she had what I could give her. I won’t even know, I cannot ask her. Asking her would produce an extremely negative response.
She says it isn’t for the money that she’s leaving me. She says that it isn’t my fault that she needs change, but so far she fails to recognize how fucked up it is that after everything I’ve done for her, everything I’ve given up for her, for her to go find a younger and richer man to be with. She tipped her hand, I asked her if she was happy, if he made her happy, and she said yes. He makes her feel safe and secure. Money. It always comes down to money, life has to be bought and paid for. Things that I just cannot do. I didn’t have a rich mommy and daddy to pay for my life and give me opportunities. I didn’t have a mommy and daddy that taught me how to dream and achieve my dreams. No, I had a mommy and daddy that barely spoke to me or each other in the some 24 years I lived at home I can remember only getting real advise maybe half a dozen times.
So here I am. Not rich enough to buy the safety and security of the woman I love. Knowing that I have to give up on yet another dream. That another dream is dying inside me and I don’t know if I can still dream after it is gone. Like an open wound I can feel it festering. The dream of being a husband, having a wife, until death do us part. It wasn’t supposed to matter that I had no money, it wasn’t supposed to matter that I was fucked up in the head, and that I needed a lot of help. It did.
I used to think that love was always enough. Jen had argued that point with me very, very early on. Well, I’ve come around. If love even exists, I guess it needs to be paid for. I doubt it even exists though, just a sham, a collective lie.
I hate being lied to.