Growing Up Poor in America

I grew up in the town of Shenandoah, VA. Sort of.

I also grew up in Greenville, NC; McGaheysville, VA; Elkton, VA; and finally Shenandoah, VA at the age of 11.

I was not supposed to be here.

No, really!

I came to be because my mom took some medicine and counteracted her birth control. I am what they call a miracle, or a fluke, depending on who you ask. I am the product of an amazing and devoted mother and a man that has never played any role in my life. He exited the scene before I took the stage in May 1992. This left my mother with my brother (7) and me (0). She had one reprieve, my grandfather let her live in his house in North Carolina rent free while she went to nursing school and worked to support us. The man responsible for my existence never paid child support so she supported us on her own.

We moved to Virginia in 1997 and lived with my grandparents while my mom worked night shift. I remember her sleeping a lot in the day time. We eventually moved into a trailer. This would be the only time we would own our own home. Since we didn’t own the land and the rent went up for the lot, we had to move. We moved to Elkton, and my mom started a new job at a Nursing Home. She would drive us 20 minutes out of the way to my grandparents so we could catch the bus and not have to change schools. This new trailer park had a water problem. We had to boil water before using it one summer.

Then one Christmas, everything changed. My mom dropped a 75 lb jewelry box on her foot and did irreversible nerve damage. She could no longer work. We lost the trailer, we moved to an apartment, I shared a room with my mom. I switched schools. A church sponsored us for Christmas and we got a bunch of weird gifts, I didn’t understand. My brother, 16 at the time, started working at my grandparents restaurant to help my mom support our family.

We moved to low income apartments in Shenandoah. Page County doesn’t have a soccer program like the previous county did, so I give up soccer. I wear clothes from goodwill and get made fun of by my classmates for looking “like a granny.” We move in with my grandparents. I go to high school and get upset that we can’t afford Hollister shirts like my classmates. We move to a house that ends up being too expensive, we move to another house. My brother is 22 and still helping to support our family by working in a gas station. He is also going to college.

I am on free school lunch. I go to Governor’s School on a scholarship and find out that poor families like mine often cannot afford to eat nutritiously (we couldn’t). I remember talking my friend into shoplifting fruit and vegetables with me so I could just try a mango. It seems so crazy to think of now.

The absent man that contributed to my existence? Could not be bothered to pay child support, skipped around jobs and missing court dates in order to not pay his due. He still owes my mom money and has not paid in full. He even had the audacity to reach out and threaten her a few years ago if she kept pursuing the money owed because he himself is now disabled. We grew up impoverished in part of this missing support.

I was held to a very high standard academically because I could not afford to go to college without scholarships. I got some scholarships but in the end, I am $50,000+ in debt for university. I was kicked off my mom’s insurance plan at 19 because it was through disability. This meant that I could not afford my ADHD medicine for my entire college career until ACA was enacted.

Nick and I have been able to support ourselves by working multiple jobs but even that sense of stability was shaken when I found myself laid-off last summer. My mom is living with and caring for my grandparents, in part because she cannot afford to live alone. Her disability is worth ~$15,000 a year (the same as most states’ lowest minimum wage). Why?

The amount you receive each month is based on your average lifetime earnings before your disability. My mom only got to be a nurse for ~5 years before an injury took her ability to work away. Now she is living on unlivable wages and she is not alone. We are told that America is the greatest country on earth. WHERE IS THE PROOF?

This country has failed my family time and time again. We are hardworking, earnest people. It should not be so difficult to get by in this country. There are so many other stories like mine. Why are we fighting so hard against our own interests? Why do we not want housing, healthcare, and opportunities FOR ALL. My brother should not have had to sacrifice his childhood so I could go to university and go into debt, only to be unemployed with a Bachelor’s now. THIS SHOULD NOT BE. Now is the time to work for one another, we cannot survive on individualism. We need to realize that we all depend on one another and that we all flourish when given the opportunity.

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