OK – FINE! You have beaten me – No one is getting three songs. I swear, I thought it would be easy, since I’m a hippie chick, I have a song reference in my username and email, and since I have talked about artists I like. But turns out it wasn’t so easy. I will probably just do a random pick for the iTunes winner. Unless someone guesses before i get around to doing it (I’m super busy at work right now) Dammit.
Because of the super busy, I am delving back into the archives. This was originally published in November 2007. I have been pretty open over the years, writing about my insecurities and failures, about heartbreak and marriage issues. I’ve shared embarrassing moments and been brutally honest about family problems. But strangely, this was by far the most difficult post for me to write and share.
What Does Need Look Like?
Back when I was living in the city and attending the most awesome church ever, I used to volunteer at the church’s weekly meal for the homeless and less fortunate. I’d show up around 7:00 am and we’d start chopping, prepping and cooking. We generally served something simple – chili, stew, pasta. Anything that was inexpensive and could be stretched a long way.
We got a diverse crowd at these meals – some obviously homeless folks, veterans still struggling with what they had been through, lonely elderly men, addicts and alcoholics, mentally challenged people living on their own, and the hardest ones to see – families. It took everything I had not to cry when a toddler or young child would smile shyly and politely ask for “more milk, please?” I can’t tell you how many times I’d have to turn away and blink back tears, knowing that my childhood was so very different than theirs. At that age, my biggest worry was if Teddy liked me (yes, no, or maybe so) or which of us was going to get to play Dorothy when we played Wizard of Oz at recess that day.
Anyway, occasionally we got people (mostly men for some reason) that didn’t really look needy. I know – needy doesn’t have a “look”, but it’s the best description I can give. One week, we had two men come in that fit this description – one older (maybe in his 50’s) (also – this was years ago when I included 50’s in the “older” category and not the “potential hot sex” category) and one younger. They may have been father and son, maybe just acquaintances. They were dressed pretty well, especially the younger man, in clean, neat clothes and a well-made jacket.
They were welcomed just as everyone else was – no one was questioned or turned away there and rightly so. But I overheard someone make mention of their “not needy-looking” appearance. It wasn’t anyone working at the meal – everyone there felt the same about our guests. It was someone who was at the church for another reason. But when I heard their comment, it really bothered me. I mean, who are we to judge? What does “needy” look like? And does needy only mean financially needy? What about the lonely, the scared, the sad? Aren’t they just as needy of our fellowship as the hungry were of our food? And yet, while part of me understood the person’s comment, I also knew how ignorant it was. While I was never “needy”, I had had an experience a few years before that made me feel judged and needy and humiliated because of it.
Back when I worked for the University and made a salary that I could never have lived on alone, mr b and I went through some pretty hard times. I was going to say that we were the epitome of “paycheck to paycheck”, but that isn’t exactly right, because the money never quite stretched from one paycheck to the next. Now, let me get this straight – I was never in any danger of losing my home or starving to death. I had family, mr b had family – if we were truly anywhere near that, they would have stepped in to help. Hell – they have helped us many times. But no one likes to ask for help. No one wants to admit that they aren’t making it, that they are failing at life. I grew up being almost unable to ask for anything, so I was no exception.
So one month, things were really tight. My monthly paycheck wasn’t due for a week (whopping $625 that it was), and mr b’s small pay wasn’t coming for a couple days, either. There was nothing in our account – in fact, we were overdrawn. This was a relatively common occurrence, given our paltry salaries and our rent, utilities, student loans and a pretty large IRS bill from an old business venture when mr b had to choose between paying his guys and paying his taxes – he chose right. Anyway, the money was gone, the food had run out the night before and we had long since started walking to work to avoid bus fare.
In the office where I worked, there was a small group of us that pitched in every month for a lottery fund. We played the big jackpots a couple of times a week and put any winnings back in the pot. The envelope was kept in one woman’s desk (the territorial crazy-ass bitch – I have some stories about her for another day). Since there was usually more money in there than we generally needed for the lottery, it became a “bank” of sorts. If someone in the group had forgotten their lunch money or bus fare, they’d borrow from the pool and pay it back later. So, on that day, I was getting ready to leave (I was the last one in the office), and I was fretting about what we were going to have for dinner (and lunch and dinner the next day – I had already skipped breakfast and lunch that day) when I remembered the lottery pool. I checked the envelope and we had way more than we needed, so I borrowed five bucks. We had enough in there that if we divided it by the contributors, we’d have 10 dollars a piece, so technically, I didn’t borrow anything more than – and actually less than – my own money.
I left work, walked to the store (no way was I wasting my $5 on bus fare), bought some ramen noodles and ground beef and walked home, feeling slightly relieved that I didn’t have to skip eating the next couple days. I guess I should mention that we were out of checks and they were on re-order, because otherwise, I would have knowingly written a bad check. I mean – eating versus bouncing a check (as I said a common occurrence)? No contest.
The next day, as soon as I got into the office, I was called upstairs on a project, so I didn’t see any of the other women when they came in. It wasn’t until hours later when I caught up with my friend Toenail, she told me that Diana, the crazy-ass bitch was freaking out because someone had stolen our money. She came in and immediately checked the envelope (being a paranoid, territorial, crazy-ass bitch) and freaked out. No – that’s not exactly true. She first assumed that someone had borrowed it, but when she asked the other women (completely unbothered by the thought of it) and they said no, she freaked out. They others said it was probably me, to calm down. But she hated me. So suddenly, what was perfectly OK when she assumed it was one of the others was thievery when it was me. She ranted and raved and screamed and cried (yes – she actually cried – she was really good at mustering up fake tears to suit her needs).
She went upstairs and cried and told everyone and anyone that I had broken into her desk and stolen her money. Before long, I was summoned in to the (world’s worst) boss’s office. I was interrogated and humiliated. I sat there before my anus of a boss and explained that we always borrowed from the fund and that it was never a problem. I explained that it was my money. I explained that the other women weren’t upset at all – only dirty Diana (oh the stories I could tell about her). Still, he had heard the word “stolen” and that was as much as his tiny brain could handle. He wanted to know “why I did it”, what I needed the money for. After explaining yet again that I didn’t “do” anything, I told him the truth – I began to cry as I explained that we were out of money and out of food. He looked at me incredulously – as if he couldn’t even comprehend being broke and hungry. He didn’t feel any sympathy for me. He didn’t care that his employee could not afford to eat on her salary. All he wanted to know was, “What can you get for five dollars?”
This made me cry harder. If he was intent on humiliating me, he was doing a fine job. I felt terrible. I was ashamed. Not of what I had “done”, but of the fact that needed to do it. I was ashamed to have to explain to the man who once told me how cheap his airfare to Paris was and told me I should go (it was more than my entire monthly paycheck) that I had bought ramen fucking noodles just so I wouldn’t go hungry for the next two days.
And why should I have been ashamed? I was working. I had gotten a college degree. I was earning a living. I was doing everything I could and it Just. Wasn’t. Enough. Why should I be ashamed? Shouldn’t society be ashamed? Shouldn’t our government be ashamed? Shouldn’t my fucking asshole boss be ashamed? Ashamed for not paying me enough to live on? Ashamed for judging and humiliating me for something that he was partially responsible for? And yet, I hung my head and cried and took the rest of the day off so I didn’t have to face anyone. I walked out the back way so I wouldn’t run into anyone. I had already seen Dirty Diana’s satisfied, smug face and that was enough. I stopped in the bathroom on the way and threw up, so deep was my shame. I cried all night and most of the next day.
And you know what I was wearing? Clean, neat clothes and a well-made jacket. So you tell me – can anyone really say what “needy” looks like? I try to give and help whenever I can, and even if I can’t? I’ll never judge someone asking for help. I know how ashamed I felt that day, and I imagine it is hard and hurtful and humiliating for others to feel “needy”. Believe me, no one is judging them as much as they are judging themselves. No one can imagine what they are going through. No one would put themselves though that feeling if they didn’t feel it was their only option. And if they did? Then they are clearly in need of something, if not food or money. And I for one, won’t deny them.