It’s a touchy subject

Sometime back in late April or thereabouts, my best friend mentioned that his brother was flying out of LAX for a trip somewhere. I asked, “How does he have money to fly places, honestly?” It seemed to me he was flying off someplace every other weekend, and—I admit—it irked me.

“Well, how much disposable income did you have during college?” he asked in return. I snorted a laugh before I could stop myself.

“None,” I said, and I bit my lip before saying more and making it all about me, again. I wanted to say, Why do you think I’m up to my eyeballs in credit card debt now?, but I didn’t. I wanted to explain again how I didn’t have money just falling off the tree like he and his brothers seem to have, and that was okay (not everyone is rich, obviously), but that he needed to check his privilege and stop assuming everyone’s had the kind of funds he’s had. I didn’t want to get into it, though, so I held my tongue.

He raised his eyebrows. I was driving, but I glanced over in time to see him purse his lips, as though he wasn’t saying something, too. What were we holding back? Well, I knew what I wasn’t saying, but what wasn’t he saying? I frowned, but the moment passed.

“I know your parents couldn’t pay for as much—” he started, but I cut him off, irritated.

“My parents helped me as much as they could, but I have loans, now, so… no, I didn’t have much money at my disposal.”

It’s always the money, for me. It’s a touchy subject. Turns out it’s difficult to do much in a world that runs on money when you don’t have any. Maybe it should be more about “knowing people” and “networking” (gods, I hate buzzwords), but I’m not exactly extroverted or a “Let’s hang out sometime this weekend!” kind of person, even with people I actually consider my friends.

I realized then, again, as I was turning onto a side street towards my parents’ house, that I resent others who’ve had a more well-to-do upbringing than I have, and trust me—I’m hardly at the bottom of the barrel. I realized that I feel entitled to things I don’t already have because I grew up in the type of community that gives its children everything it can afford… and my parents couldn’t afford much. And I realized that my feeling entitled is the problem, not that my best friend’s brother wastes his money on stupid shit like flying up to San Francisco for the weekend. Plenty of people could (and do, when they get the chance) argue that I “waste” what little money I have on “stupid shit”, too, and obviously, our priorities are different.

My best friend still gets an allowance, and he’s never really had to worry about how he’s getting back up to Montana for work or school. His parents always come through for him, and they probably think they’re doing right by him. Maybe they are, I don’t know. I wouldn’t want to deny him something I could feasibly provide for him, either, but that doesn’t make me any more patient when he fusses about how little he can actually do with “only” $80 per month.

Meanwhile, I’m struggling to make ends meet with therapy and doctor’s visits, and the cavity that was discovered at an appointment a few weeks ago is just right out. I’ll just have to deal with a painful mouth for a while (probably a long while) because I honest-to-gods truly can’t afford a crown or filling at this point in my life, even with medical insurance, which I have. And you know what? That’s just sad. I know; I know that dentistry is a first-world privilege, so to speak, and my not being able to pay for it is a first-world problem. I know that.

Part of the reason I dislike going over to my best friend’s house, even, is that the brothers… they’re just so obviously spoiled. It irritates me how spoiled they are, and I’m saying that as a person who considers herself relatively spoiled. I mean, honestly. (My own family has its own problems, but at least it’s mostly things I can understand. With my best friend’s family? What-the-hell-ever.)

I guess some people (my mother cough cough) would tell me to count my blessings: I can afford the therapy I need, even if funds are tight. I can pay the bills I have, even if I keep racking them up because my teeth are falling apart or I suddenly get tendonitis in my writing arm. I do have a roof over my head. I mean, it could be worse, right?

Well, of course it could be worse. It could always be worse. That doesn’t mean what I’m dealing with now is easy, or is less painful, or is worth less just because I’m not at the bottom of the barrel. If I was at the bottom of the barrel, I would kill myself and be done with it. But there’s so much further I could fall that I still have to seriously weigh the options before I take a giant leap into the unknown like that.

It’s said that money can’t buy happiness. Obviously, whoever said that was never poor; he or she never had no money. That saying is bullshit. I may not be any happier with money, but at least with it I would be able to think about something else.

Viannah E. Duncan

Viannah E. Duncan is a writer and activist hailing originally from Los Angeles. She lives outside of Baltimore, Maryland, and holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Wilkes University. She has a cat, Cleo.

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