I live in poverty. This isn’t a choice. This isn’t where I thought I’d be when my 6th grade teacher asked what I wanted to be when I grew up. I never imagined I’d be sitting here alone, wondering where my next meal might come from, feeling both gratitude and more shame than I knew was possible for the generous donation of $60 I received from a friend so that I could buy enough food for myself and my cats to last the rest of the month.
I live in poverty. This isn’t a choice. I never once considered as a young adult that my quick temper and somewhat unstable personality was a mental illness. I didn’t expect to be hospitalised because I became unable to care for myself. I didn’t know that I’d be unwittingly destroying every relationship I’ve ever had, resulting in a solitude so deep and so profound that I’ve yet to meet the person who understands it.
I live in poverty. This isn’t a choice. There was never a day, never a lesson learned to prepare me for the extent of this crushing loneliness. None of my high school teachers saw fit to inform me that our society not only looks down on people like me – whose brains are traitors, and saboteurs, and vicious enemies – but is also ill-equipped to assist in any meaningful way.
I live in poverty. This isn’t a choice. I didn’t ask for depression, anxiety, and agoraphobia. I haven’t sought out anger, and sadness, and despair. Yet they all found me anyway. I am not here of my own choosing, even though my choices are the problem. I didn’t seek to alienate my own children, my partners, my brothers, my father. It wasn’t my choice to thin the field of people who’d willingly call me ‘friend’, I don’t want to be alone. But here I am, and there they are.
I live in poverty. This isn’t a choice. If I could utter an incantation, spin a spell, or wave a wand, I’d be surrounded by love, and smiles, and faces I can look into without seeing disappointment, and judgement, and dismissal. I’d have food enough in my cupboards to feed anyone who might happen through my door, and then some. I’d have a gleeful answer – yes! – to any person on the street who might find themselves in an unfortunate position and be in need of my good fortune. But the world isn’t run by magic, it’s run by people; people who are disappointed, and judgmental, and dismissive. People who’d rather count the tax dollars in my shopping cart than count the blessings in their own life. People who resent the handouts and expect those without to make perfect decisions anyway. People in whose eyes I am unworthy of redemption.
I live in poverty. This isn’t a choice. I haven’t asked for your pity. I don’t want your charity. I have no need of your acceptance. But as a human being, I demand your respect; I deserve your compassion; I am your reflection.