Not when it comes to money, there isn’t. You either spend it on something or you don’t. It goes on place or it doesn’t.
I was talking to my mom on the phone today. Nothing special, I do this often. But as ebay reminds me that there’s little more than a month til Christmas, I asked her today what she would like for Christmas. She told me not to get her anything. RED ALERT: This is NOT how my family works. We don’t say don’t get me anything to be polite before we say what we really want. Holidays are HUGE in my family. Something is extremely amiss. So I said, what do you mean don’t get you anything? It’s Christmas, I have to get you something for Christmas. And she very kindly asked that I please don’t, because she’s not sure she’ll be able to get anyone else anything for Christmas. She said to focus on my brother and sister instead, so they can have something for Christmas.
In my Intro to Black Women’s Studies seminar tonight, we briefly discussed the not-really-contested fact that the black middle class in America may very well have disappeared by 2020. Yes, by ten years from now. A lot of my classmates were shocked. Hell, some were downright appalled! But me, I can totally believe it, because my mother basically told me today that unless a miracle happens and she hits the lottery or something, my family cannot afford to celebrate Christmas this year.
I don’t know how or with whom to articulate this. I don’t know how to say that the family of a girl who goes to Princeton won’t even have a tree to put non-existent presents under this year. I feel like I certainly can’t talk to anyone here about this. I miss C so much. I could tell her this. She would understand, and she wouldn’t judge me, and she would hold me while I cry and be real with me about how she went through this when she was younger and it has to get better. If I’m being totally honest with you about these things, sometimes I feel like things like this, and the fact that I’ve been on food stamps, and got free lunch for the vast majority of my childhood and adolescence, and know how it feels to have the water or the cell phone cut off due to nonpayment of the bill…these are things that remind me that part of me just really doesn’t belong here.
I can’t stop asking myself How much of this is my fault? What did I do to contribute to this? I feel like the world’s most selfish, most ungrateful bitch. I’m in a fucking eating club. Unlike most people, my parents don’t contribute to my eating club membership at all; I pay for the entire thing out of the money I get from the university. But if I wasn’t in a club, if I got a meal plan in the dining hall, the extra nearly $3,000 would have gone from the university into my bank account. That’s money I could have used to help my mom. I used my Mellon Mays stipend to buy posters and accessories for my room, and new sweaters and boots, and countless other things I didn’t really need. That’s money I could have used to bring Christmas to my household, single-handedly. Would I have? is a whole different can of worms, but I COULD have.
Should I have? Am I justified in being disgusted with myself and my actions right now? I could have been Santa. It’s not my job, but I could have been Santa.
BUT I ASKED HER. When I got my Mellon Mays check, I called my mom and asked if there was anything I could do to help out financially. She asked me to cover the $200ish cell phone bill for the family for the month, so our cell phones didn’t get cut off and we all lose all forms of communication with the rest of the world. I said of course, and handled the transaction right then, while we were still on the phone. She never asked for anything again.
I’m sure it must be embarrassing for her, having to come to her daughter for help financially. But if I have more disposable income than her, I should help, right? Does that mean that if I have the potential to have even MORE disposable income, I should take the actions that bring that about, no matter what?
But I can’t ignore that being in Quad has positively affected my overall Princeton experience SO MUCH. Real family notwithstanding, my Quad family is without a doubt one of the most important aspects of my life. They make me feel understood, and cared about, and loved on a day-to-day basis while I am here. They help keep me sane. I effectively gave up whole parts of my life for them. And part of me is SCREAMING that I am twenty goddamn years old, and bringing Christmas to my family is not my responsibility. I know that a big part of making it in the black community is giving back to the community, but I’m still an undergrad–I haven’t made it yet! It’s like…you know how when you’re on an airplane, and the flight attendants give the spheel about safety, and you’re supposed to make sure your oxygen mask is secure before you try to help other people with theirs? Does that still apply if you’re sitting in between your mother, brother, and sister?
How can I reconcile what’s best for me with what’s best for them? How can I take care of myself mentally, physically, and emotionally and not feel as though I am neglecting them? Should I take on the responsibility of helping to keep them accustomed to the hanging-on-by-a-paycheck-but-always-somehow-able-to-make-it-work life we’ve been living for 20 years? And if so, how can I do that without running myself into the ground and giving up the things that keep me going? WHO COMES FIRST AND HOW DO I JUSTIFY IT BEING ME?
…Am I a terrible human being for even asking that?