Wednesday, August 27, 2008


It's taken me almost five years, but I am finally parting with my fat clothes.  I couldn't ever part with them because of my two strongest anxieties: money and my weight.  I was about two sizes larger several years back, but I'm at about my average size now - I'm still not skinny, but I'm maintaining my current weight without too much wrangling, and although I'd love to be two more sizes smaller, it's unlikely.  I've had a large box of these clothes that no longer fit for about five years now. 
I didn't want to get rid of them because if I did gain weight, I would not be able to afford a new wardrobe.  Most of these clothes are nice clothes - actually nicer than most of the clothes in my current rotation.  I don't own a lot of clothes, I rotate about the same three or four pairs of capris in the summer, three or four pairs of pants in the winter, and about 10 different t-shirts regardless of the season.  But I had all these crappy, pit-stained, superlarge shirts, plus some really nice collared shirts, slacks, skirts, just taking up space that I don't have in my current urban [read: tiny] space I share.  I am throwing out three garbage bags of the gross shirts, and I have four garbage bags of clothes to be donated - two to a women's work wardrobe type organization, and two to Goodwill. 
Someone wisely pointed out that there's a difference between being broke and poor - I'll always be broke, but I don't ever ever want to be poor again.I still have the anxiety, that if I throw them out I have no safety blanket, I'll have nothing to wear, no way to get new clothing, and I'm just throwing money away.  I cling to these things because I can't take those things for granted.  I'm always afraid of being poor again. 
I wore the same pair of sneakers for an entire year.  Every single day.  And they were hand-me-downs from a friend.  I patched up the crotch of two pairs of my jeans, the only two pairs that really fit, because that's all I had that year, I didn't have any way to replace them, and so I had to make do.  Once in eighth grade, our teacher required us to bring two very specific school supplies.  They'd cost about $8 total now, but I remember being yelled at, at home, that we didn't have the money for those things, so too bad.  I remember being lectured that public school is supposed to be FREE, and since when did we have to provide such things?  Then I went to school and got yelled at there, too, in front of the class, for not having those supplies as the teacher required.  I remember going on a field trip that included a stop at a food court, and being the only kid who was eating a brown bag lunch in the food court.  In high school.  Even more embarrassing, one of my teachers came over and insisted on giving me money to buy an ice cream or something.  I don't think on these things too often, but those memories and the discomfort and the embarrassment is seared into me, something that may heal but will always leave scars. 
My family is almost 10 years removed from that type of poverty, and I'm so happy to see that was a finite period of my family's life, but I'll never be able to shake it off.  I will never completely stop worrying about having something appropriate to wear for an occasion, or being able to buy food, or being able to pay all the bills every month.  There will always be that chill in my bones that I'll never quite be able to warm.  And now that the economy's bad, and I have hundreds of thousands of dollars of debt, I'm paranoid that I'll wake up tomorrow and won't have a job, and won't be able to get one, and won't have any way to pay the bills or put a roof over my head.  That gut anxiety never goes away. 
Other poor kids know what I mean.  You'll always be the poor kid.  Even though I went to good schools, and I've managed to traveled a little bit, and I appreciate red wine and a good meal, I don't feel like everyone else when I do it.  I feel like an imposter.  I don't belong in fancy clothes, or a fancy hotel, or planning fancy vacations.  I'll always be the girl wearing her friend's hand me down sneakers.  I'll always be the girl wondering how everyone else lives life so easily, when having so many more things now just means anxiety about losing those things.  Poor kids are always looking over their shoulder, wondering when life is finally going to catch up and take away the cloak of security that you clutch so hard your knuckles turn white.  Poor kids are always worrying about when the time will come to be poor again.
Getting rid of those clothes meant having to trust that even if things go badly, I'll still be pretty ok.  Even if I have to get rid of the gym membership and even if I'm eating nothing but rice and pasta and gain back all that weight, I won't go without clothes, or have to visibly sew tattered clothing to keep it together.  I'll never completely trust that there is anything at all preventing me from being that poor again, but at least I was able to let a little more of that go.


Blonde Justice said...

I know exactly what you mean. I'm still wearing patched jeans.

And I have a ton of work clothes (suits, etc.) that a friend of mine gave me when she left her corporate job - they're not really my style, I don't really see myself wearing them, they're taking up a ton of room in my closet, but I just feel so wrong giving away just about anything.

I also remember skipping the fourth grade class trip because it cost maybe ten dollars. I still had to go to school, but I had to go sit in the fifth grade classroom for the day. A few kids asked why I didn't go on the trip, and I said it was because I had already been to that museum already. (I hadn't.) One kid in the class was kind enough to speculate to the whole class that it was because my family didn't have the ten dollars. I'll always remember that kid.

He's probably a D.A. now.

Blonde Justice said...

Ugh. Just wanted to add - you stirred up so many memories and so much emotion with that.

But remember, that's why we can relate to our clients while others can't. It's a virtue.

Gracehoper said...

Agree with Ms. Justice on the stirring up. Wonder how many closet poor kids are amongst those we deal with on a daily basis.

Once in college a prof asked the class "who in here has ever been hungry" and a few kids raised their hands. I thought they must be faking because someone who had really been poor feels a sense of shame about it and would not be raising their hand to such a question.

Thanks for that posting.

Woman in Black said...

Sixth of seven children speaking here (who had the misfortune to go to high school and college during the Reagan years)in Michigan, land of 30 % unemployment: I feel your pain. You are doing a great thing by getting rid of it. It never goes away, fully, but it gets better when you are old like me;-)

Pete.Moss said...

Ordinary public schools around Cook Co., Illinois never charged us 4th graders for anything. We didn't have jobs or money, anyway. We were going to school to get an education to get jobs, further down the road.

Saving money on food, seems to have lost Woman of the Law some weight... and made her more financially responsible.

Perhaps Woman of the Law, when she around the courthouse really sat around the courthouse, then.

-Abby Normal
Ars longa, vita brevis

WomanoftheLaw said...

I appreciate hearing your stories and your responses. Having conversations about these things are so important, regardless of whether you were ever one of the poor kids. Unfortunately not every response can be reflective or help us talk more about what all these things mean, but all we can do is keep talking about what's important. So keep reflecting, or responding. I'm really listening.

Red Flashlight said...

What size are they? I'm in the broke category now - and I love hand-me-downs, especially for legal attire.