Perhaps this doesn’t seem like a big deal. But losing $20 and not missing it enough to tear my home apart looking for it is a relatively new privilege. Five years ago, I could account for every quarter belonging to me.
And yet I still feel the same as I did that morning my car was taken. I don’t have impostor syndrome. I believe I deserve my success. I am, however, waiting for the other shoe to drop. I’m so used to mundane financial setbacks — an overdraft fee here, a cellphone temporarily disconnected there — that my new status is too surreal for my brain to accept.
Even admitting aloud that I’m not struggling, but thriving, feels egregious, like I’m taunting those sentinels of brokeness, daring them to snatch me from my stoop.
My money-related angst isn’t some sort of performative modesty. I wish it were, because then I wouldn’t have any qualms about doing what I dreamed of when I was broke — make Kanye West’s mantra from “Can’t Tell Me Nothing” (“Wait till I get my money right/Then you can’t tell me nothing, right?”) my personal edict, a tattoo sleeve, and a yard sign I’d haul around with me. Instead, it’s earned.
I will be 40 in December. And for my first 35 or so years, I was either broke or broke-adjacent, which is another way of saying still broke-ish, but temporarily held together with duct tape.
I’ve never been poor. At least, I’ve never felt poor. But perhaps that’s only because I equate poverty with hunger, and I’ve never experienced that type of pain. Maybe I’ve actually been poor, and I’m just loath to admit it because it would unlock another level of the shame America casts on people bold enough to not have money.
But I am well acquainted with payday loans and check-cashing spots; with food stamps and utility bills in my name as a toddler; with Rent-A-Center and “riding dirty” for so long you forget how it feels to be clean; with bright red shut-off notices taped to front doors, knowing that when you’re evicted, landlords don’t usually throw your things out on the sidewalk like in the movies. Instead, you’ll just come home and the locks will be changed.