Monday, March 2, 2009

Portrait: Brooklyn, New York/ Central Pennsylvania

In the grand scheme of this economic crisis, I'm doing okay. I have a relatively stable job. And long before stocks plummeted, I was watching my pennies. I was typing everything from a morning coffee to my student loan payments into an Excel spreadsheet every night. It quickly became my pre-bedtime ritual -- enter the 75 cents I spent on peanut M&Ms for an afternoon pick-me-up into those judgemental little cells; feel defeated as an adult; go to bed embarrassed that I was going to have to sell something on eBay to pay my rent later in the month. I was cognizant of every dollar, every dime. But I had to be, I live in one of the most expensive cities in the world and my rent for a small one-bedroom in Brooklyn is half of my monthly salary. So, in a way, those cells probably saved me from myself. I was able to brave my own taxes this year and got myself a decent refund. I'm actually pretty proud of me for not falling apart yet.

Where I grew up, though, is a different story. My family is struggling. Some of it their own doing, but most of it due to the unstable economic climate. And, as some who always wants to be the problem-solver, I am struggling, too. I talk to my mother, a trade school teacher for almost 30 years, several times per week, and try to stomach it as she tells me that she's not sure when her husband will be able to work again. Or how she's been supporting a family of four on her salary for more than a year. Or how my grandmother's husband, at 70, was just laid-off from his factory job. Or how my uncle's hours were cut at his full-time job to a mere 16 hours a week and his children always seem to be ill. Or how little oil my family has left for the winter. They make all of the news coverage real.

I offer what little I have to give -- as a loan, because I know my mother does not want my money. She knows I don't have much more than she. But she doesn't take it. Instead, she asks me if I have groceries to get through the week. I tell her I do, and that I really don't mind not eating out anymore. She knows I like to eat out and I miss not being able to anymore in a city like New York. She will even send me five or ten dollars every few months with a note telling me to treat myself to some Starbucks. She's in a terrible position and she sends me money to go to Starbucks. Because she's my mother and she's only thinking of the little burst happiness she can give me.

Brooklyn, NY / Central Pennsylvania