A past problem that haunts me still

While I may not be vocal about this, I spend a bunch of time thinking about a problem that is not currently a problem of mine. That problem is food insecurity, and if you don’t know what that is, you can read about it here: Understanding Hunger and Food Insecurity.

While I say this thankfully is not currently a problem of mine, it certainly has been a problem of mine in the past. Long ago, way before I had a well-paying job in a lucrative industry and was married to a person in the same position, I lived in the basement apartment of my father’s house, and did not have much of a salary. At 27 years old and with a recently deceased mother, I was going through somewhat of an emotional and lifestyle crisis. My dad had threatened to kill himself after my mother’s death, and asked me, his only daughter, to move in with him. I had a respectable job in publishing in New York City, but telecommuting was not done back then, so I quit and moved three hours north to one of the poorest counties in the state.

dad

My dad and me, a couple of months after my mother’s death. The door seen on the left leads to my apartment.

The house and property were large but extremely run-down. The main house itself had a living room, dining room, kitchen, one bathroom, and three bedrooms. It also smelled horribly of smoke, as both my parents smoked three packs of cigarettes a day. At first, I slept in the bedroom I had stayed in when I visited, but the daily smell of smoke was getting to me, and I asked to move into the basement apartment.

That apartment was not unknown to me, as I had lived there a brief period when I was 18-20 and going to junior college. It had a large living room, a very small bedroom, and an even smaller kitchen and bathroom. And I use the term “kitchen” loosely. When I was younger, the kitchen had a sink and a refrigerator. Moving back there, both of these items were gone.

Trying to make money in a poor, rural community is difficult. As a student at the local massage school, I got a student job in the bursar’s office. I was allowed to work a maximum of 10 hours a week, and I made $9 an hour. After taxes, that was about $300 a month. I had to pay for my classes, of course, and also gas for my car. My father allowed me to live in the apartment rent-free, since it would otherwise just stand empty.

Sometimes I try to think back on what I would eat on a day-to-day basis. When I first moved in with him, my dad provided me with every meal. But as I moved to the apartment and started school, I saw him less. In those days, I would have a granola bar for breakfast, a cup of free coffee at the bursar’s office sometime during the day, and whatever he made for dinner. I was hungry from skipping lunch every weekday, but there was no real suffering.

Eventually, we grew further apart as our lives went on. My dad met a woman and spent a lot of time with her, so there were no more prepared dinners most nights. I had a microwave in my apartment, so I started having microwaved popcorn almost every night. Remember, I had no sink, so I didn’t want anything that required dishes or utensils. Also, I had nowhere to store food that needed to be cold. So, I largely lived on granola bars and microwaved popcorn for two years of my life, and it wasn’t the worst that could have happened.

I remember being hungry all the time. A bag of microwaved popcorn is about 300 calories and a granola bar is about 150, so with the coffee, I was having about 500 calories a day, most days. As a comparison, I now eat about 1,100 calories a day, most days, and the average adult woman eats about twice that (2,000 according to Google). Of course, some happy days I did get other food. Sometimes my dad brought home a bucket of KFC. Sometimes I went to a friend’s house for dinner. Sometimes, when it was payday, I treated myself to a sandwich from the gas station when I filled up my car.

Let me be clear in saying that I did not have it all that bad. But what I do want to emphasize is that it is now many years later, and I still look back on that time of my life often and with a feeling of existential dread. I wanted to write about some things I do that help the situation and also alleviate my anxiety, but this post has gotten pretty long, so I’ll save that for next time.

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