Growing up poor has left quite a number of marks on me. My love of thrifting, my make do attitude, the fact that any form of canned beef still makes me gag, and a paralyzing fear of having people know we’re poor. To be specific, my parents weren’t poor, I was. Which really complicated things. I didn’t qualify for any programs like school lunch or other assistance, and I didn’t want people to know that I couldn’t have things just because my parents wouldn’t – not couldn’t – pay for them, so I made up a ton of thin excuses about how unhungry I was, or how the field trip seemed lame, or how I never really wanted to participate in sports.
I still visibly cringe when I think about the time when I was in seventh grade and I missed the Girl’s Ensemble competition. I was in an elite choral group that had worked hard and prepared for a competition, that I knew my parents would neither support nor attend. So I just didn’t show. And then got in ENORMOUS trouble for it. All the other girls were mad at me, they compared notes to find out my excuses contradicted each other and just thought I was a huge liar, the teacher told me how disappointed she was in me, and I ended up leaving the group over the grief I got. But hey, no one knew my parents were neglectful abusers, so…mission accomplished?
When I left home at 16 things really got financially precarious and I was regularly juggling late fees and shut off dates. In college I was used to having $5 in my bank account and feeling flush. The rest of the time I was walking down to the bank and begging them to reverse bounced check charges so I had a prayer of digging myself out of the hole I’d made.
Things haven’t been that bad in a really long time. As married adults we’ve always lived paycheck to paycheck, but the paychecks actually meet, which to me feels like total luxury. Bear has a harder time with it. He doesn’t know how to be poor, so just the fact that there is a finite amount of money stresses him out. Poor thing. Abundance crippled him.
Still, after all those years of being poor, and the shame associated with why, I have a residual fear that I can’t seem to shake. Every time I use my card I find myself holding my breath and waiting to see if it gets accepted. It doesn’t matter how much is in the account or how close it is to payday, whenever I’m standing at a register, I’m saying a little prayer.
Nobody feels good when their card gets declined, it’s on nobody’s list of things that happen on a good day, but it crosses over into the irrational for me. I’ve worked retail. I know people’s cards get declined constantly, for a million different reasons, only one of which has anything to do with how much money is in the account. Still, even when the reader isn’t working and I just have to swipe my card a second time, the shame of my childhood comes flooding back to me and I want to turn into vapor and waft out the door.
This week I was shopping for outdoor cushions, trying to get an end of season deal, so I went to WalMart.com. But my card wouldn’t work. It told me to go into the store, so I assumed the problem was on their end. I went into the store to try and pay for my online purchase, which none of the cashiers seemed to know how to do. After waiting in line and calling the manager over to ring it up, my debit card is declined. I try to use it as credit. Still declined. We’ve been trying to get rid of our credit card debt so that card that has been declined is the only form of payment I have on me. I have to wait there, holding up the line full of people staring daggers into my back, waiting for the manager to come back and void it so that it doesn’t mess up my order.
I call my bank to find out what happened and it turned that a local grocery store had a database breach. So they warned my bank and they were keeping an eye on the card. From there all it took was an attempt at a purchase on WalMart.com for them to flag the fraud alert.
We got everything straightened out, I waited in line again, the manager had to come over again, my card actually went through, and everything seemed OK. The nice lady at the bank said that she’d send new cards out just to be safe and apologized for the inconvenience, and despite my desperate wishes, I was not struck dead.
Then yesterday I went to my favorite thrift store for their 50% off everything holiday sale. I had an epic haul that probably outdid even my own record for thrifting. For $120 I got a couch, a vase, two pieces of carnival glass, an afghan, five sweaters, fabric, two wooden chairs, and NINE upholstered dining room chairs. Four of those chairs came out to $1.25 a piece. A DOLLAR AND A QUARTER FOR A CHAIR!! WHAT IS BIGGER THAN ALL CAPS BECAUSE THAT IS WHAT I NEED RIGHT NOW!
I wait in line forever with all the rest of the holiday bargain hunters, have her go through the complicated process of ringing up all that furniture, chit chat with my friend who came with me, and then my card gets declined again.
They had canceled the cards without sending any new ones.
My friend had to buy my $1.25 chairs and then I had to write her a check to pay her back. Because I couldn’t even use an ATM.
In one week my card was not only declined, not only declined twice, but declined at Wal-Mart and at a thrift store.
And then I died.