I was looking out the window tonight and was feeling a little maudlin, maybe even a little anxious. I didn’t understand why I was feeling that (well besides just getting back from training for two weeks and still working out the losses of last year). That is when I realized today is February first and it got me thinking about things, especially about dates.
Dates are a funny thing. I don’t mean holidays like Christmas, or dates like a person’s birthday, wedding or some other special occasion. I mean specific days of the month.
For me the first of the month has always been an important day. True, it is important to others so they can pay their rent, or to mark the passing of a new month, but for me, for so much of my life, it meant more than that.
Unless you grew up in absolute poverty like me you wouldn’t really understand. When your family’s entire ability to eat, sleep and have electricity rely on a specific date that the check would come, you developed coping habits. The 1st was something all the poor families around us sort of focused our attention on it. It was something to look forward to, almost some sort to “savior”. It was a time when things would be ok for a short while.
I remember growing up and being hungry at the end of the month. Watching my parents not eat for a week at a time and our electricity had been shut off, hoping for the check to come. Things were extreme enough that I had stretch marks on my abdomen because I gained and lost weight so much that lasted for years after I moved out. When Wolsey first dated me he would run his fingers along them, I think they bothered him.
The money showing up would be like a godsend, and for a few days at least you would eat food, the lights would be on and maybe you could go to a store.
It was also a time of anxiety. My parents were heavy alcoholics and the first of the month meant they would drink, which brought its own issues. I was fortunate, they would try to quit for weeks or months at a time, but alcoholism is very difficult and it would return. While I would hope for the first to come quickly, I also dreaded it.
Don’t get me wrong, I haven’t had stretch marks for a long time. I have eaten fairly well, even when Wolsey and I were poor. The only time we had a repeat of this was when Wolsey and I were going to school and we would wait for our quarterly student loans, then divide that money up and budget for the next three months.
However, even for the last twenty years the first of the month still had a big meaning. My parents never got better financially on their own, by the time they had sobered up their bodies were too broken to work. We were able to step in and help, but I watched every month as they tried to keep things going with not enough social security and food stamps (no family of two can get by on $850 a month between the two, especially when rent itself was $675).
This meant Wolsey and I would help out at the end of the month. We went out of our way to not ever get paid back. We didn’t mind helping them, and the last thing we would want to do is make it harder for them by having them pay us on the first. But even up until last July, the 1st of the month carried a lot of meaning for my family, and in turn for me.
It has been weird the last six months since Mom passed. We have been able to focus on our own bills and for the first time ever in our relationship we didn’t have to consider my parents and how long until they got their check on the first. I know we are better off financially and worry wise now that we aren’t helping support them, but I still can’t stop from being maudlin occasionally, and even now, the first of the month is still an important date.