What growing up below the poverty line has done to my life

When I was about five years old, my father got the brilliant idea to drive while drunk; the resulting accident left him severely brain damaged. My mother, only 32 at the time, couldn't accept that her husband was effectively dead, and tried to bring him home. Fortunately for me, I don't recall much of that time, but it was a bad decision on her part. He had to be restrained at night, every night, or he wouldn't sleep, and it wasn't safe to let him wander the house unsupervised. One night my mother decided to allow him to have a cigarette before he went to sleep. My father retained enough thought process to burn his way out of his restraints, then dropped the cigarette on the floor and went to find my mother. The house caught fire, and one of my earliest memories is of my mother bundling me into my blanket and rushing me out of the house.


After this incident, my mother realized that my father simply couldn't stay with us safely. Due to the fire, and the loss of my fathers income, we had to move from the three bedroom two bath house in a nice area of town to a two bedroom one bath apartment in the "ghetto". I went from having my own room, with toys and a pink canopy bed to sharing a room with my sister and bunk beds held together with duct tape. Our new apartment had a mold issue, which led to me having respiratory issues for many years.


Our lives changed drastically after the move. My mother didn't work, so we were on welfare. We received food stamps, and Medi-Cal. I distinctly recall one year when my elementary school did a canned food drive, and I secretly marked the can of corn I brought in for the drive. About three weeks later, we got our food box from the local charity that provided Thanksgiving dinners to the poor, and in the box was the can of corn I had brought to school. That was the first time I realized how bad off we were. We regualrly did without electricity, and I knew exactly how the eviction laws in our area worked by the time I was 8. I recall attempting to rent a video at a local store as a child, and when they found out our address the refused to rent to us. There were assignments at school that I simply couldn't do, because I didn't have access to the materials necessary. Anything from not having a tv to watch a program that the teacher wanted us to watch, to not having the arts and crafts supplies to make a diorama in third grade.


I think the biggest effect, the one that still matters today, came from all the things that I simply never learned. I don't really understand a lot of how money/financial matters work, at 37 years old I don't know how one goes about doing something like making a resume or getting a job that isn't the stereotypical "teenage" retail job. I don't know how to behave in formal situations, I've not been exposed to much "culture", and the living conditions that I'm willing to accept are apparently not considered normal. I spent years not knowing how to do some very basic things, like laundry or household chores, because I wan't taught as a kid.


Though growing up below the poverty line sucked, I like who I am, and thus wouldn't go back and change it if I could.

User Comments

I was in a similar position to you in some respects, growing up. In particular, like you, I now (in my mid-30s) have trouble with jobs and finances. I recently figured out how to apply some of my skills towards freelancing online, and it's actually doing a decent job of paying the bills. You might consider looking into that :) It's been a huge self-esteem boost.


Sincere congrats for not feeling like you ought to go back and change the past! That's a hard view for some people to embrace, but regrets are rarely worth focusing on. I can't imagine what it must have been like to grow up in this situation, but I'm glad that you turned out to be what seems like a healthy and well-adjusted person... albeit with some issues, which trust me: we've all got.


I wish I'd found your calm peace of mind in regards to my own upbringing years ago. I'm still coming to terms with how it's affected me as an adult. Reading your account has given me new hope for the future; thank you so much for sharing!


Bravo for sticking to a positive viewpoint and keeping a constructive attitude! I don't know that I'd have been able to if I were in your position. It's nice to know that there are such positive-minded people out there as yourself.


Your story needs to be more widely known, so that people can understand the merits of keeping to a positive frame of mind in the face of great adversity. I feel like I wish I could take your past suffering away, if I could. I'm glad that you've found a place where you're okay with what happened, in light of what the future might hold.


When I first started hanging out with other people a lot, in my early 20s, I was caught off-guard whenever I was expected to pay for my own food and other things. I grew up sheltered and without a lot of friends. I never had to do that. It wasn't that I was unwilling, but I never expected it. It's hard to escape the circumstances of your upbringing and the desire that they might have been different. It's refreshing to see someone else look at their own life and say "I'm happy for who I am, and I wouldn't change a thing." Thank you so much for sharing.