I bought the road bike a few months after separating from my ex-husband.
It was an unusually expensive purchase for me. A stupidly expensive purchase for me. Fresh off being in a two-income family for ten years, I had yet to learn what divorce was about to do to me financially. All I knew was that I needed to get out of my head, out of my house, and do something. Anything.
I couldn’t stand sitting home alone when my three children were with their dad. I’d irritably pace my house, where I was living alone for the first time in more than a decade, unsure of what to do after years of being a full-time parent. Then I’d drink wine until I passed out. Being without my children half the time was destroying me. I needed inspiration to live, something to look forward to that would occupy my time and mind when not at work. So I said screw it, plunked down a credit card, and brought the bike home.
Pedaling away my divorce horror, I logged mile after beautiful mile that summer. Cycling felt like the closest thing to flying. It was something I never would have done while married, which made it all the more sweet. I was discovering my post-divorce identity by reconnecting with my youth, the version of myself I was before my marriage and divorce — and it was the most empowering thing I had done for myself in years.
God, I loved that bike.
Yesterday, $600 clutched in my hand, I watched, insides aching, as a 20-something woman wheeled the bike down my driveway and drove away with it on the back of her car.
And that wasn’t the first day I felt the financial burden of my divorce.
My car was repossessed the day before I put down my dog. For about an hour, I stupidly thought the car had been stolen right from my driveway. In my defense, I wasn’t thinking clearly. I was in the midst of caring for my sweet, sick dog while trying to maintain normalcy for three small children and show up for a full-time job. So when I went outside to get in my car that morning only to find it wasn’t there, I assumed it was stolen.
I forgot I had chosen to skip a December payment in order to cover Christmas presents. Thing is, I also forgot to pay the month before December. When November’s payment came due, I probably put it off so I could afford daycare and groceries and the electric bill, and by the time November dissolved into December, I just plain forgot about all of it.
I tend to do that.
Bills I can’t afford to pay cause me so much mental anguish, my brain just shuts down and I space everything until I’m staring at an ominous SHUT OFF notice taped to my door. Only then do I jump into action.
While I am not a “single mom” in that my kids’ dad has joint custody, financially speaking, I struggle mightily as a result of trying to cover healthcare, daycare, and maintain a household in a good school district for three children on a solo income.
I grew up poor. I know how to be poor. But I can’t get over the embarrassment I feel as a nearly 40-year-old woman struggling from paycheck to paycheck. The shame of car repossession, debt collector phone harassment, and debit card denial at the grocery store is frequent and intense.
Even though I work my ass off, it’s hard to maintain swagger in the face of condescending bill collectors leaving you snarky voicemails several times a day, as if you have a checking account brimming with money and not paying your bills is something you do for kicks.
They make me feel like a failure. I make me feel like a failure. The ONE thing from my childhood (OK there are lots of things, but this is a big one!) I wanted to improve upon was this. I did not want my children to grow up like I did — hoarding cans of SpaghettiOs and Campbell’s soup under their beds because they’re worried about the end of the month when the food stamps run out.
I am not a materialistic person; I don’t care about big houses, fancy cars, granite countertops, or Pinterest-inspired bedrooms. I know enough to know that stuff doesn’t create happiness. Yet here I am, working a full-time job and a freelance writing gig, a financial fist crushing my windpipe at all times, a gorilla hunkered heavily on my chest, slapping my face in the dark of night to keep my tired mind awake and chronicling which bills need paying and which ones I’ll have to put off over and over again.
I had been framing myself as a victim, if only in my head. As the usual life circumstances kept screwing me, I sunk lower into victim mentality. But the epiphany came while sobbing in the shower one day. I’m not a victim, dammit! I’m a survivor. I’m broke as hell, but I AM MAKING IT. I am working two jobs and I am, at the very least, paying my rent on time every month. Yeah, other bills often suffer, but they eventually get paid. I am maintaining a roof over my children’s heads. I am making it happen like a paycheck-to paycheck champion and my babies don’t know the difference. Cozy house, food on the table at dinnertime, warm baths and stories and tucks into bed each night.
And love. A freaking boatload of love.
Money issues can devour you if you let them. Don’t let them. One day at a time. One bill at a time. You are not a victim, you are a badass making it all happen.
So the next time your debit card gets denied after two hours of shopping with unruly kids at the grocery store, remember that, hold your head high, and go on with your bad self.