I often, inaccurately, state that I need things when, in reality, I need nothing. I have a husband, home, job, dog and friends. I have health care, clothes, food and money to pay for the utilities and necessities that allow me/us to have a comfortable and pleasurable life. There is nothing, literally, that I need that I do not have or cannot obtain.
I have reached a point in life that all I have is wants, a pretty sweet place to be. I need to remind myself of that; of where I’ve come from and what struggle really is and remind myself of what it means to truly need something.
I remember what it was like growing up with almost no money, although I was never fully aware of how poor we truly were thanks to a mother that managed to provide for 5 kids, despite a bare-thread budget. At one time, I owned only 2 pairs of pants (both hand me downs with patches), our house had very little furniture, all of our toys were donated and we did not have TV. We never went on vacations or trips. Our meals consisted of generic food that Mom made from scratch and rarely, if ever, did we have the luxury of eating out or getting take out. Bread, butter and sugar sandwiches were often our dinner and watered down powdered milk and generic cereal was our normal breakfast. Orange Juice was too expensive as were soda, candy and regular meat and potato meals. Our lunches were peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and we drank water from the school fountains…no drinks in our lunch or money to buy milk. (Eventually they started free lunches for the poor so we were eligible for those.)
It wasn’t until I got older that I began to realize we did not have what other kids had and I began to feel that sense of being a “have not.” Kids at school had nicer homes, nicer cars, nicer clothes, nicer back packs and better lunches. They went on vacations and talked about their stereos and TVs and bikes and birthday parties. They had money to buy things. I had none of this for the most part. I watched my Mom struggle to put food on the table, pay our bills and provide us with the things we needed in life and at school. She worked hard at some really crappy jobs. (My father was an unreliable alcoholic who provided nothing for our family)
When we moved away from my father, I got a job to help my Mom pay for rent and other necessities. I would often wonder what it would be like not to have to worry about money and to be able to have what you want and do what you want whenever you wanted, but I accepted my reality and just did what I had to do to survive and help my family. We somehow managed to scrape together money for a school trip here and there, my class ring and my senior portraits, but I know it was very hard on my Mom financially and I still wonder how we afforded it all.
When I moved out on my own, I struggled even harder as I had to provide everything for myself, not wishing to be a burden on my Mom. I never asked for anything (not that there was anything for her to give.) I went to college for a while and worked several jobs while in school. When I had to drop out of college due to lack of funding for my tuition, I got a full time job and struggled to make ends meet. I suffered through two periods of unemployment and worked retail for ten years, barely making rent and utilities and putting food on the table; paying any loan debts or credit card debts was impossible (for the record, I got credit cards to pay for my books and art supplies for college because I could not have afforded them otherwise. I never used them for even the slightest “luxury.”) I would avoid phone calls (when I could afford a phone,) usually creditors, like the plague. I even had my wages garnished for a while to pay back debt. It was embarrassing, frustrating and demeaning. I had little to no hope that my life or financial situation would ever get better. I can remember lying in my room thinking it would be amazing to be so rich as to be able to go out to dinner ANY TIME I WANTED, or to have enough money to actually pay all my bills AND rent or to be able to go out and buy a pair of shoes or a shirt, never mind actually getting to go somewhere cool or buy things I wanted but didn’t need. Computers, VCRs, a car, going to movies, ordering a pizza…these were all things I could not afford. I remember sitting at a friend’s birthday dinner at TGI Fridays and sipping water because I did not have enough money for even a diet coke let alone a side salad or plate of fries. There were days I walked the 3 miles to and from work because I did not have bus fare.
I met Jeffrey and, even with our newly obtained state jobs, combined, increased income and sharing the expenses of a small apartment and one car, we continued to struggle together. Between the debt from his divorce and the debt I had accrued from school, we struggled to live as cheaply as possible and pay off our debt. We considered bankruptcy, but we were worried about what that might mean for us down the line if we wanted to apply for credit or buy a house, so we plugged along and did it the old fashioned way: paid off our debt slowly but surely, took out consolidation loans, haggled for lower interest rates and made smart decisions with our money and purchases. We spent most of our time at home, with very little money to go out.
Overtime, slowly but surely, did really well and were within hundreds of dollars of being debt free when we made the impulsive decision to buy a house and accrued a shitload of debt again, debt we are paying off to this day. We no longer own the house but did not make the best decisions about spending the little money we earned off the sale of it.
Today, we rent a lovely 3 bedroom, 2 bathroom home in a great neighborhood. We have two cars, 2 iPhones, 3 computers, a swimming pool, a dog, a movie library, TVs in every room, cable, central air, fully furnished rooms, a stocked bar, art on our walls, more clothes than will fit in our closets, a stocked fridge and pantry, etc. We have gym memberships, pay our bills every month without worry, entertain friends, go out to eat, see shows and take several (modest) trips throughout the year. I buy comic books every month and we are able to buy gifts for special occasions. We have no creditors breathing down our necks, no bills overdue, all the health care we need and secure jobs with decent salaries. We live openly and relatively safely as gay men.
We need NOTHING, although we still want plenty.
And that’s what I have to remember. The only thing I need anymore is this: I need to remind myself how much we have, more than we ever did and more than many, if not most, people do. Yes, we worked hard and suffered a lot and earned everything we have, but we have a lot and we are very, very fortunate. We live a life I could not even believe possible when I was younger. We live better than my parents did (and still do) and we are lucky enough to be able to share a lot of our resources with our friends and family. If I could have seen what my current life would be 15 years ago, I would have been in shock at how well off I would become and I would probably not have believed it possible.
Honestly, even when I look at the worst of times in my life, I have to admit I could have been far worse off. I have never lived without running water or electricity. I have never gone a whole day without something to eat. I have never been homeless or had to live in rags. I never got sick when I didn’t have the ability to see a doctor and have always been able to go to a doctor when I did start getting sick. I was able to complete my high school education and I did go to college, if only for a couple of years. I have always had what I needed.
I am longing for “a better life”, a life of luxury wherein I do not have to go to work, can afford personal trainers and chefs and maids and chauffeurs; a life of traveling to Europe or cruising on a ship for weeks or owning every comic book I have ever wanted; when I am longing for condos in Ptown and Toronto, $3500.00 paintings and statues and things beyond my grasp and a life I will probably never lead, I need to remind myself that I am already living a life I thought I would never lead and that I already have everything I need, much of what I want and more than I thought I ever would.
And I need to spend a little less time wishing for what I don’t have and enjoying what I do have, because I may want a lot of other things, but I need nothing.
And for that, I am immensely grateful.