• cocodensmore

I can hear the hunger coming.

November 7, 2022

It’s about this time each year I share about running out of food when I lived in Louisville and had no income. For about a year I was unable to work before I received disability.

Through the help of friends and my mother, I made it. I have no idea how I made it, but I made it.

An old boss and a good good friend put me on retainer to do technical writing for his practice management system. That was $1000 a month, which paid my rent and utilities. My mom paid my phone bill and sent me $300 a month. I had food stamps, another $194 a month. Amazing I remember the exact amount.

At my last job I was making over six figures. I made over six figures for the last decade I worked as a healthcare systems analyst. I was at the top of my game. And then bipolar brought me down hard. I lost everything. It was the best thing that ever happened to me. But I wouldn’t wish it on anyone.

There is no need for anyone to go hungry in this country. We are a society of wealth and excess. There is more than enough. But we all must do our part.

Please give generously to your local foodbank. Not just during this season of giving, but always.

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December 15, 2017

It’s so so so ironic the direction one’s life can take them. So incredibly ironic. I remember watching those public service spots on television “Hunger Hurts”. Yes, hunger hurts. It hurts a great great deal. So much I spend a lot of time in bed because my stomach hurts too much to be up and about. And when I sleep, when I can sleep, the pain is distant, like a faraway thunder. But I can hear the hunger coming.

I dream about food, getting up and making food, an omelet, breakfast sausage, a nice cup of coffee, some nice sourdough toast with jam, orange juice. The expensive kind of orange juice, not the store brand, which tastes tinny and like chemicals.

But even in my dreams, I am looking at the refrigerator, at the egg carton which I know now contains just one egg. I’m looking at the pantry shelf, trying to figure out what I can put together that will be palatable and that will sustain me. Another way to say palatable is “doesn’t make me retch”. I’m looking down at the pan on the stove, the sausage disappears. There is no orange juice right now, no bread, let alone sourdough.

I do still have some coffee pods, Starbucks! French roast, too strong for my taste. They were my roommate’s choice. The roommate I supported for six months. I bought these pods back in June, when I still had a job that paid $55 an hour, so don’t think I’m being extravagant now. I’m drinking them. It’s coffee. It’s Starbucks. I have vanilla flavored almond milk I thought I’d try for cream. Can’t stand the stuff. But it doesn’t go bad in the fridge. And it doesn’t make me retch. Not in coffee anyway. When I put some in my omelet the other day, I couldn’t eat it.

I was digging through the refrigerator two days ago and I found a cube of butter. It was like finding the diamond that has fallen out of my ring. Even that is not a fair comparison. It was like… I can’t even explain it. All I could think about is those eight red potatoes left. Having butter on them makes them palatable.

I still have 2/3 of a large brick of sharp cheddar cheese. I still have strongly flavored crackers, tasting so strongly of powdered parmesan and garlic they practically make me gag, but I can get a few down. I still have tomato soup, quite a bit actually. But if I eat too much soup and nothing solid, no meat, I get diarrhea. I’m talking water diarrhea. The kind that makes you weak, that causes that feverish sleep, with the sweats so you wake up drenched. Then you make your way to the bathroom, dizzy, hoping you won’t pass out on the floor. Because when would they find you? So you grab your phone just in case. You take your phone everywhere with you. Always charged. So you can call an ambulance. Just in case.

I still have one can of fancy white albacore dolphin safe tuna, which is the only kind of tuna I can eat and keep down. I still have lots of noodles and some boxes of flavored rice. My last roommate left a 10-pound bag of white rice here, so I can resort to that when needed. I was actually lying in bed thinking about what I could do with the white rice to make it palatable. Add ranch dressing and some pesto sauce? Mix it all up and put it in the fridge and eat it like a summer salad? Or would mayonnaise and the pesto sauce be better? I’ll have to do some samples of each and figure out which way to go. I’m reluctant to use the ranch dressing because I need it for the potatoes when I run out of butter. Then I was thinking I could perhaps put mayonnaise on the potatoes. And how much mayonnaise do I have left? I could, if worse gets to worse, eat the mayonnaise straight. But I still have peanut butter. I’d eat that straight first.

I’m not starving. I’m hungry. I need to rethink use of the term “I’m starving!” I’ll never use the phrase casually again. And, truly, I’m not starving. I can call a handful of people, tell them I don’t have food and can’t get my check cashed until probably Monday, if I can even get a ride on Monday. They might give me a ride, they might give me some money for food, they might bring me some food. I’m just reluctant to call, as long as there is anything left in the fridge or on the pantry shelf. I’m actually, now get this convoluted thinking, I’m actually afraid they’ll come into my apartment and look at the pantry shelf and think I’m not really out of food! That I’m exaggerating! Or worse yet that I’m lying. And the fact is, I’m not completely out of food. But I am. By and large, I’m out of food that is palatable and sustainable. I’m out of food that won’t result in the watery diarrhea that lays me out for three days.

People tell me “You have options! There are food banks!” Yes, true. But they are only open during a short window of time and they aren’t in the neighborhood, so I’d have to Uber. With 76 cents left in my checking account, I can’t Uber anywhere. There is a food pantry about a half mile from my apartment, but I’m too weak to walk that far. And how would I carry the food home? I could bring a rolling suitcase. Good idea. Necessity is the mother of invention! But the other obstacles remain.

I can move to a cheaper apartment, everyone says. Yes. But my credit is very bad and I’m getting ready to file for bankruptcy. I have no proof of income because I have no income. No one will rent to you without proof of income. No one. I’d need first and last month’s rent plus deposit, probably about $1500. I’d need to pay people to move me. I know very few people here in Louisville and certainly not anyone with a truck. Right now I’m less than a half mile from four hospitals and countless medical office buildings. If I am lucky enough to get an office job on that sprawling medical campus, from here, I can walk. So I have reasons for staying here.

I remember what it was like, when I didn’t even have to think through the obstacles that the indigent face. “Those people don’t want to help themselves! They’re into drugs! They would rather live on the streets than improve their lives!” Yes. I believed those things. Sometimes. But less and less over time. The last few years I understand more about addiction and certainly much more about mental illness and the two conditions combined. I’ve gotten softer in my heart. More compassion, more grace, more love. More Christ like. Yes, believe it or not! More Christ like.

I’m not really starving; I should be able to take advantage of food banks simply because they exist. And I should move to a cheaper apartment instead of staying in the prestigious Henry Clay. I’m a pampered spoiled entitled woman. I’m lazy and I lie. I manipulate and use people. I spend too much time in bed feeling sorry for myself. I’m wasting the precious little time I have left to ensure I have a home and food to eat. I’m not planning. I’ve just given up. I’m hopeless. I expect others to care for me. I’ve absconded all responsibility for supporting myself, for taking care of myself. Again, there is some truth.

Yet no one outside of me, seeing through my eyes, can see what I see. They see what they want to see, what they are conditioned to see and what the majority of society tells them to see. They see me as being in this condition deservedly, because of “bad life choices”. And there is always some truth to any such assertion. That bit of truth is what people use to justify their callousness and outright disgust for the poor among us. “They work the system! They are not willing to try to make themselves better! They are just doing drugs and laying around on our tax dollars!” Again, there is some truth. But it’s not true for me. And it’s not true for a lot of us.

Look at me! I’m using the term “us” and putting myself in the category of the indigent! That’s the first time I’ve done that! I wonder how many more times I’ll do that? How long will I be here in this place in society? Probably not long. I have an education, a master’s in business and 30 years’ experience in healthcare systems. I have a professional wardrobe, even still, after selling half of it for $170 to go towards rent. I have a shower and clean towels and soap. I have deodorant. I have underwear and socks and so many shoes there isn’t enough room in my closet for them. I truly am blessed beyond belief. Truly I am. To say I’m not is a lie. But I am not living a sustainable existence.

I’ll dig out of this. Of course I will. Because I have a lot going for me. A lot more than the men that shoot up in the alley beside my building and those families that camp out under the parking lot cover across the street. I am blessed. I am going to survive this. And I’ll come out back on top. I know that. I do know that. But then again, I just ate a cheese omelet. I’m fed. My stomach hurts, but not as bad. The cats are chasing one another about, playing. I smile, watching. It crosses my mind that I don’t smile enough, I cry too much.

The reality for me is that I have family and friends. I will suffer but I won’t fail. I might be hungry, but I’m not starving, I’ll never starve. I might lose the apartment, but I’ll never be homeless, I’ll always have a place to go. Many people cannot say this. Many people have little or no support system. But I do. I am loved. I am a blessed woman indeed.

Photo by Stella de Smit on Unsplash

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