The pale, yellow glow of the street lamp allowed me to see my breath for just a moment into the soon-awakening sky. I looked to my right and saw a mass of humanity as far as I could see. A look to the left resulted in almost a mirror image. I looked again, but this time to make a quick scan to see if there was anyone I knew. If so, I would avoid eye contact at all costs. To be standing there was shameful enough. But the prospect of actually being recognized was downright terrifying. Because I’m me. And I just couldn’t be seen on the day before Thanksgiving. In line. For food.
I wish I could say that was rock bottom. But what Stockholm Syndrome or the number of news stories featuring soon-to-be-released or just-released prisoners committing obvious and sloppy crimes in order to return to their comfortable surroundings behind bars can teach us is that humanity has an innate ability to adapt to a myriad of consequences, no matter how dire they may be to the uninitiated. Put another way, this wasn’t my first food bank line. This fact was crystallized when a person in line behind me complained about myself and I thought to myself, well at least it isn’t snowing like last year. So, the fact that I happened to be in this line was less of a “rock bottom” and more of a “dead cat bounce”.
That brutal rock bottom moment came later, as I was relaying my experience to someone else. I had said that when the first person in line had received their food and was walking past us to the car, a person in front of me had asked him what time he had gotten there. He said 3am. It was then 8:30. So I told this person that “technically I had won because I had got there at 6:30 and was gone at 10, so I beat him by two hours.”
I was ashamed and heartbroken and terrified and angry at myself – the mentality had seeped in for just a moment. In that moment, the idea was completely lost on me that being in the line at all disqualified me from using any form of the word “won”.
I think I should take a moment to dispel a misconception you may already have of me. I am gainfully employed. Matter of fact, I will soon pass the seventeen-year mark at a top-15 financial institution. Those of you who are familiar with the cubicle jungle know how this works: knocking it out of the park year after year, rating “very good” or “exceptional” on your performance reviews, being told that they couldn’t make it without you, but even though you are doing a lot more this year than you were last year, they can’t pay you enough to compensate (you’ll get a 2% raise if you’re lucky) – all the while hoping that you’re too lazy or too busy or too stupid to equate “record earnings” with seven and eight figure salaries in the C-suite.
I mention that to say that our route to being an EBT household and subsequently qualifying for this Thanksgiving OIC line was rather circuitous. Truthfully, I made “enough” to qualify for the stuff for years, but it was a great source of inner pride that I refused to take it. I could make it on my own, I thought. Except I wasn’t. Month after month with no light at the end of the tunnel, the objective was to get paid, pay all the bills, and then hope like hell that nothing happened. However, things did happen (car troubles, medical bills, etc.), and things were so tight that I needed to go in debt to pay for them.
However, things came to a head when our second son and middle child was diagnosed with nonverbal autism. It was strongly recommended to us that he undergo weekly occupational therapy, play therapy and speech therapy. The problem with that was that our insurance provider would bill for a separate specialist copay ($40), leading to a monthly outlay that would make up over 30% of an already over-strapped paycheck.
There was just no feasible way to get him the therapy he needed. Not only that, but there were therapists in our ear telling us that not only what would cost us nearly $500 per month would be free if he were on Medicaid, he would qualify for things that just weren’t available to him through our insurance. Eventually it became a no-brainer to swallow the pride and bite the Medicaid bullet. Once that was bitten, we subscribed to the “in for a penny, in for a pound” philosophy, so the application and acceptance into the EBT program (and subsequently, my ticket for being in this food bank line) came in very short order.
However, I am starting this blog because I have no interest in being a food bank line veteran, or having children old enough to realize that their dad needs assistance from the government in order to feed them. I feel so… dirty. And so I am starting this for two main reasons: 1) as the concrete but proverbial “line-in-the-sand”. There’s something about putting your story out on the Interwebs that will do something for accountability. 2) This will serve as a catalogue of my journey from EBT to financially free – what worked, what didn’t, successes, failures, etc. so that in the event you are in the same or a similar position, you don’t have to make all the mistakes that I will surely make myself.
In any case I am inviting you and would be pleased to have you along. Join me, why don’t you?