There is a truth about growing up poor that other people don’t understand. I’m not talking about “we only had basic cable” poor. I’m talking the kind of poor where no power or no running water was par for the course, where you sometimes had to take your bags of garbage to grandma’s house because they stopped picking it up from your place, where your mom skipped medicines because she didn’t want you to miss a field trip, where you wanted new crayons so bad but were afraid to use them, if you got them, because the next box of crayons was a long, long way off, where generic pop was luxury you can’t afford, where you didn’t have a phone at home for most of high school because it was too much money:
Everything takes more work than it should.
Everything requires more energy, whether it is mental or physical. The mental energy is the hardest. It’s survival, not only to have enough to eat and a safe environment, but the kind of survival that lets you feel as normal as possible. What shoes can I afford that don’t have a Kmart brand stamped on the side? If I go to the mall with my friends, how well can I pass off the I just don’t want to buy anything today act, when really, I see so many things I would like to have? Oh God, the teacher is asking about whether I’ve bought the book for AP English and I don’t want to tell the whole class that we can’t afford it because all the money is paying medical bills, so now what? Trying to feel normal despite being poor takes a shit ton of energy.
What energy wasn’t spent on managing poor was spent on being fat. Extracurricular sports and vegetables cost money, but genetics, depression, and starchy carbs from the food pantry were free. There are a million reasons I was (and am) fat, but not a damn one of them was because it was fun. I know that everyone else took a second piece of pizza, but if I take a second piece, will they judge me for eating it? If I was skinny, he wouldn’t keep me as his secret girlfriend and would finally hold my hand in public…. Oh god, how much will that chair creak when I sit on it? That space looks tiny and everyone else has walked through it, but I think I’m going to get stuck, but walking the long way around is so obvious, too…. Shit, I can’t get this damn shirt off in this stupid fitting room and I don’t think I can take it off without ripping it, and I can’t afford to pay for a ripped shirt.
This exhausting, endless questioning became how my brain works. As of two measly months ago, I make enough money to not feel poor for the first time in my life, but that is only until I remember my school loans, the payments I’m making on my eleven year old car, and the $1000 car repair that I financed three months ago. I have a ways to go, still.
Mike and I are being awfully frugal with wedding planning, which is great, because I certainly don’t want to take on any debt getting married. But I need a dress. And as frugal as I am, there is still are part of me that wants to feel like every other bride. I know that the day isn’t about the dress. I know my marriage isn’t about the day. But I want that chance to be the prettiest one in the room. To wear the lacey dress and rhinestones in my hair and be a goddamn princess. Just once.
Finding locations for dress shopping has been hell. I can’t afford almost any of it. I hate the thought of a used dress, but when I contacted the most reputable resale place around, I was told my size is pretty much a disqualifier. The whole while, this sick feeling just rots in my stomach: You’re too poor and too fat to be like everyone else. You better dial back what you want, because your best hope is to settle for what you can scrounge and tell people that this is actually what you want.
Well meaning people have suggested that I find a “nice dress,” and “not to worry about it because it won’t matter in the long run.” Most of these people have not been in my position. They either have the money or the figure that makes a lot more available to them. I don’t begrudge them their ignorance. I wish they would kindly shut the hell up, though.
If it came down to where the only thing I could wear to my wedding was two yards of burlap and an empty whiskey barrel, I would still get to marry the man I love. I have absolutely not lost sight of the fact that my goal for the day is to marry him.
But being poor, or fat, doesn’t exclude me, or millions other brides, from wanting a day of sparkles and magic and a ridiculous dress that will only be worn once. And it shouldn’t be this hard.