I Remember: Living In Poverty As A Teenager

I remember living in poverty among the upper middle class.

I hope sad stories are ok, too.

Some memory it is. Certainly not a good one, but, nostalgia, that old deceptive enchantress, is really only the remembering of things, and thereby the reliving of them, better than they were the first time.

I remember I was a teenager; it feels necessary to set up the scene somewhat. A couple of years prior my mother had left; she said bye one morning, as if going to the store to pick up bread. I did not see her again until long after this story ends. A year prior, my home had burned down.

On a whim, and after living here and there, with others, for months upon months, myself, my father, my sister, and her boyfriend moved to another city. We stayed in a couple rooms at a hotel off the highway for two months.

I remember when we found a place to rent. It was in a nice neighborhood, mostly newer detached homes with a few duplexes here and there right at what was the edge of the small city back then. A very green neighborhood. We were alright for a while, but you already know it didn't stay that way. My father, and only parent, became ill with a disease he would eventually succumb to. Not until years later, but this affected his employment at the time.

More bad things happened both before and after that don't require explanation here. The point is I was a lost teenager. I had a lot of pain, as you can imagine, that I let out as hate. I'd dropped out of school before ever entering high school, and seemed entirely without hope. To myself, anyways.

I may have been naive then, but I was never stupid, and I could see the stress on my father every day. He wore it like clothing. I could see the numbers on the bills kept on the counter next to the refrigerator growing to ridiculous amounts. I noticed the refrigerator and freezer becoming ever emptier. I wasn't surprised when the natural gas (heating and hot water here, for those that aren't familiar) was cut off one day. I was not surprised, but still upset, because it was winter. If you're unfamiliar with central Alberta, it gets cold enough here that death can quickly become a concern if you aren't respectful of the weather.

I spent as many of my days as I could with my girlfriend at the time, but went home to a dark, quiet, and dismally depressing house each night. Every couple of hours one of us would switch all the burners on the electric range to maximum, and the oven, after opening the oven door. This, of course, was a very expensive method of heating, but we had to stay warm somehow. Not long after, the power went out. We bought kerosene lamps intended for camping for $0.89 per one, each night, at a local department store to replace the range. Not much cheaper, really, but again, we had to stay warm somehow.

I remember breaking up with my girlfriend and having no other close friends. I spent day after lonely day alone while my father did all he could to establish some sort of income and my sister was gone with her friends. The smell of our source of light and heat soon became omnipresent. The house had quickly filled with the scent of burned and burning kerosene and it permeated everything. That's what I remember most: that smell. Scenting it, even now, brings with it an instant flurry of memories.

I remember the nights were dark and lonely, and sadness seemed like a physical thing keeping me company all the time. It was not a caring companion. It felt completely indifferent, but it was company nevertheless.

I remember carrying a kerosene lamp with me into the bathroom each time, necessary so as not to miss the toilet. My feet were always chilled, my fingers always stiff. A few small flames and a borrowed sleeping bag (the owner of which, of course, was told we were going camping) were the only things I had for comfort and company, besides the ever-present sadness. Those, and also my sister's books. I began to read.

It sounds like a pathetic existence, but the kerosene lamps and that sleeping bag had become somehow more than what they were. They did comfort me. They were my company, and they did more than sit idly by, watching indifferently, as that metaphorical being of sadness did. Their purpose was me; for my comfort. And if not for them, I may not have begun reading, and if I'd not become an avid reader, I'd certainly never had become an avid writer. This chapter would not exist, so much as it matters to you.

There is somewhat of a sweet nostalgia that comes with remembering those days, but I know nostalgia's deceptive nature, and I am glad they are now only a distant memory. Despite that, it helped shape who I am today, and, looking back, I wouldn't have wanted it any other way; my father's illness the exception.

The End

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