My relative class mobility has come up in a couple of conversations lately, and I feel like I should have something profound to say about it. Like there should be some advice I can give or just…general reassurance that it’s possible.
I grew up working class, ended up in poverty and intermittent homelessness, and finally fetched up at solidly middle class.
I was lucky in so, so many ways. I had a large (though gated behind a structured settlement) inheritance from my mother’s death that a judge let me have when it seemed like Shoryl’s chemo costs would sink us. I was in the right place at the right time to give my resume to someone at a major corporation. My mental health issues tend to manifest in marketable behaviors (list making, perfectionism, accurate awareness of deadlines, etc)
Yeah, of course I worked hard, but I didn’t work any less hard when I was a waitress or a temp getting evicted or breaking leases or getting my power turned off. I had to be in a place where “working hard” was monetarily rewarded.
I still view being middle class the same way I view being largely able-bodied: a temporary advantage that is partly through my efforts and partly luck.
I think poverty never leaves you, though. Even though I can now do things like save for actual vacations, inside my head I’m still poor. When I drive past apartment buildings, I mentally evaluate how safe and kept up they appear in case I lose my house. I made something pretty inexpensive for dinner this week and thought to myself that I should remember this recipe in case I’m ever poor again.
I don’t know what I’ve got here, really. I don’t know if someone where I was 15 years ago can “get out.” I don’t know if there’s ever really getting out “enough” that you stop worrying.
The only thing I can end with, I guess, is if you do find yourself in a higher class, don’t forget what it felt like to be hungry, cold, bone tired, and scared. There’s a culture of helping each other out in the poor communities I’ve been part of, and I think it’s important to retain that if you find yourself in a better financial place.