I shuffled down the street towards my bus stop, taking my time and trying to enjoy the cool weather. My stomach twisted with hunger, reminding me once again that dinner last night had failed to be provided, all the money from Daddy’s unemployment going towards the mortgage, and the food stamps having been canceled. It was one of those nights; the ones where you stare at the bare pantry shelves and the empty fridge, looking several times and hoping for something to appear, but knowing there’s never going to be anything there.
Since Dad was let go last year, we’ve been struggling to get along. With five people living in the house- three of those not being adults-, money’s getting tight. My older sister used to work too, and that helped put food in our mouths, but she too got let go after a dispute at work. My mom works as much as she can, but with the current economy, her hours keep getting cut and it’s becoming a problem. The person I really feel sorry for, though, is my little sister. She’s only six and she doesn’t understand that we can’t afford the food she needs. The only reprieve is that we get free breakfast and lunch at school. The food, though often only lukewarm, is enough to fill us a few hours and we’ll go about our day.
As I board my bus, I ignore my stomach and lean my head against a window, my thoughts wandering once more to my family’s financial situation. I suppose we’re doing better than some families. At least we still have the house; some people don’t even have that. Mom sometimes brings home discounted food from the deli she works at it’s the only thing that keeps us fed more often than not and I made sure my little sister gets plenty of it, even if it means my stomach hurts for more food. Before my older sister lost her job, she’d bring home food as well, as she got a fifty percent discount from the fast-food store she worked at, but that’s gone now, so I have to make sure the little one is getting what she needs. I can take the hunger pains, but she doesn’t get why she has to have them. I’ll keep her from that as best I can.
Every time I go through town, I see more and more homeless and starving families. Some of these families have kids that are still in diapers and I empathize with these people, knowing the feeling of walking through the day without anything in my stomach to help me concentrate on my school work. To think that some of the starving are still infants and toddlers is even worse because they don’t understand why they can’t have food. They just know it’s not there when they need it.
My mind turns to memories of life before everything went wrong. We used to be doing well. Daddy worked from nine to five and Mom for a few hours in the evening. My older sister watched us on the odd afternoon that my parents’ scheduled overlapped and she’d tell us that Mom didn’t want us watching TV before doing our homework, but then she’d wink at us and turn on Disney Channel for my little sister and me to watch while she worked on dinner. Sometimes Daddy would call my older sister and tell her not to make dinner, but she wouldn’t tell us and we’d get the surprise of pizza for supper instead of soup and a sandwich or Mac and Cheese and hot dogs. On those nights, Daddy would put on a movie to watch while we ate before getting us into the shower to rinse off and he’d help us with our homework after that. Mom would come home right before my bedtime and kiss my forehead and tuck me in, making sure she got the covers tucked in around my feet so the AC over my bed wouldn’t make them too cold throughout the night. She knew we didn’t listen to her instructions, but I don’t think she minded too much.
Of course, that was back when we had a TV and cable. We don’t have either of those right now. We had to cut the cable and sell the TV to help with the bills. Daddy’s home all day now and we don’t have the money for such things as pizza, and Mom works later hours so there’s no kiss or time to tuck me in. The AC over my bed still blows cold- when we have it on, at least- and my blankets are too thin to keep anything warm. My older sister is trying to find another job and there isn’t exactly any available food to cook dinner with, so that’s out the door. My memories are exactly that; just memories. They’re more dreams than a possible reality, but I’ll keep dreaming and hope things get better because someday they will. They have to. After all, from here, we can only go up.
The bus creaks to a stop as it pulls up in front of my school and I jump to my feet, moving quickly to be the first one off. A look at the clock in front of the school confirms the reason for my anxiety. I only have five minutes to get through the breakfast line, eat, and get to class. I rush through the line, grabbing the proffered bagel from the cafeteria worker and snag a carton of apple juice from a cart before typing in my student number to get my free meal. I get a smile from another cafeteria worker as I walk away quickly. I return the smile and sit down to eat the bagel in the three minutes until the bell.
The dinging of the bell tells me to get to class and I rush in the direction of my class, mentally mapping out what I’d do after school. Seeing as the pantry was completely empty save for half a bottle of ketchup, I’d probably drop my bag off at home once I got off the bus and head to the Sharing Center not far from home and hope they’d give me something; anything. They fed a lot of hungry families in our area; collecting nonperishable foods and giving them out to those in need. Sometimes they’d look at my worn jeans in all their holey glory and give me a new pair. A lot of times my little sister is with me and they’ll give her some clothes too. The employees there seem to like her a lot and will often give her a cookie when she’s there. They give me one too, but I always give mine to her too.
I readjust my ragged backpack on my shoulders and brace myself for the hoots and hollers that will come from my classmates at the sight of my “outdated” and “lame” clothes. I’ll ignore them as always, but it will hurt to hear it. I take a calming breath and open the door to my eighth grade classroom. I am greeted by a chorus of name-calling, but my teacher cuts the shouting short and offers a soft smile. I smile back and sit down in my seat, pulling hand-me-down supplies from my bag. I’m only thirteen now, but I’ll be fourteen next year and I’ll find a job. I know a few places that hire at fourteen. Of course, there’s always the chance that I won’t need a job by next year, but from the way things look now, the chances of that happening are slim so I’ll keep an eye out for “we’re hiring” signs to be pointed out to my sister and father. We’ll get by somehow.