I have an acute fear of economic death. I don’t know how quintessential an experience this is to my generational peers, though I know many of them have gone through it, and rates of economic anxieties or flat-out hopelessness seem to speak to the fact that I’m not wholly alone in it. It first hit me when I first moved out at age 19, and started living on my own, supporting myself. All of a sudden there came a consciousness of the fact that if for whatever reason, within my control, or, let’s be real here, more likely outside of it, I stopped making money, I would shortly die.
You might think these thoughts were a bit morbid, or overdramatic to be having, but what can I say? I was a product of my time. I’d grown up middle class, slowly sliding downwards into the lower end of that middle class as 3 kids aside from myself got added to the family over the years. Our family was probably never outright “poor.” In this new era I was born into, that didn’t really matter.
As a child I was woken up one night by flashing lights in front of my house, just in time to hear my parents arguing with the repo guy for a bit before he took our car away. A few months later we’d file for bankruptcy, moving out of the shitty house that we’d been forced to buy. Our previous landlord had kicked us out so he could sell the place, and everyone else at the time having that same bright idea meant vacant rental properties were nonexistent. If we’d been put into that situation by simple folly on my parents’ part I might’ve been better able to reconcile it. If it’d just been a matter of an unwise purchase by people trying to game the booming housing market there would’ve at least been a lesson for me to take away from it all. As it is the only lesson I could take away from things was that because of the various fucking arounds of people with exponentially more money than you’ll ever possess, sometimes you’ll be put $200,000 in debt with literally no means to have avoided such a fate.
Some time later, when I was in high school, my dad got fired from his job. He said they replaced him with a kid fresh out of college that they could pay half as much because he lacked the experience that demanded more. At the time I resented that kid a little bit, but, looking back on it I can’t help feeling like both he and my dad were getting fucked on that one. So, there he was, looking for a job that could support him and four kids. The wife was out of the picture by this point, and was supposed to be paying some child support, which never came, but hey, that was one less mouth to feed, so I suppose it coulda been worse. In amongst the job hunting he helped some old coworkers with the startup that they could afford to try and launch. He couldn’t afford not to, even if as far as I could tell his pay mainly consisted of VISA gift cards.
So I watched the whole of the savings that had managed to get put together post-bankruptcy slowly dwindle. If those ran out presumably we’d be out on the street, and that certainly seemed to be what my dad thought would happen should he fail to find a job. This possible homelessness would come up from time to time, presumably when the stress and fear of the prospect started weighing so heavily on dad that he needed to offload a bit of it onto us kids.
It was close, but in the end he got a job before time ran out. It was soon after he got that job that we learned that the government had been giving us more food stamp money than we should’ve been allotted. We learned this because the government had come to collect. Now, to be clear, the mistake had been on their end of things, but that didn’t mean they weren’t gonna have us rectify it for them. If they forget to carry the 7 and accidentally pay a few million bucks too many for a fighter jet that one’s on them, but if they give your family a little too much grocery money you’re on the hook for that. So, once again we were in debt due to the powers that be. They do say that repetition of the concept is the best way to get kids to learn it. Usually when trying to defend a broken public schooling system, but They say it nonetheless.
And so, with all that behind me, I went out into the world, terrified of the fact that it could fucking kill me with a given cast of the die. Unfortunately, the same experiences that had instilled that fear in me meant my family wasn’t in a situation to provide much of a safety net if someone snipped the tightrope I was balancing on. I escaped the trauma of a post-millennial upbringing with fairly light baggage relatively speaking. Sure, I ended up a tranny and a youtuber, but only one of those tends to make the world hate you. Although, if you ask me, the world’s got which should be which mixed up. At the very least it wasn’t baggage so heavy that I needed a therapist to help carry some of it for me.
A few months after I moved out my dad had to ask to borrow a bit of money. Turns out my siblings ended up with loads that weren’t as light as mine, and mental moving crews aren’t particularly cheap these days, supply and demand and all that.
I crack a lot of jokes at my girlfriend’s expense about my marrying into the bourgeoise when we started dating. Mostly because she’s an ardent communist and unfortunately for her the one area of privilege she’s got over me is class, but also because that isn’t so far off from how things feel. An element of my attraction that became more and more powerful upon moving out was security. As this existential economic concern became one of the strongest negative emotional forces in my life I wanted a partner who could protect me from that. And hey, I also started taking hormones upon moving out, so maybe part of this was my emerging lady brain exerting its desire for a mate that could provide for my children, but it was there.
The simple knowledge that her parents are people in a position to provide a sturdy net should we as a couple fall has done wonders for my mental health, and made it incredibly clear how deeply and fundamentally oppressive a system that necessarily instills such fear in people is, a system where you not only die if you fail, but where you can die if that system fails you. There’s no way I would’ve been able to spend $1,000 on medical bills like I did earlier this year (and that was after insurance mind you) and not broken down over that loss in savings if I had to frantically pump cash into those savings as the only lifebuoy available to me should the worst happen.
So there you have it, the anxieties of a generation expressed in what was hopefully an artful enough manner to make ya feel shit or something I guess. Just because I write for a living doesn’t mean I know how this stuff works.