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Milk, Saltines, Laundry Detergent MAG
I close my eyes and take a minute to clear the cobwebs from my mind. I'm amazed at how I can have so much to occupy my thoughts, but still can't focus long enough to think. Spanish class is last on my list. My stomach gurgles loudly enough to draw the attention of the boy sitting to my right; I pretend not to notice. No lunch today, again. I finger the $30 safely folded in my worn pocket. I have to find a ride to the grocery store after school. We don't have anything at home. I used the last bit of milk this morning; we'd been saving it all weekend for Monday morning cereal. We don't even have any canned food left, except for one dented can in the back corner of the pantry; the label's so worn I can't even guess what's in it.
I have the feeling someone's staring at me. With a marked effort, I glance up, struggling to focus my eyes. Señora leers back with that annoyed questioning look I see all too often.
She shakes her head and walks away. It doesn't matter. I have bigger things to think about than conjugating verbs. I turn my tired gaze to my textbook, attempting in vain to look as if I'm studying.
Where was I? The grocery store. My hand instinctively moves down to my pocket again, an action I must have performed a hundred times just today. I don't want to risk losing this money. I remember the food drive a few weeks ago, when I gave half my lunch money every week for almost a month. A wry chuckle escapes my lips at the irony.
Thirty dollars to spend. My birthday was only a week ago. It was the first time I had any money of my own since Christmas. Thirty dollars of my very own, given to me by my brother living in Las Vegas. I go over the grocery list again in my head: milk, saltines, laundry detergent; I should get some canned food, we only have a few slices of stale bread left.
My stomach gurgles again. I only have a dollar for lunch this week. The rest I gave to my mom this morning for gas. I didn't tell her it was my lunch money, saved from last week. I never tell her. I still don't know where she thinks I get the money from, but she never asks and I keep my secret to save her pride. I don't tell my dad either. I'm not sure why.
I think about my parents. I wonder if they have that same sickening pit lodged in the hollows of their chests, the gaping hole festering with worries and needs. I doubt my dad feels it, at least not for the same reason. I'm fairly sure he's oblivious, and he's probably happy for that. I understand; ignorance is bliss. Ignorance of how much we owe this month after the water bill, and the electricity, and the mortgage, and the food. But ignorance becomes an aggravator when it concerns when child support will arrive. That ignorance is a constant companion, rapacious in its hunger for troubled thoughts. I bury its presence deep inside, but even ignorance can't quiet an empty stomach. It can't quell a turbulent soul.
Property tax: the two vilest words, in my book. Piled atop the underlying current of stretched finances, they proved an able adversary. Those two words are to blame for our having to eat stew every other day for nearly a month; the meat, potatoes, green beans, and corn quickly vanished, leaving only carrots and onions. Carrot and onion stew; that's what I had been eating for a month. And when it wasn't stew, it was macaroni and cheese, which is fine until the second straight week. I still can't look at spaghetti without getting nauseous, after this summer's six-week marathon. It's a strange thing to have nightmares about spaghetti.
“Life's a hell of a thing to happen to a person.” My mind desperately grasps onto that quotation, which I heard in some nameless movie from the '50s. It was the simplicity of it, the blunt honesty, that struck a chord. Its truth had lingered in my subconscious, and uneasy thoughts brought it unwillingly to the surface as a sudden storm carries muck to the bare street. Then comes the frightening realization that I'm just a kid, and I have decades left ahead. I try to let that particular thought slip away to some dark spot in the back of my mind. It's said life's difficulties build character. Personally I would rather have the pound of ground beef than the ounce of character.
I glare at the clock. Only a few more minutes. I just want to go to the grocery store as soon as possible. The quicker I'm rid of the money in my pocket, the less time I have to brood over it. It won't be that bad. My mom will be the littlest bit happier, and I'll have something to hold me over 'til the check comes this weekend. I'm looking forward to going to bed tonight. Lying there every night after whatever kind of a day I've had, I turn on the radio and allow myself to be enveloped in a song. I live for that few minutes of bliss and cross my fingers for pleasant dreams – or at least dreams with no bearing on real life, dreams of disconnect.
I swallow hard and heave my last desolate sigh. What do we need? Milk, saltines, laundry detergent.