Milk, Saltines, Laundry Detergent This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

December 1, 2009
By , Glendale, AZ
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.

This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.

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This article has 25 comments. Post your own now!

beautifulspirit This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. said...
Apr. 12, 2012 at 6:09 pm
I can understand the way the speaker feels in this poem. Life can be a struggle---loved that quote from that movie you added. Everytime I past a grocery store, I ask myself "What do we need?" It was a memorable story, and just brutally honest.
she-is-a-strange-duck said...
Oct. 16, 2011 at 12:53 pm
This is very good! Please keep writing!
poop said...
Sept. 14, 2011 at 3:21 pm
I really like poop.!
Mrs.poopitianor said...
Sept. 14, 2011 at 1:08 pm
imma rock right now imma rock right NOW
poopinator said...
Sept. 14, 2011 at 1:05 pm
hey man diz iz so beastly monsterz
MustachePickle replied...
Sept. 14, 2011 at 1:07 pm
Wow..  You would say that, Even though your sitting right infront of me Mrs.  Poopinator!!xD
MustachePickle said...
Sept. 14, 2011 at 1:01 pm
That's a Pretty Amazing Story!!:D  I think it needs more Lines though!!:3
HollerGirl26 said...
Sept. 5, 2011 at 5:19 pm
This is utterly beautiful...I am so proud of you for being extremely honest..amazing job <3! :)
HateKnuckle said...
Aug. 14, 2011 at 7:54 pm
When the title is as strange as a random grocery list, you know its good. 5 stars.
Nancy This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. replied...
Aug. 15, 2011 at 3:16 pm
Thanks for the feedback.
billgamesh11 said...
Jun. 22, 2011 at 5:12 pm
Wow, that is such a touching story!!! I am sure that if you keep writing you will have wayyy more than $30 bucks in your pocket!!!
seriouswritersblock said...
Feb. 3, 2011 at 10:28 am
Oh, wow.  This piece was so soul wrenching and thoughtful.
Nancy This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. replied...
Feb. 3, 2011 at 8:43 pm
Thanks for the comment
FightingFoo22 This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. said...
Jan. 6, 2011 at 6:20 pm

First of all I'd like to thank you for giving us such a deeply personal and beautiful piece to read.  It takes a lot of guts to reveal feelings and emotions like that- bravo!


Secondly, I'd just like to say that you're an amzing writer.  You have the knack for capturing emotion in wonderful, heartbreaking detail.  A lovely piece!

Nancy This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. replied...
Jan. 9, 2011 at 6:00 pm
Thank you so much.  I'm glad you liked it.  It was kind of hard to write, but worth it.
kidmick98 said...
Sept. 30, 2010 at 6:23 pm
My teacher read this article to us in class the other day. I love your writing!
Nancy This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. replied...
Sept. 30, 2010 at 6:35 pm
Thank you.  I'm flattered your teacher read it, and I'm happy you liked it.
SilverSnowflakes said...
Sept. 18, 2010 at 1:55 pm

This is written really well!! good luck!!

where I go shopping, milk, saltines, and laundry detergent would probably be like $10 though...

Nancy This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. replied...
Sept. 19, 2010 at 8:14 pm


Yeah, it was just the beginning of the list.  I had to buy groceries for like the next week.

thepreechyteenager said...
Aug. 26, 2010 at 10:45 am

This really was amazing.  The writing, description, and of coarse, the thing that put it over the top, trueth was amazing.

You are such a good writer.  I'd love your opinion on one of my pieces if you have the time.  It's called "Encounter"

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