After years of financial and emotional poverty, I started a new job two weeks ago that so far, I love. I opened a bank account. I filled my car with gas instead of getting five dollars' worth at a time. I've started saving money for my own apartment.
I'm worried that this pink cloud of normalcy won't last. I'm scared that I'll revert to my old ways of thinking. I am filled with hope, but not security. I feel like I'm wobbling on new roller skates.
In six months or so, when I start getting used to having a job and an income and things to do and all that stress that comes with this "regular" life, I want to remind myself what it was like without those things.
When I start complaining about having to get up in the morning, I want to remind myself what it felt like to lie in bed for 16 hours of every day watching reruns.
When I have a stressful day at work, and I'm sure I will, I'll be thankful that I am working at a desk, sitting at a computer, doing things I love to do like proofreading and helping important social causes -- not standing on my feet all day serving fast food, not digging holes on a cold day, not scrubbing toilets. I will pray for those people who are forced to do labor they hate, instead of working jobs they enjoy.
When I start to bitch about traffic to and from work, I want to remember that I was six days away from having my car repossessed.
When I moan about having to pay the electric bill, I want to remember what it was like when my landlord and friend shut off my electricity in a humiliating, yet effective, attempt to motivate me and save my life.
When I dread having to grocery shop, I want to make sure I recall what it was like to gather my records and wait for hours and hours at the food stamps office.
And I want to access the emotional memory of trying to figure out how to pay for things that food stamps do not buy, such as toilet paper and toothpaste. Should I sacrifice yet another piece of my dignity and ask for another handout from a church, a friend, a family member, a stranger? Or should I risk my self-respect, my freedom, and my clean criminal record to steal from a grocery store?
If my beloved kitten gets sick or injured, I will remember the fearful tears I shed knowing that without money to pay for a veterinarian, I might have had to give her away or put her to sleep. And I will remember the guilt over having to skip her vaccination last year.
When there's a line at the bank some Friday afternoon in the future, I'll be grateful that I don't have to pay another exorbitant fee to some seedy check-cashing store.
When my rent goes up, I need to picture in my mind the boxes piled in the spare room of my friend's house, and be grateful that I have a whole apartment to myself, no matter how small, in which to place my things.
The day the doctor bills come in the mail, I'll praise God for health insurance and for the privilege of waiting an hour for my doctor to be ready to see me. I'll remember sitting in the emergency room lobby at the public hospital for nine, ten, eleven hours, because there was nowhere else for me to go.
Next time I want to stop for an expensive cup of coffee, I'll recall that day I sat outside a Starbucks trying to sell a gift card I had gotten for Christmas for half-price, quietly crying the whole time out of shame.
When my friends want to see me, they won't have to sponsor my meal or pay for my movie ticket. I'll enjoy paying forward the gifts I was given, footing the bill for someone else's meal to help them out.
If I'm driving down the road and I see a police car in my rear-view mirror, sure, I might feel a little anxious, but then I'll remind myself that in my glove compartment I have proof that my car is insured and registered, that there are no warrants for my arrest, that I am not under the influence of drugs, and that I am driving in accordance with my love for traffic safety.
When I get a bad cold or when my back hurts, I'll go back to that summer of 2010 when my kidneys failed, my blood pressure dropped to 50 over 20, and the crash team came running into my hospital room as I lost consciousness.
I will thank God that I am alive, that I have to work, pay for things, wait in lines, suffer through stresses and setbacks, and even hurt.