Growing up, we never had very much. We weren’t starving or homeless, but there were times over the years that I didn’t have enough to eat. We had a big family: three generations, which included six children, living in the same house, being sustained by two salaries. Times were tough, but it was the only life I had and the only one I knew, so I accepted it. I accepted that I could not have what other people had. I went to a high school where children of rich people attended and I was one of the poor ones. I distinctly remember being handed a cream cheese sandwich by a classmate after school to “give to a vagrant on your way to the bus”. She, of course, didn’t know that I hadn’t eaten since breakfast that day and that I would get home well after 4 or 5 in the evening. I thought about it, but didn’t eat that sandwich, choosing to give it to someone who may have been as hungry as I was, but who didn’t have a house to sleep in. Even then, I looked at the positive in life and was grateful for what I had. So I pressed on, being grateful, being humble. Spending what I earn, eating what I have, using what I could afford.
Even when I was married, I still maintained that frugality. I remember being begged to spend money on “something nice”. My answer was always, “Just because it’s expensive, it doesn’t mean it’s the best. Cheaper stuff is good too!” That’s what I had to tell myself when it came to the hand-me-down clothes I wore from my older female relatives. I remember being envious of friends who could afford a new outfit when we went out, when I was left to make my few things look new or at least different. Though my ability to put together outfits as an adult is often admired, it was not borne out of natural fashion interest, it was because I had to figure out how to mix and match to make the same dress or pants look different. Money was always scarce and frivolous things like new, fashionable clothes were not common.
Flash forward to today. I am an adult living a good life. I don’t have much assets, but I’m rich in love. I drive an old car, I have clothes that I’ve had for years and they continue to go strong because I don’t believe in trends. I had a phone, not because it was what I wanted, but because it was free. A month ago, though, I upgraded and got a new phone: a Nokia Lumia. It’s super fancy, and it was free – that’s why I got it. Not because it was good or I wanted it or it was the best. I got it because it was free. What I didn’t know was that it was actually a spectacular phone. It really changed my life. When I say that, I mean, it made me fit in, for the first time in as long as I could remember. No longer did I stand out because I had a BlackBerry that everyone would roll their eyes at or have to apologize when I couldn’t take great pictures or get lost instead of using the phone’s GPS.
Finally, I was just like everyone else. Having that phone was more than just having a phone. It was symbolic of my sameness. Now I too have a phone that I do just about anything on. The internet with working browsers was at my fingertips. I had the ability to stream every radio station from Trinidad. It was the most wonderful feeling in the world to be sophisticated, not just limping along in the shadows behind everyone else, apologetic and feeling less.
Until I dropped it.
I was on the phone after work, talking, and it slipped right out of my hand onto the carpark ground. I started shaking I was so upset. The tiny splitters jumped out of the cracks in the glass and I got tiny cuts on my wrist. Miraculously, it still worked and I could scroll a bit in between the cracks. I was meeting a friend after work and I held the phone in my hand the whole time, willing the pieces to stay together. To me, it almost felt like if I held it in my hands, it would somehow be healed. I was scared if I put it in my handbag, it would be gone forever. Later on, I wrapped it in some paper to bring it home. I made in one foot inside the front door and then the sobbing started.
I cried because I feel like I am just not meant to have good things. I feel like it’s always uphill and I just have to continue to WILL myself to be okay. Things are not okay, but I somehow have to be strong enough to press on. Like that day after school, I do accept what my life is and it’s not perfect, but I know I have a lot to be grateful for too. I know there are a lot of people who don’t have food to eat or will die tonight from illness and losing a stupid phone is a joke, but to me, tonight, as I look over at my phone, I feel sadness.
The way I felt about what happened surprised me, honestly. I never expected to cry as much as I did over something like that because I am not a material person. How could I be material when for half of my life, I didn’t have that many material things? I think it’s because for once, I had something new and nice, like everybody else. No hand-me-downs, no second-best. Now I’m just back to being me – the woman who drives an old car and doesn’t even have a “real” phone.
My heart feels like the screen and I can’t stop feeling sad. It’s just a phone. It still works, kinda, but I know that won’t last for long. Any minute now, one shard will pop out and it’ll be over.