This poem reflects the financially naïve twenty-year-old brain I possessed when I first started living away from home. I moved in with my roommates in Abbotsford, sitting on $6,000 that I’d saved from working in fast food in Prince George. I intended to use my savings for living expenses until I became an independently wealthy author. I figured I could keep my savings afloat by sticking to the bare essentials: rent, food and any opportunity to further my writing career. To help replace money that had to be spent, I did get part-time jobs almost right away (Blockbuster for a couple weeks and Apple Betty’s for three months). I didn’t expect to stay at $6,000, but I expected to fluctuate at a nice safe height for as long as I needed. To my credit, I did last about six months before I had to start living paycheck to paycheck. The cold hard truth hit me when a cheque I’d sent for a writing contest bounced (never play writer-lottery on writing contests that aren’t free; the getting-published lottery is hard enough without that extra stress).
Anyway, now that I’ve had seven years to improve my life balancing skills, I’m not too embarrassed to share how I used to be. Welcome to my first home away from home:
There’s a filter on the kitchen tap, instead of a water cooler.
Two garbage bags balance against the dining room wall.
An internet cord coils across my bedroom door,
So I must lift my feet, going in, going out.
I bought my bed at Value Village—it’s a mattress in literal speak.
I lift it each night off the carpeted floor and tuck my blanket ends underneath.
My clothes come from a friend who lost weight.
They’re big on me too; I have a good belt.
A couple nice shirts shut up in the closet, so the cat can’t pull them down.
One suitcase is my dresser; the other, laundry basket.
I don boots and coat to do my laundry.
Carry the load out our front door, to the front door of the boarders below.
Two washers, two dryers; one of each works,
Five people share; two I don’t consult with.
Never leave laundry ’til no clean clothes left.
Broke the blinds in my room; I’ll change in the bathroom.
For the soap there I thank every Body Shop gift, until now unused and unneeded.
No fan after a shower; I open the window a crack.
Remember to close it, so the house won’t get cold.
My legs are cold in my room; I wrap a quilt around them where I sit,
Warm my hands in the sleeves of my sweater, against my mug of tea.
I use every tea bag twice; sealing first-used in a ziplock.
Behind, on my mattress, my boom box is singing.
My laptop’s a treasure—no cable; it plays DVDs.
There’s no home telephone, only “Skype” and my cell.
No alarm clock; my cell phone does that.
No car, so I walk. Buy what I can carry.
On my own two feet, I’m affording my life,
Though outside it, my savings sound small.
Families paying down debts on their houses and cars
Can’t see six thousand lasting a month,
But it lasts, even grows, I don’t slip below five.
And always I can pay
The next flight I have to make,
The next chance I have to take,
No excess, no waste in my day-to-day things,
My future, as well, is my own.
My roommates’ cat.