I’m not complaining, but…

Right after I got my advance for my first novel What I Meant…, I wrote the following essay, and thought I’d post it here. You’ve heard of the Haves and the Have Nots, but are you a Have Barely Enougher? This essay is for all of us currently suffering in these tough economic times. We’re getting by, and grateful, but…

I am NOT Complaining, But…
by Marie Lamba
(copyright 2007 M. Lamba)

I am soaking in money from my book advance.

I know what you are thinking. That gloating skank. And I know what you are imagining. Me, naked, rolling around in a room full of $100 bills. You hate me, right?

Well, don’t be hating. I am naked. But that’s because I’m in a tub in a brand new bathroom funded by my book advance. And the new bathroom wasn’t some luxury. It was a necessity.

See, I am a living breathing example of “The Lord giveth, and the Lord taketh away.” The very day I signed my contract for my first novel (giveth), I went to nuke some tea and found the microwave mysteriously full of water (taketh). The plumber ripped up the wall in the bathroom above the kitchen, but couldn’t find the leak (taketh, taketh). He ripped up the floor around the toilet and found it all rotted away, and later decided that the leak might be beneath the tile floor, involving the tub line. But he wasn’t sure. One thing was for sure, I needed a competely new bathroom, and my check for my book was just about the right amount (supreme taketh, combined with evil laughter).

My whole life has been like this. And, I know, I should be grateful.  Whenever something major has come up, there has been a freelance job or timely tax return that pays just the right amount. I suppose I should view the bathtub (or the microwave) as half full.

And I should be used to this. See, there are the Haves and the Have Nots, and then there’s my family, the “Have Barely Enoughers.” I come from a long exhausted line of them, starting with my grandmother who went from riches to rags during the Depression, then my parents, who dealt with unemployment during my father’s middle age.

In elementary school, I became a Have Barely Enougher in training. When the Lion’s Club delivered a Thanksgiving dinner to our door, there was turkey and rolls, but no pie. At Christmas they brought me wrapped presents, including a sweater that was too big, and pants that were too small. But they also gave me the game Payday (which, I’m sure, was someone’s good-natured way of teaching fiscal responsibility). By junior high, I was surviving the daily embarrassment of handing over state-provided meal tickets to the sneering cafeteria lady for hot lunches featuring gray mystery meat. I’d like to say I was grateful.

I couldn’t help but wonder, why me? Why my family? None of us were lazy. None of us were fiscally irresponsible. We just had bad luck. Medical and employment catastrophes dogged us. Yet through it all we never lost our house, or our sense of humor.

By the time I reached my 20’s, I was an accomplished Have Barely Enougher. My expectations were low, my skin thick. Therefore, it was no huge surprise when, after I got my first real job and put down money on an apartment, the company I was working for abruptly closed. Also not a shocker: the day after my insurance from that job ran out, I broke my leg.

Sure, there was a lot of taketh, but how could I complain? The Lord provide the the unemployment office, where I could collect money that almost covered basic bills. He gaveth me all the TV I could ever watch (until my apartment was broken into and my TV, along with most of my clothes, were stolen).

I’m in my 40s now, and I’ve gotten by. My whole family has. KNOCK ON TONS OF WOOD. Why ask for more? Just think of all those Have Nots.

And yet I can’t help but think, what if God skipped a few takeths just once in a while? Imagine if money actually got to stick around long enough to accumulate interest. The amount my husband and I earned and had to immediately spend over the past 25 years is staggering. What if there had never been a leaking roof (and rotted rafters), or zapped out electrical panel from a freak storm, or totaled car (not my fault), or emergency double root canal?

I sometimes fantasize I’m like those people, the Haves, whose cars are bigger than my living room, and who never have to limit shopping to end-of-season clearance racks. But if I were literally rolling in dough, wouldn’t I still drive a little car and be scandalized by overpriced jeans? Penny pinching is in my blood. Still, it would be nice to have money for my children’s college, or to take a vacation without fear of bankruptcy. I guess my luck could get worse (God forbid), but couldn’t it also get better?

Soon my novel will be out. Will it sell well enough to change things? Will it undo the generations of struggle and transform my family from Have Barely Enoughers to the best sort of Haves? The kind of Haves that wisely use money to improve the environment and find a cure for cancer? (Are you listening, God?)

Actually, I KNOW the book will sell. How can I be so sure? Well, let me put it this way…there are some wet spots blooming on my ceiling, the heater is acting up, there is a strange mold in my closet, and my tooth is just beginning to throb.