The Fear of Being Broke

Photo Credit: Florian Bernhardt

Photo Credit: Florian Bernhardt

As a little girl, I watched my mother rummage through the couches of our Bronx apartment in an attempt to compile enough change to buy us dinner. On the days when she could barely scrape a few dollars together, she bought a stack of the notoriously cheap Maruchan Ramen Noodle Soup, which she’d then feed my two sisters and me for breakfast over and over again — up until the point when I could disappointedly predict the first meal of the day before approaching the table. On other occasions, when things weren’t as bad, when we were lucky, mami united enough coins to buy platanos, a more exciting choice that would be accompanied by a side of fried eggs, cheese and salami.

Time and time again, I watched as my mother scurried to make sense of an often senseless situation: the inability to comfortably put food on her children’s plates. I didn’t think to resent her for the choices she had made that led her to that point, nor did I judge her. Witnessing her distress, the way her heart would threaten to leave her chest, that unmistakable sight of fear that engulfed her whenever uncertainty crept its ugly head slowly etched what would later become my perception.

Somehow, in spite of lacking the maturity to understand all this, there was one snippet of this situation that buried itself deep within the crevices of my subconscious because to this day, even after several admittedly mindless decisions on my part, I still feel the unwavering, stomach-churning anxiety my mother must’ve felt back then. I feel it, too, though not in the same predicament for I have made different choices, but, still, I feel it nonetheless. I feel it whenever I think to make some of the decisions that could potentially, at least at first, result in the lack of money.

And so rather than surrendering fully with hope and faith to my creativity, I’ve looked to form a more logical trajectory for my life, one that in many ways contradicts what I once claimed to stand for. This woman, the one who lives in fear of going broke, is logical yet disconnected, ambitious but cold. She thrives on merits and accolades, as opposed to purpose, fulfillment and, ultimately, happiness. She strives desperately to build the straight path, as opposed to taking leaps and creating her own painful but necessarily crooked one. She is everything I once fought not to be. She is limited. She is distant. She is not me. I know this much is true because when I stop to ask myself what I want, what I truly want — if money weren’t a determining factor, if money wasn’t even a thought, if I simply stopped living in fear of going broke — like a faint whisper in the clarity of night, I hear the echo of words I’ve said out loud for years on end:

I just want to write.