Tuesday, September 4, 2012


How long can a person keep asking for her basic needs before she loses her dignity?

Imagine a woman. She can look like anyone, live anywhere. Those things don't matter. What matters is that she wakes up every morning to pray in the dark, at a time most would still call night. After she exercises and showers, she prepares breakfast. She wakes her children to eat and irons their clothes for school.

She pushes the iron around holes in the jeans, over stains that have set, and through spots that are missing buttons. New clothes are needed, have been needed for months now. But to get new clothes she'd need to ask her husband for money and that isn't a conversation that she is prepared for. So she prays that he sees the need and supplies on his own, though she knows it won't happen. She lays the clothes and the children's toothbrushes. They dress in shirts that ride up and pants that end high above their scudded shoes.

She walks them to school and says goodbye. Returning home, she begins cleaning. Last night, there weren't so many dishes, but it seems her husband had a late night meal after coming home after work. She scrubs splattered grease from the stove. She wipes breadcrumbs from the counters and dried oatmeal from inside the microwave. She washes food-encrusted plates and the skillet. She sweeps last night's dirt from the floors and mops the dropped dollops of ketchup.

As she cleans her kitchen, mail falls to the floor from the slot in the front door. Bending to pick it up, she notices one letter in particular. She opens it and her heart drops. The household food stamps have been stopped for the second time in two weeks. They continue to ask for documentation that she has personally given to them. If she doesn't straighten this out, her family will have to miss a few meals in the coming weeks.

How long will she keep her dignity?

Her husband finally wakes and checks his emails and Facebook, laughing at YouTube videos and other bits washed up from the surf of the Internet. The woman stares at him, willing him to look her way. To acknowledge her. To share her daily burdens. She knows she should tell him that she expects this every day, but she is tired of asking. She asks until her stomach knots up and when he forgets because she doesn't ask, she feels subhuman. It's something she needs--why would someone withhold something needed when aware of that need?

Her lips tremble and she goes to the bathroom to scrub the tub and toilet. To mop its floor and wipe down its counter. By the time she has finished, her husband has finished his morning routine and left. He never says goodbye. She used to say goodbye, but stopped when the only response she received was a shutting door.

She continues her day in solitude, until the time comes to bring her children home. She searches for jobs that will put her in touch with people. She doesn't care about the added income; she just needs connection. She has so many things to say, but so few will listen. Then the day winds down in reverse order of her morning. Her husband returns and greets his computer. He plays with his children and calls his friends to chat for long minutes. The woman prepares dinner alone. She washes dishes alone. She puts the children to bed alone. She sleeps alone. Will she keep her dignity?

She feels it slipping away.

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