My father drove the van around for what had to be hours. We drove and drove, never arriving at any particular destination. Eventually, he parked in the lot at his job, Borden Dairies (he was a milk truck driver/delivery man, in addition to being a preacher and carpet cleaner at that time). I woke up the next morning just as my dad did, saw him kiss my mother and walk inside. I was a kid and we were homeless.
These are the experiences that are most prominent in my mind as I reflect on my childhood. Were there fun games I played? Sure. Were there good meals I ate? Absolutely. Yet my mind is most bombarded by images like the one above. I automatically revert to the Christmas mornings when my father was watching our reactions but unbeknownst to him, I was intently discerning the pain in his eyes because as a grown man he couldn’t provide Christmas miracles for his children. These are the images that will never leave. More importantly, those images carry pain and although they are not present realities, the scars linger.
Last night I was on the phone with a friend and somehow my childhood came up. Without thinking, I automatically offered the story about sleeping in our van. That is an indication that my childhood still haunts me. Those scars manifest when I attend corporate events and everyone knows what to do except me. They manifest when I’m on a date and the lady opposite of me has to explain how to eat the dish we’ve ordered. They manifest when a client begins to share their vacation experiences and I have little to contribute to the conversation. They manifested when I was afraid to ask questions in class at the major universities I attended for fear that I, one of the few black faces, would appear to validate every stereotype about blacks- especially the not “well to do” ones. This very blog posting is a manifestation. The pain lingers.
It is a private pain, a pain you don’t feel free to discuss. It’s hard enough just trying to blend into the crowd and not do anything to completely humiliate yourself out of your ignorance. Who wants to add to that the ostracism that would follow for appearing “soft” because as a grown man, you’re still trapped in hurts from your boyhood? Hurts not stemming from sexual or physical abuse but hurts that stem simply from what you didn’t have, experience or know and how those things periodically handicap you in your adulthood. As a man, it is expected that you will be hard, tough, aloof and unmoved by anything internal. Would it ever be safe to admit that you are damaged by the things you’ve overcome?
To be fair, not everyone handles poverty in the same way. Frankly, my three siblings never internalized things to the degree I did. My father was the first to make that observation and he’s earnestly pleaded with me many times over to somehow get over the past and my “fear of poverty.” Even so, it is safe to say that poverty does have far reaching consequences, beyond those that can be empirically verified. They can be quite damaging and indeed those who suffer often do so in silence. Knowing this, I feel it imperative to offer my voice on behalf of those who are suffering.