Writing The Self 3: Had They Known
I look out the library window and watch the barren trees waver in the wind as the melting snow drains into the street in front of the school. Early March is when the snow starts to melt but the sun still doesn’t have the courage to shine past 5 P.M. The warm air in the library smells like fresh paper and trampled carpet. The rest of the kids in my class are mingling amongst themselves, deciding what books to buy or what gimmicky pens are going to smell the best. Anyone in my grade five class would tell you that the best time of year is the Scholastic Book Fair. The only time in a year that students would have a modest amount of money to buy whatever their heart desired. Many of my classmates bought whole volumes of Geronimo Stilton, Magic Treehouse, or whatever dystopian novel was gossiped about by the eighth graders.
I, however, had no money for whatever I wanted. The only thing I could afford was for my eyes to gloss over the things I wish I could have. Even then, it was too much of a price to burden on my mind. Mama’s words still stuck with me from this morning. I had spent weeks letting Mama know that the Book Fair was coming up and that all the kids would be buying all the cool new pens. But this morning Mama sat me down and said something to me that made me understand: “Mama only gets paid once a month. Mama can’t spend money on what we don’t need.” I guess I don’t need the books all my classmates are reading, but it would be nice. I was too ashamed to let all my friends know that I wasn’t going to be buying anything this year, just like the last. I’ve experienced too much pity as it is. My friends just want to be nice and offer a kind gesture, but I only ever feel worse that I can’t buy something on my own.
It isn’t enough for people with money to make themselves feel good with things they don’t need, but they need to know that if they could make a difference then they would. I don’t want to be some person’s source of catharsis – an easy way out of feeling guilty. I never asked for these people’s symbolic charity, yet I get the showers of performative compassion. Had they known how cold a room can feel when you can’t pay the heating bill, they’d yell at the companies who stopped shovelling the coal. Had they known how dry your throat can get when the water stops running, they’d destroy dams and redirect rivers. And had they’d known how it feels to watch others spend money on what they don’t need, they’d be looking out of this library window with me.