It’s September and the air is filled with autumn: drying leaves, rain, and a hint of smoke. I love the weather changes, even though they are subtle here in Oregon. I love the return to school with all those pencils and notebooks stacked so neatly in the stores.
But September is also the last month I go without a paycheck. As an adjunct instructor at the local community college, I make enough to scrape by during the school year. Because I’m very careful, and because I get child support from the Things’ dad, it’s enough for a car payment and insurance, food and gas, rent, clothes, and even internet and chess lessons and theater classes. It’s enough for decent birthday presents and pet food and orthodontia payments. It’s enough for me to get a haircut and color twice a year.
In short: this is what I manage on a salary of about $26,000, with child support of about $13,000.
But it’s never enough to make it through the entire summer without a paycheck. I hold off paying certain bills, buy cheaper food, forego doctors’ visits or other expenses. I lie in bed, thinking about how I might make extra money: could I sell something? Every summer, I try to sell my plasma, and every year I am turned away for low iron.
This summer, I took on two significant freelance writing jobs. One paid very well, and the other paid decently, but was a project I was passionate about. I’ve completed the first job and I’m diligently working on finishing the second.
Still, we’re on food stamps for the next few months. The combination of no paycheck since the beginning of July, and none coming until the end of October, means that even that freelance work hasn’t been enough. The food stamps are welcome—they mean we will get by. They mean that I was able to buy Ivan two pairs of jeans which he desperately needed. They mean that Giselle gets a new coat, and they kids all got school supplies. But all of it, all the ways I scrape and pull together this life, is never enough. Will it ever be enough?
In December, I will turn 39. The Things Three will be 14, 13, and 11. I confess, I don’t want to do this anymore. I am tired of working so hard for so little. I’m tired of struggling. And I’m tired of September, the longest month, when the façade I’ve so carefully crafted thins, and I can see how close I am to disaster. *tm