I come from humble beginnings: the youngest in a lower middle-class family, led by a father who had to work two jobs to provide for his two daughters and disabled wife. We were never on welfare like my mom was as a child, but I did suffer the hand-me-downs of my older sister, and I only ever saw my father briefly dinner most days, before he ran to his second job at the Sears in Fayetteville Mall.
I remember sometimes Dad didn't have cash in his pocket to pick up milk on his way home. His credit had gotten so bad at one point, he almost had to file bankruptcy, and so he'd gotten rid of all charge cards. At that time, no cash meant no milk.
I was terrified to ask for money for school field trips or supplies. My cheap winter boots always let the slush soak into my socks.
We were able to live lean for a long time, when fast food restaurants were reserved for special occasions. Our father encouraged us to save our allowance money for something really good, rather than blowing it on candy. We soon followed in his footsteps by obsessively buying 45s and, eventually, cassingles.
We picked up pennies when we saw them on the sidewalk. We prayed for dollar bills.
In my 30s, when I'd reached the age my father was at when he struggled so desperately to support us, I was making good money in my career. I was even making more money than my father, despite his ultimate rise to executive level and well-earned white collar success. I managed to pay off all of the debt I'd accrued by putting myself through college and moving to New York City on my own. It wasn't enough to live very well in New York, but it was enough to live modestly in Manhattan and take cabs to work when it was raining.
I always lived frugally, but I remember at one point being able to not worry about something, saying, "What's the big deal? It's just money." For a short while, I didn't have to check the price tag on everyday items.
It's easy to forget that most Americans do not get to live that way. Life is a struggle. People are expected to be able to live on $10/hour wages and make under $15,000 a year. And no matter how successful you are, or how well you're staying afloat, the rug can be pulled out from you at any time, and God help you if you don't have a safety net.
Today, nearly two months after my last day of work, I found myself at Planned Parenthood – the place for an unemployed, uninsured woman like me to go when in need of a checkup and a prescription refill.
Even with an appointment, the entire visit took three hours. I spent over an hour in the overly air conditioned waiting room, staring at inspirational messages about HOPE and RESPECT that had been painted incorrectly on the wall. (Two words were repeated in one of the sentences, and it was driving me nuts.) I tried not to watch daytime talk shows and entertainment gossip news on the TV, but I couldn't help myself. I ran down the battery on my phone, embarrassed about how everyone else's phone seemed much bigger and much nicer than mine.
I've been humbled before – when I was too big for my own britches and deserved a little knocking down – but these days I am really seeing how the other half lives. And I am not an anthropologist observing it. I am really living it myself.
I wondered what brought the other people: the couples holding hands, the teenagers and their friends, the new parents with their babies, the agitated single females who bounced one leg up and down to make the time pass.
I worried about protests and religiously-fueled violent attacks on the center, like what you hear about at abortion clinics on the news. Maybe those don't happen in LA.
Still, I didn't feel very anonymous. I felt exposed.
When the medical assistant finally brought me in, she pricked my finger for blood and had me pee in a cup, but refused to examine me because I wasn't experiencing any symptoms, and I'd had a normal pap smear a year ago. They wouldn't administer another one to me, despite the fact that I've had problems in the past. Anxiety ensues.
Even when I've let other appointments lapse and have neglected to see other doctors and specialists, I've always managed to see a GYN, every single year.
Except this year.
The good news is, I'm eligible to take a battery of other tests, and continue receiving my prescription, and it's fully covered by the State of California.
The only cost to me? Three hours of a day when I had nothing else to do. And a bit of humility. It's enough to tide me over until I have insurance again.
And in the meantime, my lady parts remain as untouched as they have been for the majority of 2014.
The View from Above
Plight of the Uninsured
The Forever Now