The first two weeks were easy. I stayed away from stores and didn't really think twice about it. But then I went into the TJMaxx near my school--which is way, way, WAY more upscale than the one near my house--and I allowed myself to look--TO LOOK! HA!--at clothing. This is nonsensical. I did not NEED ANYTHING. NOTHING. And yet, here I am looking at articles of clothing for sale. Why? I don't know. Why didn't I go home and study some Italian? I DON'T KNOW. That's a really good question. But, I didn't.
Instead, I found a leopard print silk chiffon dress (originally priced at $240 ... marked down to $24.99) that I was just going to TRY ON before I returned it to the rack. (Am I wrong or is that a 90% discount? I failed that quiz in 8th grade math, so I don't know for sure.)
Blah blah blah. I bought the dress.
I stared at it hanging in my room for 24 hours.
And then I shoved it in a bag and returned it.
But, I still felt like a dirty cheater. Or big fat failure. Whichever you think is most apt. Ron saw me shoving the dress in the bag and said, "What's wrong with it?" I said, "I bought it. That's what's wrong with it. I wasn't supposed to buy clothes for Lent."
"Do you love the dress?"
"Duh: Of course I love the dress. Are you looking at it?"
"Then why are you returning it?"
"Because that's not what Lent is! I made a mistake--if I'm serious about this, it has to go back."
He blinked at me and walked away.
Everything was fine for three more weeks. Somewhere during the last ten days, I caved again. I had seen a blouse at Old Navy and it was on my mind for a month. I thought, "That's it. I want it. I'm buying it." Problem: It was nowhere to be found at the store. So I went online. And I bought it and two other blouses. Because why would you purposely avoid the "Free shipping over $50" promotion? Who's ok with paying for shipping? I knew Lent would be over by the time everything arrived. Which meant ... it didn't count? I couldn't believe I was trying to rationalize cheating like this.
Blah blah blah. All three are still sitting upstairs and I really, really like them BUT I cheated to get them. A large part of me wants to return them without hesitation. And yet ...
The entire six weeks, I've been wondering where this struggle comes from. Am I just a horrendously materialistic person? Do I have bad priorities? Do I need something better to do with my time? I save far more money than I spend ... why do I give even halfayouknowwhat about three $18 blouses? There's two sides to the coin: On the one side there is the fact that I'm tortured (TORTURED) by most of the things that I buy no matter what time of year it is. On the other, there's the awareness that I am not a bad or irresponsible person and that this self-inflicted torture is waste of my time and energy. I flip the coin (pun totally not intended--just caught that) and flip it and flip it and flip it, but heads or tails I lose every time.
I have decided to blame (drumroll please): My Childhood.
Since I've been really little, I've known that I've descended from a long line of poor (even destitute? It wasn't an exaggeration at some point) women. I'm not messing around here: I'm talking about women who worked their fingers to the bone at every awful job imaginable to put dinner on the table for their kids. Women who cleaned wealthier people's houses top to bottom every week; women who took in laundry (like, literally boiled people's laundry) for the tiniest fee in their teeny tiny apartments because they could and they had to; women who lived on the top floor of walk-up apartments in rundown buildings (the coldest in the winter, the hottest in the summer) and shared a bathroom with every person on their floor because that's where they could afford to live; women who worked triple shifts waiting tables because they were afraid if they missed one table's worth of tip money it would mean the state would take her kids away; women who (I swear I just heard this one last week) swore they would "eat grass" (because real food requires money) before neglecting to pay her bills or care for her kids.
Do you get it now? In other words, I enjoy the privilege of problems like, "Oh golly gee, should I buy a blouse or not?" Or, "Does this leopard print look better with black boots or brown?" Meanwhile, I can think of five women from whom I descend who never enjoyed a problem like that. Women so unaccustomed to security that it was just a given--a given, totally unquestioned--that they would work hard labor until the day they died because ... well, it was necessary to avoid squalor.
A currently-living woman on one side of my family who-shall-remain-nameless grew up with two outfits to wear to school and two pairs of shoes (one for school, one for church if I remember correctly). I say "grew up" because this arrangement persisted for years and years. And she was grateful for all four of these items. She didn't have time to lament what she did not have because she was too busy thanking Jesus, Mary, and all the Saints that another day had come and gone and the house did not burn down in a freak accident and take her two outfits with it.
And yet, I cannot go forty days and nights without feeling the pull of a TJMaxx? Really?
REALLY? I'm sorry, but there's something really sick about that.
|Close-up. I know, I know: Don't say it.|
I wish all the time that I could talk to these women--I talk to those still living all the time, but those who died years and years ago are so intriguing to me. I feel their presence all the time, right over my shoulders just a few feet behind me. I really try to hear their voices, but I can't hear what they're saying. I listen so hard. Are they saying, "Girl! Spend up your money because you're gonna be dead a long time and you can't take it with you"? Or are they saying, "Train yourself to sacrifice now because it's hard adjusting to nothing when you're accustomed to the cushiness of something"? Or maybe, "We worked our fingers to the bone so that you could worry about stupid, finite, meaningless stuff like $18 blouses. Just do it--somebody should before our line dies out." Or, "You know all the bad luck stories from the past two generations alone. It's only a matter of time before it catches up with you, too. Sit on that money and guard it well because even that won't be enough on the day of reckoning."
And then, there's Leslie's voice: "If you want a swimming pool that badly, surely if you start saving NOW you'll have the money in the next ten years ... right?"
I don't know. I HOPE so. So maybe I should return the blouses for a $50 investment in the Savings Account That Has No Real Purpose Except to Provide a Sense of Security that Past Generations Did Not Know Was Possible? And then blow it on a swimming pool?
That doesn't sound too bad.
A great, big, turquoise rectangle ten feet deep and chilled like a bottle of white wine?
|Forgot to mention this: $44 Cynthia Rowley cashmere tunic in my fave winter color. Only a crazy person says, "No thanks" to something so incredibly versatile. I may be slightly damaged but I'm not INSANE.|
That's Lent for this year. I meant to give updates about it on a weekly basis, but it never happened because each time I went to do so, all of this would get dredged up and I would pick a different topic instead. Like marshmallows or The Fluffs.
I don't blame anybody for X-ing out of this 15 paragraphs ago. Everybody has enough of her own problems and neuroses to deal with, right? Seriously, I don't think there's a shrink on the planet who can un-do 5+ generations of poverty-induced paranoia. But if there's one up for the task, just point me to your couch and I'm there. (Only if it's free.)
(Oh God. I didn't even realize what I just said until I typed out that last sentence and reread it. See?? SEE???)