I got paid on the 25thof September. (I know, it sounds like a moody rock song lyric). And being a newfound “responsible” adult, I decided to sit down, crunch the numbers and see how much my flexible income would be that month. So I factored in my rent, car payment, car insurance, cell phone bill, electric bill, internet bill, student loan payment and $500 alternative certification payment and subtracted the amount I spent on my new bedding set. The harsh reality of the amount of my paycheck set in with a quickness.
My eyes blinked as they focused on the remaining number. I must have mistyped. Let’s try that again. Once again, my eyes settled on the number I would be left with until the 25thof October. Not possible. I hadn’t even factored in food and gas. One more time, I slowly typed in my starting monthly rate, and subtracted one by one the items that would need to be paid this month. Purposefully hitting each number, double and triple checking to ensure my accuracy. I exhaled and hit enter a final time. Slowly averting my eyes to the remaining total. Heart beating heavily as my breath quickened. Hoping my reality would be different than the previous two versions.
My jaw dropped. With just my bills factored in and the purchase I had already made, I would be left with less than $50. How was that possible? There was no way that I could make $50 stretch for 28 days. My gas light was already on, so gas was a necessity and I had to eat. In all this time, the notion had never occurred to me that my cost of living could be more than my paycheck.
My naiveté assumed that you got a job, and it would cover your bills, as long as you were smart and didn’t spend on frivolous items. But this? This was outrageous. I had worked for a month and a half with no paycheck. Barely scraping by with the money I had saved over the summer. I had no savings left, nothing to fall back on. I had nothing of value in my empty apartment. No fine jewelry that could be sold, no furniture that could give me a little wiggle room. And I barely had enough professional clothing articles to get through the work week. Not an asset in sight. I was one giant liability.
And according to my calculations, I wouldn’t be able to purchase any furniture, no clothes for work, no money to do my laundry, barely enough for gas, and about $20 left over for food. I didn’t even have a dollar a day to work with. And wouldn’t be able to save a penny. I was tapped out the day after getting paid. Worse than tapped out, I was going to be in the negatives, if I purchased what I needed.
Tears overwhelmed my eyes and hung there, making the miniscule number on my calculator app blurry. Gaining volume, until plunging from the depths of my eyes and splashing on the screen of my illuminated phone. As water continuously flowed from my overburdened spirit through my eyes, my brain reeled with options. Running frantically in any direction that would lead to a solution. My initial thought was to return the bedding, I could do without it. But then I quickly realized that I could not return an already slept-in set of sheets and comforter.
Next, I thought of asking Kendrae for help, just a little. But then came to my senses. He was a college student, working to cover his own bills. And he was student teaching, so he was already maxed out. Maybe I could apply for a loan. Just enough to help absorb some of my initial costs. How would I be able to budget paying back a loan? If I couldn’t afford to pay my current bills, how would I be able to factor in an additional expense?
My mind went blank. It had run in every direction and come back empty handed. I had no idea what I was going to do. I had spent the past four years of college dreaming for the day when I could strike out on my own. Envisioning the long-awaited freedom I so desperately yearned for my whole life. And when I got what I had been so thirsty for, I found myself in the middle of a desert, more dehydrated than ever.
Kendrae and I had made plans to shop at Walmart together so we could both get what we needed and still spend some time together. His work hours were sporadic and consisted of a lot of late night shifts, my only free time. So a lot of our dates were completely unglamorous and involved grocery shopping. I honestly wasn’t sure what I would purchase as I had no budget to shop with. I might use the excuse that I left my list at home. Maybe I would blame it on being tired and I would come tomorrow on my own. Or I could be forthcoming with the information and be honest with my boyfriend. But I was embarrassed. So embarrassed at my lack of money management. I mentally kicked myself for being so stupid.
But then my heart told my head, that I did what I had to. I my apartment because it was the only one out of the ten I looked at with availability on such short notice. I needed a car, and got the one I qualified for with the lowest payment because I had no credit, no trade-in and no one to co-sign. I had to make so many arrangements quickly, before knowing my monthly budget because of the situation with my family. None of my bills were frivolous or extraneous because when you have one day to make arrangements, you do what you can. My choice to be independent came with a very high price tag. One that was almost unaffordable.
I wasn’t sure how I was going to tell Kendrae, but I knew that I needed to be honest with him. If anyone would understand why I was struggling, it would be him. He read the text messages, he experienced the conversations. He witnessed the extreme financial circumstances I was forced into for my “life choices.” And knowing his gentle, understanding demeanor, I could make a solid bet that my admission would be met with kindness, the way he dealt with everything else.
I would tell him after we got done grocery shopping. I would make us some dinner, and then break him the news. So I hopped in my car and headed to Walmart to meet Kendrae. My mind was elsewhere, so I opted for silence on my drive. I quickly spun the volume dial to low. Stuck somewhere between inaudible and a whisper as I made the short commute.
I pulled into a parking space in the Walmart parking lot and parked my car. I let the engine run as I shot Kendrae a brief text message to let him know that I had made it. As I hit send and leaned back into my driver’s side chair, a song sauntered through my speakers. Bruno Mars melodic intonation meandered from the car speakers to my receptive ear drums.
“I wanna be a billionaire so freakin’ bad
Buy all of the things I never had
Uh, I wanna be on the cover of Forbes magazine
Smiling next to Oprah and the Queen”
I laughed out loud at the song lyrics and the extreme notion. Billionaire, I just wanted to be able to pay my bills and buy some groceries. Where was the song for that? And then, loud and clear I was hit across the face with an idea. So forcefully that it was as if I heard the words audibly spoken to me in the car. Get a second job. I sat up straighter in my seat and looked around the Walmart parking lot. I leaned forward, chest pressed against my steering wheel and strained my neck to see if there was anyone around me. No. There was no one. And then, the phrase resonated again, even more clearly. Get a second job, Sarah. The idea presented itself to me as if it was an entity all its own.
Huh… A second job? That was something I could do. My school schedule was incredibly routine and wasn’t going to alter. I was free in the afternoon after 4:30 and never had any weekend obligations. If I could find a place willing to work around my day schedule, I might be able to pull this off. I began thinking of all the places that I could work that had reasonable hours.
I wouldn’t want to work anywhere overnight, because teaching would still be my top priority. This job couldn’t interfere or take anything away from my ability to teach my students. I would have to find somewhere that closed around 9 and would have the availability to work on the weekends. A place that would allow me to leave the work at work and disconnect when I went home. I always had my students on my mind. How can I help them better? How can I let them know I care? Am I making myself relatable to them? Are they getting what they need at home? I already brought this job home with me. I needed a part-time job that I could pick up when I clocked in and drop off when I clocked out. Making some extra cash would hopefully help me have a more reasonable budget for my minor weekly expenses. My paycheck from school would cover everything else.
A wave of relief washed over me as the probability of this new idea sunk in. This really seemed like the best solution to my money problems. Excitement at the idea of breathing room filled my lungs. I jumped out of the car as soon as I saw Kendrae’s truck backing into a parking spot near me. Before he could unbuckle his seat belt, I flung open his driver’s side door and pronounced: “I’m getting a second job!”
Without a beat or even a blink, Kendrae responded, “sounds good.” He stepped down from his truck and the two of us walked into Walmart together.
Author’s Note: I had a rough week. One of those where you feel like you’re in the middle of ten boxers and they’re all swinging at you. Jab in the ribs. Uppercut to the jaw. Front kick in the chest. I went through the emotional ringer. This match-up had been a long time coming. I could feel them brooding at me for a few weeks. They just waited until I let my guard down for a split second, and then pounced all at once.
It wasn’t one major event. It was the culmination of one hundred little things. Things that hadn’t been dealt with, but pushed to the back of my mind for a later date. Maybe it was just that I felt out of place lately. I found myself constantly feeling like a fraud. I felt like the child mistakenly seated at the grown-up’s table for dinner. But, I didn’t belong at the children’s table either. I was in between phases in life. I was supposed to be starting this new book, but was stuck in an unending preface. I kept turning page after page, only to feel stuck in the same place.
The irony of the title of my blog felt like a slap in the face. How can you call yourself relentless Sarah? You are nothing more than a relentless mess-up, I heard on repeat in my head. Each utterance holding more and more weight until I believed it was true. Sunk in my own pit of despair.
Until I reread the definition of relentless.
Relentless (adj) oppressively constant; incessant
synonyms: persistent, continuing, constant, nonstop, never-ending, unabating, interminable, unceasing, and so on.
Did anyone of those syllables suggest perfection? No. Did they imply not getting knocked down? No, quite the opposite in fact. The synonyms persistent and unceasing indicate that regardless of the circumstances, you won’t give up. No matter how many times life roughs me up, kicks me around, and slams me to the ground, I will continue to fight back.
So I will leave you with this message. One that I penned before ever starting my blog. It was one I needed to be reminded of, some 30 weeks later:
“I have misplaced so much time and energy on my pursuit of perfection and always trying to have it all together. Not only was it exhausting, but it was impossible. I found myself in a perpetual state of disappointment because I always seemed to fall short of my unreachable standards.
In an effort to combat my own insecurities and shortcomings, I have dedicated this blog to my imperfections. To the pieces of Sarah that don’t have it all together. And to the pieces that do. Because both my assets and imperfections add up to be whole.
The title, relentless Sarah, stems from the direction I want to be moving in. It is my mantra for how I choose to live my life, and one that I take very seriously. Every day, I strive to be relentless. In my daily pursuit of my passions. To be relentless in loving others. Relentless in my advocacy for standing up for my beliefs. Relentless in sharing kindness and generosity. And to relentlessly spread the truth.
I hope that through my blog, my message of being relentless shines true.”
Yes, I am relentless, even in my struggles. And so are you.