Robert Bard

Food Shopping on the Government

In Mimesis on August 30, 2011 at 7:05 pm

Reginald had been raised all his life to be proud, and to never accept help. His mother had once told him that if he ever thought about receiving food stamps, welfare, or anything like that, that he would no longer be welcome in her house. It was not so much that she looked down on people that received them; she just knew that Reginald would never himself need them, and should never accept them. Reginald had been given all the tools and talents necessary to live life without government aid, and had been raised to feel guilty about accepting help of any kind. While he was at college, and in high school, there were all sorts of different forms of help that he could have—and perhaps should have—received for the care of his mental disorders. He would have been able to take longer on tests, perhaps have extended paper times, all sorts of things, but he prided himself on being able to do everything on his own—until he talked to Elizabeth.

Elizabeth had come from an impoverished family with little means, and had learned from a young age to take all that you can get, more out of direct necessity than pure greed. Her family had long been on food stamps, and now that she was old enough for them, she had sought them herself. Being of little means, and being a very persistent person, she had managed to secure a few hundred dollars worth of food stamps for herself, even though her needs were largely met by the family she was now living with. The way the system works, however, is that if you show that you don’t need it—i.e. don’t use it—then it is reduced the following month. Elizabeth viewed this as more of a challenge than anything else. Of course she could spend a few hundred dollars on food for herself every month. Who couldn’t? She frequently took Reginald out on grocery store trips to buy whatever they pleased, and Reginald came along, though he felt guilty for doing so.

They found themselves, this time, at a local grocery store, in the chocolate isle.

“Which one do you want, baby?” Elizabeth asked Reginald, as she gestured to various candy bars. Their basket was full of treats. Reginald loved grocery shopping, because he loved cooking, and when he was depressed, good food often cheered him up—gaining weight, however, did not.

Reginald felt uneasy. He wanted the chocolate (he had a soft spot for chocolate), but he felt wrong about letting Elizabeth buy it for him. It wasn’t like he had money to buy it himself, but he would rather go hungry than accept help from someone else, especially under these circumstances. Elizabeth could sense Reginald’s uneasiness. “C’mon babe. I know you want the dark chocolate and raspberry Ghirardelli. It’s your favorite.”

She was right, of course, but Reginald felt wrong about it. “It’s okay, babe,” he said. “I’ll go without it.”

She sighed, and threw the candy bar in the basket. “I don’t get what’s wrong with you. It’s not like it’s costing me anything,” she said.

This was all wrong, Reginald thought to himself. He had wanted to provide for her, and indeed, in the beginning of the relationship he had—until he had spent all the reserves of money he’d had, and with no more money coming in had run out. He hadn’t been able to find a job yet, though he had looked long and hard. He had always dreamed of being able to provide for Elizabeth, and it frustrated him more than anything to be so emasculated as this. He was useless, he felt, and instead of helping her, was only taking from her. This went against everything that he had ever believed, and how he had been raised. Both of his parents worked, and they felt their son should have a decent career and be a productive member of society. It didn’t bother him that Elizabeth was receiving government aid—he felt she deserved it because of her disability—but it bothered him that she would buy him things. He didn’t ask her to; no, he would never do that; she did it because she felt sorry that he had no money to spend on his own. He didn’t care about not having money; his parents bought all that he needed, and he had learned to live without the other things that he might want, such as going out to the movies, or going out to dinner. Free entertainment had now become the best form of entertainment. All he wanted was to find a job and take care of her, because that’s what he felt she needed. She was in a helpless situation, yet in a lot of ways she was the one helping him, because he was even more helpless. He felt incompetent, and worthless, and more than anything, angry. This was not a situation, he felt, which was destined to last.

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