Pride, charity, and responsibility

ETA: Please see here for the resolution of this post.


If I could do anything in the whole world, I would be an activist. I would hit the lecture circuit and write things and demystify this whole class thing for people. My writing over the last few weeks seems to have struck chords, and total strangers are reaching out to me. This is awesome, but not a thing that I know what to do with. So this is the part where I actually come completely clean, because I have never told anyone these things (hi, potential 10k viewers on gt! You don't count as really embarrassingly real because you are internet people!) but they are relevant.

When I wrote a one-off joke about my electric bill, I was uncomfortable with the offer from people here to help me out because it came achingly close to being charity. I tried to articulate my discomfort without seeming ungrateful, and people kept telling me that it really wasn't a big deal. And it wasn't, to them. But it was huge, massive, to me. Still, I have small children, and so I rolled with it because it was for them. I will beg, borrow, or steal to keep my kids cared for. It is different to say that on my own behalf. It requires more humility, and that is hard to untangle from servility. It requires me to question my own integrity.


So I am wrote these thoughts about poverty down, and the Twitter blew up, with one offer of help in particular. And it is not a small offer. It is entirely legitimate, which I am 100% positive of. I suppose it must seem small to many people, it is less money than a semester of school, but it is a large amount by my accounting. It is important to me that I earn what I take, because otherwise I am proving all the stereotypes right. But this one offer is life-changing, and I am confused.

Here is something that I have never admitted to a living soul: I have recently, in the last year or two, developed something of an eating disorder. This actually has nothing to do with my body image or weight or anything. It is because I cannot eat, because my teeth have just become that broken. I mostly eat oatmeal, or drink coffee. Nothing crunchy, nothing with skin, nothing hard, nothing that one must bite off to chew. Nothing that one must chew at all. Nothing that can't simply be broken into bits small enough to swallow whole, or that isn't already sort of liquidy.


I was in a car wreck about a decade ago, you see. I slammed my face into the airbag/dash so hard that I cracked five teeth. Only I didn't realize it because I thought it was just my face swelling from the bruising. I was too young to negotiate with an insurance company post-trauma; all I knew was that my car was destroyed by an asshole drunk and I would lose my job without another vehicle posthaste. I took the check without realizing that it was a full settlement. Fast-forward a month, and it was still too painful to brush my teeth. My jaw was still swollen. Fast forward three months: the cracks have turned into cavities. Fast foward a year: the molars start to break off. Another year, and it became obvious that I was wholly jacked. But I hoped that soon I would be in a position to get to a dentist.

Six years after the wreck, I had saved up enough to go to a dentist. She lectured me about meth. I have never done meth. That will give you an idea. She pulled my two front teeth and gave me a denture to replace them. The plate eventually cracked, and it spent a lot of time rubbing against other teeth, which then started to go along my gumline where the plate chafed off the enamel. I couldn't not wear it, though, because then I would have no front teeth, which I think we can all agree is a big deal. I had needed more of them pulled to isolate the damage but I ran out of money and fuck her judgement anyway, so I never did get back. So then the cavities just sort of kept spreading and the enamel kept crumbling and it didn't matter how much Listerine or how many tubes of Crest I went through. It is not as though I do not practice basic hygiene. I do. It just never seemed to stop the damage from getting worse.


It is horrifying and embarrassing and terrible and I do not like to think about it or admit to it. I would rather be naked on the street and have strangers point out the pimples on my ass. I would rather have sex with gross truckers to the dulcet sounds of the Bob And Tom Show on national TV. I would rather admit, on a billboard in Times Square, to personally fellating Rush Limbaugh. With video. All of those things are preferable to admitting to this giant failure to simply not let myself literally rot away. I know that it is a class thing and not a personal failing, that without the accident things would be different, that if I'd had a hundred bucks to spare on cabs for the week I would have held out for a physical exam. Best of luck convincing yourself of that should you ever find yourself in my shoes as an intelligent person who seemingly can't figure out how to brush their own teeth, because that is what people think.

At this point, my body pops up weird infections constantly. I am simply riddled with it now. I have inner ear trouble. My jaw has been swollen for three years. I run a fever fairly constantly. My youngest daughter was born about two pounds underweight. Oddly enough, none of these complications are considered medical because teeth are involved and so the work I need done is not covered by any insurance I have access to, even if I someday work up the courage to open my mouth and see the look on someone's face. And then I wrote a piece in which I made jokes about cockroaches on pikes, and suddenly someone would like to fundraise for this surgery that I really should get sometime.


It's just so terrifyingly easy to take this free magic Internet money. Still, I can't imagine feeling pretty or attractive; those things have been lost to me for years. I do not remember what confidence is. I don't know what I'd even do with any; this is my station now. I am not the worst off; I am loved, I am safe enough, I have a fantastic intellectual life online.

But I wonder, given that I am the thing holding my family above water, whether I would be able to do that more effectively if my entire life wasn't restricted to things that did not involve my face in any way. I wonder whether my house would be clean if I could eat things like meat and vegetables. I wonder whether that responsibility outweighs my need to not be a charity case. I am afraid of dying before my family is done needing me to pay the bills. I have not done anything to earn this. I feel guilty about taking. I feel vain. I feel guilty for considering it. But I feel irresponsible for not considering it.


It is uncomfortable to be singled out as a recipient. I do not know what to do about the fact that someone simply thinks of me as pitiful, and that I have to agree that, in point of fact, I kind of am. I do not have much pride left to me, and this is pretty much giving the remainder away, and that is a big deal. I feel somehow that it's unethical, and I don't know exactly why. But it would be life-altering, and I am not sure that I am allowed to turn that down, because I do not keep myself alive for me. I live to provide, and that is my place. It's my responsibility. But I know how to navigate my normal life; I don't know how to honestly navigate this fairy-tale_. _

I would like to know what you guys think the ethics of this are. I don't think that's exactly the word I'm looking for, but it comes close enough. I would like to hear other people's thoughts on it and maybe that will help me clarify my own.

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