Tales From the Projects: A Life In Poverty
CW: Drug use and domestic violence
By: Veronica Sawyer
“The projects” is a term used to describe government-owned housing where rent is based on income and the rest is subsidized. This is the diary of one woman living in the projects of a small midwestern city of 45,000. It is at some points boring and mundane, some points may be hard to read, but all of it is true.
Friday: Three of my neighbors came over to smoke a blunt with my fiance. My fiance is the only one without a job, but the others are either off today or don’t work for hours. I didn’t smoke because I was caring for my son. Their girlfriends were doing the same at their homes so none of the children were being neglected or subjected to drug use. Afterwards, they came up from the basement and hung out a bit. We talked about raising kids, work, and plans for the weekend. They all played video games. Later one came back and played some more video games with my fiance while we all three smoked a blunt. My baby was asleep. It was a good day.
Saturday: Today while my son and fiance were napping I played spades with my neighbors in front of their apartment. It was hot out and two neighbors started arguing over god knows what. The cops came and asked my neighbors about it because they were called about a “fight” going on. The cops never said who called, but we all knew it was the white woman across the way who calls them any time a person of color gets close to loud. I was sitting right there but they didn’t bother asking me about any fight. I can’t help but wonder if my whiteness kept me safe from questioning. Cops left and we continued playing our cards until the mosquitoes got bad and my one neighbor had to go to work at the local burger place. The cops were out patrolling our complex at least twice more today for no discernible reason, but at least they weren’t questioning folk. No fight ever broke out.
Sunday: The planned cookout with the neighbors and my inlaws (who also live in the complex) got canceled due to rain. Cops were out patrolling again but like usual things were quiet here so they didn’t stay long. Spent the day cleaning my house and playing with my son. Sun came out later and a huge group of my neighbors gathered outside to play basketball. It was a good day.
Monday: After work, we finally had our cookout. Couple beers and some spades closed out the night. Neighbors lit fireworks. The baby didn’t wake up.
Tuesday: I spent my morning on the phone with different government agencies. When I tried to refill my mental health medications I found out I was no longer covered by Medicaid. After 3 different people and almost an hour of hold time, I found out I had only faxed in my work verification and not the renewal forms. Luckily the third guy was able to get me re-enrolled. Who says government can’t handle being in the insurance game? I got cut early from work because the temps are the first to go when it’s slow. I can’t really afford to live off the $9 an hour part-time crap they have me on as it is so this hurts. Of course, the heat was so bad I felt like I was going to pass out so maybe it’s a good thing since all they could do to help me from passing out at work was tell me not to wear black anymore; as if they pay me enough to get new clothes for work. This shit ain’t worth the $9 an hour but my options are almost zero so I guess I’ll suck it up and hope I don’t crack my head open if I pass out tomorrow. I got into a huge fight with my fiance. He backhanded me across the face. His mom says I should call the cops on him but if I do that then he’ll just break my phone and I can’t afford a new one, plus his brother buys the baby diapers and I can’t afford to piss him off by sending his brother to jail. I know the neighbors have to have heard us yelling but they said nothing to either of us later in the day when we saw them. Poverty and heat bring out the worst in people and we’ve all learned you don’t get into people’s business out here because you never know how much worse you can make life for people by getting involved or, god forbid, getting the cops involved. Being a cop caller is the worst thing you could do. I’m no cop caller. I called my best friend to take me to get stuff to roll cigarettes. It’s the only way I can afford to smoke and smoking takes the edge off the stress. Plus it’s the only socially acceptable way to kill yourself and I don’t want to live to 90 like this. I don’t tell her about being slapped. She wouldn’t understand that I couldn’t leave if I wanted to and I’m not sure I want to anyway.
Wednesday: I’ve been trying to get in touch with my grandpa for about a year now. He finally told me he had been cold or not answering me because the last time we really talked I asked for money and “cut off contact” when he said no. I didn’t cut off contact, I had no phone and internet for a while because I had no money. I’ve been trying to reconnect every since then but I guess that’s one less person I can say loves me. There’s not many, to begin with, so I spent the morning before work crying. Poverty strikes again. Don’t know why I even try anymore. Work was ok. Came home hurting and now I get to chase after a cranky baby. My house is trashed because my fiance can’t seem to clean while I work. I thought about cleaning but decided to live in filth for another day because I’m just too damn hot and exhausted to do anything. Wish we had air conditioning. It’s 90 degrees in my house. Ended up drinking and playing spades with the neighbors and a girl from work. Somebody called the cops for the music being too loud. They needed an ID to run for their report so I gave them mine. I don’t know if anybody else had warrants but I knew I didn’t so I figured it was safer that way, plus I wanted my black neighbors to have as little contact with the police as possible because I don’t trust cops, especially around black people. Not sure if this was being a good neighbor, ally, or just some kind of white savior complex honestly but I know I protect my friends and a conversation with a cop was nothing to me so why not. Cops were nice, we turned down the music, eventually, I went to bed.
Thursday: I spent my fourth of July at my future inlaws’ house for a cookout. Then I went to fireworks alone. My social circle is small due to lack of funds or car to ever do anything and the people I have in my life were all busy. I came home and my fiance went out to get high. I played my computer game until I went to bed, which was late because the neighbors were lighting fireworks. Happy 4th of July.