My Great Recession: How to Love During a Recession

By Guest Columnist May 20, 2009

We put out a call for stories from young people of color about how people are surviving this recession. “My Great Recession” continues with this submission by Angel Garcia. Want to contribute? It will also go on the "Race & Recession" report page Send your 300-word first person accounts, visual art, or video blogs to submissions [at] colorlines [dot] com. By Jamilah King A version of this post also appeared on Wiretap as part of the Youth Media Blog-a-Thon. It seems trivial to talk about love during a recession. Especially when people around me are losing jobs, homes, pensions, and sanity. After all, I’ve been one of the lucky ones, part of a privileged few who’s maintained a good job with benefits that’s allotted me the detachment it takes to write, report and furrow my brow at other people’s misfortunes. But if there’s one thing I’ve learned throughout these months of turmoil, it’s that love is the real stimulus that keeps people going. And, save for a few costly therapy sessions and parking tickets, it’s free. Here are my stats: I’m 23 years old and working in a white-collar job a mere bus ride from the hospital I was born in and short walk from the blue collar neighborhood where I grew up. Every day I see people I know – old basketball coaches, mom’s friend’s cousins, preschool teachers. At a certain level, it’s humbling and keeps me away from the usual frivolity associated with someone in their early twenties. Yet as much as it grounds me, seeing folks I went to elementary school with constantly searching for jobs, juggling kids and fighting addiction reminds me of just how ephemeral material gains can be. In reality, I’m only one missed grant deadline or executive budget decision from an unemployment application, and if and when the inevitable happens, who will I have to fall back on? At the beginning of the year, my father literally almost worked himself to death to keep his home from foreclosure. For over a year, he worked 14-hour days, seven days a week to keep up with the skyrocketing mortgage payments on his Los Angeles home. For my siblings and I, he became part of the headlines, yet another example of those enthusiastic people of color who’d been naïve enough to jump on a buyer-friendly bandwagon. We had a hard time understanding why my father, a bachelor in his sixties with four adult children, was so adamant about keeping a sparsely furnished house in a boring Black suburb that none of us really wanted to claim. Until one day in early January, when he suffered a massive stroke at work. Ultimately, we each had to check our ego’s and daddy-issues at the hospital door; my sister, an actress, put aside her creative dreams to sit at his bedside for weeks and become intimately acquainted with medical jargon; my older brother, who’s vying for tenure at a Chicago college, took time off work to fly to California and squeeze his 6’3” frame into tiny hospital chairs for nights on end; my younger brother, a college student, took an indefinite leave of absence from school to provide my father round-the-clock care once he got home; and me, the fledging writer, flew and drove back and forth to Los Angeles, trying to find the words to make sense of it all. As my father slipped in and out of consciousness, he began to tell his stories. He spoke about growing up in the notorious Jordan Downs housing projects in Los Angeles with a mentally ill mother, of sitting dazed and confused on a street corner as a 19-year-old and watching his neighborhood go up in flames during the 1965 Watts Rebellion, of taking karate lessons as a member of the Nation of Islam in the late ‘60s. And how each of these experiences had led him to be a driven, yet complicated man who was deeply insecure about fatherhood. His house, he explained, was his last effort to make amends, to ensure that once he was gone, his children had the security he’d never been blessed with. When one of my childhood best friends lost her job a few months ago and had to temporarily abandon hope of transferring to a four-year college and moving out of her mother’s house, we had to get to know each other again. For years, we had accepted that our friendship was based more on routine than common interests, and that we’d both grown into vastly different people since we met in middle school. But for a few days, we compromised and re-connected in the most affordable way we could imagine: a good old-fashioned sleep over. She set aside her devout Roman Catholicism as I showed her my music collection, which she had always dismissed as a sonic example of my “militancy.” I set aside my devout queerness, as she showed me her collection of old French romance films that I had always dismissed as antiquated beacons of white supremacy. The tension in our friendship was a stark reminder of how all the different communities I’ve managed to slither into and out of throughout my short lifetime each still held parts of me, and how desperately I sometimes needed to bring those pieces together. Ultimately, we both learned that love doesn’t have to know you really well; it just has to be there when you need it. And if there’s anything more impractical than love, it’s falling in love at 23. So if anyone were to ask, I can confidently say that my girlfriend is the flyest, most beautiful person I’ve ever met and, legislative bickering and scientific realities be damned, I fully intend to marry her and have her babies. But even in our most boo’ed up moments, we’ll both admit that we have no idea what the fuck we’re doing. How can you love someone when you’re constantly worried about being broke? How do you support someone courageously juggling three jobs? How can you love someone when you’re both two queer women of color in an interracial relationship, two aspiring writers prone to over-processing the shit out of everything? As determined as we are, we were forced to ask ourselves even tougher questions: was it really smart for my girlfriend to come out to her mom, who was still reeling in the controversy of having just handed out dozens of pinks slips to teachers at the school where she worked? Was I seriously entertaining the thought of inviting my girlfriend to brunch with my mom, who was considering a forced early retirement after the job she’d worked at for over two decades had just announced massive layoffs? Could our love survive the slim chance that it might be the final straw that inadvertently breaks our mother’s hearts to death? Eventually, we figured there’s no convenient time for our parents to hear that their straight-looking daughters may never give them grandchildren. We loved our families enough to want them to share – or at least know about – how madly in love we were, even if they’d never really understand. And they loved us enough to still love us for it. But it’s certainly not always pretty. It’s difficult times like these that show me that I need different forms of love to survive anything; whether it’s the insecure love of a father still finding his way in the world, or the routine love of a childhood friend who can still crack jokes about the headgear I wore in middle school, or the critical love of a mother still painfully adjusting her expectations to meet my desires, or the infallible love of a girlfriend who I’ll always admire for stumbling with me through the doorways of womanhood. If anything this recession has taught me that while material comfort is always conditional, love isn’t. It may morph into something unrecognizable at times, but it’s still there; beaten and strained and challenged, but surviving. It’s the one variable that can’t be quantified into census data or spent in a stimulus check. And it’s at the core of every person’s resilience, in each resilient community. Jamilah King is the associate editor at Wiretap.