Being a private institution, Ithaca College holds a greater gap between those of wealth and those in poverty. Amongst the chaos of the semester, two students sit at the same table, at the same private college and share what lies beneath the surface: the ways in which access to resources changes everything.
i am sitting across from a friend for lunch
she works in financial aid
and has seen all the confidential papers
but still asks me
what do you mean by poor?
this misconception between being broke and living in poverty
most college students succumb to
twelve thousand i say
my family makes twelve thousand.
i start the semester with 87 cents in my bank account.
beg my landlord to drop my monthly rent by 100 dollars.
i live right off campus, and if i sit just right i can access the school’s wifi.
it’s 60 dollars a month, and i haven’t even gotten my textbooks yet.
i use my cellphone’s hotspot when the school’s wifi doesn’t reach.
my parents call the next day
and tell me that they can’t pay my phone bill.
i tell them i can’t succeed academically without the internet.
they only say sorry.
a year she asks.
twelve thousand a year.
the tears welling up in her eyes remind me –
that there has been this “deficit” for as long as i could remember.
so, i apply for food stamps.
i borrow money from my professors, and still need to pay them back.
my classmates send me pictures of their textbook, unless it’s longer readings.
i normally would find it online, but since i don’t have wifi now –
i hand in the assignment late, or not at all.
i drive for almost a full week on “e.”
my check engine light comes on, some days,
and some days my car won’t start at all.
AAA jump starts my car, tells me i need a new battery.
but i close the hood and can still drive.
she doesn’t know what else to say.
and neither do i.
i tell her i am lucky to be here.
she only says sorry.
i push the 700-dollar medical bill further into my backpack –
with the ripped zipper.
i found out my sleep apnea machine isn’t under my insurance.
i have to send it back and pay this fine.
i tell her i have to go back to work
the dining hall allows me to eat there, because i am a student employee.
i have no meal plan.
my paycheck goes towards paying my professors back, and gas.
my friends ask me out to dinner, i have to decline.
i eat smaller portions.
i can’t afford a medical leave, so i fail a class.
i can’t afford a medical leave, so i fail a second class.
my GPA plummets, and i am on academic warning.
i work 40 hours during finals week, because i can, because i have to.
i work in the summer, and take summer classes, because i can, because i have to.
i ask for more financial aid, but all of my loans are maxed out.
they only say sorry.
Where are you from?
His eyes grow wider
Oh jeez, what do your parents do?
Laughing a little too loudly
Responding a little too quickly
My hands search for three fries
My finger tips are oily and salty
No one needs to ask whether or not fries are healthy
The answer is right in front of you
Yet their original state has all of the nutrients we need
Fries are potatoes drenched in morphine
So why does it feel like when I answer where I’m from
I am simplified to oil and salt
And everything else I’ve said in the conversation
Becomes supporting evidence in his mind
To an idea that I am hiding something
She can’t be this nice
She can’t be this humble
She must have agenda
She must spend like it’s breathing
Just because my dad makes a lot of money
I have no school loans
I am currently fully supported by my parents
Every time I’ve mentioned getting a job at school
Focus on your school work, sweetheart
Don’t worry about it
I go to the grocery store
I pick up a jar of almond butter
By the time I’m down the aisle, I realize I forgot to check the price
I have always had what I need
I roll my cart back a few steps to check
That’s how many seconds it takes for me to see
Someone’s idea of me shift
Once I say where I’m from
Your gaze glued to my clothes
I feel sticky
I am grateful and aware
Money is not the center of my universe
And I realize that is a privilege in itself
I see you for the fire in your eyes
When you talk about the book you want to write
The city you want to visit
So please see me too
See me for my genuine gaze
See me seeing you
There’s a difference between coming from privilege
And closing your eyes
My eyes are open
Don’t make me close them
I’m from Midtown Manhattan
But that’s not all there is to me