I drove to the gas station from work today, my low fuel light on below the gauge, and spent just under $14 putting gas in the car. Doing the math on the way home, I calculated that that would leave about $1.22 for the next two weeks after rent.
At 7:30 p.m. I rode my bike down to the cosmetology school near where I work. They were doing free haircuts for a charity event, and had been able to squeeze me in for a 7:45 appointment. Just yesterday I had been looking at my hair in the mirror, contemplating the need for a new cut, then scolding myself for even imagining being able to afford such frivolity before, say, November. Then, early this morning, a woman from the salon came to my job and handed me one of the first glossy fliers I didn't immediately trash.
The student was distracted and dying to get out of there, constantly slapping me in the eye with the handfuls of wet hair gliding through her fingers as she looked around and zoned out, but the cut looked great and she made a real effort to show interest. I had been blessed with a near-graduate rather than a newbie with a shaky hand.
I left the salon. I went to my work to get a drink, thankful the managers are generous with the employee food and drink policy and don't make a stink if we come in off-duty and get a fountain drink. Walking with my bike, I sipped caffeine-free Diet Pepsi and felt my shiny hair blow in the wind behind me. Then there was a feeling: happy.
I have spent the better part of the last few days feeling sorry for myself. Having a tight budget is okay; living paycheck-to-paycheck makes the expense of existing seem impossibly demanding.
But as I sipped that drink I remembered that it was free, as was the haircut. I thought of the bagel and cream cheese I had for breakfast followed by the salad and sandwich for lunch, both of which were free because I am a full-time opener. I thought of the caramel latte I made for myself and the bottled water I guzzled this morning during my shift, which managers don't fuss over either even though we're *technically* supposed to pay for bottled and espresso drinks.
If I had paid for all those things today I would have spent $39.53, but because of the decisions I have made and because I am in this time and this place and under these circumstances, I did not have to spend a dime on any of it. I felt okay and provided for, and I realized life really is not that bad.
Also, I found $7 in the back pocket of the dirty jeans I had put on that I had forgotten about. So now I have $8.22, plus the change in my wallet (wow, that's like...SO close to double digits!).
And, when I got home and ascended the stairs, the air-conditioning was on full-blast and a handsome Italian guy was waiting to give me a hug and kiss hello and tell me he had been thinking about me today.
I'm a closet optimist and don't like to talk about it often. I prefer cynicism and bitter, sardonic skepticism. But still, knowing that one's situation will improve - even without knowing with certainty when or by what means - is the difference between utter despair and cathartic melancholy.