Broke but Not Broken

At first, losing everything sounded like a challenge, almost a lark. But as the recession dragged on, this writer had to take a hard look at her diminished resources—and herself

by Corbyn Hightower
dusty wall image
Photograph: Illustrated by O.O.P.S.

I can be abrasive, and when younger, I wore my convictions like a blazing cloak of righteousness. I hope that now, at this vulnerable time in my life, I have become less judgmental and more approachable. I had not wanted this other woman, this mother like me, to feel anything but at ease. Still, there was this chasm between us, of needs and not-needs, and she filled it with her own embarrassed rationales. I smiled and nodded, full of sympathetic head tilts and raised eyebrows. I touched her arm, reassured her with dismissive noises. That would have been me had the recession not hit us so hard and so relentlessly.

So I’m writing this in a café as I extract two rumpled single dollars from my wallet. If I were really just buying a cup of drip coffee, it would be an unjustifiable expense, but since I’m actually paying to use their Wi‑Fi, it’s a bargain. Today our monthly food stamp card is reupped. Armed with $480 for our family of five, we can finally plug the gaps on our refrigerator shelves. No, there’s nothing romantic about being poor—but there is joy in small things. This morning, as I slept for the last precious hour or so before waking, I dreamed of eating bacon, and lo! when I awakened, there was bacon.

And that leads me to this admission: The color and clatter of our chaotic existence now gives me more pleasure than my corporate affluence ever did. There is a joyous jangle to this sort of freedom. My northern European ancestors populated Oklahoma Territory, and my Cherokee relatives, having been relocated against their will, endured the Trail of Tears and joined them. That land, that time and the people who embraced those challenges mark every sinew and synapse of me. It feels like an evolutionary imperative: I just need to concentrate on the map inscribed at a cellular level and summon the strength and capability to lift us up and carry us through these hard years.

Tomorrow will be a day like any other. I will pull the children out of their beds, as pink and helpless as mewling kittens. I’ll feed and dress them and cocoon them in a blanket against the early-morning chill. Regardless of the weather, I will buckle them into the bike trailer and head out to their elementary school. Later, I will clean the chicken coop and fill the empty Crock-Pot. I’ll wield my weeding spade and water the fruit trees. I will keep my knees slightly bent so I am ready for movement, my back strong and locked straight, my eyes looking ahead.

CORBYN HIGHTOWER blogs about her recession experiences at

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First published in the May 2012 issue

Share Your Thoughts!


Maria Marotto05.31.2012

I can relate to the author & her family. I hope for their future success and know that they will survive this period in time. It doesn't make a difference what amount of money she used to make. The reality is the present & the future she faces. The entire family will be affected by her choices. No decisions go without consequences whether good or bad. She has not given up & will continue to face unplanned hardships like the rest of us. I admire the courage she has to tell her story which unfortunately is the story for many of us today. I did not make a 6 digit figure. I had the typical conservative 5 digit salary for a middle management job that I'd worked hard at for 17 years. I, like the author,paid for others to be on public assistance while I worked a full time job. My spouse at times worked 2 jobs. We are not strangers to struggling to "make it". I am collecting extended unemployment which expires soon. Fortunately my spouse found a $12 per hr.job, so we avoided collecting food stamps. However, we came close, something that I never imagined I'd have to consider.
My priorities have changed & I'm finding what is really important to me in this life. It's not the money, but we do need to survive, eat, have a roof, etc. I have a new found compassion for others, whether or not they're more successful than me. I have less now but find I give others including strangers more. I thank those working now to help get me through this brief period in which I've accepted unemployment benefits. I will be working again in any capacity & willingly paying it forward.


I'm sorry, I have no sympathy. That a six figure salary person can try to now get food stamps means that I'm supporting them. Actually, i'm quite offended by this article. My ex-husband not only wiped out our savings, he also stole from our son's little birthday account. When I asked, I was told "it was none of my business". So, I ditched him, worked two jobs and provided for me and my son. I continue to work as a secretary and waitress for many years. I've paid in full for my mortgage, food, clothing, car and college fund for my son. I've never taken food stamps or government assistance. That this author's husband doesn't work and she cannot deem to work "beneath her" makes my stomach turn. Lady, you are on food stamps and here I am a woman who has been working two jobs for over 16 years and is supporting you makes my stomach turn.

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