“Why did they come here?” Eileen said. “Do they hate us?”
“It was somebody poor,” one of the guys said. “People rob out of ne-
They’d taken a hundred dollars from my underwear drawer, which
infuriated me and made me want to punch the guy who talked about
necessity. Though I thought he was probably right. I felt naïve and cor-
rected, as many of us did. Danger was all around us, always had been,
like the mice in the walls we could hear at night.
It was an era with lawlessness all over (friends of Lizzie’s used to get
mugged on campus). In truth I had stolen a few things myself—a pair of
work gloves from the feed store in town, a quilted vest from the Army-Navy store. Nothing from anyone I knew.
Christmas Day in the house was full of bitter talk—about the robbers
who despised us and might come back again—though one of the men
said, “Easy come, easy go. It’s a mistake to care about things. It’s a lesson.”
“Who wants that fucking education?” someone said.
I sort of liked being independent of possessions, if you were going
to talk about it that way. I wasn’t vain about having stuff. On the other
hand, winter made me wolfish. I would’ve fought and snarled for my
coverings if anyone had reached for them.
“What do the poor have to do,” Eileen’s best friend said, “to qualify
“They have government agencies deciding just that,” her boyfriend
Our budget Christmas dinner was turkey wings with gravy—not
bad—and as I gnawed I said, “My father would’ve said people make their
own poverty by being lazy.” My parents had trouble imagining other
Someone said this was too depressing for Christmas, and we got into
appropriate talk about whose relative made the worst fruitcakes.
The robbery made me feel differently about money. It made me think
of it as impermanent. I’d been so proud of my little hoard of bills and
poof, they were gone. My goal in life just then was to take care of myself
without being bound by the usual strictures; like my parents, I believed
in freedom. I was going to have to do better than this.
It snowed three days straight right after New Year’s. Beautiful, but the
chains on the tires were a joke and the heater in the truck barely worked.
I wanted out. Eileen howled when I said this—she had a different concept