It is really freakin’ hard remembering to drink water every day. But in my defense, it wasn’t really a muscle I trained in my youth. I grew up in a Black ass household that prepared bomb ass kool-aid for dinner every other day. My three siblings and our mom lived on food stamps and a waitress’s salary, and the only supplemental income came from my mom’s odd boyfriends here and there. You’d think that meant we drank lots of water — it’s the cheapest beverage right? Nope.
Being poor creates a lot of weird paradoxes. We had no materials of value so we learned to value other comforts — sugar, sweetness, flavor, that after-dinner fullness in an otherwise empty home. Unless you count love. There was always lots of love. And laughter. And fun. But not water. White, wealthy families drank water at dinner. Who else but rich people would forgo the decadence of a sugary soft drink unless the best parts of their lives came into the picture after they left the dinner table?
I’d have eaten blander foods, too, if I was in a rush to get back to my bedroom (mine and not my younger brother’s as well) and watch my own tv, play my own Playstation 2, talk on my own cellphone, and prep my nice clothes for school the next day. But that wasn’t my life. That wasn’t my happiness. My happiness was a spaghetti (which I’ve since learned as an adult was actually spaghetti noodles in a Bolognese sauce), bright red kool-aid, and a Captain John Derst’s Old Fashion Bread loaf on the side.
When we ate and drank together, usually on Styrofoam plates, we were made of money. There weren’t any worries that could make it to the dinner table. It was how my mom showed us how much we had to be thankful for. And drinking water was NOT how she instilled gratitude. Drinking water meant we’d run out of food stamps. It meant we were poor again. It meant all the granulated sugar and kool-aid couldn’t make tap water trick us into believing that we hadn’t a care in the world.
You can probably imagine what having such a distorted view of food could do to the physical and mental health of children. Combined with no money for extra expenses like sport registration, uniforms, track sneakers, etc, it was a recipe for childhood obesity, or in my case, a malnourished and emaciated frame. I was SKIN-TEE. And struggling with what “proper” expressions of masculinity meant. I’d grow up to be gay. But back then, I was just a sissy. A skinny, flamboyant, sugar-addicted poor Black boy, with no idea what it meant to be in a healthy environment — financially, emotionally, nutritionally, or mentally.
And even as a Black man who goes to the gym three times a week, in a healthy relationship with a man that shows me more kindness than any man ever has, in what feels like a grand apartment with 14-foot, concrete ceilings, surrounded by beautiful plants and pictures of friends, cozied up to the small dog I was never allowed to have, I still struggle make myself go into the fridge and pour a glass of cool, refreshing, Brita-filtered water.
I guess my point is that growing up poor can impact you in a ton of ways even if, as an adult, you’ve escaped that poverty. You never leave those experiences behind. I learned really late how to love my body. Because my mama didn’t teach me. Because no one taught her either.
I’m sure I’ll continue to forget to drink eight 8-ounce glasses of water a day here and there. Maybe until I’m an old man. But it does make me think: what other habits are there? What other thoughts did poverty teach me to think about myself, about what I deserve, about what’s good for me?
Will I catch them before I teach them to my child?