At 14 weeks pregnant I no longer had a job. Carol was working two part time jobs and she had hopes one of them would soon offer her a full time position. But for the time being there was no way the two part time jobs could pay our bills. Carol and I discussed it. Who would hire a pregnant woman? Well, let me tell you. After going on interview after interview as my belly continued to expand, I never got an offer. I never even said a word to them about being pregnant. It became obvious. That was when I felt I had no other choice but to go to the welfare office to see if I could get food stamps and any other kind of assistance to help us through. I had never in my life been to the welfare office. I had no idea what to expect nor did I have any idea what they could offer me. I had worked since I was 16. I had never taken a dime from my country. However, now I needed their help and I had high hopes I could get it temporarily. I never wanted the help but I couldn’t put that pressure on Carol and I couldn’t jeopardize our unborn child. It wasn’t just about me anymore. Carol hated for me to do it as I did but we had no other alternative.
The day I went to the welfare office the weather was beautiful. I remember thinking how ironic it was because for me it was very sad dreary day. I hated to ask for help. I got there early (as I was told to do when I had called them to find out what I needed to do) and the parking lot was already full. Not only was it full but it was full of very nice cars. That surprised me. Anyway, I was dressed in my business attire as I wanted to present myself in a professional manner. I came with all of my tax returns to show my income (as I was also instructed to do when I had called their office). Now let me explain something here. Because Carol and I couldn’t marry we had to file our income taxes separately. Just for your information as a result we actually each got more money back from the government than if we were able to file together as a married couple. Hmm. One would think the government would have figured that out and want to take some of their money (for themselves). I’d be OK with that- just let us marry. Anyway, my point being by filing separate this meant we had to file as “Single”. Even though we cohabited like other married couples in this case (because we were two same sex people) the government made us identify ourselves as being “single”. Neither one of us could claim the other. I know I’m being redundant but I am for a reason you will see shortly.
And so, when I drove up to the welfare building there were bars on the windows. A guard was at the door and loads of people were there. I couldn’t get over seeing people getting out of nice and expensive cars. Some of them dressed in all name brand clothing. I was amazed how they were able to do that. I was driving a Saturn that leaked oil, had no air conditioning and could be heard a mile away because the motor vibrated so badly. I took a deep breath before walking into the building. The lobby was packed. Almost every seat was filled and it was only 9:00 in the morning. I was scared and nervous. I didn’t know what to do. I saw a guard talking and laughing with one of the people waiting. I figured he’d know what I needed to do so I walked up to him to asked, “Excuse me sir, I’ve never been here before and I don’t know what I need to do.” He wasn’t happy I had interrupted his conversation. He looked at me from head to toe before telling me in what seemed to be an annoyed tone, “Grab a ticket over there and wait.” I knew at that point I this experience was going to be an interesting one. I walked over to where the ticket machine was. OK, folks, you would think that would have been simple enough. However, would you believe there were two ticket machines with two different color tickets in them? It would have been safe to assume each of them represented different things, right? But, what did each color mean? Good question. I looked around a poster or sheet to explain. I couldn’t see anything. Now because I was nervous and I knew I had a tendency to over look, I took extra time and care in really looking. Meanwhile, there really was no explanation as to what each of the tickets meant. It was the craziest thing I had every seen. Here was the thing. I knew the wait would be ridiculous so, I by no means wanted to take the wrong ticket after having waited for so long and then have to wait a long time again. So, I looked around to see if I could ask someone. There was the guard. Yea, not an option. I tried to ask a couple of people who were coming in and taking a ticket but they wouldn’t answer me. Next to the ticket machines was a window where a woman was sitting on the other side. The window was had a small round circle opening to talk. The woman behind the window had just gotten done with talking to someone from the lobby, so I thought I’d take the opportunity to just ask her what I needed to do. I walked up to the window waiting to make eye contact with the woman. However, she would only keep her head down looking at a piece of paper. Seeing the amount of people waiting I understood she was busy. So, I leaned closer to the circle opening and said, “Excuse me ma’am. I know you’re busy but which.” The woman interrupted me. She was mad. She loudly said, “EXCUSE ME! YOU ARE BREAKING IN LINE. IT IS NOT YOUR TURN. TAKE A TICKET AND WAIT OVER THERE!” as she pointed to the waiting area. She got even angrier when I ignored her and continued my question. Like hell was I going to take the wrong ticket, wait for an exorbitant amount of time and then have to start all over. NO WAY LADY! So, I continued to ask my question. “But, ma’am I don’t know what the different colors mean. What color ticket do I take?” She rolled her eyes and yelled through the little round hole in the window, “The red one!” I wanted to cry at that point. What was wrong with these people? I know they were probably over worked and under paid but dammit I wasn’t trying to annoy them. I was terrified of the place and very worried. I was scared for myself and my family and what was going to happen if I couldn’t get any help. And by the looks of it so far, it didn’t look good at all.
And so as the woman behind the window instructed me to do I took a red ticket. The waiting room was filled. There was only one seat available on the far end of the room. It was right dab in between two women who each had at least 4 children. I maneuvered my way through the crowd and sat down. Every one there seemed prepared for the long wait. There were a few elderly people who were still dressed in their night attire and even in those uncomfortable chairs with all of the noise around them, they were able to sleep. Then there were the mothers (which there were many) who clearly were at their wit’s end having to care for their multiple children. My heart broke to see children slapped each time they squirmed from sitting in their strollers for so long. They were children for G-d sake. I never saw one mother hug their child or comfort them. In fact it was common to see the older children watching the younger ones and to see a bottle propped in some way to feed a baby (so the mother wouldn’t have to do it herself). That for me was the most difficult thing to watch and made my time sitting in the welfare office unbearable.
I couldn’t stand watching the mothers with their children so I tried to direct my attention elsewhere. I read every poster in the room over and over again. I then imagined the people who made those posters and the marketing idea behind them. After an hour I felt anxious. The lobby never emptied. As people left equal number of people entered. I had always enjoyed people watching but doing that in the welfare office was excruciating. Why did these women have so many kids? It was obvious they not only financially could afford it but honestly, they couldn’t afford it emotionally. They were so angry at their beautiful little babies. What got them to that point? Then, there were several very good looking young men who were dressed in designer jeans. Even their ball caps and socks had a designer logo on them. I couldn’t understand why they were there. They seemed as if they could provide well for themselves. Some of the faces that got to me were those of the elderly. Each and ever very wrinkle on their face seemed to tell a story that I admired. One woman sitting across from me was clearly well into her 80’s. That would have made her born in the 1920’s. Oh, I couldn’t imagine what she lived through and all that she saw historically. She seemed so accustomed to sitting in that lobby as she never flinched at the craziness around her. Meanwhile, it was overwhelming for me as I sat there. It was all I could do to hold back my tears. I hated every moment.
Each time a person’s number was called (from each colored ticket) I’d watch them as they approached the woman at the window or a person at the door (depending on which color ticket they had). It was nice to see how nice the woman was at the window as each person walked up to her. I say that because that was the woman who was so rude to me. It was nice to see she had a kind side. Even the workers at the door were incredibly nice and caring. OK, so maybe this wasn’t going to turn out so badly after all. I started to feel calmer thinking they could actually help me.
After waiting almost two hours my number was called. I had the red ticket and it took me to the window. OY! I was nervous because it was the same woman who yelled at me. But, while sitting there for so long and seeing how compassionate she could be, I felt better. When I approached the window, the woman asked for my name. I gave it to her and then I explained I had lost my job and needed to get some assistance. The woman looked at me with total disgust. She rolled her eyes, smacked her mouth and then said, “Ma’am, I only give out the food stamps. You should have taken the blue ticket. You will have to take a blue ticket and wait your turn.” I stood emotionless staring at the women. But what was going through my head was: WHAT THE FUCKING HELL? ARE YOU FUCKING KIDDING ME?
I felt the blood rush to my head and I could feel my insides want to explode. And yet I knew I needed to remain calm. I looked at the woman and told her I only did as she had instructed me to do when I first arrived. I tried to explain to her it was my first time there and I didn’t know. I also tried to point out there wasn’t any instructions for me to know which ticket to take. The woman was definitely annoyed at that point. She was mad and as she raised her voice at me. She told me I was the one who took the red ticket, so it was my fault. She also told me I had no business breaking in line to have even asked her which ticket I needed. And lastly, she said she had no idea why I was there in the first place so she had only told me the red ticket to get me away from her window since I had broken in line. Folks to say I was shocked by what she said would have been an understatement. I was absolutely blown away. How dare she talk to me that way. How dare she treat me like that? Now, I was angry. In an insistent tone I asked to please see her supervisor. At first she didn’t want to get the supervisor and she threatened to have the guard remove me from the premises. She even called over the guard. Yep, the same guard who was also rude to me. To my surprise though when the guard came over he told the woman he couldn’t remove me because I wasn’t being threatening. He suggested she get the supervisor to talk to me. Only then did she.
When the woman behind the window left to get a supervisor the people in the waiting room started yelling. I couldn’t imagine what was happening. Any idea as to why they were yelling? It was because the woman at the window had left which meant they would have to wait longer. I got scared because they were also mad at me for sending her away. The guard raised his arms to tell them to get quiet. Only when he threatened to kick them out did they get quiet. As the guard was quieting down the people in the lobby a woman at the door motioned for me. I explained to her what had happened. She was annoyed with me. She told me her office has rules and she expects everyone to abide by them. I agreed with her but told her it would help to have a sign telling people which ticket to take. She stopped me and said, “Ma’am, I just need to know what it is that you feel you need?” I was stunned. What I feel I need? What does that mean? So, while standing in the doorway with a room full waiting room and an office full of people walking around me, I had to explain to the woman my situation. I had not seen any other person treated this way which really upset me. I couldn’t hold back my tears any longer. When I started to cry the woman finally changed her tone and escorted me to her small cubby work space. She offered me a seat. Once we were both sitting she repeated what she understood me to be saying. She said, “OK, you lost your job and you are looking for some assistance like food stamps.” I told her that was correct. She asked if I was married. I told her no. She asked for my tax returns, so I gave her a copy. The woman reviewed them and then told me she’d be right back. She returned 5 minutes later with her supervisor. I was confused. Why another supervisor? The other supervisor introduced herself to me and then said, “Mrs. (my last name) if you are lying about having someone else supporting you, then you are going to be in a lot of trouble.” WHAT? WHAT IN THE HELL IS SHE TALKING ABOUT? I was confused. I hadn’t lied about anything. WHAT THE HELL WAS GOING ON HERE?!
After another fifteen minutes of total confusion I realized what was happening. I was a well spoken and educated. I was dressed nicely, claiming to be pregnant and have just lost my job. I was not their typical welfare “customer”. And because of that they assumed I was trying to scam them. What the hell? If I wanted to scam them I think I would have been a lot smarter. HOW DARE THEY!
The supervisor’s supervisor finally came out and asked me, “So, do you or do you not live with someone else who pays the bills?” I looked at her and said, “I do. I have a roommate who is helping me out.” Now, I could have said partner but at that point I really felt it wouldn’t have made any sense to them. I was already on the crazy marry go round. Well, when I told them that, they both smiled and accused me of having lied. I honestly felt I was in a dream. I felt as if I was in a game that I never agreed to play. I was overwhelmed and confused by what was happening. I started crying and said, “How did I lie?” The supervisor only asked me if I was married. That was the only questioned I was asked. The supervisor’s supervisor interrupted me and began telling me how much trouble I could get into for trying to steal from the government. It was at this moment a switch went off inside me. OH NO YOU AREN’T PEOPLE! YOU WILL NOT ACCUSE ME OF SOMETHING I HAVEN’T DONE! Now, I was mad. Now, I have something to say and both of those supervisors were going to listen.
I held up my hand interrupting her and said very sternly, “Now wait one minute, ladies. I have answered each and every question you’ve asked me, honestly. When the supervisor asked if I was married, I told her no and that’s because I am not married. The first supervisor never asked me if I was living with someone or if someone was paying my bills. AND for the record I have NEVER lied.” I continued by saying, “There seem to be many assumptions being made here and I am highly offended. I feel as if because I am white and have been of a certain socioeconomic group, you have placed words in my mouth. I will not tolerate being accused of things I haven’t done.” I started crying and said, “Believe me, I wouldn’t be here if I wasn’t in a situation where I needed the help. I need to do something and this was my only other option. Now, can you help me or not? And if not, I’d like to speak to the supervisor of this entire office, please.” The two supervisors looked at each other seemingly shocked by my response. The second supervisor looked at me and said, “I am the manager of the Augusta welfare office.” Having gained back my composer very quickly (after hearing she was the top dog of the place) I angrily asked, “Is it common you get involved like this or was it because y’all had just assumed before speaking to me (because I was white) that I really didn’t need your services? If that is the case then I will be continuing this discussion with a supervisor at the State level. Just because I need temporary financial help it doesn’t mean I don’t know how to fight to get what I know is my right to have.”
WELL FOLKS, that seemed to be all I needed to say for the two supervisors to want to work with me. Long story short, even though Carol couldn’t be considered my spouse “legally” the welfare office still counted her income. So, they asked for her income in order to determine what welfare services I could receive. Carol made $15,000 a year which was not even close enough to pay rent, eat and pay our bills. HOWEVER, unfortunately, she made $1,000 too much for us to qualify for food stamps. As I sat there I felt so defeated and angry. There were people sitting in that welfare office with new expensive clothes and with fine cars and yet they were receiving food stamps and other services from the welfare office. The supervisors weren’t going to offer me anything more but I kept pressing them. What else was there? There wasn’t anyway we could make it off of the $15,000. I finally had to ask, “Is that it? Is there nothing else for me?” I told them I couldn’t leave that office without getting some help. Only then did they tell me about being able to get on pregnancy medicare and being able to be on the WIC program which provided a few food items. Folks, it wasn’t much but damn at least it was something. The pregnancy medicare would at least pay for whatever out of pocket medical expenses we had. And being pregnant that was going to be a good bit. So, that was incredibly helpful. As far as WIC that sucked. That only offered cheese, peanut butter, milk and on very rare occasions some vegetables. Being lactose intolerant that left me with not much. And at the time they wouldn’t allow me to get lactaid milk or a substitute for the cheese. But, it was something. Would you believe I had been in the welfare office for four hours? When I got into my car I cried like I hadn’t cried in a long time. I was so angry and so sad. This was not how I wanted to have my baby. I wanted to be happy and to be enjoying my pregnancy. I had promised Carol I wanted only one child and so I wanted the one time I was going to be pregnant to be one of the best times of my life. I wanted it to be memorable but not in this way. Asking for assistance was the worst thing I had to do. It was hideous! Once a month I had to go to the WIC office in order to receive my WIC stamps. But before I could receive the stamps I first had to jump through a number of other hoops. First, I’d have to sit in one waiting room for a good 45 minutes. When called to that window, they’d check me into the system. At that point I would head to another part of the building where I would wait in another waiting room. It would be about 20 minutes when someone else would call for me. I was weighed and my height was taken each and every time. Then, I’d head back into the waiting area to wait to speak to a “health technician.” That wait was never less than an hour. Once I met with the “health technician” I then would wait back in the waiting area to be called to a specific window to receive my WIC stamps.
Listen, I HATED sitting in that WIC office. I hated it because I couldn’t stand watching so many parents abusing their children. Often a baby would be crying because they were tired or hungry and often the mother or father would be yelling and hitting the child to stop. It was all I could do to keep my mouth shut. Here was this beautiful life that was growing in my belly. I wanted him more than anything. And yet in front of me were parents with children who seemed to only be burdens. It was incredibly hard to stomach.
The most humorous thing about the WIC office was when I had to speak to a “health technician”. Folks, it was an experience not that the rest of it was. They would spend about 10 minutes with me asking of course the same series of questions I was asked the previous month. They were questions like: Are you taking your vitamins? Are you eating balanced, healthy meals? Are you smoking or using drugs? During one of my WIC visits I had an interesting “health technician”. To say she was very large was an understatement. Lets put it this way. The doorways were made to fit wheelchairs and this woman easily filled the space. Please, nothing against heavy people. I am not skinny myself. But, you have to admit it’s funny that she was my “health technician”. So, during this visit she was entering the answers to the questions she asked me into the computer. Each time she’d ask me a question she’d always keep her eyes on the computer. Each month I always the questions with a yes/no. But, this time though when she asked me about if I was eating healthy meals, I couldn’t help but answer it a little differently. This time I said, “If you consider eating a block of cheese and peanut butter with a glass of whole milk healthy, then yes.” Folks, without looking up from her computer she said, “That’s great. It’s important you get lots of calcium while your pregnant. The peanut butter is good too because it gives you the protein you need.” REALLY? ARE YOU FUCKING SERIOUS? Do you know how much fat was in that block of cheese and peanut butter? What about fruits and vegetables? Oh, yeah, I had to remember to whom I was talking. BUT, then tell me. What was the purpose of WIC? I seemed to have missed something. I would have walked away long before but in order to receive the pregnancy medicare, I had to accept WIC.
Needless to say, my pregnancy was off to an interesting start.