By Erika Meyer
The first time I was 16, but it was self-inflicted.
The second time was in 1986. I was 18 and in college. No money, no job, no experience, and 10% unemployment. I would go to this place that would hand out food boxes which centered around a bag of macaroni and a five-pound yellow brick made from cheese factory remnants. We called it “Reagan Cheese”. I couldn’t stomach the stuff.
A few years later, as a broke college student, I learned to make an extra $15 a week selling plasma. First they take out the blood, and then they remove the plasma in a centrifuge, and then the put your blood back. The blood feels cold going back in. It took about three hours each time. I bled slowly. It was OK, except for that one time the phlebotomist couldn’t find my vein, stuck me several times, dug around in my arm, and bruised me. But overall, I thought it was a pretty good deal, making $5 an hour sitting in a chair, blood draining out and in, reading Ladies’ Home Journal or Nietzsche’s Ecce Homo.
The worst time was in my 30s. I had been working full-time, with my daughter spending 10 hours a day in school or day care. I knew deep down she needed more time with me. When, at the age of seven, she began to grow dark, and to tell me, “I hate my life and I want to die”, I took it seriously. Luckily I was able to cut my work hours in half, and keep my benefits. We dropped below the federal poverty line which made my her eligible for free lunches at school. The problem was, I was now making nothing close to a living wage. After rent I had about just a little bit left over to support the two of us for the rest of the month. My daughter had a fussy stomach, and vomited a lot, and so she mostly only liked a handful of foods. So at the beginning of each month, I stocked up on what she liked, and did the best I could with what was left. I went hungry, especially at the end of each month, for the next two years, but I got to spend time with my daughter.
It is weird to be hungry in America. No one wants to hear about it, recognize it, or believe it. To be hungry is to fail. It’s your own fault, right? So when you’re sitting inside an office, co-workers ask you, “How are you doing” you learn to lie, “Oh, fine”, when you really want to shout,”I’M HUNGRY!”
After a while, weird things happen: Weak already, I’d get dizzy spells, feel faint. I didn’t respond well to stress. I started to get lots of muscle injuries and illnesses. I couldn’t concentrate. Hunger is a breaking down of your whole body, and it extends to your mental state as well.
But for me, it was worth it. My daughter became happy again, and she’s well-adjusted today. I’d do the same thing again.
This song, apparently from a radio session in 1987, is the only rock song I know that truly inarticulates the feelings of hunger and frustration. “Life’s a fucking resume.” I don’t know if those are the words, but those are the words I hear and that is the truth I know. And this is why I love the songwriting of Kurt Cobain. Because it was real. Raw. Relatable.