There is a small fact about the modern world I learned in my early 20s out of necessity: if you take all of your money out of the bank, nobody can take it from you.
At least, not that pay week.
Oh, everyone wanted it. My debt collector, Lee, was after me for my unpaid credit card. The mobile phone company demanded payment, so did the Queensland government for my speeding fines because I was “going too fast” on a “public road”.
So, out of an explicit desire to eat and make rent, I would stroll down to the same ATM each week and withdraw the entire contents of my bank account in cash. This was the kind of habit that forms in the fraction of a second. It didn’t start as an explicit plan. Nor did it come as a suggestion from anyone else in my life. It had never occurred to anyone to do the same because they had the financial means, even in tight weeks, to make ends meet.
They even had a safety net.
It’s not like I didn’t want to pay my bills. That was the one thing mum always tried to drill into her three children: if you fall behind, no one is coming to save you. We were alone in the world and our poverty dictated so much about how we had to behave in it.
But I was tired. Certainly I didn’t have her strength, that woman of granite, to shrink my life so that I might live within its borders. That’s what our mum did for us, for love.
The trouble began when I graduated from child of financial ruin to young adult. It wasn’t just the money, of course, but that was a large part of it. I moved 100km to the east of my country hometown for my first job and the start of university, all before my 18th birthday. Nothing about the world as I knew it remained; my cadet wages barely covered the cost of rent, phone and transport. Mum was skint. Not just broke but structurally held in place.
There were no family members in the city; no friends of the family. Whatever was to happen next had to happen on my own.