“When survival is threatened by seemingly insurmountable problems, an individual life-form or species will either die, become extinct, or rise above the limitations of its condition.” Eckhart Tolle’s quote describes my life experiences and ongoing financial struggles.
On January 14, 2010, my father passed away from an asthma attack and complications from sarcoidosis, a 9/11 related illness. The eerie darkness of that night will forever be embedded in my mind. I remember the vacant stare on his face, the cold tight grip of his hand in mine. Having no effect, the asthma pump was deemed useless. My eyes overflowed with tears as fear engulfed me. I watched his bodily fluids slowly seep into the carpet beneath him. I barely registered the feet of the EMTs behind me, but it was too late. He loosened his grip on my small bright red hands. At that moment, I knew my father was gone, and there was nothing I could do to bring him back.
My mother and three sisters’ grocery shopping trip ended abruptly after a phone call from the emergency room. As he was the family’s breadwinner, my father’s lack of life insurance strongly left a heavy burden on us: emotionally and financially. We had to sell our possessions, such as our car and furniture, to pay for funeral expenses. Coming from a Christian family, we wanted to send off my father in the best way. However, our financial challenges didn’t stop there. Putting off her degree, my mom worked overtime to provide for my sisters and me. She often left home at 6:00 AM and came home after 9:00 PM, working multiple jobs. Even with my mom’s hard work, the bills continued to pile up, our debt infinitely increasing on our mortgage, property tax, and utility expenses.
At eleven, I had once enjoyed watching television but instead decided to prepare all my siblings’ meals, help them with their homework, and wake them for school the next day. When I turned 16, I contributed financially as a grocery bagger and ice cream server. Devastatingly in 2017, my mother was laid off from her highest-paying job. Our world took a turn for the worst. Money saved for my sisters and me to attend college went towards catching up on bills. If my father had life insurance, the funds could have helped with his burial, which caused my mom to acquire insurmountable debt as she fell behind on other urgent expenses.
While reviewing my financial award letters with my unemployed mother in 2019, my dream colleges seemed impossible. Despite graduating as salutatorian, I had to reject Penn State, Fordham, and St. John’s University due to our lack of finances. However I’ve been making the most out of City College, gaining admission to the S. Jay Levy Fellowship, Skadden Arps Honors Program, and the National Honor Society. During the pandemic, my mom contracted COVID-19, and while she is still recovering, I am working a full-time retail job to assist financially.