Years ago, financial distress lassoed me and wrangled me to the ground. Caught between the pay periods of two jobs—my old and new one—meant I wouldn’t see a penny for close to four weeks. I couldn’t pay the whole of my rent, nor could I afford my electricity, my phone, or decent food. I didn’t have parents to turn to, savings to lean on—not the slightest margin for financial error before the ground fell out beneath me. Panic, anxiety, and tears became my constant companions.
In hindsight, that painful moment reminds me of Marvin, a cat I’d adopted from a shelter many years earlier.
Marvin weighed thirteen pounds and had long grey hair and giant paws. By day he napped in sunbeams. At night, though, Marvin grew mad. He clawed at cupboard doors and vigorously scratched at furniture. He climbed window screens and howled in distress. Something haunted Marvin.
I fed him. I sheltered him. I showered him with love. Still . . . nothing soothed him.
Admittedly, whatever tormented Marvin had gripped me, too. I’d crawl out of bed, night after night, to sit on the kitchen floor to keep Marvin from knocking dishes out of cupboards once again. I felt weighed down by hopelessness and disappointment. I was constantly exhausted, worried, fed up. I resented Marvin and my choice to adopt him.
I returned to the shelter a number of weeks later, pleading for help. The staff’s suggestion surprised me: instead of feeding Marvin and leaving his bowl empty until his next mealtime, I needed to keep his dish constantly full. Marvin wouldn’t binge, they explained. Cats graze, and mine needed to know that he had access to his food when he needed it.
Starting the moment I got home, I filled Marvin’s dish and constantly topped it off. I’d shake his bowl each night, making plenty of noise, so he’d know he had food. With access to food when he wanted it, Marvin calmed down. The tortured, panicked feral cat disappeared, and I finally got a good night’s rest.
When I reflect upon my struggles between paychecks, I realize that my needs had been much like Marvin’s.
With no kibble in my dish and my next feeding far away, my sense of security plummeted—disappeared, really. Without kibble in my dish to feed me when I was hungry, I stayed up late at night, pacing floors, weighing my options, panicking in the dark.
And just like I had before I’d learned how to help Marvin, I felt helpless, disappointed, and exhausted in my financial insecurity. This isn’t right! This isn’t at all how it was supposed to be, I’d thought, every time I sat at my desk, nervously crunching numbers and failing to find solutions. I’d worked hard. I’d budgeted diligently. I’d worked whatever overtime hours I’d been given. I’d been so careful. And now the insurmountable gap between pay periods threatened to destroy me.
I, too, had been desperate to eat and to know that food filled my dish. I, too, had clawed through my home, longing to find satiation in the night. I, too, had needed access to my kibble when I needed it.
What I needed was security.
To not starve between meals. To graze and not binge. What if there had been something to help me—to keep me from being a tortured, panicked feral human? What if I’d had PayActiv?
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