The Depression: Check It

When I was in fifth grade, I had one desire that was secret, simple and robust: I wanted, more than anything else in the universe, for the Great Depression to strike once again.

The appeal, for me, was that during this time, when people fell on “hard times,” the first thing to do was open up one’s home to people who had been kicked out of theirs. I wanted my family to do this, too— besides providing extra income, it also created a space in which both hobos and disgraced businessmen on the lam from families they could no longer support could gather together with my five-person family for a supper of fire-roasted squirrel and mayonnaise sandwiches. Afterwards, the 23 or so people stuffed into my three-bedroom house would gather to play a stolen banjo while drinking bootleg moonshine. (My reimagining of the Depression also coincided with the peak of Prohibition, which I suspect is any tween’s dream.)

During this phase, had the phrase “check your privilege” been the catechism that it is today, I am certain that it would have (rightfully) been used against me. A ten-year-old girl whose one hope is for the economy to endure a catastrophic downfall simply so that she could have some exciting guests in her house certainly needs something checked, preferably by a doctor. But this was 2003: a truly decadent, pre-recession year of Uggs, Juicy Couture and, of course, the iconic Madonna/ Britney VMAs makeout. Thus, my privilege remained unchecked.

This dream, however, eventually came to pass. I “checked my privilege,” as it were, and grew begrudgingly thankful that there were no stray humans brewing moonshine in my basement.

Imagine my shock, then, when I returned home this winter break to find a surprising new installation in my house: my elementary school music teacher, who had apparently taken up residence in my basement.

Apparently, he was between leases and needed a place to stay. A few factors contributed to my parents’ enthusiasm to take him in, but it was mainly, I suspect, a means of letting me know that there would definitely be no room for me to move back home after graduation.

The first night transpired, horrifyingly, exactly as I had imagined it in my Depression-fevered youth. The tenant emerged for dinner and never left. By the end of the night, he and my parents had broken out the guitars and Rastafarian wigs and proceeded to “jam out” to Bob Marley.

Though they were clearly having a ball, I felt only heightening anxiety. My main concern was that of replacement— I had already begun to feel that if I wasn’t brandishing a guitar or dreadlocked wig, I could only enter the kitchen for dire necessities, like Kombucha or roasted squirrel.

It had become clear to me that my position of “daughter,” which I had previously taken for granted, was swiftly being stolen from me in my own home. Perhaps I had become the boarder and it was my ex-music teacher who was more permanent than I. After all, I was only staying until sorority rush. He was staying indefinitely.

I returned to school not quite sure of my status in my home. My parents probably still consider me their kin, but come graduation, who knows what that status might be?

This, I suppose, is my just retribution—for going away to college in the first place, but, most of all for entertaining the psychotic notion of repeating the Great Depression when I was but ten.

If there is any advice to be offered from such a situation, it is this: check your own privilege, lest your former wishes be used to check it for you.

The Depression: Check It