On my first day back in the U.S., my best friend, with whom I was staying in Pittsburgh, was already apologizing.
“The water pressure is not great,” he said of the shower in his new place. “Hope you could stand it.”
I blinked. For the last three weeks, I had been using a spout with an opening the size of a nickel to bathe myself. This “shower,” as it was generously dubbed, was outside, next to the chicken coop. It offered only bone-cold water, eliciting wide-eyed, breathy gasps every time I walked beneath it. And instead of loofah hooks and soap trays, the walls were lined with finger-sized grasshoppers.
“Yeah…” I replied. “My standards have changed.”
That much was true. After three months in Mexico and Guatemala, I landed in this country and saw every tiny thing I once took for granted through a new, sparkling lens.
Hell, running water.
Hell, towels that didn’t smell of mildew and mold.
Shampoo and conditioner.
Duvets and silky sheets.
Stocked grocery stores.
Clean. Clean. CLEAN.
It all seemed so luxurious, now.
But it was more than simply feeling like my standards had dropped. In fact, it was my impression of my old existence that had been raised — and reexamined.
After being back in my homeland for more than a week, I had started to realize: I’m so much luckier than I ever knew I was.
I’ve always considered myself firmly middle-class, growing up in a family that never bought name brands and drove cars until they died. We always washed and re-used plastic bags. Our retro, wooden TV took 15 minutes — 15 minutes! — to “warm up” before we could watch the network channels.
While what seemed like everyone else was wearing Nikes, drinking Coke and eating Lunchables, I was wearing and drinking the K-Mart brand and eating the version of Lunchables my mom lovingly tried to interpret.
What oppression, right?
But on this trip, as I looked around my parents’ North Carolina home, I saw instead the beautiful kitchen that they remade a while back. I saw the pristine bathrooms they remodeled with new, gleaming fixtures, last year. I saw a sprawling split-level floor plan. A pantry and fridge overflowing with food. A back patio. An abundance of handsome potted plants.
I wondered: have we always been so rich?
Since I’ve been stateside, I’ve been soaking it up, at my friends’ houses and my parents’.
I’ve walked barefoot across squeaky clean hardwood floors. I’ve ridden in cars that boasted not only shocks and power windows, but bluetooth capability and rearview cameras. I’ve watched sports in high definition, on TVs the size of a a small golf cart. I’ve whipped up Vitamix smoothies in seconds. I’ve slept on a bed that felt more like a cloud. I’ve covered myself in hot water — not just in glorious, long showers, but when washing my hands, washing my face.
Anytime I wanted it, I could have it. And it didn’t just make things more pleasant; it transformed the whole experience; from battleground to bliss.
The truth is, I sort of wished that all of this would be a little jarring, that the old comforts of life would bounce off me like rain off rubber. But in fact it’s been easy to slide back in, to lean into the conveniences — albeit with a new appreciation and enjoyment for them — to normalize the things I took for granted before, and embrace life as it always was.
Because, you see, I was wrong.
I have always been so rich.
While what now seems like everyone else in the world was passing clothes down through generations, counting the coins necessary for dinner and watching their sewage pumped straight into their water source, I grew up with a big wardrobe, dessert every night and a plumbing/sewage system so good it never crossed my mind.
Middle class? I’ve lived like a queen.
And now, finally, I see it.