They huddle tightly together, five chapped frowns pursed against the burning cold. I try not to notice their tired faces and frail bodies, appeasing my discomfort with the flimsy assertion that dwelling benefits no one. They’re all in need of attention, for they’re entitled to at least that, but with five of them and only one of me someone is destined to starve.
Friends is the weakest and most malnourished of the lot, skinnier than the others but also steadier and more forgiving. I’ve taken advantage of this on more than one occasion by placing my pennies elsewhere. No matter how fervently I wish it, guilt never fills her empty pockets.
Second only to Kids, Career is most demanding. While his comrades hunker quietly in the corners, waiting patiently for spare crumbs to drop, Career requests validation with a fiery boldness I simultaneously envy and despise. His rants would be much more dismissible if he didn’t have four hundred of his own hungry mouths to feed.
Kids can’t be ignored, for I’m the reason she’s here. Her genetic makeup is tied indivisibly to my own so I experience her suffering with an intensity that far surpasses her four counterparts. She’s the primary recipient of my resources – time, energy, care, and love – because out of all the deprived voices begging for my attention, hers is the one that visits my dreams.
Marriage gets the scraps, miserable leftovers at the end of each day. He never complains but I see the disappointment in his eyes, hungry crevasses begging for sustenance. Before the rest of them showed up with their pleading stares and empty stomachs I was able to give him everything I had but those days ran away with the last of my sanity.
A few years ago I stopped feeding Personal Time because I thought it would allow more for the others. Despite noble intentions, the results were catastrophic. She and I both buckled under the invisible weight of my neglect and somehow, in a way I’m still trying to comprehend, all six of us – Friends, Career, Kids, Marriage, Personal Time, and myself – subsequently suffered.
It’s a losing battle, this tug and pull, but I fight it daily because somewhere inside their hungry whimpers I hear them fighting for me too.