There were additions to the shopping list that had to be made when I married my husband. His requests were simple: Please always have tortillas, pinto beans, cheese and Key limes in the kitchen. With those ingredients, hunger could be eased. Let’s make quesadillas, bean and cheese burritos, and with some cheap meat, tacos doused in lime juice.
Over the last decade, there have always been fluctuations in the price of Key limes at our local grocery store. You could grab them bagged, or you could stand shoulder-to-shoulder with an abuelita and watch her grab certain ones, discard others, and do your best to imitate her when you threw your lime picks into a plastic bag.
Sometimes it was 16 limes for a dollar. Sometimes it was 20 for a dollar. Sometimes you picked only 10 because who would use all those before they went bad? Then your children developed a taste for lime, and you’d go back to the full load for a dollar. It wasn’t a question; you just bought the limes.
Once, a teenager came bounding up to me as I passed her with my bag of hand-picked limes to ask how much they were per lime. I told her I didn’t remember. I came home and shared it with my husband. “That’s a staple; you just get the limes,” my husband said. That was a brief measure of our privilege.
For the first time shopping, it was seven limes for one dollar. I pointed it out as we shopped, and our eyes met over our kids’ heads.
We’d seen the price of the meat rising steadily; bacon is a morning staple for us as well. Even the cheap cuts went up. The cuts like tongue, where I’d chase my gringo friends to try just one as a novelty, friends who usually realized with that one taco that they might overcome handling a recognizable part of the cow if it’s tasty enough. Just two or three years ago, tongue used to be something you could get for 15 to 18 dollars. Now, it’s closer to 30.
Before shopping, we had driven through town, marveling at how low the inventory was at car dealership row. My husband speculated that prices might stay high for cars. “At least we don’t need one,” he said, and I yelped. “You take that back right now, or the car will hear you,” I said.
There are differing reports about the economy, but as a millennial, I’m haunted by the turns it takes to stay afloat. Just like an infamous iceberg, there are things hiding in the currents that can be entirely outside your control and threaten to sink you. A car accident that isn’t your fault. A cancer diagnosis. Unexpected complications with childbirth.
The bill from my daughter’s birth was higher than the cost of our house.
Increasingly it feels like fundamental participation in the American economy is a cudgel to keep us bound to systems, ideologies and ways of life that are not in tune with how humans thrive. It’s not surprising that being responsible will end with more millennials not having children by plan, but maybe more by accident. It’s also not surprising that things that were a staple to living in America will be out of reach even for those who may only have basic privileges and just a dream for many who may not even have those.
Cassie McClure is a writer, millennial, and unapologetic fan of the Oxford comma. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.