You start young: you save quarters and dimes; nickels and pennies in a piggy-bank. It’s literally a ceramic, pink pig and each time you drop change inside you hear a clink clink clink inside its round stomach. Maybe you call it “Mr. Oink” because you are young and have a habit of naming things after the sounds they make. You save and save your coins with Mr. Oink; each time you find a quarter on the concrete or your mother gives you some change for unloading the dishes from the machine (you call the machine Mr. Gurgle), you keep the change inside your piggy-bank. It’s a good feeling. There’s a sense of accomplishment and of adult-like responsibility. You appreciate your own foresight, although you do not yet know what you’re saving for until finally you see something you want to buy—something you need to buy. Perhaps it’s the new pair of Jordans all the cool kids will be wearing in school; or it’s a pair of ice-skates; or maybe it’s Brittany Spears tickets (who you don’t like but all your friends are going so you can’t be the only one not to go, right?). You feel a sense of immediacy: that if you don’t buy it now you may never have it, whatever it is.
Your Dad takes you out to the driveway. You hold Mr. Oink to your chest and your eyes meet the small pink pupils of your companion for a brief moment and you hold back tears because only children cry over small matters like these, and although you are in-fact a child yourself, today is the day you grow up. Your Dad carefully picks up each bit of shattered, pink ceramic and then lets you sweep up all the coins that lay across the driveway. They look like tiny piggy guts and you sweep them into an empty pillowcase. You spend all night counting the coins, fingers shaking with excitement. This is the moment your first efforts at saving will pay off. This is months of work, of chores, of scouring behind couch cushions, resisting the urge to buy candy bars, resisting the urge to open up Mr. Oink too early, and now it is all supposed to pay off.
Sadly, once you finish counting, you realize you don’t have enough money. Not for the Jordans or the ice-skates or the concert tickets. Your not even close. You will wish you had saved more.
In college you don’t do much saving because most of your money is spent on fifteen-dollar cases of Coors Light or Miller Banquet. Your student loan covers the dorm room and meal plan, and the only food splurging you do is on those hot pockets you heat up in a microwave that nobody has cleaned since the semester started. Maybe you get a job that pays minimum wage, maybe one that tips, or maybe just an unpaid internship. It doesn’t really matter to you. Your focused on classes — okay, your mainly focused on doing fun college things like keg-stands or playing Edward-Forty-Hands (those are fun, right?) — but you are interested in classes, too. There’s a lot to learn. Most of the time you feel overwhelmed. You get to your senior year, when you start to believe you’ve figured things out, at least just a little. It’s then you realize you’ve figured out nothing. It’s then you realize life can change on a dime. It’s your senior year when the attacks happen: one in Washington D.C., one failed in Pennsylvania, and two in New York. You watch the Twin Towers collapse on a television set outside of The Pub. Everyone around you has the look of shell shock. Phones are ringing non-stop, all around you like chirping birds. Your Mom calls you crying. Your Dad doesn’t have much to say. You think of him sweeping up shattered bits of pink ceramic when you see videos of the first responders.
You’re not sure you want to stay in school. Everyone seems to want to go out and do something about it, but nobody really knows for sure what to do. You ending up getting your Bachelors degree in It-Doesn’t-Matter with a minor in Who-Cares. You take the first job offer you get and move into a new city; into an apartment with higher rent and no microwave.
You don’t like you first job (Bret, the man who sits at the desk next to you, smells weird. Kind of like salami), so you leave after the first year. You find a better job. One that pays more. One where they respect your talents more. You have decent credit, you pay your rent on time (bills included), and you even have a decent sum in your savings account—enough to buy a PlayStation, which is tempting, but you resist and start to pay off your student loans instead. At the new job, in your new office, you meet a new woman. She is, of course, better than you in every way. She laughs at all your jokes and even splits the dinner bills with you.
“We make the same amount,” she says when you reach for the bill.
She is very responsible with money. When she moves into your apartment she makes sure all the lights are off when you two leave the house; she even dries the cloths on an outdoor line to save on the electric bill. You cannot let this one “get away”, so you withdraw all you can from your savings account and buy a ring.
She says yes.
It’s 2006 when your baby is born. You start saving for her college tuition right away. She makes you so happy it is almost unbearable. Her eyes are each tiny cosmoses of love and you know you will give her everything she asks for. You have already lost all the future arguments you may ever have with her. But, even as a ten-pound creature she is very expensive. Not long after you feed food that looks like carrot but smells like peas does she throw up (the vomit does not look or smell like any vegetable you know of). Nobody in the apartment gets any sleep, but at the same time you have to work harder than ever in order to get that promotion you need. Meanwhile your wife stays home to take care of the baby.
For two years it’s hard, but you manage. In 2008 you get the promotion. You have money in the bank. You have a roof over your family’s head (a modest roof, but a roof nonetheless). Days start to become a bit monotonous. Monotonous is good. You argue with your wife, but they’re good arguments—healthy arguments. Your daughter has a full head of hair! Your amazed by this for some reason. It seems like she had a shiny little head just days ago. It may all seem good, but surely you know what happens next: it’s 2008 and the bubble bursts. It happens to you. It happens to everyone.
This is when everyone’s story begins to shift. And here is where this story must stop, because I don’t know what happens to you next. I don’t know if you loose your job or your house; your savings or your kid’s college tuition. I don’t know what happens to you. Are you prepared? Do you manage to stay afloat? What could you have done better? Maybe it’s more clear now, after the dust has settled and all. But that’s not really the point of the story is it?
The last thing you do in this story, though… The last thing you do is buy her a piggy-bank. You feel it’s a bit of an optimistic gesture, maybe too sentimental, but optimism and sentimentality are two things you need right now. You want her to know what it means to save. The piggybank is pink and round and polished, and before you give it to your child you drop a quarter inside just to hear it clink.