“Someone’s gotta pay the bills around here,” Dad says as he leaves for work. I’m sitting in my pyjamas with all the lights on, the sun is shining, the heater is on because I refuse to put on a jumper, I’m eating three bowls of cereal, unable to pay rent, and off he goes to make ends meet.

He says “bye”, I say “thank you”.

We’ve always been a family making ends meet. For a long time, I had no idea what this was, what type of currency, or planet we were living on. It kind of sounded like a delicacy from a butcher: a rare slice. It also could have been two ends meeting, almost romantically, like those hair strands used for mating in Avatar. But I knew it wasn’t a ‘good’ thing.

It was always said with a tone of optimism, almost gratitude, but also that exhausted sigh that you only hear in self-deprecating Aussie humour at the pub. If you slip up and allow yourself to go to the pub every now and then, that is.

So today, amid trying to work-from-home, applying for jobs, and studying three different courses online to enhance my employability, I decided to Google ‘making ends meet’, which provided that: ‘To make ends meet’ means ‘to pay for the things that you need to live when you have little money.’

The news is full of ‘ends meet’ stories as the cost of living crisis bites, rents soar and mortgages fold. A recent Finder poll found one in eight Australians were relying on their tax refund to stay afloat over the next few months, while Finder’s 2023 Cost Of Living report revealed the overall cost of living had risen by 7 per cent in a year, with one in three Australians needing to ask friends or family for financial help.

Ends meet seems to be the salary of the times. Lately, I’ve found myself settling for ends meet. Every week, my income seems to just fit what I want to do, other weeks I have to sacrifice things,  all while looking to move out and get on with my life.

One in three Australians needed to ask friends or family for financial help in the past year

Happily single, but unhappily broke, I fear I’m not living. I don’t go out or enjoy myself, like, ever. Maybe that’s why I stay at home, where I’m safe within the walls of ends meet, the four walls that all meet at corners, and have Dad to fix the roof when it leaks, or stock the fridge when it runs dry, or mow the lawn when it looks overgrown.

Making ends meet runs in our family.

It courses through the veins of our home, like the water pipes that chug and squirm and clunk when the taps are turned on or off. It rattles the whole house. It’s visceral. If you listen closely, you can hear it. It’s not just a sound but a feeling. It may even be felt by the houses that surround us. I know they can hear our yelling, our crying, the beep of our washing machine when a cycle is done. I know our neighbours hear most of what goes on in this house because when I wave on the street, I see it on their faces.

I know the hot new neighbour heard my phone therapy session the other day. I tried to hide in the backroom, but I forgot the walls are paper thin, and his garage is right beside it. When the therapist called, I hid under the sheets and cried, and when my neighbour dropped his hammer, it sounded that close that I knew he’d heard all about my heartbreak, job insecurities, and issues. I was even talking into a pillow trying to muffle it as much as I could, but now he looks at me sympathetically and I know.

Dad’s house is old but it has potential, kind of like me. I try to renovate it, and re-decorate it, and improve it, but the wind makes the house creak like the walls are only made of paper, and their inner workings are old, and used, and unfaltering and that’s just it. Reliable but loud, like the people that it functions for. ‘Function’ meaning that it provides hot water to a limit, for one shower or tap at a time, and then it goes cold: shy and quiet. As if it knows it’s let us down.

Dad and I dream all the time about saving, travelling, escaping.

We dream about painting the house and getting new furniture that isn’t off the side of the road.

Dad mainly focuses on putting food on the table, while I am saving for my next big adventure, my getaway, my dream home, my future, my studies, my HECS debt, my move abroad. Dad has always been content with scraping by, doing enough, and making enough.

We’ve been making ends meet for so long that you’d think that these ends would be happily married by now

Meanwhile, I make enough to do my exercise class per week, put fuel in my car, and maybe alcohol in my belly on the occasional night out, only to be grumpy the rest of the time… waiting for the magic to happen. The fun to begin. Life to begin.

We reward our house by making ends meet, like serving off-cuts to your dog as a treat.

I need a challenge, a push out of this comfort zone that I’ve known for so long. Ironic, that it’s my comfort zone, because I noticed in Dad’s voice today, when he left, he didn’t mean what he said maliciously, he never does, but I sensed that he did mean it.

Usually we joke – I joke mainly – but some things hit differently. He has a job that gets him by, and a budget that helps, and he has factored me into that, so that I don’t have to worry, and so I’m not a burden, but today, he said it, and everything clicked. I need to work. I need to move out.

I need to make my own ends meet, on my own terms. It will be scary. Dad has consistently remained my safety net through my life. I am dependent on him, just like Mum used to be. I’m demanding and he is accommodating. Dad has done the big family thing, now he’s doing the single thing, and soon he will be doing the retired thing, and I will need to look after him in return.

We’ve been making ends meet for so long that you’d think that these ends would be happily married by now.

Or maybe, I’m just not sure what it means at all.

Main image created on DALL-E2.