Actually, Andie is giving the money to her mother, because her father doesn't know. "On some level does he know they're in trouble? I don't know. I've never talked with him about it," she says. Andie thinks of the payments as rent, but her mother hates the idea that she would ever charge one of her children to live in her house and prefers to say that 'Andie is helping them through a difficult time.' " Andie is paying for other expenses as well, like a family lunch with her grandmother in the hospital for Memorial Day, though she's not sure how long she can keep that up.
The hardest part, perhaps, is coming to terms with her parents' limitations. "I can't make them into frugal people who are good financial planners," she said. And so even as she funnels her salary their way, she watches as her parents hold on to certain upper-middle class habits. Every month, they host a big dinner for the extended family. "I think my mother would rather declare bankruptcy than compromise on that." When her mother talked to Andie's younger sister about going to public school for her senior year, "My sister bawled and said, 'How come everyone else got to go to this school we all went to? And that made my mom feel terrible and she said, 'OK, we'll figure out some way.' "
You can dismiss this as privileged whining, I suppose. No one is going homeless. But it seems to me that her family's crisis, however self-manufactured, presents all kinds of delicate complexity for Andie to sort through. She moved home to help her parents because she couldn't stand to see them slide down the financial chute. "If I weren't here to help, I couldn't function," she says. "It would consume my thoughts." And so she is home, and she is helping, but that means shoring up a lifestyle for her parents and her younger sister that she knows is probably unsustainable. "I don't think my parents have long-term plans, and I don't know what my future reality will be because I don't know what will happen with them." That is a lot of subsuming of one's own identity. When Andie moved, she left behind her independence and re-entered her parents' world. And yet even as she is close by and supportive, she has to hold herself apart because she can see the frailty of their choices. Not easy.
And so it was a bit of a relief to hear from another reader, Jen, who wrote with a classic story of moving in pursuit of good old opportunity. She graduated from the law school at American University in 2006, and moved from Washington, D.C., back to Cleveland, where she grew up. Her boyfriend, whom she started dating in her hometown, finished an MBA program there. But he could not find a job in their chosen city. Instead he got a job in Denver, and they moved there together last spring. Jen found a job at a law firm. "Since our move, we've become engaged, bought a house, bought a new car, and are planning an October 2009 wedding," she writes. "While we miss our families, we realized that to have a chance at the life we really wanted, we needed to find a better economic climate. … As much as I'd like to be altruistic, I also know that I need to be able to make a life for myself." That's the familiar American new-horizons spirit. It may not be the typical story of this recession. But at least it's not gone entirely.
Thanks for all the great e-mails, and keep them coming. Next question: Has the downturn changed a friendship that matters to you, in a profound or smaller but telling way? Or your relationship with a sibling? Send your responses to me at email@example.com. E-mail may be quoted in Slate unless the writer stipulates otherwise. If you want to be quoted anonymously, please let me know.
This article also appears in Double X.