There’s no real way for me to organize these ideas—these sentiments on the once rich, now poor. It is but a stream of thoughts—tangled and complicated like the emotions that swirl and tumble inside my soul on a daily basis. Bear with me.
The great journalist and screenwriter, Nora Ephron once quoted her mother saying, “Take notes everything is copy.”
That’s what I’ve always done, written about my life, written about what I know. And what a life—rich, then poor, then struggling, and then still struggling. So many different friends, lovers, mentors have come in and out of my life. So many things have fallen apart and these things—these mitigated disasters, these moments of difficulty– I’ve tended to handle with care when I write—don’t rock the boat or someone may fall out—don’t pull away a thread or the whole thing may fall exquisitely to pieces.
I often feel like I’m living on the edge of something—somehow living on the edge of disaster and success. On the one hand I’m living in New York—finishing school, fostering friendships, building connections and living in my own apartment. A young, single girl’s magical paradise. But how permanent are any of these things? School will end; friends come and go; connections are what you make of them and who knows if my roommates will want to stick around next year?
My family too is in this kind of malaise—sell everything we have, spend what little money we make and put off all of our woes just a little bit longer to stave off the disaster that we know is just around the corner—keep the stench off of our breath as long as we possibly can—avoid it forever even though forever can never be.
When will it all end? We only have so many things we can sell in this old Alder mansion—riddled with cobwebs and the echoed sounds of our now lost Steinway.
We’re like rats trapped inside a cadge, burrowed deep behind the vines that creep up the stone walls and the tangle of plastic wires that make up the electric heaters that keep the pipes from bursting—we hide under a thousand blankets and Ebay accounts to fight off the winter cold.
I, in New York, am also in a kind of static illusion. I let people think we’re still rich, I admit that. It’s easier than admitting the truth. I guess what I mean to say is that it’s easier to ignore the truth because it’s really hard to admit that things aren’t improving anymore—that my life has reached a hinge and this may be as good as it gets. This could really be as good as it gets. Come May I could find myself jobless and in the hole—on my way back to Chicago with my tanked credit and crumpled dreams.
Goodbye fierce, fashion chick of my fantasies. Goodbye famous writing career.
I feel like I’m dependent on other people because of my poor financial decisions (decisions I try not to blame on my parents for forcing—pushing–me to make) have destroyed my creditability and independence. I fear the future. Like my family hides behind vines and excuses I hide behind denial of the future and approaching deadlines. So much depends on so many things. Nothing seems solid, nothing seems whole.
I envy my friends who have well-off, stable parents. Ones who have property in their names—bought for them—the ones with perfect credit who are the product of the silver spoon. I’m jealous. I’m very jealous. I believe I may be more so than those who’ve never known that life. I don’t mean to get political, but those who have had to struggle for their whole lives are much more accustomed to surviving and overcoming themselves–being the american dream.
I am choking on a silver spoon, the one that fed me.
We had it all. The house, the childhood in Maui, the Lexus and the BMWs—the lavish parties. Everything over the top—everything must be tip top, ship shape. If it wasn’t expensive, it couldn’t be worth buying.
My brother once told our nanny he wanted a game. She suggested they go and get Scrabble. “No.” he replied, “I want a pool table.”
Did he get the pool table? Of course he did.
It’s not to say that our family was without love—quite the contrary. We had (and still have) all the love in the world—all the love that a family could ever hope to have.
But love can’t pay the bills. We’re breaking down—poverty will do that to a family that has never known it and doesn’t know how to fight it—how to bounce back from it. In five years we’ve learned a lot about ourselves as people and yet little about how to save us. We’re nowhere near a light at the end of the tunnel—the tunnel is, instead, closing in.
We’ve grown as people, my brothers and sisters and me. We’ve become pretty rough and tumble and certainly more hard working. Once I couldn’t pay tuition—and after a pretty bleak year at home–I managed to convince my school to pay for most of my education and the twins are on full-scholarship. Our youngest has a 4.0 and hopes to move to a four-year college soon. We’ve become scrappy, and for that I have to be grateful.
My eldest brother, God bless him, is home, selling everything we own to keep us afloat. But slowly—like any ship that’s full of holes—we’re disappearing into a bottomless sea.
And while it may be easier for us kids, having come into this situation in our teens–it is exponentially more difficult for my father. He’s gone from making himself from nothing–originally selling encyclopedias from door to door–to self-starter. He spent 35 years being his own boss, being incredibly wealthy only to find himself in the doldrums of financial debt– stuck between a lawsuit and a hard place, a rock and a tattered business reputation. How do you bounce back from that? How do you start over at 65?
Maybe things would have been different if we’d had more time to prepare, but when you go from Crystal to Discount Cola in the blink of an eye it’s possible to find yourself at the bottom of a proverbial well that seems damn near impossible to climb out of.
We’re all on the way to somewhere and it’s unclear where. It breaks my heart, and makes me sick to my stomach to imagine leaving New York, to leave this all behind—to pretend that somehow I’ll be back or somehow I’ll make something of myself back home even though I know that isn’t true—and even worse, that I could never be happy anywhere else.
I used to say that I was eternally grateful to have found New York. I would always wish to be in Chicago when I was in Maui and always wish to be in Maui when I was in Chicago (rough, right?) New York was the only place I’d ever been where I didn’t want to be anywhere else. It doesn’t seem like a beautiful dream anymore—not when I’m so dangerously close to waking. It’s as if I’ve found happiness only to have it taken away from me—have the life I’ve fantasied about building in this magnificent city slowly fade away and out of reach.
I’ve learned to become strong, to stand on my own and believe in myself—but the truth is: what if my roommates decide they don’t want to live with anymore? It’s not like I can ever be on a lease. What if I don’t find a job? It’s not like I can afford to live in New York for even a month without a source of income.
And, once again, I’m on the edge of things, teetering helplessly somewhere between success and disaster.
Gigi Engle is a writer and editor in New York, NY. This article is originally from her blog Cigars and Jewelry.
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