With every passing year, my father's business seemed to prosper. I remember standing demurely on a mound of dirt in a frilly white dress with white, lace gloves on my petite hands. My father and his associates were dressed in suits, shovels incongruously in their hands as they readied themselves for the photo op. You could feel the enthusiasm and joy in the air.
Much later, in middle school, I would realize that that moment would be one of the last times I’d see my father truly happy. Even though his success allowed him to take us on numerous camping trips across the US, as well as out-of-country visits, with fishing and golfing galore and a plethora of other ways to show wealth...
He hadn’t been truly happy for a very long time.
I learned many important things from my father in the rare moments when he was home from business trips.
How to hold a golf club and how to swing.
How to hook live bait and how to relax the fishing line a bit before casting.
How to hustle and run a business, and how not to.
How to live a life, and perhaps, also how not to…
Many people in our bubble witnessed this fast-paced life since my father was rather flamboyant about it. In time, I noticed my father's “success” and the impact it had on those around us with varying results. My parents were either completely unaware of this or just chose not to see things, their desperate need to hold onto the illusion of being loved kept them from acknowledging the unraveling of their own personal lives.
What people saw on the outside was not truly reality, and what they saw of reality was just the tip of the iceberg. The silent desperation we faced, hidden behind daily functions, wealth, and weak attempts at sincerity were cloaked in deep loneliness, heartbreak, and turmoil. The unraveling of our lives, it seems, took place both over a decade, and overnight.
As I grew older, striving to become some semblance of a person distinct from my parents, I changed as well. Living in our small, gated community, where I was first bullied, turned into a sort of forced friendship of proximity. My parents became friends with other parents, my parents hired some parents as after-school babysitters, my parents loaned some parents money…very strange arrangements that affected us children and led us to form superficial bonds, at least for that moment in time.
I realized then, in my youth, that I had never wanted to confuse money with friendships. Money itself was too caustic for most to live a peaceful life. For peace to thrive, one would have to be very strict with boundaries and conditions. I understood this fact very well. I saw whole lives and friendships ruined by money, not because it was inherently bad, but because without restrictions, especially self-restrictions, it’s very easy for people to lose themselves in both the attainment of more money and all the allure that money can grant. Egos driven even by the most upright character would need a very strong self-imposing conscious to not be led to live destructively.
Alcohol, drugs, other women, debauchery, entitlement, you see the lowest of human character when money comes into play. You think to yourself that you’d never be that way, but in all honestly, you can only hope to never be that way because unless you’ve been given those options in life, you really don’t know. I have long since forgiven many for being swayed by such things, I understand now the different reasoning behind people’s motivations.
My tweens were a mix of these momentary friendships. The identity I tried to carve out for myself wasn’t truly who I was. Like most children today, I was not yet fully formed at that age. If I was the obedient, humble, angelic child at my young age. In my tweens, I chose to be something different, perhaps to some, it was to be expected. Although I was still kind, I took on more and more toxic traits that affected my family and friends.
I became the bully I always hated. Making fun of the disabled. Pushing people off the school bus and physically fighting anyone and everyone I felt slighted by. It was, thankfully, a short stint for me, but unfortunately, a long memory for those I bullied. I know, because of my own past trauma, how malleable we humans can be that we can live life both as a victim and villain. I regret to this day all the past hurts I’ve caused people. There is no excuse.
As I came to comprehend more with age, I understood the fine balancing act my father was performing. Maintaining your level of wealth isn’t the same thing as obtaining wealth. My father had other vices in life that took away from the actionable steps needed to maintain this lifestyle. Although he didn’t care about “keeping up with the Joneses,” other weaknesses proliferated. Weakness in character, poor personal life, and financial decisions all came into play as his time in the limelight came to an end.
Since I was 6, my mother consistently told me of all my father’s poor life decisions. How he had forced my mother’s hand in marriage by pretending to commit suicide. How he had wanted to prove to my mother that it wasn’t him that was infertile by creating a whole other family in another state. How my mother had found all his philandering at an early stage of their marriage but stayed because of their comingled financials. How my mother had to suffer this humiliation due to societal, religious, and familial constraints. Yes, I had heard, seen, and endured many things growing up.
This unraveling was in full swing by the time we moved out of our country club home ─ more like kicked out due to the bankruptcy of my father’s business. My mother had told me that it had been because one of his associates had taken the business for himself, along with most of the staff. I wouldn’t have been surprised if that had been the case, knowing my father’s personality. The excuse we’d give others for moving was the lack of a good orchestra within our district. My father wanted me to go to a much better school with full access to a musical program. So we rented a house within another school district and our new lives as poorer versions of ourselves began. Many saw this as a form of justice and karma for my parents. I saw it very differently.
I was surprisingly happier. Happier to get away from the palace of secrets and lies. Happier to be away from the prison that had throttled my childhood into a vice. Here in this new, albeit smaller space, I could reinvent myself. Not as the sad bullied person. Not as a rich person. Not as the horrible bully. I was free to be something else entirely.
Suffice it to say that high school became one of the best times of my life.