She Had a Money Room
Money changes everything
I said money, money changes everything(Cyndi Lauper)
Have you ever met anyone with a money room? I have. It seemed like a metaphor at first, but it wasn’t. She grew up in a part of the world where people don’t trust banks. There was a room in her mansion that had floor to ceiling money.
“As a child, I always had trouble making friends,” she told me. “We were the only ones in the town with money.” Her father would bring her gifts that only famous people’s children had, to appease her loneliness.
“From a very early age,” she said. “I bought my friends presents. Very expensive presents, but I was never a close part of the group. I knew I was an outsider.”
I was her friend, but as an adult. She bought me a Hermes scarf, expensive meals, fancy pens, and overpaid me for editing her work. English was not her first language. I took that insane amount of money for editing because I’m a gig worker. Who am I to turn down money? Especially when there’s a room full of it somewhere.
Her husband told her that she shouldn’t hire me. He said she ruined all her relationships and when she ruined ours, she would lose a friend and an editor. When she told me that story, I knew that our relationship was on its way to being old milk. An expiration date loomed.
Because I knew our friendship would end, I savored our time together, like she was a foreign exchange student who I only had for a semester. I wondered, as we shared meals in five-star restaurants and tried on expensive clothing, what would be the straw the broke the camel's back. I watched her watch me. I wondered what crack she would discover in my veneer. She spoke brutally about other people. She trashed people's marriages, their fashion, their writing, their itty bitty wealth. She had very little patience for what she perceived as imperfection. She was hawkeyes for human slip-ups, like a detective digging up cold cases, but her friends were in the lineup. I knew my quirkiness and enthusiasm would buy me some time, but eventually, she would see through me.
Whenever we were out together, the feeling never escaped me that she was trying to catch me in a lie. I am a fabricator more than a liar. When I was a teenager, I lied, but as an adult, I’m pretty married to the truth. Lies are lazy to me, cowardly. If I’m thinking of lying, I realize there’s a fear that I haven’t faced.
She offered me a place to stay in Indonesia. “Whenever you want,” she said. “I will pay for your ticket. Business-class. I will buy your food. You will stay in my villa.” Anytime, she said, like Indonesia was an uber drive away.
In real life, outside of her rocky relationships, she was famous for identifying bodies after plane crashes. The scientists and recovery people had a nickname for her, but I will not tell it. It’s too easy to look up. She was who they brought it in when the bodies were long past identification. She possessed multiple specialties. She was a dentist, so she was an expert on dental identification. She was a chemist, so she knew how the body changed through chemical reactions created by temperatures. I wondered how you could do this for a living and also sit across from someone and share a plate of mussels. Her job was to scrutinize every flaw in the body in order to identify it for family members. That’s not something you can just turn off. I wondered what a living person looked like to her.
“Like a skeleton,” she said.
I think our relationship started to sour after the Hermes scarf. They stopped making that design and I could sense she wanted it back. I thought about it. I really did. But I also knew, that even if I returned the scarf, something else would end us. So, I kept the scarf.
It turns out that when you have a money room, it’s very hard to make friends. I think the problem arises when you think people only love you for your money and so you drown your friends in it. But she could never figure out what her money was buying her. She was paying for something, but she didn’t know what.
I miss the woman with the money room. I think about her and her sweet open childlike face and her indiscriminate generosity. Everything she wore was so soft, as if imperfect fabric would scratch her surface. I could have been friends with her forever. With or without the Hermes scarf.