The Lives of the Dead

Some of the most interesting people I meet are dead…

Archive for the category “wealth”

The Aging Heiress

originally posted 4/27/14

glamorous vintage woman


I was vain, it is true. And my vanity caused many others to suffer. I was vain about things I had no right to claim as my own – my looks, my status (which was inherited, and then enhanced by marriage.)

In my 20’s, I was known as a great beauty. I was invited to all the right parties. Men desired me.

As I got older, I took care of myself as best I could, to maintain the illusion of youth as long as possible. After a certain number of years, however, age just catches up. A woman loses her sexual power over men. If this is all she has, if she’s put all her eggs in this particular basket, she ends up with nothing.

I had four husbands and excellent lawyers,  but even money doesn’t fill that void, although I worked hard to prove that statement incorrect.   Still, it was better to have money than not.

At 79, I was still elegant; still invited to all the right parties. My last companion was 53.   It was obvious to everyone except me that he was playing me. I wanted to believe that I still had enough wit, charm, and charisma to attract such a witty, charming, charismatic man.

When I died, he and my children (with whom I was never particularly close), got into a protracted legal suit over my estate. From where I was, I didn’t care who won. I could see how utterly pointless their battle was. The loser, in the end, was the real winner, although it took a while for that understanding to sink in.




Today I was out for a walk and ran into two women I haven’t really spoken to in over a year.   The first woman is a neighbor, and though we usually have a quick hello when we see each other on the street,  today we ended up yakking for an hour. Mostly, she talked a lot about her mother, who had passed the previous year.  There was nothing unusual in that.  It made perfect sense in the context of the conversation we were having, although it was the longest conversation we’ve had, probably in two or three years.

From there, I went to the supermarket.  Right on front of me in line,  was someone who’d worked for me very briefly over a year ago.  We have not been in touch.    I asked her how she was doing, making light conversation.  She told me her mother had just passed away. While waiting to check out, she started telling me all about her mom,  her history, her days as an organizer.

I didn’t think anything odd about either of these encounters at the time. Later, however, I wondered if there wasn’t something a bit more than coincidence here.   They hadn’t simply informed that their mothers had recently passed. That’s  normal “news” you might share under such circumstances.  It was that they both spontaneously told me their mother’s story,  as if it were important for me to know.  In neither case was it at all in keeping with the very casual kind of relationship we had.



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What Money Can’t Buy

 rich kid silver spoon


What a waste of a life!

It took me until my 40s to start feeling as if something were missing from my life. I made a couple of attempts to do something about it but I was useless at anything practical. I ended up failing spectacularly and embarrassingly. So I gave up and went back to my louche, superficial and self-indulgent ways, but with much less pleasure.

When I was young, I never questioned that I could have anything I wanted. I could buy whatever I wished. I could pick up at a moment’s notice and travel halfway around the world on a whim.  There were always lots of people willing to laugh at my jokes,  to revel in my company, to sleep in my bed. It never occurred to me to feel bad or ashamed that everything I had had been bought…including, in their fashion, the laughter, the reveling and the sex. There was nothing beyond that which I wanted.  I had all that I desired and desired all I had.

Eventually, however, as I got older, the people I met in my circle tended to be wealthy because they had accomplished something.  Even those born rich, seemed to have achieved success in their chosen pursuits.   And while there was a fair share of marriages of convenience, there were many who genuinely loved their spouses.

This started to nag at a corner of my psyche.

The thought started small but I soon began to feel that people only saw me as an extension of my money.

Of course that should have been ridiculously obvious! But for decades it was completely opaque to me.  I’d been content in my shallow world and had seen no reason to think too deeply about matters which might sow seeds of dissatisfaction.

But I as this realization grew, I eventually got the notion that I wanted to possess something money could not buy: The pride of accomplishment.   Self-respect.   Someone who loved me for myself.

This was the first good impulse I had in my life.

Unfortunately, it came too late.  I had no idea how to be loved for myself or what that even meant. I did not possess the emotional skills needed to truly love or be loved. My values were too warped. I had no instincts. I tried to express love but other than buying material gifts, I had no idea how to give of myself. I sought love but was too naive to know when I was being taken advantage of. I paid a heavy price for that, both emotionally and financially.

I tried my hand at business and even local politics. Once again, my instincts (or rather lack of them) failed me. I had no understanding of how the world functioned outside my rarified milieu.

After several years of failures, I was, for the first time in my life, dissatisfied. I still played my social role. Still traveled in the right circles.  Ate and drank in the right places. I was now aware, however, of the subtle mocking disdain of others. Or perhaps that was self-disdain. I honestly don’t know.

There came a time when I withdrew from that circle and surrounded myself with those who admired me…for the same superficial reasons I’d once admired myself.  It was a vain and shallow and unexamined life. Pickled in gin.

I ran away from those who I felt judged me negatively. Ironically, if I hadn’t cared about their respect, they’d have respected me more. Or, again, perhaps I only would have believed they did. I imagine, either way, the same number of people would have liked me perfectly well (or disliked me) exactly as I was (and had always been).

The issue, I understand how, was not how they perceived me, but how I perceived their perception of me.

So, I surrounded myself with those even more needy and self-loathing than I. This allowed me to feel better about myself. My positive delusions about myself were reinforced by my coterie of hangers-on.

I told myself I didn’t need my old circle.  I talked myself into believing that I was lucky not to have been caught in that prison of strict mores and expectations. I convinced myself I was better off and freer where I was.

On those rare occasions when I was took a good, hard, honest look at myself,  I granted that I had run away from them. This notion made me feel bad enough not to want to examine it any more deeply.

What I never understood was that I was not running away from them. Rather I was running from the image of myself which I projected on upon them.

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