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The Woman in the Girl's Room
Yes, we were well off. Yes, we owned a luxurious home—or two homes, one in New York City, one in Southampton. But still, how did this happen? How did I allow this to happen? Or did I even let it happen? I thought I raised my girl the right way.
After graduating in high school in 2009, Elle went straight to college, to New York University. I was so happy my baby girl was staying close to home. Only a subway ride away. Back then, it was hard for me to imagine Elle not at home, not in her room, doing the same old things she always did. Now I wish I had made her go to Boston or Washington D.C., or California for that matter—somewhere to get her out of the house.
Elle stayed at home through college, because she insisted she was not the type for communal living. This made me happy, back then. My girl was going to stay home. In fact, during college everything was fine. She had good friends even though she didn’t live on campus, and she went out to parties on Friday’s and Saturday’s, and always came home alone. She had a few flings that didn’t last.
It was junior year at NYU, and Elle still couldn’t pick a major. I told her to do what she wanted, exactly what she wanted, because even if it was a difficult field to break into, I told her we would financially support her for those rough years, that she would never have to take a second job. I guess she took my advice a little too seriously. I guess she used me.
Elle eventually majored in English, and Andy and I was so proud. She finally picked something she was good at, and I was so happy she was going to be a teacher, or maybe even an English professor!
But, after college, nothing.
“Why don’t you go get your teaching degree? I hear Long Island public school teachers get paid a lot.” I offered her things like this every once in a while.
“Maybe next year, Ma. I want a break. Say, can we go to the Hampton’s next weekend? I feel up for a spin around the bay.”
Andy told me not to be concerned, that he took time off before Wharton Business school, but I wanted Elle to get on track right away, or soon enough at least.
Andy gave Elle a credit card for her 23rd birthday. Until then, she only had a Debit card.
“A MasterCard, for my girl.”
“Thanks, Daddy! I’ll pay you back every cent, after I get around to school and get a job.”
Elle spent, and spent, and spent, and I’m not even sure what she was buying. Clothes probably. And shoes. And appointments at the spa, and makeup, and hair, and jewelry. To wear to where? A couple of parties, some Hampton’s benefits, around the house, to the mall to buy more. Not to a job.
I don’t think Elle ever grew up. I still cooked for here, made her bed, cleaned her room, organized her closet.
“Thanks, Ma.” She would say.
“Honey, maybe I can teach you a few tricks with a mop sometime?”
“Nah, I’m not up for it. Oh my gosh, you know what I’m craving? Some Bobby Vans! Let’s go around 1!”
And so it went on and on that way. We reminded her about teaching school often, but she always gently and politely declined. So that’s when Andy cut the card.
It was a cool April night in the year 2018. Elle was 27. She still had not gone to school. She actually hadn’t done much of anything, except go to the spa, the pool, the mall, Fifth Avenue, Elizabeth Arden and Bobby Vans. So Andy and I snuck into her room (yes, she still slept in her room, her little, pink girl’s room, with a twin bed that was way too small), took her wallet, got the card and snapped it.
In the morning, we heard a scream.
“Momma, what is this about?”
“It’s about time you paid us back. This fall you’ll go to school. In the mean time, you’ll find a job. Your first job at 27. I think you can handle it, sweetie.”
She cried and begged, but Andy and I were firm. Every morning, I would circle jobs I thought would work for her, like waitressing jobs, clothing store jobs, and secretary jobs. I would leave the newspaper on the kitchen counter. It was always there when I got back, in exactly the same position.
“Honey, any interviews today?”
Elle would nod.
“How’d they go?”
Elle would shake her head.
But I don’t really think she went to any interviews. I knew she didn’t, because Rita, our housekeeper, informed me she didn’t go out all day.
Andy and I knew it was time to take more drastic measures then just cutting off her money supply. Andy called her into the living room one lovely Hampton’s-style Saturday that May.
“Honey, we need to have a family meeting.”
Elle nodded slightly, twirling her beautiful brown curls. I looked at her for a moment, in her pink Juicy sweatsuit and Puma sneakers. She looked the same, yet much older. I looked away.
“I’ll cut to the chase. If you don’t get a job within the next two weeks, or at least look for a job, you’re no longer going to reside here.”
Elle put down the lip-gloss and fiercly stared her hazel eyes into my identical ones, looking for a sign of sympathy or sarcasm. I tried my hardest not to give it to her.
“I don’t need this.” She quickly stormed out of the room, and stomped deliberately on the marble, making a loud clacking sound. I turned my head, about to run after her.
“Donna, where do you think she can go with no money?”
I simply nodded. I assumed she would be driving to a friend’s house, with the same car we bought her for her birthday five years before. But I didn’t know if there would be enough gas in the car to last her the way. I was frightened for her. I tried to pinch myself. I couldn’t be sympathetic or forgiving. She had used me. But she was my daughter. I was torn. I ran after her. I saw her sitting in the front seat of the car, giving her hair a quick fluff.
“Elle, please don’t be like this. You couldn’t possibly expect that we’d support you your whole life. You’re a grown woman now. Even you can’t still want to live with your parents. You should have your own life now, as much as I’d hate to see you go. But I’ve been prepared for that day since college graduation. Only it didn’t happen yet.”
But I was talking to myself. Elle obviously couldn’t hear me through the thick, glass window of the Lexus SUV. When she was done primping herself, she looked my way. My eyes were sad and longing, piercing right through hers. My hands were cupped over my heart. She bit her lip. I knew she knew what I had said, even though she didn’t hear.
It’s not that I’m some antisocial freak who actually wants to live with her parents. No, it’s not that at all. I’m just…scared, I think. I’m not actually sure. I knew I wasn’t ready to leave after high school—I didn’t even know how to work an oven or the laundry machine at 18 (…I still don’t). And after college, because I had stayed home, I still didn’t feel ready. How was I going to be a teacher if I couldn’t work the stove? I didn’t even know if I wanted to be a teacher at all. It just seemed like something I knew, because I’d been at school my whole life and English was my favorite subject.
Being pampered, perhaps, made me this way. Whatever way that means. I don’t mean to take advantage of my rents’. But they never did teach me the ropes of the world. They taught me how to hail taxis, ride the Jitney, and tip well. I never felt prepared for anything. When my friend asked me to meet her in Florida during spring break of sophomore year at college, I had to say no. I could nawt fly alone.
I never imagined I’d be this way. But then again, I thought my life would just go in the direction that it had to. I had thought I’d meet a husband by now, have a kid by 30, be the family everyone wants to be. But how could I be a mother? I can’t cook, do laundry or clean. Not that I’d ever wanted to do those things.
Who knew life was so reliant on fate? Or that whole nature versus nurture thing. I’m not sure. God gave me a great Park Avenue address, but I never found inspiration for anything ever. My ambition in school was to get good grades to go to college. In college, my ambition was simply to do well. And when there were no grades, nothing matter-of-fact to judge myself by, then what was I to work for?
Often, my parents reminded me about going to teaching school. I said I wasn’t ready. I said I wasn’t up for it. Those weren’t lies. But the whole truth would have been, I’ll never be ready. I’m not going ever.
But I didn’t want to live at home forever. I want a rich, handsome man to look at me from across Bobby Vans, to buy my table a bottle of champagne, to sweep me off my feet, and do everything a ‘housewife’ is supposed to do because I couldn’t. There, that’s all.
My friends were starting to think it’s weird that I still lived at home and had no job. Or even talent that I’m working toward.
After my parents cut my credit card (which I actually couldn’t believe they did—how did they expect me to support myself?), I stopped seeing my friends. How could I go shopping, out to lunch, to the spa or even for a simple cup of Pinkberry without money? I only had about 150 dollars from babysitting as teen (I didn’t do it very much), and I used it all for gas one day for my car. Gone.
I told my friends, who are mostly from college and my teen tour in 08’, that I was sick. I told them I was vacationing in Europe. I told them I had met a guy. Because I couldn’t leave the house. Rita made me my meals, but I knew she was skeptical of my behavior. Whatever. She couldn’t possibly know what I was going through.
When my dad told me I had to get a job or else I would be kicked out, I didn’t know what I was supposed to do. I simply went to my car, and sat. My mom came out and stayed on the porch, and I saw her talking to herself (poor old woman!), but I couldn’t hear her, and didn’t care much about what she might’ve been saying, even if it was intended for me. She stopped moving her mouth and looked at me. I looked back, hoping to get a pang of remorse. Surprisingly, I didn’t. And that made me feel like I’d sunk so low. What had I become? A loser who lived off her rich parents. I wanted a life of my own now.
After sorting out my thoughts in my car, I went back into the house, straight to my big, pink room that I’d decorated at 10 years old. I’d shut and locked the door and schemed. I knew things my father didn’t know I knew. And I knew how to hack into his business’s account. And I knew how to steal. I knew how to take money. I knew how to take a lot.
I didn’t like what I was doing, but what were my options, realistically? I was not one for hard labor. And I was 28 years old, and did not feel like going back to school to learn. I was too old to learn (yikes! I’m old). So I did it. I stole 10 million dollars. Not from my father alone of course—from his entire company. I transferred the account into a false name and a different place. I figured 10 million dollars would get me by, until I met a husband and could live off him, of course.
Within the two-week span of my ultimatum, I’d told my father I got a job as a camp counselor for the summer. I told him I’d be going to Pennsylvania for 10 weeks for the job. My parents were so overjoyed; it was a little pathetic actually.
In reality, I’d bought myself a modest studio in Chelsea. I felt so proud. Something was mine. I had done something on my own. I walked into the scarcely furnished apartment a woman, for the first time. I was so excited for all of the grown-up things I could do now that I was by myself.
For the next four weeks, life was amazing. I did my usual, went to Elizabeth Arden, shopped, ate at Cafeteria a lot (it was so close by), and took walks in my new neighborhood, without being made to feel guilty from my parents. I was living my life. I had even hired a maid to clean and do laundry, and buy the groceries. I was so proud of my accomplishments.
I got an email from my dad on July 5th, 2018. It read:
First of all, where are you? Now that we know you’re not where you said you’d be, you have your mother worried sick. The address you gave us, well, we drove all the way to Pennsylvania to visit you, see how well you were doing at the new job (your emails made it sound fantastic). The camp told us nobody named Elle Preston ever worked there.
So I investigated, because how could you possibly be supporting yourself. Turns out, ten million dollars was stolen from the company four weeks ago—when you left for your job. I believe you are the culprit, my dear, so please give a call. Don’t worry, I’m not mad.
I’m much more than mad.
I didn’t call back. How could he stomp in and ruin my life? I was doing so well. Even I was shocked at how well I was managing my own life. I was cool, calm and collected. My friends all complimented me, and were thrilled that I was finally on my own.
After two weeks of still not replying or calling my parents, they filed a missing persons report. I definitely did nawt want my face ending up on a milk carton. And I didn’t want my mother to have a stroke or something, so I came home (grr). I took a taxi back to 79th and Park.
“Ms. Preston is on her way up.”
It was weird that the doorman had to call up now to inform us that our daughter was coming. She was no longer a resident, which was of course, so amazing. I wished to myself that I could not say anything at all, just let her take the ten million and run with it. It’s not like it was detrimental to the company. But she’s my daughter, and I couldn’t stand to see her stealing. Plus, I couldn’t let her waste her life away, with no goals or aspirations.
She entered our foyer wearing a beautiful strapless, pale pink day dress, and wedge heels. Her hair was in a perfect bun, and her sunglasses dangled from her purse.
She looked at me meekly and timidly, like she had as a girl when she wanted something. But now I wasn’t going to give it to her.
“Hello, Elle.” I sternly stood in the living room. I refused to come to her.
“Hi, Dad.” She stood in the foyer. I suppose she refused to walk to me, too.
Even though I advised her not to, Donna ran to Elle and hugged her. Then she quickly stepped away and scurried toward my side.
“I’ll just go put my things in my room.” Elle began walking down the corridor.
“No, I would like you here.”
Elle stopped in place.
“First, I would like a confession.”
“Yea. It was me.” Elle looked at her Manolo-clad feet.
I nodded my head as a ‘thank-you’, which I immediately regretted, because deep down, I was hoping she’d deny the whole thing so we could both get on with our lives separately.
“Daddy, I transferred the money back.”
“All of it?”
“Well, no, but soon. I transferred back 8.7 million. When I sell my apartment, then there will be even more. And Dad?”
“I’m sorry. I just wanted to be on my own, but truthfully, I didn’t know how to go about it at all.”
“How could you not? You’re all grown up.”
“Yea, but I don’t even know how to use that vacuum.” Elle pointed to the open utilities closet.
“I believe you’d get by okay.” I smirked a little. It was all kind of funny.
I might have even chuckled a bit.
“Daddy, this is nawt funny.”
I shook my head aggressively. “No, it’s serious….” Then again, I burst out laughing. Apparently, my daughter was afraid of the world because she was truly never exposed, while I tried to make it that way my whole life. So I brought this on myself?
“As long as the money’s returned, I think I can forgive and forget.”
“Daddy!” She ran up to Donna and I and squeezed us tight.
The problem of being forgiven might have been solved, but there was still another thing, the thing that even caused this. What was I going to do to with my life? And I was starting to become afraid, because walking down the street, I was no longer the youngest, prettiest girl. I might have been second.
“It’s job time, for real this time!” Mom and I went to all of my favorite stores—Chanel, Jimmy Choo, Gucci—but every answer was the same. She has no experience. How is one to start off if she gets declined because of no experience?
“I think we have to start…lower.” Mom hesitantly looked at me.
“Fine.” I guess some jobs are ugly.
I got hired. At Gap. Not terrible, I thought. Except, unfortunately, I would need to purchase some of their material. They told me I couldn’t wear such expensive attire.
I picked out the only bearable items: a summer dress, ballet flats, and a tank that was meant for pajamas. I’ll make it work.
Mom and Dad took me out to Daniel to celebrate. I got a job. Whoa—I got a job.
“I’m afraid to ask, but is teaching school out of the question?”
I nodded. I was definitely nawt going to be a teacher. I would look so out of place! C’mon, all teachers dress frumpy. Well, mine did. Sweater-sets and plaid, anyone?
“Then let’s toast. To a bright future in retail!”
I clanked my glass. This is nawt what I thought my future would be. I don’t know my direction at all, I wasn’t even married (and I’m old!), and I lived at home. The next apartment I could afford was in another burrow (not taking the subway…), so I was pretty much stuck in my old bedroom as if I were a girl again. A girl with a job. At least I have a job. Sort of. It’s kind of petty. I fold cotton t-shirts and dress mannequins. I can nawt wait to get to Prada.