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I still don’t quite understand how I became him. I can’t pinpoint the exact moment I lost myself. I suppose it was around the time I inherited the fortune. I can’t remember all the details, it feels like ages ago. I had lived my entire life begging for money, but once I had it, it was the very thing that destroyed me.
Looking back on it now, I was as content as I could be with my life. I had no house, no money, and little food, but I was happy. I even had a friend. He would walk past my corner on 30th street on his way home from school. Ten year old Andy would sit down next to me on my torn red blanket and share his lunch with me. He would tell me about school, about the older kids who picked on him for being short, about his friend Rosie with two long braids and bright pink sneakers, about how his teacher would yell at him for never being able to remember the capitals. He wasn’t like the other kids in New York. The other kids would stare and point at me as their mothers dragged them away, embarrassed by their rude behavior. Some kids would laugh at me or try to take my box that held any money I was lucky enough to receive from the pitying walkers. But Andy was my friend. He would ask a lot of questions, questions I didn’t know how to answer.
He would say, “Mr. Brian, why don’t you go live with your family?”
And I would try to explain to him that I had none, but his great brown eyes would widen in fear as I told him the story of their deaths, so I would stop and change the subject, asking him about his day.
I would go to the food shelter down the street nearly everyday, but the soup and potatoes there never quite tasted as good as the half a peanut butter sandwich that Andy would share with me at the end of each day.
I liked to consider myself a kindhearted person. I had nothing to give, but I helped people when I could. I would always start up conversation with the volunteers working at the food shelter, and I tried to be as polite as possible with the strangers I met.
One of the things I remember the clearest from those days was the dog with the missing leg. I was sitting in my corner on 30th street wrapped in my torn red blanket when I saw this dog limping down the road. He was no bigger than a kitten, and his fur was matted and ripped off in spots. I got up from my corner and was able to carry him off of the street. I had fed him a piece of bread I had received from the shelter. The dog stayed with me throughout the night, curled up in the red blanket, pressed against my leg for warmth. The next morning, I asked the volunteers at the food bank where the nearest animal shelter was. Handing over the small, broken dog, I felt guilt. I knew I couldn’t take care of him, as I had no food or shelter to provide. But the little dog whimpered as they closed the door to a metal crate, and his big brown eyes looked up at me, reminding me of Andy.
But everything changed when I got that fortune. I had never expected it to. I didn’t think that something could have so much power over me. That something could control my every thought and action until I was an entirely new person.
Somehow, a lawyer was able to get in contact with me through the people at the food shelter. Meeting with him was strange, like a daze. Like I wasn’t quite there. I remember one part of that meeting very clearly, the part where I had felt enraged at another human being, a feeling I was experiencing for the first time in my life. This brief moment happened the minute I walked into the room to meet the lawyer. I had tried my very best to look as presentable as possible. I had washed my face in the water fountain near the shelter. And I had attempted to comb my shaggy hair with my fingers. When I opened the door and stuck out my arm to shake the lawyer's hand, he was repulsed by my very presence. He recoiled back on his desk and sucked in his breath, as if he had just smelt a rotting animal.
Instead of taking my hand to shake, he insisted sharply, “Oh that won’t be necessary, have a seat. Please, lets make this quick.”
I was angry at this man, for acting like I was some kind of contagious disease that he was scared of getting too close to.
I don’t remember the details of this meeting, but I remember the innocent pleasure I had when he told me that I would be inheriting a grand sum of money from a deceased relative I had never met. It was a fortune so big I can’t even remember the number of zeroes in the figure. It was more money that I had thought was possible for a person to have. It seemed unreal. Like a dream.
The next six months were a blur. I have trouble remembering the events that occurred. It’s as if my brain won’t allow me to access all the memories from that period of time. But I know that in those months, I had bought a pent house, not far from the shelter, that was bigger than any house I had ever imagined. I had bought a car that I didn’t know how to drive. But for whatever reason, I felt the need to buy one anyways. I had gotten my hair cut neatly and shaved my face so that I looked almost unrecognizable from the homeless man I once was. I smoked cigars and spent thousands on fancy dinners and suits and women.
And then came the day that I had fully transformed into a different man. I was at a French restaurant with a woman I had met at an art gala. The waiter came to take our orders. I remember a thought I had. This thought that the waiter looked so vulnerable. The thought that I had control over this waiter. That I had millions and he had nothing. That he was nothing.
This was not me thinking these thoughts. It was not the person I was for the first thirty years of my life, nor the person I am today. This was not me. It could not be me. This man was cruel and heartless. This man humiliated this waiter in order to impress some woman. This man thought he was superior to him. This man spat on the waiters shoes as he stood up and left the restaurant.
This man did nothing for himself anymore. He didn’t cook, clean, shop, or drive. Anything that needed to be done was taken care of by the help. He didn’t know any of their names, why would he bother learning them? Looking back at it now, I still can’t remember the names. I wish I could.
A few months after the encounter with the waiter, a strange thing happened to this man. He was walking along the sidewalk, his nose held high in the air, flaunting his shoulders side to side with each step.
He felt a small child tap his back softly and whisper, “Excuse me? Mr. Brian is that you?”
The man whipped around and parted his lips to retort some snarky remark. But then something rather odd happened. The man noticed something about this boy’s eyes, and they caused him to lose his train of thought. The boy looked up at the man in the most familiar way. The man saw two great brown eyes widen in confusion. He was shaken in a way he could not express. The man knew this boy. But it was so long ago, he was a different person then. He shook his head harshly.
“Get out of my way boy,” he snapped at the child, “I have things to do.”
The man sped up his pace, trying to shake the image of those glassy brown eyes out of his mind. He rushed to the jewelry store, thinking that if he walked fast enough, the eyes would go away.
He was looking for a new watch, as his previous one had recently gone out of style. The woman who he had hired to do his shopping had proven herself incompetent in her ability to choose the correct gold for his watch, so he took it upon himself. He quickly found the watch he was looking for, and told the jeweler to take it out of the case for him.
The jeweler kindly apologized, “I’m sorry sir, but we are currently out of the style you wish to buy, we only have the one in the display case. But I can assure you that it will be in this time next week.”
The man was outraged. This was supposed to be the best jeweler in the city. He deserved better service than this. He was far above the unprofessionalism of this store.
“I’m sorry sir,” the man mocked the jeweler in an unnecessarily high pitched voice, “but I’m the customer, and if you are not able to fulfill my simple requests, then I’m afraid I will need to shop elsewhere.”
The poor jeweler stood behind the counter with his mouth gaped open in disbelief as the man walked out of the store, knocking down a small display of earrings as he left.
The man needed to relax, he was inexplicably angry with the ineptitude of the store. He stopped at a nearby coffee shop on 30th street. He walked in and the barista didn’t wait for him to come to the counter, she knew his order. She also knew that if she did not make his drink quickly enough, there would be consequences. The woman filled his cup with care, so that there was just the perfect ratio of cream to sugar. She handed it to the man with a warm smile. The man rolled his eyes and handed her a twenty. She scrambled to give him his change, knowing better than to try and start a conversation with this already irritated man. The man took his change and noticed that the barista had counted incorrectly and given him more change than she should have.
The man laughed to himself as he slid the money into his wallet, “Stupid girl. She can’t even count,” he mumbled to himself.
He continued down the street, feeling better now after the coffee incident. He refused to be bothered by the chatty vendors or the obnoxious street performers. He did not take notice of the singing birds or the laughing children he passed.
But then something caught his eye. Not the girl sitting on the corner of 30th street, but the torn red blanket she had draped around her. The man stopped in his path, for the second time that day, and studied the poor young girl with the torn red blanket. He noticed her face first. The way she pursed her lips as if to prevent herself from speaking. The way her thin face seemed to droop off her hollow cheekbones. The way her eyes averted the man’s gaze, as if his very presence could harm her. In this girl, I saw myself for the first time in over a year.
I had been corrupted. Tempted by the taunts of money. The idea of utmost wealth is a desire too strong for a person to resist. I was exhausted of being the poor beggar that people treated as dirt. I was hungry for this power that the fortune gave me. Once I had a taste of the status this money had given me, I could not get enough of it. Greed controls man. It runs every corner of one’s mind. Every thought. Every action. Everything I had said was powered by the craving to maintain the entitlements that the fortune had given me, transforming me into a monster, so much that I could not recognize myself. Even now, I struggle to identify myself with the cold man who overtook me. Seeing that girl, the girl in the corner with my torn red blanket, had saved me. The fortune had taken over me almost entirely. But there had been some small thing left in me. Some recognizable part of me that was the remains of who I had been before. The way she hung her head as people stared and children whispered. The way she hugged her stomach in pain, starving for anything someone could offer. I had more than a person could ever need. She had nothing. She was covered in grime, with dirt encrusted under her fingers and every crease in her face. She grasped onto that torn red blanket that I had held for so many years. She held herself as if she was a wounded animal, kicked around for her entire life. Yet I was the one who felt ashamed. I felt guilty, staring at this filthy girl. Guilty for all the things I had thought and done because of the status I did not deserve. I sat down with her.