Having Money

July 2004

A few nights ago I was trying on dresses for fun at Nordstrom. I had makeup on and looked nice - like I could afford stuff - and the sales lady was real helpful and showed me all the evening gowns by Vera Wang and Donna Karan and BCBG Max Azria.

There was a long red dress that gathered into a silver brooch at the collarbone whose color was striking, and a tight-fitting black dress with Oriental detail that draped across one shoulder, that made me feel like I was in a John Singer Sargent painting. Both were very pretty. But the one that I really liked and fell in love with was ivory with silver embroidery and a cascade of iridescent petals at the bottom. It looked like a piece that Nicole Kidman had worn on the cover of Vogue, and it looked good on me. It was sleek and fitted and curved like an orchid. It was also $400, not counting the wrap.

I never thought I was the sort of person who wanted to grow up to have a lot of money, but at the moment I did. If I had had $400 I would have gotten it. And then I felt bad for thinking that way. It's not like I'm not already rich in nearly everything that money both can and can't buy, and $400 is a sum that can do a lot for people who need it far more than I do.

I was thinking, I will be out of school in a year. Up till now my parents have paid for everything, but then I will be living on the money that I make. If I decide not to go to law school or medical school and try to find my way in the arts instead, I might not have much money for a long time. Maybe I wouldn't have a car or computer with Internet connection, I probably couldn't afford Clinique lotion, and definitely not a dress like this. And part of me was excited to try to make do with whatever I had, but another part throbbed with the knowledge that I do enjoy the perks of having money and that I would want more.

How can I want for my hands and my home to be open always, but filled too with the most beautiful and shining things? To give everything that I have, but to have it for long enough to sample too: to keep a low stock and a high flow. I want to see the ballet and travel the world and watch the Olympics. To afford pretty clothes and nice presents and throw huge dim sum parties. And I want to share the extravagance with as many people as I possibly can, but oh - is that wrong? Is my heart too drawn to this world? How do you balance a love for everything beautiful and human with all that is suffering and human?

Maybe it's like the time we went to San Francisco for a Model UN conference. After committee finished on Saturday, Przemek and I went for a walk in the city. We passed by people on the streets rushing somewhere, going somewhere, or without anyplace to go; tall buildings with their offices and stores and the golden chamber where the SF Symphony Orchestra plays at night. We bought cookies for a man slumped against a wall and took a homeless man named Chester to coffee where he regaled us with stories from his life, and afterwards we all went dancing at a club on the waterfront. It felt like a dream. I was really happy, the happiest I'd been in a long time, and somehow with all that was poor and sad it didn't seem a contradiction to be so lavish with joy.

- esther-emmanuel