One of the problems that exacerbated my naïveté was my dad’s panicky behavior around discussing money. As soon as the very word slipped past any of our lips, it was hammered into oblivion: “We don’t talk about money! It’s nobody’s business!” So, we just zipped our lips. And our minds.
After I had walked the stage and received my high school diploma, I went home and crashed. More than tired — I felt as if some demon had sucked all the life out of me. I awoke next morning frozen to my bed. I could move, but the effort it took was as if I was single-handedly lifting the Empire State Building. Not gonna happen.
Somehow my mother convinced our family doctor to come over and do a house call. After examining me, he looked at my ma and announced, “Mononucleosis, Mrs. B., bed rest for the summer.”
If you were a teen in the 60s, you might recall that Mono was also called ‘the Kissing Disease.’ I had no idea how I got it, never having been on a date, much less kiss anyone. Yet, I got to feel shamed for having this malady, despite my innocence.
That didn’t last long, though — I was so exhausted I was past caring a whit. I was brainless, drained of all energy and strength. I lay in bed for a full month and a half, limp as an old dish rag and void of all thought — or even a nanoparticle of desire to think or do a thing.
Even so, I was still aware of time wasting away. It felt like dozens of decades, not just 6 dreary weeks.
And then, one sunny morning I woke up just fine.
We were told that mono usually had a gradual, long recovery. Nope. One day I was effectively wrung out and dead to the world, the next I was up, energized and ready to rule.
I took some guitar lessons. I walked down to the beach and back as often as I could, to get my strength back. I swam. I weeded the garden for my ma. I read a million books.
I snuck out of the house one night with a boy I’d known in school. Got caught and scolded up one side and down the other.
Snuck out again and learned that kissing wasn’t just simply pressing lips together, it involved tongues and heat in my belly and nether parts. MM-mmm-mmm. This was fun.
Snuck out again, jumped in new boy-friend’s boat, sped down the harbor in the dark to a friend’s party. Her parents called mine, who came all the way to her house to get me.
No scolding this time, just sighs of disappointment in me. That got me. Scolding, raised voices, I could take that. But the long, silent, hang-dog looks, the sighing, I couldn’t bear. As I stood there in front of them, my dad was even crying, asking my mother, “…where did we go wrong…” Guilt-to-the-max.
Thing is, they didn’t do anything wrong! They just wanted to keep me safe safe safe. And I was just a curious kid who wanted out out out.
An unexpected twist popped up about a week after I got up, when I discovered that, unknown to me, my mother had sent the John Robert Powers Modeling Agency photos of me.
They had pounced, gushing about what a great model I’d make. Which, of course, is what they tell all parents, but mine were as ignorant as I was about the whole modeling industry.
So during the last few weeks of that summer, I commuted into NYC with my dad every day to attend classes.
I was taught how to sit down without looking like an old sad sack being heavily plopped down gracelessly.
I learned how to sit with my back straight, all the while avoiding looking like I had a ramrod up my butt; how to place my legs and feet so I could get up smoothly; and how to walk away like an elegant model.
I learned how to turn at the end of a runway without tripping over my own feet and landing on my butt; how to enter and exit a room artfully.
I learned how to converse with men, how to chat with women; how to wear my clothes — and which ones were the right ones to wear for my figure, the right makeup for my skin and face….
I was surprised to get all high marks. Truthfully, I really wasn’t thrilled with the whole endeavor, but it got me out of the house, free time in NYC until I took the train back in the evening with my dad, and some fun new friends.
At the end, though, I was a fail: I refused to cut my long, silky, honey-blond hair. They wouldn’t graduate me without allowing them to style it.
Once again, acting out got me thrown out.
I wish my folks were alive today, only if for a moment — they did so much for me, and were so much more supportive than I ever realized.
What did I do?
Took it all for granted.
Didn’t think one second about what they did for me.
They were so concerned about my future, they sent me to private school to get the best education possible.
The first year I did so badly I got left behind and got to churn through sophomore year for a second time.
The third year, inexplicably, the school let me skip, and reinserted me right into my original class, now the seniors. I got kicked out for smoking near the end of the year — although they allowed me to graduate. So odd.
They sent me to Powers. I failed.
They sent me to Parsons, my dream school, paying for my apartment, food, classes, art supplies, train tickets in and out of NYC.
And what did I do? I ran away to elope with stupid Chris.
When I called my parents to come to our wedding on the beach, they made us come back. But … they paid for a huge, lavish do, gifts, dresses, the wedding — the works.
And when I became disgusted with Chris because of his other girl friends and the mountains of drugs he was snorting, my parents paid for me to go live in San Francisco with my aunt.
I shudder when I write this. My kids’ dad used to call me a New York bitch.
You know what? He was right. I was so spoiled I bet I could have made 10-day old fish left out in the sun smell delicious. So arrogant. Picture me cringing.
Then again, life is a participatory adventure.
I see now that one of the problems that exacerbated my naïveté was my dad’s panicky behavior around discussing money.
As soon as the very word slipped past any of our lips, it was hammered into oblivion: “We don’t talk about money! It’s nobody’s business!”
So, we just zipped our lips. And our minds.
This is why, at the age of 19, wearing my pretty little yellow sun dress, I found myself growing beet-red with shame and embarrassment as I stood in front of the handsome, grey-silk-tie and swanky suited bank manager’s desk at the grand main branch of the Chase Manhattan Bank in New York City, asking for ‘a book of checks, please.’ He had beautiful hands, with long slender, well-manicured fingers.
“What kind of account do you have, miss?” he asked, as he pulled open his desk drawer, looking at me, waiting for my calm, collected, educated answer. A normal question, one would assume.
Uh-oh. A what? I felt every drop of my blood rush to flood and flush my chest, my neck, my ears, my cheeks…
“Account?” I murmured. My gaze fell to the floor. The beautiful dark brown swirly marble looked like it would be hard on my head if I fainted then and there…
“Yes,” he continued, drawing out the word slowly, as if I was a little slow. Which, of course, I was.
“Do you have a personal checking account, or some kind of a business account?” He sat forward, expectantly. He clasped his hands together, knuckles gradually turning white. He was beginning to look annoyed.
“Erm, I have no account here … can’t I just … um … get … um … some checks?” My belly lurched upside down and back. Now I wished the floor really would just swallow me, starting five minutes ago, oozily sucking me down.
He sat back. His lovely long-fingered hands lightly smacked the arms on his chair. His smirk poisoning his good looks.
I did a pirouette that would have made Nureyev proud, and lightly skipped out of the bank. Past the tellers, the guard, the customers…
No, in truth — I stumbled like a sick clown out the doors and sprinted down the street to the nearby park, found a bench, slumped down and lost it completely.
I spent a good half hour sobbing in shame and mortification, feeling sooooo sorry for myself.
Then it occurred to me — hey, wait a minute! How come I didn’t know any of the things I needed to know in order to function in the world of money?
I suddenly felt enraged — why didn’t my parents discuss money with me?
I could have been spared that whole scene.
I could have gone into that bank with my allowance, set up an account, gotten checks, and been a smooth, happy camper.
That bank manager probably still tells that story to his kids — “You know the day I told you about when that stupid girl came in who thought all she needed was a book of checks so she could cash them and get money?” I could picture them all sitting around, having a good chuckle-ha-ha about it.
I’ll never forget, as long as I live, feeling like I wanted to just slip through the cracks, dive into a hole, do anything to disappear that day in front of that man.
I had no idea about money. The sheer power of it, how to use it, how to take care of it, or even what it took to get it.
to be continued in Part II
Thanks so much for reading my story. I hope it lit you up. Or maybe it inspired you, or made you curious, or gave you a new perspective with which to view and appreciate your own life. Or maybe take on a new exciting scary fun adventure! That’s my wish.
The PAINFUL WAY I LEARNED ABOUT MONEY, Part I
text and image © Angela Treat Lyon 2021–2
This is an enhanced version of a story from my book, INSIDE SECRETS, Stories I’ve Never Told Anyone, Volume III. Illustrated with my artwork.
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The images in Volume III are all from original pen and ink drawings done in Japanese Sumi ink on heavy watercolor paper. If you’d like a print of this image, please contact me.
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