Riches never replaced the sadness in her life.

 

Photograph: J Gerald Crawford
Photograph: J Gerald Crawford

INTO THE SAVINGS DEPARTMENT of a major bank entered a pretty twenty year old girl.

Her smooth tan complexion, dark brown hair, and  her sparkling white teeth made her strikingly beautiful.  Her shoulders were broad, and she was a little on the heavy side.  Everyday she wore the same thigh length sweater  to hide her shape. Her smile was contagious.  She instantly grabbed the hearts of all the other employees with her sweet personality and her mischievous spirit. The twinkle in her eye usually told us that a prank was planned. One morning, our supervisor told us that Victoria had gone on a trip with her parents and that she would return in a couple of months. When I saw her again, she was very slim.

Holding my six weeks old daughter in our home, she sobbed, “I gave birth to a little girl six months ago.” Just as the sweater had concealed her pregnancy, she had well disguised her emotional distress from her coworkers.

  Her story paraphrased:

    Soon after I came to work at the bank, I found out I was pregnant.  When I told, Todd, my boyfriend of four years, he was profoundly ambivalent about marriage. I couldn’t imagine life without him. I still had to face my parents who had been out of the country for six months. When they returned and discovered that I was within a few months of delivery, I was browbeaten into believing I had shamed my family. Papa took me to a nunnery in New Orleans.  The convent’s nuns told me that I didn’t deserve to keep the baby. I was reminded every morning about the awful thing that I had done.  They pressured me to give her up for adoption. I got a brief glance of her before her cry disappeared behind a closed door. I desperately wanted to keep her and screamed  “Why do I have to give her up?” The answer was,  You are not married.  I asked to see her . The answer was a flat no.  I was forced to sign a Consent Adoption Form. There was no consent on my part. Papa was a powerful and forceful man. I felt drained and vulnerable and under immense pressure. I hope someday she will find me so I can tell her that I love her. 

    Let me give you some of my background, she continued. My parents are divorced. I lived most of my life with Papa and my step-mother, Priscilla. We were considered an aristocratic family.  Although my parents were in the house, I was raised by a  nanny  who was an efficient, affectionate caregiver during my entire childhood. The message they gave me was that I was not the center of their lives. I wanted them to cherish me, but their life style shunned me.  Emphasis was on my accomplishments . They fervently told me to enjoy the same gratification that they were fortunate to receive from their own rich educational experiences and professional careers. I attended a prestigious boarding school in New England. I felt that I wasn’t wanted at home. I was not allowed to hang anything on the wall in my room, lie across the bed listening to music or read. I couldn’t have a stuffed animal on my bed.  The house had to be perfect for society to see.

    When I reached the age of maturity, I was introduced to society at a formal Debutante Ball presentation.  That meant that I was eligible to marry. Part of the purpose was to display me to eligible bachelors and their families with a view to marry within a select upper class circle. Todd was included in that elite society.  He met my father’s social stratification. I made a grand entrance  wearing a fancy white formal gown and was escorted by Papa.  I loved him dearly then, as I still do to this day. He looked so handsome in his tuxedo. Yes, he forced me to give up my child, but I still admire him. She proudly claimed to be an atheist—- just like Papa. I read her my testimony. Her response: “ You don’t really believe all that, do you?  I don’t have the evidence to prove that God doesn’t exist, but I strongly suspect that he doesn’t. I don’t believe there is an invisible man living in the sky who watches everything I do. I don’t believe there is a heaven or a hell.” 

***

Faye Crawford
Faye Crawford

Victoria eventually married a bank employee. Her husband was a good business  man, ambitious and smart , but he was not born to an influential family. Although they bought a nice house , it was not the biggest, they  did not have  the fastest car, or coolest clothes. Her father did not accept him. They were in love and happy for eighteen years. This union produced one child, a boy. The marriage ended in divorce.

Victoria reapplied at the bank, worked in retail, in an insurance office, but with no college degree she couldn’t find a job that paid enough to support her and her son. He went back to live with his dad until he finished high school. Now, a second child was gone. She was utterly broke with no chance of making money. She struggled to live. She stole rolls of toilet paper and bars of soap from public restrooms. She smoked cigarettes found in gutters . Finally, she was employed  as a bartender where she picked up men to help her pay the rent and buy her a meal. She lived in humbling circumstances in a very small, run-down, rat infested two room apartment within a huge house on the worse side of town.

On the wall hung pictures of her dancing with her father at the “Coming Out Ball.”With no responsibilities, no material goals, no one to disappoint, she mourned what she never had…her father.  She had chosen a different path. She had not stayed within her parents’ social realm.  She had discarded her social position. She could not go back to Papa. He was completely absent from her life. She had fallen below the monarch of social hierarchy.  He disowned her. She took refuge in nicotine , drink, drugs, and men.

Victoria once told me: “To the outside world, I had it all.People say that I should have been happy with privilege , glitter , and show. I wanted to escape from that stifling life. I  ran away , and no one went after me.  All I wanted was love and nearness of family. All I ever wanted was simple and inexpensive luxury.”

When Priscilla died, I took Victoria to the house that she had forsaken. The six thousand square foot house was surrounded by acreage of thick foliage and was completely secluded from the rest of the world.  In my eyes, it was a mansion.  We were cordially  greeted by an armed guard at the gate of a ten foot  brick wall, but the  two housekeepers  who answered the door hesitated to let us enter.  With them closely watching our every move, Victoria  gave me a tour because she desired to see the house, again.  As we rode the elevator to the third floor, she told me that her father had been diabetic and  lost his legs before he died .  She said, “ He was  prisoner in his own house.   His wheelchair and this elevator was the only way he could move around for the last year of his life.” She further explained that the family had moved into that house when she was nineteen.

I was given a brass coat hanger from the chauffeurs closet, and a basket from the kitchen.  Victoria found a drawing of a fat stick person with an arrow pointing to it and her name beside it. She laughed and said, “Look, Pricilla drew a picture of me.”

She had not been included as a survivor in either obituary. She was not mentioned in her parents’ wills. Her  siblings asked her what she had expected to inherit. Her answer: “ I expected nothing.  He could not leave me something he never possessed which was love and time for me. I was desperate for his love. I wish we could have reconciled . I wish the end could have been different. I wish he had realized how much I loved him.”

Ten years after the divorce,Victoria  remarried and moved to Vermont.  She called me collect to tell me that she had thrived in the face of all life’s hazards.  That was the last time we talked. She died in 2000. The cause of her death is unknown to me.  She didn’t hear from her little girl, and she never accepted losing her. Her love for her father never withered.  I hope she heard the voice from the invisible man in the sky, Creator of Heaven and Earth , and accepted his offer.

Now, it is fourteen years since her death. According to an article that I read online, her father  owned the world’s leading environmental restoration firm and was America’s largest provider of scaffolding and maintenance. With operations in North and South America, Europe, and the Pacific Rim,he employed 23,000.   The residence where Victoria grew up is a 17,000 square-foot five-bedroom, nine full baths, four half baths, three hole golf course, spa, playground, hiking on the property, exercise and  music rooms, five fireplaces, butler pantry, security cameras and an elevator. It was designed over many years by a her father, a mechanical engineer  and constructed in 1966  for about $1.6 million and was, at the time, the largest private residence in the state.

We were close friends for thirty years, and I had no idea of the magnitude of wealth in her background. She did not glorify wealth because it was a barrier to her family connection.

My poor little rich friend was the saddest person I have ever known.

 

, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

  • Caleb Pirtle

    Great story, Faye. We look at people who seem to be happy but aren’t, and we never know the trials and tribulations they are dealing with in their lives. It often seems that beyond every smile is a tear waiting to fall.

Related Posts