When I was 11, I developed an alternate persona. I didn’t know what a persona was; I think I just called it ‘pretending.’ My best friend Jenny and I used to hang out in an old apple tree in the field between our apartment complex and the grocery store loading dock. One day, we were talking about what it would be like to be rich, and that’s when Veronica Vanderbilt was born.
Jenny was the middle child of a single mom. Her mom was awesome because she would rent us slasher films from the video store. We used to go down there and read the backs of every single VHS movie in the horror section, pick one we hadn’t seen, and then go ask if she would get it for us. Then I would sleep over and we would stay up late scaring ourselves silly. I think the only non-horror flick we saw was Purple Rain, which was a little over my head, but suitable for 13-year-old Jenny. She also taught me how to fold up a Totino’s Party Crust frozen pizza and eat it like a taco, so you didn’t have to slice it first. I read Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret on her bedroom floor. One night, we stretched out on the hood of a car and looked at the constellations and talked about whether there was life on other planets.
Come to think of it, why don’t I have a friend like this now? I’m accepting applications. We can even watch Purple Rain again if you want.
Nobody who lived at Bret Manor was born with a silver spoon, if you know what I mean. You moved in there because you couldn’t afford anything else. I’m pretty sure it had the lowest rent in the county, or maybe second-lowest. A family across the street died of carbon monoxide poisoning because they were trying to heat the place with a hibachi grill. Just throwing that out there. Everyone we knew was broke, and so was everyone they knew. We got our ideas about wealth from TV, particularly Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous. You won’t believe this, but until I was about 8, I thought cars like Ferraris and Corvettes were fake movie props. My mom’s coworker at Round Table was saving up to buy a Trans Am, and I thought that was pretty stupid because they didn’t even exist! I was skeptical about sports cars but I took events like stabbings and carbon monoxide suffocations as a matter of course. That’s poverty for ya.
The attractions of being rich were pretty obvious. You could do whatever you wanted, go wherever you wanted, and buy whatever you wanted. If you wanted some candy, you just got some. You had a nice house and you lived in a nice neighborhood.
I decided that if I just told people I was Veronica Vanderbilt and that I was rich, they would have to believe me. I convinced Jenny that we could “drive” our “convertibles” down to the IGA and try it out on the checkers. We climbed down from the tree and “drove” around the field to go get ourselves some bulk candy. (Probably root beer barrels). I tossed my hair a lot. “My name is… aVeronicaaa aVaaaanderbilt,” I drawled, baffling the store clerk completely. I had great hair, great clothes, and a cherry-red convertible. The fantasy stopped there. I didn’t really know what else to wish for, especially after I had the candy.
I don’t really want the cherry-red convertible. As it turns out, driving sucks. Veronica Vanderbilt probably lives down the road a ways, in Hollywood, and she’s probably with her stylist and her agent working on her personal branding right now. Jenny got pregnant at 16, bleached her hair, and dropped out of school. I don’t know what happened to her after that. As for me, I live in the suburbs, and I can watch horror films on demand and eat frozen pizza any time I want. I sometimes do. I don’t really know what else to wish for.
I've been working with chronic disorganization, squalor, and hoarding for over 20 years. I'm also a marathon runner who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and thyroid disease 17 years ago.