At first it was a mixture of disbelief, joy and relief. I thought I’d faint on the spot. Then the person behind me would step over my body and make a quick withdrawal while my card was still in the ATM. Or they’d murder me if they saw the number and grab as much as they could. Or, better, they’d abduct me and slowly withdraw it all over time.
Time and money go together well.
There was now more than $17,000,000 in my account.
The man standing behind me peaked over my shoulder and, wondering what was taking so long, said, “Must be nice.” No beating, murder or abducting.
My mind was awash in questions. Had some distant family member died and left me an inheritance? Was I the subject of some Dickensian plot, a mysterious benefactor like in that horrible novel they force upon us in school? Did someone mistakenly wire me this obscene amount intending to send it to someone else but inputting the incorrect bank information? All I could rule out immediately was winning the lottery—can’t win if you don’t play. The impossibilities are endless.
But what would all this money do for me?
Problems would disappear. Or so I thought. I had some debt. Most people do or, if they’re lucky, did. If you want to get ahead, it first seems like you have to bury yourself. Kneel in front of your own grave, so to speak. $100,000 or 200,000 in school loans now, at this moment, looked like a drop of water in the bathtub—the bathtub made of gold I’d surely have installed. If I’d taken that much from a bookie (would a bookie even lend such a large amount?) surely I’d be killed. I imagined men in suits—from one of the private loan companies or banks—stereotypically showing up to break my legs. They surely weren’t going to get that money back any other way. Death and money often go hand in hand. My car was beginning to demand attention. Each morning, at 5:30, it squeals and squeals as the starter belt struggles to get it going. I have to sit there while it wakes the neighbors up. If I drive away too soon, it squeals even louder. I secretly wished that it was so bad that one of them would just pay to have it fixed for me. The car needed an oil change, new windshield wipers and washer fluid. The antifreeze was probably low. A spark plug would likely give in any day now. Who knows what else was wrong with it. These, of course, are concrete problems that money can fix. Would it suddenly fix the strained relationship between me and my parents (who cosigned those massive loans) only for me to end up studying philosophy and working at the same job since high school? Alice—Lewis Carroll’s Alice (can that name refer to any other?)—said that she sometimes believed in as many as six impossible things before breakfast. The six seem more likely.
Life would be easy. Or so I thought. I would go to an island somewhere—anywhere far away really, maybe a place where I could hide my money. I knew that was something rich people did. But how? At this point in time I still work in a pet store, not the actual store part of it, but the hotel part. A pet hotel. Each day people come in and leave their beloved pets with us while they head off to work or go on vacation. Cats and dogs only—it is much more stressful for cats, who most of the time do not enjoy interacting with strangers, let alone being stuck in a tiny cage next to other unfamiliar cats. This is unpleasant for us as we are often scratched in the line of duty. Dogs have a much easier time. They have a little day camp where they can run and play with the others which usually devolves into humping, while little children stare with their greasy palms pressed against the large plate glass window. Humping is not allowed. The manager will bang bang bang on the door and we are expected to separate the animals. Nature interrupted. This is also unpleasant for us as we are often bitten in the line of duty. Not to mention mopping piss and scooping shit for eight hours for a pittance, laughing in the face of debt.
I could find something with meaning, a career with some moral worth, maybe some dignity. Whether meaning was found or created, I still am not sure (does it have to be one or the other?). Dignity, though, was something that all people had—or so it was said—and could only be taken if a person let it be. Hundreds of thousands of dollars in school debt had not provided me with any kind of clear answers to these problems.
Maybe I would donate some money. Probably not, but maybe.
People would respect me. Or so I thought. Money is not just an object. It is a mentality, a way of life, one I thought I’d adjust to easily. Money taught me a lot of things, about how I thought and sometimes still think (can it be helped?). I expected family members to come crawling out of the cracks looking for a piece. They’d whine about prescription prices and medical bills, car maintenance and rent and I’d tell them that there’s a position open at the pet store. The position doesn’t come with medical coverage or anything but maybe being surrounded by animals would help. It didn’t help me, but everyone’s different. Not only family members would pop up though. I’d surely start receiving emails and offers from all sorts of people eager to manage these funds, in exchange for a piece, of course. They’d have to compete with each other for my money, to put themselves into a lower position than I felt I was in. I’d have two lawyers step into a boxing ring or wealth managers compete in an all-you-can-eat hotdog eating contest. The possibilities were endless.
At this point, the man behind me tapped me on the shoulder and I thought oh god, it’s happening. But he said, “Come on, pal, we all got places to be.”
Everything had happened in a mad, fevered flash of possibility. I apologized to the man and the several people who’d lined up behind him, quickly withdrawing $1,000 of my new fortune and taking the little receipt with me.
Out of habit I glanced down at the paper before crumpling it and tossing it into the trash.
I pocketed the money and headed off to the nearest bar.
I was rich. Or so I thought.