Author Louise Jacobs creates characters from a milieu she’s familiar with, and writes about how money, lots of it, can create spiritually impoverished people numbed to the passion, caring and contribution that make life rich and beautiful.
Marie is 12. She has dark blonde hair, a snub nose and pouty lips. Her lawyer father works for White & Case, the international law firm. Her mother is a stay-at-home "youth professional" who wears tight blouses and pearls, and is hooked on Botox. Marie also has a sweet, pretty, blonde, younger sister, Julie, and a dog she adores.
Her room, which is entirely pink, has a canopy bed and Barbie dolls. Marie wears spangles in her hair, lots of rings on long slim fingers with bitten nails. At the private international school she attends, she hands out little notes to friends that read: "Make a wish. I'll bring it to you tomorrow."
She lacks for nothing. She knows this, but at the same time she doesn't know it: she doesn't know anything else. Mainly, she's bored. Neglected in the midst of plenty, a walking rich kid cliché. But it's a very real cliché, in Switzerland, where Marie lives, in Europe, and around the world.
Several years later. Marie is now in high school. Her room has been completely redone. She goes nowhere without her make-up, cell phone, handbag and stilettos. She wears the right jeans and a lot of jewelry. And she goes out a lot -- her parents pay. They're also paying for music lessons, riding lessons, tennis lessons and a private English tutor.
Although Marie is a minor, if she wants to go clubbing, she'll get in, right away, without having to show ID. Standing in line is so shit. She spends a lot of money -- and every club owner knows it. So they seat her in the VIP area, with her rich kid friends. Marie only knows two guys whose parents have more money than hers. Except for the fact that they get driven to school in a Bentley instead of a Maserati, their life style is exactly the same as Marie's.
At restaurants, Marie and her friends can make a real mess, dancing on the table if they've drunk too much champagne – they buy magnums, or rather Marie does: she always pays, with her father's credit card. In one place, Marie spots a waiter wearing a L.O.G.G. (Label Of Graded Goods) T-shirt. "Shirt from H & M," she sing-songs as the man moves away from the table. Her friends pipe up in chorus: "Leider. Ohne. Geld. Geboren" (meaning: sadly born without money). They take pictures. Marie poses. She could be a model if she wanted to.
The next morning, Marie can't remember how she got home. There's nobody in the kitchen; the whole house is still, except for the distant sound of the maid vacuuming. Marie helps herself to some stuff in the kitchen, then goes out to lie by the pool. Her dog is deep asleep in the sun, his sinewy legs twitching as he dreams.
It's hot. Sweating, Marie gets a whiff of the perfume she had on the night before. She starts biting her fingernails. Her cell phone vibrates, and she reads the text from her mother: "At hairdresser till noon then lunch at A's. Do you have a dress for tonight? Mom."
Before getting back to her mother, Marie checks out the pictures from last night. She'll post them on Facebook so everybody can see what a wild night they had. She smiles, and texts her mother: "Coming to A's."
Her mother is sitting at the corner table. Was that a hair or a Botox appointment, Marie wonders, and decides: both. Her mother has already ordered fish soup, and is picking at it with a fork, taking things out and setting them on the rim of the soup bowl. Always pretending to be eating -- and always on Marie's case about eating. "Don't you want anything?" her mother asks.
Marie knows the staff in this restaurant by name. Poor a-holes, none of them could begin to afford even just her handbag. "Where's Dad?" she asks. "On a trip. But he'll be back for tonight."
Marie spends the rest of the day with her iPad and some friends, at Starbucks. She shows them the new bag she got at Chanel, and a shawly kind of a thing from Hermès. They talk about last night. And tomorrow. Who's got enough dough to buy grass and coke? Marie does. Love you, Marie. Kissies.
Now its parents' evening at school. Both Marie's parents are there, talking to the principal. Marie‘s father donated the money to build a new gym. He takes his daughter's education seriously, especially now that she's about to graduate. Nobody knows about the booze and drugs.
Later, at home, her Dad calls her into his study. He's sitting in his leather chair at his imposing wood desk with the huge lamp on it. A portrait of Marie's grandmother in an ornate frame hangs on the wall behind him.
"How's it going at school?"
"Do you have a lot of friends?"
"A lot, yeah."
"The principal says you need to put in some more effort if you want to graduate with honors."
"You want to go to college, don't you?"
"Your sister's learning Chinese, would that interest you?"
Marie shrugs. Her father's tone gets a little harder.
"There are thousands and thousands of people out there who want to be somebody, Marie. The world is a tough place. We want all the doors to be open for you. A lot of people are going to Asia now."
"I thought I'd do hotel school."
Hotel school. Her father is dumbstruck. He was seeing China, Harvard, Yale, the Sorbonne, McKinsey.
But all he says is: "Your mother and I will be very disappointed if you don't do well at school."
"That's my girl!"
Actually, Marie doesn't really know what she wants to do when she graduates from high school. Nobody in her class does. She could see herself as a model. Her mother would like that. Her father wants her to study law. She could see herself going to college, meeting some guy with a great car and a lot of money; they could go hang out in Ibiza. But she can't think of anything else she wants to do, except drinking and having fun. All a model needs is to be able to speak English.
Marie is in college when her parents get divorced. Her mother moves in with a younger guy, and for tax reasons her father spends six months out of the country every year. She meets a Polish investment banker, quits college, and moves into his beautiful house by the lake. But he's never there, and she's bored. She leaves him, and goes to London to get her BA. She ends up in real estate, running from one viewing to another. Her job gives her the feeling she's doing something useful. After work she goes to yoga class -- all that breathing feels good. She'll find the right guy soon. And they'll have children.
Read the original article in German
Photo - antwerpenR