When I Was a Rich Girl

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When I was a rich girl, and fur coats were a little more fur and a little less coat, I used to live in a luxurious apartment right in the center of St. Petersburg. For what was then a giant flat, it had a living room, two bedrooms and a gym. My mother managed to install a sauna into our bathroom, right in front of the backdoor exit nobody was supposed to know about. It was necessary back then for when my stepfather had issues with his "business associates". The hidden exit is rendered useless, however, when someone of atrocious intent knows about it. In that case, you'd better stay put.

My stepdad's "entrepreneurship" had unfortunately lead us to being stuck between the exits more than once, unable to leave the house even to see our friends or buy groceries (food was delivered and left on the spot). I was pulled out of my prestigious school time and again, and, when possible, taught English, Russian and Math by an elderly tutor I had back then. I remember him as a gentle man, with a generous smile and an endless supply of sweater vests. During the lazy winter afternoons, I would halfheartedly listen to him speak, while devouring some Russian version of junk food. Nobody bothered about my terrible manners back then.

The months I spent out of school I was blissfully unaware of all that was happening around me. When my mother's car was shot at, it must have been by some neophyte aficionados, as I don't think anyone was killed in that shootout. Just your average 90s. Much later, I tried to gather more information about that personal course of history that I remember bits and pieces of, but apparently gang run-ins were rather popular in that day and age in Russia. However, the closest most of us came in contact with that kind of thing wasn't usually that close. Still, I'm remembering a friend of mine who tried and failed not to brag about a mix-up in his apartment building fifteen years ago, when somebody got shot in the face in what was (we speculate) a gang-like run in. Whoever that was had apparently survived the shooting, but the kids from the block wouldn't stop talking about it for weeks to come, because they had high hopes that their building would make the news and be shown on TV. Maybe it did.

When I was a rich girl, and the stars shined a little brighter for me, the fall of the empire was not abrupt, as it often happens. It was slow and ungraceful, like an overweight ice skater tumbling down toward the icy surface. But there was an empire, and there almost was a kingdom—with all the mayhem and backstabbing that comes with the title. And now?.. Now I'm not that girl anymore. I have no kingdom, nor a prison. I do my own apartment hunting, look closely at the price tags, and my Prada baroque sunglasses are not all the way Prada. But, unlike that rich girl who used to be me, I'm free to do as I please, to go where I want and see who I want, and be the person I feel like being. And, most of the time, that's pretty fucking good.

A.