“It’s only 98?”

23 Oct

Those three words — spoken in the West Village by a girl I barely knew — will echo in my head forever, my first New York lesson in pride and humility.

Krista* and I met by way of an e-mail introduction, a result of one of those good-natured “I have a coworker your age; you would love her!” things a family friend had orchestrated. A week after Krista sent me a long, helpful e-mail about her favorite city hot spots, she invited me to brunch.

She chose the restaurant at Clinton and Houston, and my stomach sank at seeing the cheapest item on the menu was $18. I became feverish and uneasy. “Is this place ok?” Krista asked. I fibbed and said yes as voices in my head had a go at me.

“You don’t belong here. You know you can’t afford this. You have no business being here.”

After the meal, I somehow agreed to go shopping with her. We were four pricy boutiques, two sundresses and two pairs of $150 shoes into the excursion when she came upon a necklace: “It’s only 98?” she said to the saleswoman. No “98 dollars.” Just “98.” “Only” 98.

How unthinkable it seemed that she had 100 extra dollars to spend…on a necklace! I didn’t feel judgmental, just embarrassed.  I now realize a $98 piece of jewelry is not all that extravagant, but for someone who, that day, was new to the city unemployed and panicking about rent, I felt I was out of place in a world I would never belong to.

Krista asked why I wasn’t buying anything. “Oh,” I said sheepishly. “I can’t really afford to shop right now.” I welled up beneath my sunglasses, feeling about thisbig.

“God,” she said. “This must be killing you!” She didn’t mean it the way it sounded.

Krista didn’t buy the necklace, and I cried on my subway ride home. She had no idea about the cash-strapped world I lived in, and I believe she meant no harm. She merely made an assumption, and I’m sure most people in her world wouldn’t flinch at a $98 necklace, ever.

“You won’t always be poor,” my dad said to me as I teared up again on the phone, wishing I’d been more good-humored about my financial woes instead of shameful. Two years later, if I could have reasoned with myself on that day, I’d have said: “Hey, look. Things are tight right now, but don’t forget you’re doing this all on your own. That independence is something to celebrate, even if it feels like crap right now.”

So take heart, new New Yorkers. You won’t always be poor.

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2 Responses to ““It’s only 98?””

  1. Brittany Landgrebe 07/23 at 11:55 am #

    That would so be me. I have always wanted to move to New York, and my husband has always wanted to move out of sweltering Texas.

    We are in debt, however – about $8,000, half of which goes to my parents. I get teary from thinking about that, because it feels as if my NYC dream will never come true.

    I’m hoping that when (not if) we do get to NYC, you would be a great friend.

  2. Jesse 08/10 at 12:42 pm #

    Your posts are so relevant to the daily struggles that I expect to endure. I’ll be moving to New York City on August 30th to attend NYU, and you have helped infinitesimally. Thank you.

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