by Bethany Ball
Since I took my first New York City job nearly fifteen years ago, I have always been on the wrong side of financial history. My first job was in publishing house twenty-five years old, making twenty two thousand dollars a year. This was at the time when an enterprising college grad could make one hundred and fifty thousand at a nebulous place called Anderson Consulting. Still it was a lot of money to me at the time. I’d just arrived to New York from Santa Fe where I’d been living off about half that. Plus, in New York, I got health insurance. It wasn’t that it was such a small salary; it was just that my income wasn’t subsidized. No fiancé, no wealthy boyfriend slipping me thousand dollar checks, no parents helping me out. I was on my own. After I’d moved to another company for the princely sum of twenty six thousand, I was once again on the wrong side of things: a majority of the other companies agreed to pay their employees no lower than thirty thousand. All the other companies, that is, except mine.
Even once I found my way to the dot-com world, which bumped my salary up considerably (my managing editor laughed when I told her how much I stood to make once I left her company, “You’ll make that in ten years, here.”) I found out that one of my co-workers, younger than me and with less experience had negotiated a much larger salary then I had. She clearly knew what was what. What had seemed like so much money to me was nothing compared to what my co-workers brought home. Money was flush in those dot-com years. It was the Sex and the City years of ten-dollar Cosmos and four hundred dollar Manolo Blahniks. But I didn’t know that. I couldn’t afford cable.
And then I got married. “It’s just as easy to love a rich man as a poor man,” my mother had told me, as everyone’s mother does. And my husband was rich. At least, he was rich to me. When we went out to dinner, he picked up the check. For the first time in my adult life I discovered the appetizer menu. We’d married right away so that he could stay in the States and now there was always money in my bank account. No more scrounging around in the floor of my closets for subway money. Things were going well. After a move to Miami and back, we got a sweet deal on the top floor of a friend’s townhouse in the West Village. Our friend rented it to us for almost half its market value. This was after my son was born and I spent every good weather day avoiding the Sex and the City tour bus lines and peering into Marc Jacobs’ window on Bleecker as I made my way to Magnolia Bakery before crossing the street to the park. I loved my sun-filled apartment, and pushing my son in his MacLaren all around the city.