Ella was born rich — if you consider a revocable living trust an exploitable financial asset — into a family of a self-made lawyer father, who was rumored to be a Midwestern consigliere for the East Coast mafia, and a mother who bred racing horses in the backyard of their remote, and expansive, farm. Her mediating older brother was a template of his harsh father. Ella was a meek mimeo of her mother.
All her life, Ella lived for meeting the expectations of other people. She found grand success in cultivating proper friendships and in curated schooling. She was the “little sister” who stepped into the shadow of her bigger brother and who tried to make her own gratuitous light in an irrevocable vacuum.
In the task of finding herself, Ella travelled the world. She lived abroad. She studied Art and listened to music. She dated many men. A lesser woman would have been called gutter street names for similar behavior, but because Ella’s class told, she was viewed by her peers as a free spirit. Even though she had no bitter talents, she was able to partake in the joy of an aesthetic by being a patron of the Arts.
When it was time for her to settle down, Ella’s family recalled her home and threatened to cut off the pipeline for her patronage unless she got married and continued the young bloodline of bootstrap entrepreneurialism that had become her birthright duty.
Ella succumbed to the reckoning of her bank account and her brother found her a proper, old family money, banker who would take care of her every need and whistle with a trust fund for her and for each live birth she bore into the world. The part of the bargain that was never expressed, but was understood, was that Ella would not be loved by anything or anyone. Passion played no role in the life of a prisoner wife but she would want for nothing of material substance.
As her veil was lifted, she bowed her head and said, “I do.”
Ella was married in the highest fashion with the lowest regard and, over the next decade, she bore seven children — each of them guaranteeing her a larger part of the decaying old money — but there was something odd stirring in Ella that left her sleepless at night and lossy during the day.
She was owned by everyone around her, her family, her husband, his family, and now her suffocating brood — indirectly raised by a large range of gangly au pairs — and she had no claim on her own life, or on the promise of her carefully crafted diplomatic intellect, or in her incredible sense of self-sown style that managed to pass for social grace.
As Ella aged, she couldn’t really put her finger on precisely when she lost control of her life — probably, she reasoned, in the gasp of her first breath — but there were two things she indelibly knew as she watched the world spinning around her without her in the shriveling blossom of the dimming day: First, in her husband, she had married her brother’s cruel template, and second, in her children, she saw her mother’s reflection in the light leaving their eyes.