The generational story of the search for love and happiness with the backdrop of interpersonal relations. Robert Miller a very successful business executive who has been living a life of great success and style while hiding his past. Now with his daughter’s well being hanging in the balance Robert Miller is finally forced to come to grips with his own human frailty as he looks back at his and his mothers past life. He takes us on a journey and finds some hereditary traits that he has passed to his daughter that make him confront a dark side which he thought was buried. Come along as this family finally deals with their own very real humanity in an afffluent and idealized life that he has built.
Chapter 1 – Affluenza
Definition of ‘Affluenza’:
A social condition arising from the desire to be more wealthy, successful or to “keep up with the Joneses”. Affluenza is symptomatic of a culture that holds up financial success as one of the highest achievements. People said to be affected by affluenza typically find that the very economic success they have been so vigorously chasing ends up leaving them feeling unfulfilled, and wishing for yet more wealth.
Robert Miller is nearly sixty years of age and has attained financial success and an affluent lifestyle that anyone would envy. He has a beautiful wife, Emily whom he has been married for twenty plus glorious years. They have two fantastic kids, a boy and a girl and live in their dream home. Robert lives in a world of affluence, one he believes that he has worked hard to earn for him and his family. A life that he deserves, in a nation that showcases both prosperity and poverty. He wonders how can we as a family handle our financial standing in a way that is just? The Miller’s live in a world where wealth reflects and dominates the heart, soul and motivations of family. The Miller family suffers from “affluenza,” a disease of the upwardly mobile that some in America have come to be inflicted with.
In Oak View, Virginia affluence has become a kind of worship when passion for material things is stronger than compassion for their fellow citizens. How this sickness takes control of people’s lives and goals is something that even Robert Miller sometimes thinks is sorrowful. Even Miller sometimes thinks that in reality possessions may capture our hearts, but they can’t feed our souls.
“So, what do you think?”
Caroline emerged from the fitting room and struck a pose in front of me. Clad in a pair of hip-hugging jeans and a silky white halter, she almost looked like a runway model about to hit the catwalk. Tall and slender, with dark curly hair and a set of piercing green eyes, she was the envy of every girl at our school.
“And remember, as my best friend it’s your honor bound duty to tell me the truth. This outfit could end up getting me a really hot guy.” I sighed wearily. The girl could walk down the street wearing a garbage bag and people would stop to worship her. It wasn’t her looks she needed to worry about. It was her deeply flawed personality. Blunt, arrogant, demanding and loud, she sent most guys running within the first few weeks. I don’t think she’d ever held a boyfriend longer than a month. Still, that obviously hadn’t dampened her spirits in her endeavour to find Mr. Right. She’d already been through half the student body. He’s gotta be close, right? “Well, in that case. Your ass looks huge in those jeans.” I watched as she spun around like a dog chasing its tail, trying to get a good look at her own ass. I cracked up laughing and thought, for all her flaws, she was the best friend a girl like me could ever have. Especially someone like me that is.
“I’m kidding. Anything you wear looks good on you. So I don’t know why I’m here. You don’t even need my opinion. Guys would chase you if you were wearing a plastic bag.” I spread out over one of the plush chairs provided for people waiting to try on clothes. We were the only two in here, the store was having a slow day. Unconvinced by my argument, Caroline turned to face the full length mirror, shifting her weight from side to side, pouting at her reflection. “You’re here because we’re celebrating and what better way is there to do that than shopping?” I looked down at my right hand, flexing it. The stitches had come out earlier that week, leaving me with a slight scar that ran in a vertical line from my wrist to the base of my fingers. The doctor told me it would fade over time. I hoped it would. It had happened after Kevin pushed me when we were having an argument and I put my arm through a window pane. “Besides, we need to get you some killer threads for school next week. We can’t have you rocking up in your usual getup. It’s so last Year. Not bothering to go back into the fitting room, she shimmied out of the jeans, revealing a pair of bright red lace panties. I handed her another pair from the mountain of prospective clothes we’d dragged in here to try on. “Yes, well I don’t want my statement to be ‘I’m a slut, come and get me!’. That may work for you, but I’m a bit more reserved.”
“Hey!” She chucked the discarded pants at me, laughing. “You know, I should totally be offended by that comment.” She pulled on the pants I’d given her. A pair of purple skinny jeans. I threw her a strapless top to match them with. “Pretty hard to be offended when it’s true.” “Yeah, well. What about you? You dumped that loser Kevin a month ago and every time I point out a cute guy you make up excuses.” She yanked off the white halter and replaced it with the black strapless. “You’re always like, “His hairs too short. He’s not tall enough. His eyes aren’t blue. He’s not tanned enough.” Girl, anyone would think you’ve got a certain guy in mind.” I froze. Oh, my god. Bad imitation of my voice aside, she was spot on. Now that I thought about it, everything she’d just said made me think of Mason. The bright blue eyes. The evenly tanned skin. The long, dark hair. Remembering him made my cheeks burn and my ears turn red. “Oh. Em. Gee!” Caroline immediately jumped on my hesitation at denying there was a certain someone. “Who is he? Do I know him?” All thoughts of shopping banished, she got right up in my face demanding answers and barely containing her excitement. I mean, it wasn’t very often her best friend was interested in someone.
“Tell me, tell me!” “Um.” A half hearted denial was on the tip of my tongue when my phone vibrated in my pocket. Checking the caller ID I saw it was another call from Kevin, the moron.
Caroline leaned over my shoulder and made a noise of disgust. “Ugh! Is that jerk calling again? I thought after a hundred rejected phone calls he would get a clue.” “Please. He wouldn‘t know a clue if it hit him over the head.” I moved my thumb over to the end call button but before I could press it Caroline snatched the phone out of my hand. “Whoa, what are you doing?” I tried to snatch it back but she held it over her head, way out of my reach. Seriously, the girl had five inches on me. So unfair. “Hitting him over the head with a clue” she said, as if it was obvious. “Caroline, no. Come on” Too late. She pressed talk and put the phone to her ear.
“Hey, EX boyfriend. Stop calling. She doesn’t want to hear your pathetic apology or your bullshit” Caroline paused while Kevin began shouting obscenities at her, demanding she put me on the phone. “Listen, ass! You don’t get to hit my girl and then act like she’s the one who wronged you. I don’t care how long ago it was! I don’t care that you think it’s old news! She has a scar thanks to you, you Asshole! Stay away from her, or I‘ll walk all up and down your sorry ass!” She hit the end button and handed me back my phone, smiling broadly. “God that felt good. And don’t think I won’t make good on that last part. If he annoys you at all, let me know. I’ll go all Kung fu on his ass!” She flung her arms up in what she thought to be a deadly pose. I burst out laughing at how ridiculous she looked. Gotta love her enthusiasm. Also gotta lover her short attention span. She’d completely forgotten our little boy talk moment. And I sure as hell wasn’t going to refresh her memory. “Come on Grass hopper, I’m starving. Hurry up so we can get out of here.”
Several hours later I let myself into the house, laden down with shopping bags. I’d asked Caroline if she wanted to stay the night but she had a family dinner to attend. Looking around the dark entryway, I sighed heavily. What a sad and lonely place with mom and dad so busy and my brother too. A deafening silence so loud it gave the house an eerie feel. It was a grand colonial style home with 4 bedrooms, 4 bathrooms and 5000 square feet of elegance. Nine foot ceilings and large pillars decorate the way. Dumping the bags in the entryway I made my way down the hall and into the expansive kitchen, which included a beautiful breakfast room. I was flipping on light switches as I went.
Message on the machine:
“Yo, it’s Kevin. Why aren’t you returning my calls? Hit me up when you get this.”
I made an ugly face at the machine and began slicing a cucumber.
“Come on, No. This is getting old. Pick up already.”
“You’re telling me,” I muttered.
And so I begrudgingly listened to the rest of the messages, all similar to the first except the very last one.
“Hey Katie, Just checking to see how things are going. Hopefully you haven’t burned the house to the ground. I should be back in a few weeks, all going well. I know school starts next Monday. Use the credit card to get whatever you need -”
“Way ahead of mom ,” I said, remembering all of the bags I’d left in the entryway.
“But don’t go crazy. Anyway, I have to go. Miss you. Love you. Don’t forget to check in.”
I finished up my salad and took it into the spacious living room. The whole room screamed money, with expensive art pieces mounted to the walls at various intervals and a grand ten seater dining table off to the left of the room. Even the carpet looked expensive, which it was. Ivory in color, it was so thick my feet sank a few inches every time I stepped on it. Heck, it was thick enough to sleep comfortably on. All these luxuries were the result of my father being a hugely successful banker. Caroline was constantly telling me I’d hit the jackpot, and that if anyone else knew what kind of lifestyle I lived they’d be totally jealous.
“Who wouldn’t want to live in a big fancy house, with plasmas in every room, and loads of cash?” she’d say every time I complained about the house being too big or about never having enough dishes to load the dishwasher with. I guess she was right. Yet, as I sat down on one of the couches, munching on my salad, I couldn’t help but think: What was the point of having a huge 4 bedroom house if only one person was living in it most of the time? Why did we need a ten seater dining table when I was the only one who ever ate at it? What was with all the spare seats in the house? I cursed as a depressing mood overtook me. Great. Now I was lonely and sad. But truthfully, all of the stuff that occupied our house just made me feel the loneliness even more. Almost as if the furniture was mocking me with its emptiness. Suddenly not hungry anymore, I dumped the rest of my salad in the bin and headed to my room, trying to escape my depressing mood.
As Katie succumbed to her emptiness she was surrounded by things, objects and stuff; more than most in America could only dream of. Lots and lots of things. Her family has a dysfunctional relationship with money and wealth and the pursuit of it.
Individual and cultural symptoms of this national epidemic are: an inability to delay gratification and tolerate frustration; a false sense of entitlement; loss of future motivation; low self-esteem; loss of self-confidence; low self-worth; preoccupation with externals. Its not simply “a rich person’s disease.” Because it separates us from one another — and from ourselves — both our personal and professional productivity decreases and all of society suffers as a result.