This chick, Ramona (I think by now, we’ve established that I don’t use real names) was a year ahead of me in high school. I should mention that I went to high school in Manila at this convent school where I learned to type and dance for cotillion and make salted eggs during Chemistry class. My school was (and still is) considered a good school, but I think that has more to do with the low rate of teen pregnancies than with anything else.
Anyway, Ramona is third-generation wealthy, which is a big deal. If your grandparents made so much money that your parents couldn’t even squander it all, then you are truly, truly wealthy.
There were a lot of second-generation wealthy chicks in my school, but not a lot of Ramona types. She was the ultimate conservative heiress wit nothing to prove: tiny gold jewelry, no Aquanet (even though big hair was a big deal when I was at school), well-made but non-designer label schoolbag, and normal food for lunch, nothing fancy like abalone or lobster. She did wear trendy Marks and Spencer socks with our school uniform (I should mention that my own socks were bootlegs, to go along with my bootleg uniform because my mom thought that paying school tailor prices was stupid and had a cheap seamstress make these indestructible uniforms for me that happened to be the wrong fabric, wrong colour, and wrong measurements but I hated school anyway so it didn’t really matter) and she went to school in a Mercedes Benz, but it was an old-fashioned one from the early 80s, unlike this other chick who rode a bulletproof car that her family shipped over from Saudi Arabia. Later on, Ramona had bodyguards, but it was probably because she lost weight and suddenly boys were creeping around her.
Ramona had her clique of nice girls, which didn’t include me. I was one of those floating people who had friends in different groups, so we had a friend in common, whom I shall refer to as Isabel.
Isabel was descended from Spanish colonizers who owned plantations where they raped and killed native Filipinos whenever it got too hot or maybe when they were bored, I’m not really sure what goes on in fucked-up people’s heads. At some point, Isabel’s ancestors ended up marrying into some rich Chinese family, which brought down their social capital by a bit but increased their actual capital by a lot. Then in the early twentieth century, they managed to pimp one of their prettier daughters out to a Chinese revolutionary who shall not be named because everyone knows who he is. The revolutionary was married already, but he slutted around and dropped a bunch of seeds across Southeast Asia as he traveled around raising funds. It’s kind of funny to think that all of these rich, respectable Chinese families were okay with that, but I’m assuming they were ambitious enough to take a chance on being part of a ruling class if the revolutionary did manage to end up becoming China’s leader, not realizing that everyone else was doing it too. When an ex-boyfriend, who grew up studying this revolutionary in school in Hong Kong, heard this story, he could only say, “[Revolutionary] prostituted himself for China…”
Isabel was the revolutionary’s great-granddaughter, and she looked just like all of his other descendants. He seriously has some strong genes, dudes. Anyway, due to some kind of convoluted high society links, Isabel and Ramona were family friends, and so Isabel would sometimes ask me along whenever she and Ramona and some other friends were hanging out or having lunch somewhere during the weekend. When I think about it now, Isabel was probably uncomfortable being the token bad girl (she was already smoking then and had a boyfriend and would go binge-drinking with him) among Ramona’s very nice friends and wanted someone there who was more like her but not embarrassingly trashy. I guess I fit the bill: I smoked sometimes, drank more often, hung out with boys but they were fellow nerds that I played Dungeons & Dragons with, and most importantly, I knew when to keep my mouth shut.
At some point, Ramona’s family moved from their respectable but old-fashioned gated community to a fancy new gated one, and she threw a party to celebrate her sixteenth birthday and the move. And even though we’d never had a one-on-one conversation that went past five minutes, I got invited along.
I remember wearing a long, black Mickey Mouse sweatshirt, which I thought was really punk–wait, don’t turn off the computer–and combat boots. The reason I haven’t forgotten this is that when I entered the foyer of her house (after being ushered through the gates of her house by armed security guards), I realized that everyone else was wearing party clothes, like we’re talking Calvin Klein dresses and high heels. But because I was kind of a burgeoning Marxist asshole (I would reach my peak a few years later), I didn’t apologize to Ramona for being so underdressed.
I’m sure her house was beautiful but I honestly can’t remember anything about it except that it was as big as a mall, and we didn’t get a chance to tour it because there wasn’t enough time. I was a little disappointed because I’d heard that Ramona had the most complete collection of Sweet Valley High and Sweet Dreams books in the country, which made sense because her family owned a chain of bookstores. I also don’t remember what I gave Ramona as a present, but I’m pretty sure it had been tough to find an appropriate one because her family owned a bunch of gift shops, too.
We had to ride golf carts past the tennis court to get to the pavilions by the swimming pool area. They had set up a buffet there and a local indie band was playing. The guests were mostly Ramona’s big extended family and a handful of friends, including Isabel, whose estimation of me as a delinquent rose very high thanks to my style choice.
The food was great, of course; it was catered by a five-star hotel restaurant. We watched the band perform while we ate pieces of Ramona’s gigantic white birthday cake and sundry desserts. One of Ramona’s uncles joked to me, “You look like you should be in that band, too.” Except the band was actually dressed nicely in polo shirts and jeans.
Ramona mostly sat with us at the kids’ table, although she had to get up every so often to greet arriving relatives. She and her friends talked about school, boys, the usual stuff, and I didn’t really have much to contribute so I kept quiet. Then we got into the golf carts again and we were driven to their private nightclub far from the main house so that the noise wouldn’t bother anyone. There was a DJ there and disco lights and lasers and a smoke machine. No one really danced, although the DJ played “Express Yourself,” which everyone liked. There were probably just eight of us there at that point, including Ramona.
Then Ramona’s brother showed up and said that they were going to screen a movie, and we all left to watch Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade in their home theatre, which could have easily fit a classroom of kids. They had popcorn machines that made buttered and caramel popcorn. I was full but I ate a bit of both out of curiosity, and they tasted just like movie theatre popcorn. Isabel left to meet her boyfriend, but I finished the movie because I’d told my parents to pick me up around midnight. When they came, Ramona walked me to the gate and gave me a souvenir: a tiny ceramic version of her birthday cake with the words “Ramona’s 16th” painted on it. “I hope you had a good time,” she said, calm and polite as ever.
And I said yes.