Lisa stood looking at me with that sour look on her face. I watched her eyes travel over my clothes, as I watched her watching me. Her disapproval was obvious, and I wondered how she could hate me without even knowing me. It made me hate her, and then I wondered if we actually knew each other, would we be friends?
Lisa’s life had not been that of extreme luxury or anything. Her father had been part owner of a local small factory. I suppose they had plenty of money, but the real difference between us was just in attitude. Her parents thought they were better than everyone else, and mine, well, mine were humble people. My father was a factory worker, making a hard living to support his family. My mother was a stay-at-home mom and supporter of my father’s small side business. I suppose it doesn’t matter what you do for a living. It’s all in the attitude. You either feel superior and like you fit in or you don’t.
I remember once when I was about twelve, my brother, Jamison, told us to all put on our best clothes, because we were going to town, and he wanted everyone to think we were rich. I hadn’t really thought about rich or not rich up to that point, but as I scrambled to follow his orders, I searched through my clothes and found my new pair of jeans and my favorite melon colored sweatshirt. I put them on, but I knew that these were not the clothes of the rich. It was at that very point that I became aware of my “less than” identity, which I would always associate with clothes and appearances.
Now here I was, forty years later, standing in the living room of those that were raised by doctors, lawyers and wealthy businessmen, who not only lived in the “better than” mentality, but who had, themselves, made it well for themselves. Their parents had paved their way, making sure they held tight to the status that they had always claimed. I was there, the supportive wife of a small business owner, who had struggled to make us a success. We were there, but without the golden path behind us, monetary wealth and status were still beyond our reach.
Lisa, on the other hand, had married into an old established wealthy family. Money was like toilet paper for her. Taken for granted, never worried about, just there for her use and for whatever her heart desired.
It was a birthday/housewarming party for one of my husband’s bicycle club members and that member’s daughter. I didn’t really want to be there, but I went, because they were my husband’s friends, and the daughter had gone to school with my kids. I was being the supportive wife.
I stood there in my nice boots, the ones I had shopped carefully for and had found on sale and then used a coupon to make them affordable, and my new skinny jeans that I had gotten at a door buster sale and discounted even further by my daughter’s employee discount at the retail store where she works. I wore the Liz Claiborne striped sweater and stylish puffy vest – also purchased at that same sale with the additional discount and on the approval of my daughter’s fashion advice. I may not have the money Lisa has, but I have always loved fashion and have played Houdini in my ability to make magical purchases of things that I wouldn’t normally be able to afford.
My husband had never felt “less than.” He wasn’t bothered that we didn’t have the same bank accounts. He enjoyed the same sports and activities that these people did, so therefore found his place amongst them. He was funny and friendly, and everyone loved him. I was always amazed at his ability to walk into any room and feel as if he belonged there. It was because of him that I found myself here – my insecurities leaving me feeling like a daisy on a rose bush.
I mingled with the crowd, and was happy for the unexpected surprise that my sister was in attendance. She and I chatted and cut up, and after she left, I chatted with whomever would chat with me, then stood holding my bottle of water, wishing I could just go home, as my stomach threatened to betray me.
I wouldn’t have given Lisa’s evil eye much thought, because some women are just like that. Especially the ones, it seems, that have married money. But Lisa, I had come to realize, had a thing for my husband, which she had displayed often enough in my presence. She laughed, chatted, made jokes and rubbed elbows with him. She made remarks to let me know just how well she had gotten to know him – and to ostracize me from their “club” even more.
My husband had had many interests in our twenty-five years together. Guns, then fishing, then golf, then basketball, then fishing and most recently – road bicycling. This final one was an interest that I didn’t share. I liked to ride bikes with him, but leisure bike rides were more my style. In my younger years, I had followed my husband around, learning to fish and being an avid spectator to his other sports. At the ripe age of fifty, though, I had finally given myself the right to a life of my own. I realized now that I didn’t have to shadow him everywhere he went. He could enjoy his thing, and I could enjoy mine, and then we could enjoy being together. I was no chameleon. And the extreme rides that the bicycle club went on would take way too much of my precious time to train for and expend too much of my precious energy to keep up with. Quite truthfully, I was glad that they were so extreme. It forced me to own up to me!
When I grew tired of the party’s scene, I finally nudged my husband and said it was time for us to go. I truly did need to get going, as I was attending my niece’s school play after this housewarming/birthday party. My presence at the party was that of a service dog. Only allowed because of the desire of my “master’s” attendance. And now Lisa’s perusal of my existence was making me feel just how out of place I truly was.
We left then, and as we reached my car, I let out a sigh of relief.
On the way home, I told my husband about Lisa’s remarks about him that I had overheard, which I felt was intentionally directed at me, and I shared how much I resented her and the way she always tried to claim some sort of intimate knowledge of him. I told him how I had forgotten the sour look that she used to give me at church when we were growing up, or when I would run into her at the grocery store.
“She’s probably just jealous of your beauty!” He stated.
I laughed, because I knew he wanted to make me feel better, but also because I felt like it was a desperate attempt on his part to make excuses for her with flattery of me.
“You know how your brother stares at people, and he doesn’t know he is staring at them? That’s probably what she was doing,” he said in her defense.
I wanted to puke. I could have given that to her, IF she had not tried to exclude me from her and his relationship by her comments. No, I am a woman, and I know women. I have watched and I have learned. I knew she wanted to claim him as her own. Oh, she didn’t want to get a divorce and have my husband – oh no. She loves her entitled life; she just wanted his attention. And when I was present, she wasn’t Queen Bee. I was proof that he wasn’t the faithful drone, buzzing around in her hive.
I took my mom to the play, and we watched my niece perform. She is an amazing actress, and although the play was a little too complex for a high school performance whose audience was not sophisticated enough to keep up with the story line involving scenes of memories and multiple stages of each character’s lives, we enjoyed watching her in her element.
Afterward, I arrived home to find my sons and husband watching a UFC fight. I joined their presence long enough to read most of an O Magazine, but turned in a few hours before the fight was over. They were in the man mode, and although they tried to include me, I was tired and sleep was more important.
The next day, the forecast warned of terrible spring-like storms coming our way. Our oldest son headed home, as he lives an hour and a half drive away. And our youngest left to go run some errands and take care of some things.
When the storms rolled in and the weather radio warned us of ensuing tornadoes, my youngest son decided to weather them with us, rather than home alone. I made my mother come and sit with us in our basement, and my two nieces, who were in the area, took refuge with us as well.
Luckily, the angels were with us, and we were left unaffected, as was our oldest son and his family. The power was out for a couple of hours, so we played games by lantern light, making the most of the situation. I have to say, though, there is nothing like a power outage to make you realize the blessings in your life. Not only do you become aware of the luxury of electricity, but of the people that you are forced to spend time with – in the basement or gathered around a lantern lit table.
After everyone left, I went back to my household duties. I stood at the sink washing the dishes and prepared the coffee maker for the next work day. As I did so, I felt gratitude rise up in me. I thought how lucky I am to have coffee in the canister, running water, and all the creature comforts that surround me. And then the thought entered my mind, I wonder if Lisa ever feels gratitude, as she scoops coffee into her filter. Or does she even make her own coffee?!
I pondered whether anyone with great wealth thinks of their blessings. And I wonder if anyone who has never done without really appreciates the luxuries in life. How can a person who has always drunk Starbucks or Peet’s Coffee really appreciate that quality flavor without having been limited by their budget to Folgers?
Sometimes I think I would love a new house, new clothes and someone to cook all my meals and clean my house, but then I am afraid that would leave me feeling unappreciative of the blessings that come my way.
I guess things can always get better, but they can also be worse. I have had life both ways, and it has taught me an “attitude of gratitude,” as Oprah would say.
Each day when I fill my coffee cup and pour in the half and half, I remember the day when I couldn’t afford real half and half. When I climb in my used luxury SUV, I remember the days when I drove a $500 Ford Maverick that said Mountain Bell on the side. When I climb in bed beside my husband, I remember the days that I was raising two children by myself, and the lonely sheets were very cold with no one else’s legs to warm my feet on. When I sit in a nice restaurant, I remember the days when going to McDonalds was a treat.
I think the whole moral of this story is that I have learned a lot in fifty-one years. I have learned that money doesn’t buy happiness or contentment. And the things that are given are rarely as appreciated as the things that are earned or worked for. Best of all, though, I have learned that sour looks from someone who doesn’t really know me don’t really mean anything. If someone can’t give a friendly smile, I remember that I am blessed to easily give one.
I am blessed for having had nothing and still had everything. But most of all, I am blessed that I realize it!