“Whenever you feel like criticizing anyone, just remember that all the people in this world haven’t had the advantages that you’ve had.”
–Nick’s Father to Nick Carraway, The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald, 1925.
The place was sterile and unyielding. A landscape of similar houses dotted the landscape as far as the eye could see. If you had never seen it before, you would be astounded and maybe a little bit envious. Having dated my share of blue-collar men, I already had the privilege of crawling through a couple of them when they were in various stages of completion. From bare boned, to awaiting their finishing touches, it is in the shining up stage that they lure you in. It only takes a minute to envision where the baby would sleep, or the office would be and soon you are starry-eyed and dreaming of how to fit in the furniture you have, or hell, chucking it out and buying new furniture.
If you were the type to be a bit leery of these kinds of places, it could be a bit intimidating. However since I always considered people by the size of their hearts instead of the size of their houses, it was nothing but a box wrapped in different paper, but the inside was the same. Sure, there may be different kinds of rooms or amenities, but the basic premise was the same—eat, sleep, spend, procreate, wash, veg out, rinse and repeat.
The interesting thing to note is how the appearance of wealth can make some people lose their minds. This, however, is much to the chagrin of the straight talk-no chaser types who just try to live their lives from sun up to moon up. Some work here, some play there, but the only agenda with these kinds of people is carving out a good life before they take a dirt nap.
When you don’t fit the mold or care to play the game, it can be like a warp speed trip back to high school. Here in this place of perfectly spaced trees, appropriate mailbox colors, and mulch rules, I, once again, associated with the creatives, outcasts, and the ones who had no shame in their game. Most of these women were straight shooters who were not concerned with flawlessly appearing to fit in perfectly coiffed social circles, because they had their own game to play and made the rules as they went along. When I first arrived as the new suburban wifey on the block, there was a shrinking violet who caught my immediate attention.
This fellow mother, who was my neighbor and didn’t speak much English, would stand by herself at the bus stop. After my first day enduring the corner bus stop rotation, where no one even acknowledged my presence by saying hello, I waved to her and smiled. I noticed that no one ever spoke to her, smiled or even waved hello, which I thought was odd due to my knowing that she was a regular in the neighborhood for a while. Yes, she was quiet, but she was friendly, and in our own way we got through the language barrier to wish each other well and talk about the morning.
When I found out that her family would be moving, we had known each other for a year. Our kids were the best of friends, and the hole caused by their leaving was all too noticeable. On the last day, just as she was getting ready to get in the taxi to the airport, we cried and hugged on the front lawn, and exchanged the wishes we could through what we could understand and could not. One thing that she said, in her broken English that hit me in the feels, was that I was the only one who ever talked to her at the bus stop for the seven years that they lived there. I thought about how impossible it should’ve been, but it wasn’t. Her eyes confirmed that truth. In that instant, the pain of my friend leaving was made even heavier to bear. We hugged one last time, and my son and I stood on the lawn, shattered. It was his first time to lose a best friend, and for me, just another sad chapter during the course of my life that I’d have to turn the page on. After that, we waved until the taxi rounded the corner and disappeared. I knew it would be a long night for the kid, so retreating to his room was on deck for the remainder of the day. I let him be to himself, and walked downstairs to just look out of the back window in silence to watch the sun splash down. I welcomed the quiet and the solitude. I could shed tears for my son and I without anyone asking me questions I didn’t feel like answering and stare into that void between awake and dreaming with no interruption between it.
The street definitely felt lonely with them gone. It felt that as soon as I had found someone who made me feel like less of a stranger, I was back to feeling isolated. I retreated within this massive house of my then husband, with its ghosts of family past, echoing spaces, white walls and miles to clean, to embrace my new normal.
In conclusion, in these times, we learn to have chameleon lives–adapting as best as we can to every situation that blows across our path. And if it seems like these moments don’t serve you now, you’ll soon recognize the changes they make in you. If you deliberately surrender to finding the lesson in the hardship, while in the midst of the storm, it can help you divine logic and wisdom from what seems nonsensical. This is the lifeline that both saves you and grows you.