Just for fun, consider the extent and limit of your ability to observe. Before you pronounce yourself the Sherlock Holmes of your social set, imagine what I can only imagine with great difficulty: that I am not the Center of the Universe. I know! It’s a giant leap into space and back, but – just for this moment – imagine that something or someone else might be the Center of the Universe. Well, if there’s room in your brain for that crazy idea, there’s no end to your wild imagination. Let’s don our leopard-print space suits and go! I’m your Dr. Watson.
My co-worker was born and raised outside Boston. She has two grown children and five grandchildren. Her brother is in an adult community. Emily has perfect posture, her health is good and her recall must be nearly perfect, because her special talent is to catalogue the life events of the people around her and organize the connections between them. Emily remembers hearing my grandmother talk in Edith’s beauty shop about her little granddaughters doing ballet. Emily lives with a strict class hierarchy in her head and an almost magical ability to smile and say nothing overt. Her desk is never messy. Her clothing is this season’s. Unless you look closely at her rapid, economical movements and the clipped way she keeps her hands close to her sides, you might not observe that Emily was a stewardess in the 1960s based in New York City and has flown all over the world. Recently, she said to me, “Baghdad was a beautiful city, but I didn’t love Teheran.” Her manners are proper New England. In ten years, I have never heard her raise her voice.
What might be the ironic bane of her existence?
I am wearing beige slacks, a spring green cardigan, green sandals, copper toenail polish, make up. My hair is a dark, healthy red. My raincoat is giant floral in cartoon colors, mostly pink and orange. The first person I meet at the door is Daria’s peculiar mother-in-law, with whom I recently did not have an interstate conflagration. As I walk into Daria’s house for Tyler’s, Tyler Too’s, Sandy’s, Tony’s and Sandro’s birthday party, Dad is sitting on a chair near the buffet table, which is a surprise. Daria has hired a babysitter because twenty children are expected at this party. Dad hasn’t been speaking to me since I accidentally spilled what the whole family knew and was keeping secret, though I didn’t know I was supposed to keep my trap shut, when I asked my fifteen-year-old sister, “So, how’s the whoring and the drinking working our for ya?” I was joking. It was a class trip and the kids snuck out in Paris and drank wine. Who wouldn’t? More important: who hasn’t?
Who spends an hour and a half sitting next to me in the living room?
The drive to Daria’s house is over an hour from my apartment. I am listening to CSNY’s Helpless and burst into tears. Because I am both uncommonly beautiful and uncommonly vain, I finally stifle myself and do not crash my car, though I do miss a turn and drive miles out of my way. Because I am also brilliant, I figure out where I am and improvise a route to Daria’s house.
What is so tragic that after a year I still dab stray eyeliner?
The ironic bane of Emily’s existence is that her children also love to travel, which means two of her grandchildren live in Alaska and three recently returned from a year in New Zealand. When the plane landed, I said, “Thank Vishnu, I can stop wondering how Emily’s mother used to complain.”
Despite the fact that we hate one another, Daria’s mother-in-law sat next to me and tried to make conversation. I gave it a shot, then resorted to pretending she was an NFL mascot.