Monday, April 28, 2008

The Answer is "Hell No"

Every other year or so, I get the email from one of my handful of friends that answers a list of personal questions and requests that I answer the same questions while forwarding the email on to more of my friends. I have the same problem every time I receive this email—all my friends are already copied on it (that’s another story though).

I always find the answers to these questions interesting and usually do learn at least one thing I previously didn’t know that I have in common with one of my friends. This year the revelation was that we all pretty much agree that Cheerios rule in the breakfast category and that a relatively new friend of mine also watches a locally televised church service where women dance barefoot in a circle while waiving tambourines over their heads. I’m not sure what her excuse is for watching this bizarre display of worship, but my excuse is that my husband used to work with one of the tambourine dancers. Granted, I’ve never met the tambourine dancer, but how often do you get to see someone your husband knows on television? I realize this is a lame excuse for wasting my time watching the equivalent of a spiritual train wreck, but otherwise I’d have to delve deeper into my psyche to figure why this is appealing to me. I’ll admit I’m afraid I would be disturbed by the answer. Anyway ... I digress.

The question on the email list that highlights, with neon intensity, how very different I am from my fellow Stepford wives is this: Would you be friends with yourself? I have never once seen anyone answer no to this question. As a matter of fact, I can never remember anyone only answering yes and leaving it at that. Everyone always answers these questions as if it is the equivalent of, Does the sun rise in the east? I’ve seen this question answered with Of course! or You bet! and Oh, I would certainly hope so! My answer is always the same, HELL, NO! At the risk of further pairing down my list of friends, here are the top ten reasons I would not be friends with myself:

1. I’m blind to my children’s faults. And if there is one thing I cannot stand, it’s a mother who thinks her kids are perfect.

2. I don’t want my friends thinking they know me better than I know myself. I’m positive I’m as good a psychologist as anyone with formal training.

3. I suck at remembering birthdays and knowing what to do when my friends are sick or sobbing on the other end of the phone. I want my birthday remembered and food brought to me when I’m sick and someone to know how to make the sobbing stop.

4. I cannot lie. Therefore, I don’t want to be told that yes, my ass looks fat in my favorite jeans and that I really do look forty. Okay, Okay ... forty-one.

5. I don’t want to be friends with anyone as funny as I am. I might be jealous.

6. I don’t want my friends emailing me articles they’ve written for me to read. (No matter how finely crafted and eloquent said articles may be.)

7. I don’t have the gift of hospitality. I truly enjoy the times I spend in my friend’s homes and would be hurt if I never got invited to dinner at my house.

8. I don’t like whiners.

9. I don’t want to worry that my friends are going to write about me and post it on a Web site for all the world to see.

10. I know what goes on inside my head that never comes out of my mouth or gets typed on a keyboard. I don’t do friends that are crazy, neurotic or self-righteous.

I guess after reviewing this list, it’s not really another story after all as to why I have so few friends. However, to the friends I have, thank you for your tolerance. I’d be very lonely without you sharing your lives with me.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Why I Live Here - Stepford

“My boobs are broken,” is the instant message I send my friend last Thursday afternoon. I send this to my friend whose life is the most similar to mine. Our husbands are friends, we each have a son in the fourth grade and a daughter slightly younger than their older brothers. We attend the same church and both live in nice homes in Stepford, commuting to paralegal jobs in North Dallas to work in, if not identical, exceedingly similar mid-rise glass office buildings.

“WHAT?!?!?!?!?!” is her response. I smile.

“They are broken. My left one keeps sneaking out of the bottom part of my bra and my right one is doing something that is causing the strap that is supposed to be holding it up fall to my elbow,” I type.

“Your boobs aren’t broken, your bra is,” she tries to explain. Her boobs aren’t as broken as mine, so she cannot understand.

“NOPE ... it’s my boobs. Before they broke, all my bras worked just fine,” I clarify.

Fast-forward to later the same evening. You can find me sitting at my kitchen table in Stepford, with my fourth-grader, working through two hours of prepositions and math word problems that contain names of hypothetical children, which neither my son nor I can pronounce, and which certainly no parent in Stepford would dare name their child. I’m not exactly sure what happened to Dick and Jane, but they no longer live in my son’s math book. For that matter, Dick and Jane’s children, Jennifer and Jason, are also conspicuously absent. There are also no Stepfordish names such as Grace, Sam, Emma or Jack.

At some point during my hellish revival of fourth grade, my first grade daughter asks if she can play dress up with a bag of clothing I’ve gathered to give to charity. I’m pretty sure I answered her with a “Sure honey, just be sure you clean up your mess.” Although, what I remember thinking was, “whatever, please just don’t interrupt me again while I’m trying to figure what the probability of getting two apples and a banana out of whatever this kid’s name is basket.” Where do kids with fruit baskets come from anyway?

While I intently work through math torture problem number seven, my son orchestrates the Battle of Armageddon between his eraser and the salt shaker left on the table from dinner. It’s irritating as hell, but I know from experience it will take more energy than I have to negotiate a peace treaty between the eraser and the salt shaker, so I let go. Suddenly, there is silence. And stillness. The hair on the back of my neck stands up. I slowly lift my eyes from the math workbook and am terrified by the look of horror on my son’s face. The eraser and the salt shaker are frozen in mid air attack. I’m thinking to myself, “I didn’t hear the alarm signal that a door had opened ... the sixty-eight pound yellow Lab at my feet has not even flinched ...”

Then I see her ... my daughter ... MY SEVEN YEAR OLD DAUGHTER .... who has procured from the charity bag and adorned herself with 1) a red underwire push-up bra, 2) a black blouse that fits her like a mini-dress, 3) a pair of black patent boots which fit below the knees on me, but are thigh-highs on her, and 4) two C cupped sized granny smith apples which she has appropriately placed inside the red under wire push up bra. She says, “How do I look?” and proceeds with a wobbly curtsy that causes one of the apples to hit the tile floor. Then she says, “Uh oh, my boob fell down.” I’m speechless with the most unfortunate and inappropriate exception of, “Just you wait.”

The next night, my husband is working crazy late so I get the kids to bed and get in bed myself and try to find something on TV that will keep me awake until he comes home. And what do I find but the original, from 1975, The Stepford Wives. I had never seen this movie. I, of course, knew all about it and had seen the remake with Nicole Kidman and Matthew Broderick. I was only eight years old when this movie was released, almost the same age my daughter is now, and it’s a movie that I’ve never thought to rent. I WAS TRANSFIXED.

How I could have lived my whole life without seeing this masterpiece of social commentary? This omission has been a tragedy I didn’t even know existed in my life. The original movie is very different than the remake I had seen. It isn’t FUNNY at all. It’s scary ... it’s a HORROR movie, in fact. And all I can think the whole time I’m watching it is, “this is where I live. I live in Stepford. My God, why haven’t I seen this before? In my obsessive quest to extricate myself from East Texas, I traded Redneckville for Stepford without even realizing it.”

It was such a relief to realize the underlying thing that nags me, haunts me, makes me crazy about the “perfect” place I live, is its Stepfordness. It isn’t me or my broken boobs or my imperfectly textured rear-end, or the fact that I choose to work or that I have a love/hate relationship with my mini-van or that I’m secretly thankful home-baked goods aren’t allowed at classroom parties. It isn’t that I don’t like to garden, or sew, or even other people’s children for that matter. It isn’t that I don’t spend hours at the gym so I can look like I did when I was twenty or that I don’t feel like I have enough money or desire to “fix” my boobs to look like every other woman’s in Stepford. It’s not me ... its Stepford. And then I thought something unimaginable ... something I had never considered ... something very Un-Stepfordlike ... something radical.... “What if my boobs really aren’t broken? What if this is what they are supposed to be like after forty years, three pregnancies and two children?”

It was as real of a moment for me as I’ve ever seen in film, when the main character, Joanna, is asked by the gallery owner who is interested in her photography, “what do you want out of this?” and Joanna says, “I just want someone to remember I was here.”

And that one statement from a character in a movie from 1975, based on a book published in 1972 when I was five years old, answers the question people often ask me when they find out about my writing.

“Why do you write?”

“I just want someone to remember I was here.”

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