OR, ON HOW I REINVENTED MY SELF
Sitting in the perfectly manicured living room of a neighbour, where everything matched, the couches, the pillows, the curtains, surrounded by a large group of chitchatting women, busy discussing a new dusting product, I knew something had to change. I felt like I had been parachuted on a previously undiscovered planet and, to a certain extent, I wasn’t wrong. I had landed in suburbia, something I conceptually recognized but had never experienced before.
San Diego is deceptively beautiful: the stunning harbour, the wide beaches, the laid back attitude barely disguise a stiff conservatism, a sprawling military population and a small town attitude. Move even farther along the San Diego coast and, behind the breathtaking beaches, planned communities of pretty houses with crown molding and similar floor plans take over. Such living quarters tend to attract affluent young families with plenty of children and well put together women with very few cares in the world. Hence the preoccupation with dusting products.
In an effort to learn to adapt and as a challenge to my surviving spirit, I did try: I learnt to play bunko (a mindless dice game with silly prizes at the end), I joined a book club, a cooking class, the local gym. I tried to join PTA moms in punishing fund-raisers that turned said mothers into downright mean bitches and when I just couldn’t stomach to buy another roll of gift wrapping paper from Bobby, the kid next door, I withdrew from the school scene altogether. I tried to find the little, mostly second-rate culture San Diego afforded and decided that a job, any job, was in order if I were to survive.
Enter Barnes and Noble. I had to fill the application three times, beg, show up every day for a week, befriend one of the sales assistants before the manager, unconvinced, decided to give me a try. “Do you understand you will be making $8 an hour?” she said, glancing down at my application form that stated my last salary was probably over twice was she was making. I was thrilled. My first paycheck made me laugh uncontrollably – it was enough for a few breakfasts at Starbucks. But I was out of the house, back in the workforce and surrounded by thousands of books that I enthusiastically recommended to customers. I found myself talking to other sentient adults.When my hourly rate went up 0.50 cents, I proudly held my paycheck with a broad grin on my face.
I knew that whatever my time out of the house took away from my stepchildren, I was giving back as (hopefully) a model of independent woman who earns her money and can juggle both a family life and, if not exactly a career, a job. That was my justification anyway. And it was also my realization that my effort at being a stay at home mom, which lasted 6 months, failed miserably. My identity had been wrapped, as for most people, in what I did. Wrong, I know, egotistical, no doubt but try the misery of being at a social gathering and being asked the ever intruding and obnoxious question “and what do you do?” and not having an answer – I found it humiliating.I am older and hopefully wiser and I would probably cope differently now and thoroughly wouldn’t care as to what people thought but, to this day, the thought of not being able to bring home a paycheck is an alien proposition.
Who knew that Barnes and Noble would turn out to be my very first step on the road to find professional fulfillment.
To be continued