Here’s something random to read for a cold winter day.
I wrote a book called Thirty. It’s about Ali, a writer who has become disenchanted with her life. Her 30th birthday “party” is a torturous dinner with her parents and grandparents who don’t hold back their opinionated dissertations on her failings so far. In reply, Ali sneaks out of the restaurant and walks for a long time. She had the idea that she would just go find herself. What she finds is a strange adventure and a cast of characters that propel her forward on her journey.
When editing this book, I cut out large chunks when I finally found the voice of the main character. The following writing never made it into the final version of the book. When I re-read it, I thought it was entertaining but too angst filled perhaps, even though it has my brand of humor and sarcasm. But I realized it was like seeing the two sides of my worst fears (at that point in my life) visit with each other. Ha! So why not share…
A rejected chapter from my book Thirty
I pulled up to Dawn’s home and realized why it had been so long since we’d last seen each other. This suburban life wasn’t very representative of the struggling writer world I was living.
A sinking feeling accompanied my echoing heels as I slowly made my way to her door. The minivan mocked my short skirt. The perfectly manicured lawn scoffed at my thick makeup. And when I stood in front of the door and read the engorged wreath that read, “God Bless Our Home,” I lamely attempted to hide my plunging neckline with the leather jacket I was wearing.
I should go. There was still time to retrace my steps and call in an excuse around the corner. I glanced longingly at my piece of shit car then back at the door, as if either inanimate object could help me make a decision.
Dawn, my best friend from high school, had gotten married six years ago. The second we graduated from college. We lost touch after the wedding. I knew a bit about her life since then, thanks to a random email once a year. I knew she had two kids since she got married, but I also thought…what? That she hadn’t changed?
Dawn, the girl I grew up with was not mother material. That Dawn was uninhabited. She was the one who explained sex to us, the really dirty and kinky kind, using books and photos from reputable magazines like Penthouse and Hustler. She taught us how to put on make-up the way strippers do, and she taught us how to get the attention of the boys we wanted.
If Dawn had been notable in high school; she was legendary in College. She proclaimed her womanhood by becoming a promoter of free love and birth control, condoms and drinking, education and seducing professors.
Now she was asking God to bless her home.
I thought of the girl I had stood up with as she got married. The girl who drank her husband and the groomsmen under the table. The girl who had taken the microphone, toasted her new in-laws by outing her father-in-law and disclosing her mother-in-law’s various affairs. The girl who spent the last half hour of her wedding reception gambling with the caterers for a lower bill.
That Dawn couldn’t possibly live in this two-story gingerbread house complete with minivan, window flower boxes, and perfect lawn. Could she? It had only been six years. I must have misunderstood Dawn when she said, “come over, it will be just like old times.”
Old times never involved a minivan before.
Old times involved short skirts, slutty bars, and drunken laughter.
I was backing away from the front door, silently on my tip toes so as not to click click too loudly, when it flung open.
“Ali!” Dawn screamed. Well, a version of Dawn screamed.
She caught me in an embrace which gave me time to get past my original Holy Shit reaction. The Dawn who opened the door was not my old friend Dawn from high school and college. She had been replaced by her mother.
“Dawn.” I squealed too loudly trying to hide my surprise. What I was worried about was not showing the horrified reaction on my face.
She pulled away and looked at me, “I can’t believe it. You look…great!” She squeaked, which I took to mean that I looked cheap and she couldn’t believe she was about to let me into her blessed home.
“You look…” tired, heavy, strange, homely, old, like your mother “…wonderful.” I finally forced the adjective from my mouth.
“Well, come in, come in.” She stuttered, waving me inside.
This was a bad idea.
I forced a smile and accepted her tritely offered hospitality.
I walked into her manicured Martha-Stewart-esque home that reminded me of her mother’s house. There were perfectly arranged vignettes of pictures, candles and fake flowers everywhere. Pictures, in matching golden frames of her, her husband and two kids doing every day All-American family things.
“Oh, are those your kids?” I picked up the closest frame to fill the building awkward silence.
“Yes,” she beamed proudly.
“Jane and…I’m sorry, it’s been so long, I forgot your son’s name.” Hell, I was impressed I was able to pull the name Jane from out of nowhere.
“Richard.” Dawn supplied.
I nodded politely, that’s right, I thought, Jane and Richard. I glanced away quickly and coughed on a strangled laugh. Did Dawn, my friend from way back who loved literature as much as she loved a stiff drink, just tell me that she named her kids Dick and Jane? When I heard a dog bark I wondered if it was named Spot.
“The living room.” She pointed me to where crackers and dip were arranged on a cute bunny shaped plate and set atop the freshly waxed coffee table.
“Can I get you something to drink? We have coke, diet coke…”
“Actually, Jack and Coke would be great.” I grinned as I gave the order for the drink we both used to love.
“Oh, we don’t allow liquor in the house.” She said. There was no apology in her voice. I had to bite down hard on the inside of my cheek to keep from asking the once alcoholic prom queen if she was serious.
“Oh. Then, I guess coke please. Thanks.”
She left the room and I shook my head uncertain of what was going on. What happened? Weren’t we both the same age? When did this happen? Should I have stayed in touch with Dawn? If I had, would she have stayed a little wild, or would I have found a nice man to settle down with? Was either prospect a good one? And what the hell were we going to talk about? Across the room a large mirror hung, I caught a glimpse of myself in this house and knew this was going to be a quick visit. I looked ten years younger than Dawn. Hell, I felt ten years younger than Dawn. She looked so…old. And responsible. Should I be more responsible? I mentally held back the usual tidal wave of definitions of what I ‘should’ be at this point in my life and was actually grateful when Dawn came back in the room. “Jim took the kids to visit his mother tonight so that we could have some time…just the two of us.” She put my drink down on a coaster.
“Oh, that’s nice. How’s he doing these days?” That was all it took to open Pandora’s Box of uninteresting married-couple-with-two-kids-histories. Dawn started at the very beginning. Did I remember when she met Jim, how wild they had been; how wild we had been? They realized just after they were married how they needed to change. They found a church they really liked, shed their skin of youth for the responsible suit and tie of adulthood. “I mean, we all have to grow up some time, you know.” She gave my knee a knowing pat and crinkled her nose with a sad smile. Just in case I didn’t realize it was me and my need to change she was talking about.
I was too stunned to react so she continued. There was a too in depth explanation of how difficult it was to get pregnant. What it was like for Jim to move into his new career field, moving into the house, mortgages, breast-feeding, mommy and me classes, diaper rashes, family vacations, her dedicated volunteer work at the hospital, and her mother-in-law’s ulcers.
The more Dawn talked, the smaller I felt. The righteousness I had walked into the house with waved. When had Dawn become an adult? Because I was thirty and felt like a perpetual teenager trying to take care of myself. Pretending to be a writer. Living out of a suitcase. I continued to glance around at Dawn’s house, at her world, at what she and her husband had built for themselves and I felt ashamed that I hadn’t tried to build a little something myself.
Which was fucked up. Because on any other day, what Dawn had made for herself, was the farthest thing from what I wanted. It was just the confused part me, the part that wouldn’t stop questioning my purpose in this world, the part of me felt like Dawn knew what life was all about.
She might know what her life was all about, but she didn’t know my life.
When she was out of breath and stories, she asked me about myself. “How have you been?” She patted my hand. I hid a frown and muttered something about being a writer, really giving it a go. I told her I’d been published here and there. She nodded her head sadly, as if I was trying to live a child’s dream. She nodded her head like my mother did when she couldn’t find the words needed to tell me she thought I was throwing my life away.
I didn’t defend myself to Dawn, there was no need to. She wouldn’t hear me anyway. She saw what she wanted to see, heard what she wanted to hear. She was telling me to grow up and find a house and some kids to put in it and a family car to adorn the front yard. I, however, was in no hurry to become my mother.
That thought launched me out of thinking I had lost something by not following the same path as Dawn. I gave an exaggerated looked at my phone to find the time and announced my shock at how late it was.
“Oh, do you have to go?” Dawn whined unconvincingly.
“Yeah, I told a few friends I would meet them downtown for a drink.” I lied.
Our good-bye was awkward, we were mutually grateful to be rid of each other and saddened that there would be no more phone calls or Christmas cards in an effort to stay in touch. This moment was the end of an era. Still, I had just read in Cosmo, in a list of fifteen things a woman is supposed to do before she turns thirty is get rid of toxic friends. Whether I thought Dawn a toxic friend, or she thought I was, it was probably best if we put our past to rest; let it become simply a string of memories we could look back on and declare those times “made us who we were today.”
I climbed in my car and sighed with relief, pulled out a cigarette and gave one last look at the perfect home with the perfect wife waving, encased in the light pouring out from the perfectly lit hallway behind her. I waved back and for the briefest moment thought of calling out for her to keep in touch.
Visions of little Dick and Jane running through a yard with Spot. Tupperware parties. Dawn and Jim trying to be tolerant of me as I explain the plot of my latest book…I shook the images away. “Nope.” We had nothing in common any more, nothing but who we had once been. It was better this way.
I glanced at the porch once more and snapped a mental picture of Dawn. I silently wished her good in her life and drove away.
No looking back.