Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Part One: Welcome to Weston

It Also Rhymes with "Fester"

I’m not going to type her real name. I have the feeling she’s the kind of person who Googles herself regularly, and I wouldn’t want her to happen upon this blog. So I’m just going to call her “Esther.”

If you’re curious why I chose that name, it’s not because “Esther” rhymes with her real name, which I promised you, is not Hester. (Aside from Hester Prynne in The Scarlet Letter, do you know of any Hesters??) It’s because my grandmother had a girlfriend who really was named Esther—an elderly lady with stooped shoulders and a closely clipped short white haircut—who reminds me so much of this ex-friend of mine that at times I wondered how, after all of those years of hiding in my grandmother’s bathroom whenever Esther dropped by to share a needlepoint pattern or chat about what idiots teenagers were, I ended up her captive, anyway.

The real Esther was sour about everything: exasperated by the irregular delivery of her newspaper and the slow service at the diner; by her failing vision and aching shoulders; by her husband, who she declared was an idiot, and her children, who she felt were failures.

Of course older people often have good reason to be sour, as much of the sweetness in their lives has been replaced by arthritis and other ailments. So maybe we can cut the real Esther a little slack. The fake Esther was 35 when I met her.

But premature grumpiness wasn’t actually the reason I “broke up” with Esther—something I hadn’t done with a girlfriend since I was in middle school and found out my supposed best friend at the time had the audacity to return the carefully selected bracelet I’d given her for her birthday (hmm, maybe I’m still a little bitter.)

I broke up with her when I discovered she was practicing some kind of game of psychological capture-the-flag on me, and who needs that, right?


This really is a story about the nomadic way I spent my late twenties and early thirties, as the wife of an allergist-in-training. Both Penn students, Barry and I had met in my hometown, Philadelphia, and like most women from Philly, I had the kind of East Coast edge you develop when people typically yell out during a traffic jam, “Hey jerkoff, get outa da left lane!” That's not to say I wasn't nice--I think I've always been nice. But if a stranger came up to me on the street and smiled, I wouldn't smile back. I'd think to myself, but not say aloud, "What are you smiling about?"

Later when I moved to Washington, D.C. and Baltimore for Barry’s residency, that edge came in handy (high populations of angry drivers and strangers you really shouldn't be smiling at in a narrow alley in both places). Certainly I had good friends in all three of the East Coast cities where I lived. But the friendships developed slowly and I was always a little bit wary about getting too close to anyone. (You never know when someone you really care about is going to return a friendship bracelet and exchange it for a pair of shorts, after all.)

So when we moved to St. Louis for the allergy fellowship, I was completely disarmed by how nice everyone was. St. Louisians weren’t just generous in traffic, they were generous with their friendships--with their willingness to welcome someone new into their homes and their kids’ birthday parties and their giggly girls’ nights outs while their husbands were home babysitting the kids.

Two weeks into our two-year stint in this pretty Midwestern city, and I was involved a playgroup with Jacob (then a one year-old), happily pushing my stroller alongside my new girlfriends’ Gracos as we went to the zoo and the park and the mall together. It was that kind of instant girl bonding that you might experience in overnight camp, only instead of sharing Sea Breeze and Benetton Colors, you were always lending out your wipes and your Mr. Clean Magic Eraser. Sure, there were exceptions to the rule. But two years isn’t a long enough time, in a place where everyone is so pleasant, to discover those exceptions.


St. Louis made me soft; I’d happily surrendered my edge by the time we moved back East, this time to South Florida, where Barry had joined a practice, and fell into a kind of friendship withdrawal as soon as we traded shady oaks for palm trees. So in other words I was perfect prey for someone like Esther, who needed someone guileless and homesick—or St. Louis-sick, in my case—to fall for her creepy variety of companionship.

But more on that later…(to be continued; see Part Two)


kellyioki said...

I can't wait to read part two. Seriously.

Sarah said...

Can't wait to read part two