You’re not going to wear that, are you?
Before attending a class reunion, a small group of college friends convened at my house for hors d’oeuvres and a chance to catch up. Over the years, we had all lost contact with one another. Patty arrived first, followed by Joan and Marci. As each woman entered the living room, we all gave her air kisses, light-non-wrinkling hugs and the once-over. We mentally calculated if she had aged badly, gained weight, or if she had had her nose, eyes, thighs, or boobs reconstructed. Though uncomfortable, we all acted as if we were genuinely happy to see one another.
What do you say to someone who you have neither seen nor thought much about in the past fifteen years? We settled for benign conversation about families and careers. Pictures of children were passed around. Then some of the girls showed pictures of their husbands taken in the early 1980’s when they had hair and muscle tone. At first, all life updates were bright and optimistic. But, as more and more wine was consumed, everyone grew relaxed the truth came out. It’s interesting to note how virtual strangers will discuss the most intimate details of their lives when they are under the influence of Chardonnay and know that they won’t have to see each other for another fifteen years. Eventually, we heard about husbands’ infidelity or impotence or their money problems.
Marci rolled her eyes, “Joe was laid off … again.”
“My husband Gregory and I haven’t had sex in two years. He feels pretty guilty about it.” Joan took another sip of wine. “Frankly, he wasn’t that good to begin with. But, at least, now I get jewelry.”
“That’s nothing” Patty piped up. “You may have heard I divorced Harvey. One day, I came home early from work and caught him wearing my lingerie.” She continued, “I got the kids and he got custody of Victoria Secret.”
Everyone was laughing and seemed to be enjoying themselves. The doorbell rang and I when I opened the door to Janet and Teresa, the mood suddenly grew dark. As they walked in, Janet looked at my dress and said, “Are we early? It looks like you didn’t have a chance to change into a nice dress for the party.” With that said, everyone knew that there was going to be trouble.
Janet had always been the ultimate snob. She had the talent of reducing anyone to tears with just one scathing comment. Janet had grown up as the only child of older, wealthy parents. She had lived a very privileged life and was never shy about to rubbing her wealth and status in the face of anyone whom she had come into contact with. Everyone who knew her was afraid of Janet and never dared to say no to her. During our college days, Janet’s parents had always provided her with a lot of money and had urged her to travel through Europe during school breaks. After knowing Janet for a while, it’s obvious why her parents encouraged her to go away.
We all knew that Janet’s nastiness stemmed from her own insecurities, but we still feared her commentary. Janet could have taken the sport of hurling verbal barbs to the Olympics if only there had been a venue for it. Although it had not been discussed, everyone at the party was hopeful the she had grown out of it.
Teresa had always been Janet’s side-kick, her flunky, her puppet. Janet’s insecurities were only out done by Teresa’s fear of her. Teresa’s function in their relationship had always been to agree with and enable Janet’s behavior.
We all reverted to our youth related awkwardness, and waited silently for Janet to unleash her unsolicited opinions on us. Although she had matured and was no longer outright nasty, she didn’t let us down. As the years had progressed, she had learned to shroud their insults with empty compliments.
“Marci,” Janet said, while looking her up and down. “I see that you haven’t lost your personal flare for style.” She added, “I would have never thought to wear those colors together. You’re very brave.”
Teresa smirked and added, “You’re very daring.”
Marci looked wounded as she glanced down at her outfit.
It was Patty’s turn next. “Even after having all of those children, you’re still brave enough to tuck in your blouse. You go girl.”
“Go, girl,” Teresa repeated and looked to Janet for approval.
Patty moved her hands in front of her stomach as she glared at Teresa and asked Janet what the hell her problem was.
She avoided answering Patty’s question and turned her back on us. For a moment, we were hopeful that Janet had realized how nasty she was being and would apologize. Patty, Marci, Joan and I glanced at each other and smiled. While looking in the mirror that hung over the fireplace, Janet glanced at the reflection of Joan. “I wish I could be like you,” she said and turned to face her. “I have this problem. Unlike you Joan I am continually changing my hairstyle to fit the trends. You have managed to stick with that same hairstyle for what … fifteen years?”
Joan was speechless.
Always the hostess, I remembered that it is impolite to offend a guest in my home, so instead of telling Janet to shut up, I suggested that we sit down, relax and have some cheese.
Janet turned toward me. “So, you’re still single. It must be nice to have the luxury of being selfish. I mean, is it that you never wanted to get married or that you never had the opportunity?”
Bitch! I though. I changed the subject, “Who wants more wine?”
Marci waved her hand and said shyly, “My husband doesn’t like for me to drink.”
Janet looked at Marci in disbelief. “Is he here?” she said sarcastically. Laughter erupted from the other wives. Marci looked down, embarrassed.
Turning her attention back to me, Janet said, “Did you ever think that you would get to be this old and still be single? What do they call someone like you?” She paused, “a spinster?”
“Frankly, I have a great life and to answer your question, no, I don’t think about it.”
“Pity,” she sighed and looked out of the corner of her eye at Teresa.
Pity? What the hell is that supposed to mean? I wanted to lunge across the coffee table and smack her so hard that she would resemble a Picasso painting, but, I remembered one of the rules of entertaining: It is poor form to pummel a guest in your home.
Instead, I took at deep breath and looked at my watch, “I suppose we should get going to the reunion.” We all gathered our purses and stepped out onto the porch. It had started to rain.
“You go ahead,” Janet said as she pointed across the street. “I’ll take Teresa in my new Jaguar.”
“Fine,” I said and the rest of us got into my car.
As I pulled my car out of the driveway, I noticed that Janet was fiddling with the door handle of her car. She had locked her keys inside. Janet and Teresa turned and tried to get my attention by waving at me.
I looked at Janet who was holding her handbag over her head to keep the rain from ruining her trendy hair-do. “Pity,” I said and drove away.