I ran into an old University buddy of mine yesterday, a brilliant writer who gave up her dream of becoming a successful novelist due to pressure from her family. She became a lawyer instead. I’ve tracked her progress for many years, watching in awe as she went from junior associate to senior partner in what seemed the blink of an eye; sitting on boards for this, and acting as President of that. The only way to describe her career in law is stellar, her talent is remarkable.
I run into Annette every few years. We chat like we only saw each other the day before, there is an ease between us, yet I always feel like the poor, ugly sister whom no one invites to the prom while she dazzles in her two hundred dollar haircut and Prada coordinates. She doesn’t intend to make me feel bad – I am sure of it – it is my own sense of failure that paints me in watered-down hues.
Each time I have seen her I have had not more than twenty dollars in my pocket. She pays for our lunch with a wad of fifties, perfectly manicured nails redder than the strawberry coulis that is drizzled on her chocolate and pistachio pudding. My nails are broken and chipped, short as a child’s from planting hyacinth bulbs in the garden. I sit on them as Annette charms the waiter, a tourist from Palermo named Giacomo. He gives her a complimentary serve of dried figs in the sweetest little timber box. “They are organic,” he says, rolling out the ‘r’ so it sounds like an endearment. Annette laughs. It is the way I imagined a princess would laugh when I was four. Crystal chimes stirred gently by a mistral wind.
Giacomo compliments her on her outfit – bellissima – lightly touches her arm. I notice that I have a stain on my skirt, it looks like barbecue sauce, and that my hem is coming down slightly. Annette indicates that we should leave and I bang against the table, knocking over the salt shaker. The flowers on the table tremble in their vase, spraying miniscule sprigs of pollen on the tablecloth. Giacomo frowns, raising one eyebrow as if I am a recalcitrant child.
“Let’s get out of here,” says Annette. “I am sick of this shit.”
“What do you mean?” I ask. “The food was good, wasn’t it?”
“I don’t mean this place specifically – I mean everything, this city, this place. I am sick of it. All of it. All it stands for. All it is.”
What Annette didn’t tell me over lunch is that she is giving up her job, a job that pays her half a million a year, selling her house and moving to the south coast. She has bought a house on the beach. “It is made of wood,” she says. “It has a blue gate and window boxes full of petunias. I have two acres of land and my own water tank. I am going to grow my own vegies, get a dog and write a novel. I’m tired of doing what everyone expects me to do. I’ve worked hard all of my life, and yes, I’ve been successful, I’m well-respected in my field, but I’m alone. I have no husband, I have no children, I have nothing to show for all the years I’ve slogged away but things. Things that mean nothing in the end.”
In Chinatown we pause outside a shop with an enormous Hello Kitty display in the window. Two little girls have their faces pressed to the glass. “We love Kitty,” they say like children in a cult. Kitty’s image is as overwhelming as a Goodyear blimp crashing to earth. I imagine that beneath that cute little always-smiling mouth lie razor-sharp teeth waiting to nip and tear. The little girls run into the shop, squealing like they have seen a rock star, grabbing at Kitty accessories without restraint. Their mother runs after them, waving her arms around, crying :”No more Kitty, no more Kitty!”
It is a funny scene, reminiscent of my son’s obsession with Matchbox cars. He used to shoplift them when he was three, putting them in the gumboots he insisted on wearing even in the middle of summer. I realise now that the reason he wore the gumboots was because it made it easier to shoplift the cars!
Smirking, I catch sight of Annette’s face reflected in the window. She is glowering, pushing aside the afternoon light. “Those girls will end up like me if they’re not careful,” she says. “Rooms full of stuff they don’t need, objects gathering on shelves like dust.”
Annette’s house on the beach was cheap by Sydney standards. Two hundred thousand dollars. She has invested some money to live on and is giving the rest of her money to her nieces and nephews with the proviso that they use it to enjoy their lives. She is taking basic items of furniture with her and is donating the rest to a charity auction. Her computer will be going with her, her Blackberry won’t.
“At 3AM it rings,” she says. “I’ve just finished working a fifteen hour day and I’m expected to answer it. I can’t sleep for fear that I might not hear it ring. It’s too much. I have no life. Every room I walk into in my house is silent. I’m tired of cooking meals for one or settling for toast for three nights in a row because it’s too late to cook.”
An elderly couple emerge from a Chinese restaurant. They are discussing their meal. “I thought it was too spicy,” says the woman. “It was just right,” says the man. “I couldn’t taste anything there was so much spice,” says the woman. “It was just right,” says the man. They link arms and walk off, heads so close together they appear conjoined.
“See that,” cries Annette with a catch in her throat. “That’s what I want. Someone to grow old with and discuss whether or not I liked the Szechuan chicken. I’ll never get it while I’m married to the firm.”
Two months ago Annette awakened in the middle of the night unable to move. She thought she was dying. Then she became aware that what was pinning her to the bed was the realisation that her life had no meaning. “I woke up and wanted my life to change. It was as simple as that. I’d had enough.” She put her house on the market the next day.
We wait at the bus stop. Annette has sold her car. When she moves to the beach she will buy a Jeep. Pigeons scratch at our feet, someone has dropped a sandwich. One of the pigeons has purple tips on his wings. I wonder if this sets him apart in the pigeon world. Maybe he is something important, like a pigeon Lord Mayor.
Annette finishes work at the end of the month. She is giving her entire wardrobe to her cleaning lady and is never getting a manicure again. She shines with zeal, like her very skin has been freshly-laundered. As her bus pulls up she wraps me in a hug. I am surprised to see tears in her eyes.
“I knew the secret all along but I could never say it aloud,” she says.
“It’s only money.”
The bus moves off. Annette stands at the door, holding her hand, palm outward against the glass. It is a gesture of farewell but also of hope.
Jacaranda blossoms coat the footpath. A teenage boys slices through them on a skateboard. In a plume they land on the road, pale lilac stars. My bus arrives and a blossom is flung upward, landing on the windscreen. The busdriver touches it from the other side of the glass like it is a gift. And suddenly, with certainty, I know Annette will be alright, and that maybe, just for once, she will be able to truly live the life she dreams of.
Wow, this was powerful! Isn’t it wonderful that here you were feeling inferior about your life, and that’s the kind of life she’s been missing all along! How I envy her having the freedom to persue her dreams. You should submit this piece for “Sunday Scribblings” (the link is in my sidebar), today’s prompt was “money” and this certainly tells the tale! Great writing, Selma, I enjoyed every word of it!
GOOD FOR HER.
Great post (as always from you). You are so talented at bringing us such wonderful and INSPIRING stories.
This was excellent – my first visit to your blog and it was an impressive first impression, to say the least.
Josie – thank you so much. I also envy Annette having the freedom to follow her dreams. It would be daunting but liberating at the same time.
Meleah – you inspire me too. I wouldn’t be enjoying blogging so much if it weren’t for your encouragement. You are a gem!
Miss Britt – welcome. So nice to see you. I am a huge fan of yours – your wit, your style, your guacamole. You are awesome!
Cheers for Annette for waking up before it was too late and THREE cheers for Selma who wrote about so beautifully. (WHILE she’s doing Nanu-Nanu….Groovy feels like her shirt is stained, her nails are ragged and her hem is non-existant!)
funny ,, but i was just today reflecting on all the times i have worked two even three jobs to “get ahead”,,, do you know,,, i have not one possession from those “get ahead” times?? not one… all i have is wasted time….
My parents would flip if I were to ever utter the words, “It’s only money.” They grew up in the great depression and have all the lovely “issues” that come with such a childhood. Yeah, and they passed them on to me! oh, yay.
Top that off with the life of being a single mother when Spawn was so young, and nothing in the house to feed either one of us, bill collectors knocking at the door, and no relief in sight. Just the thought of living like that again… I, uhhhh, wow…
So many times I come here, read what you’ve written and gone away without commenting because the words were so powerful, I had to digest them for a while. There have been a couple times when you hit on a subject that goes right into the heart and I had to leave without commenting…
I sincerely hope you’re saving these posts somewhere to put in a collection, because they are so wonderful, they need to be bound in glue and paper and resting on someone’s bedside table.
Yeah, like Groovy, I’m feeling a bit disheveled next to you.
aww.. thanks. I try.
Selma, your posts are so beautiful, so powerful…that I almost hate to comment. My words lay inadequate next to yours. What an epiphany to have….it’s only money. Amazing.
What a rare gift you have … being able to listen to people, and being able to re-tell their stories in a way at which they couldn’t possible take exception or offence.
Selma this is so beautiful. I just love the little things you notice – like the flowers that get whirled up – that you collect along with the more serious observations, like a scrapbook of impressions. It makes it so lifelike, I feel like I’m right there with you.
Groovy – definitely cheers all round. And as for Nanu Nanu – it’s mind-blowing, isn’t it ?
Paisley – you are so right. My Irish Grandmother, the wisest woman I have ever known always said ‘it’s only money’ and she was the happiest person ever. Sometimes I also feel like it’s a waste of time trying to get all this stuff. It stops us from doing what we really want like writing or music. Annette’s decision to leave the corporate world behind has really made me think about my own life.
Karen – you are a true sweetie. It means so much to me that you visit my blog – so much. Hugs.
Meleah – you are also a sweetie.
Laurie Anne – ditto regarding your posts. Sometimes I don’t know what to say when I read your beautiful posts. I am all tongue-tied and inarticulate. Epiphanies are amazing, quite spiritual in a way.
Keith – awww, thank you so much.
Daoine – thank you, indeed. It’s interesting to me that observing the minutiae (did I spell that right?) of life has helped my writing. This is a habit I’ve had since childhood which used to be frowned upon. At school once I was late finishing work in class and had to attend detention (I went to a very strict school.) When asked to report upon what I had learned in that detention class all I could talk about was a bee that had struggled against the classroom window for a whole hour before managing to escape. Instead of writing my essay on being tardy I had written a story about a bee trapped in a world made of glass. Needless to say, I got a week’s worth of detention. LOL!
I hope Annette finds happiness. I love how you wrote this, all the details and the ending is lovely. I love jacaranda…
I am so glad that the detentions didn’t “beat” that out of you. I am envious of your ability to observe. I’m the opposite, I come to write about a place and realise I can’t even remember what X looked like, or which street ran where and what the buildings were made of. That’s why I’ve turned to fantasy because it means I can make those details up and not worry about getting them right. But I still feel I don’t put enough detail in.
Daoine – you are right. Describing things is difficult but the more you do it the easier it gets. I am sure with your gift for words you could master it very quickly. Because I used to cop such flack for my descriptive interludes, I gave up for many years. Now I just think, c’est la vie, and do it ‘cos I love it. I’ve trained myself to think somewhat visually and to find beauty in the ordinary. Sometimes I do think, though, that I go on a bit. I mean, how crucial to the plot is the way someone drinks water from a glass? It’s fun to write though, I can’t deny it! Thanks so much for reading.