Thursday, August 10, 2006

Tragic Fantasies

When I was a teenager, I went to a boarding school in Connecticut. (And yes, most of the students and teachers there dressed and acted exactly like this). For school vacations, I would take the 5 hour train ride from Hartford, CT to Wilmington, DE. Most of the other students lived in the NYC suburbs--Rye, NY; Greenwich, CT; Short Hills, NJ. Some of them also took the train, but their ride was only a few hours, with the vast majority of them alighting in Grand Central Station or Newark's Penn Station. For the last few hours of the ride, it was usually just me and the other business commuters and random grandmotherly travelers.

Left to my own devices, I often made up stories in my head about who I was and where I was going. I look young now, and as a 15 year old I looked no older than 12, so often times I would get looks from the other passengers, wondering why a kid was on the train all alone. I ate this up. I'd put on a sad face and pretend that I was running away from home, sighing loudly and looking dejectedly through an empty wallet, then rooting around in my backpack for some crumbs. Every now and then, a fellow passenger would take pity on me, and offer me a snack, or, and this was what I hoped for every time, ask me where I was going.

Sometimes I told them that I was going to visit a sick and/or dying grandparent. Or that my parents were divorced and I was on my way to see my dad, who I hadn't seen in years. Or that I'd been expelled from school because the school bully had blamed me for the broken stained glass in the Chapel, and the teachers had believed him.

Always, the story I told was a sad one. I'm not sure why, and I'm not sure why it gave me such a thrill to imagine myself in such dire circumstances. Even if none of the other passengers asked, I still made up the stories in my head and played them out, so that when I finally got off the train in Wilmington, I'd be dejectedly lugging my bag behind me with the weight of the world on my shoulders. Once while I was waiting there for my parents, a cabbie said to me "What's wrong, little girl? You look like you lost your best friend! Do you need a ride?" How I wished I could have jumped in his cab and told the story of the tragic death of my best friend by freak accident, but at that moment my dad drove up in his Honda, so the jig was up.

Those train rides weren't the first time I imagined myself as the tragic-heroine in a poorly written after school special. When I was seven or eight, my mom would often hand me half her list at the grocery store, trying to shorten the shopping trip. I loved wandering the aisles "alone", reading my grocery list importantly, and I always pretended I was the older sister to 4 or 5 little ones, that my single mother was working two jobs and so I had to buy the groceries and make the dinner. Or I imagined that my widowed father was ill--dying of cancer, most likely--at home in bed, and so I had to walk to the store and buy the chicken noodle soup that would heal him. I even went so far as to visibly add up the prices of the sundries I was buying, so the other shoppers would see how I was struggling, and how I was valiantly fighting the odds. And of course I avoided my mother at all costs.

In 5th grade, my parents were able to move me from the local public school to the private school in our neighborhood. Our house was about 6 blocks away. For awhile, every day after school, instead of walking home, I'd scrounge up 60 cents and walk over to the city bus stop, where I'd put on my sad face again, and imagine myself as a scholarship student who lived in the projects downtown, but rode the bus to the snooty school every day in an effort to "break the cycle" of poverty. Of course, when I got off the bus 3 stops later, still in the leafy suburban neighborhood and nowhere near the projects, the fantasy dissolved, even though I tried a couple times to act like I was getting off there because I had a job cleaning the rich peoples' houses, or babysitting their kids.

I'd forgotten all about this old habit of mine, until Monday, when I had an appointment to look at an apartment not far from here. We are planning a huge remodel on our house, and need to move out for at least 6 months. I've been unsuccessfully searching for our new place in my "free" time now that Vivian is in pre-school 3 mornings a week. I try to see the places when I don't have the kids with me, but Monday I had no choice but to bring them. The apartment ended up being in a part of town that I'm not too familiar with. Okay neighborhood, but not great. The apartment building itself looked fairly run down, and as we drove up I thought, "Hmm, this is probably a little too ghetto for Lance". Still, I parked the car and decided to give it a chance. The apartment manager was a very nice, slight, graying gentleman, pleasant and accommodating as he showed us all around. As we were walking through the complex, looking at the pool and the laundry room, I got the feeling that he was regarding me and the kids with some kind of sympathy. And then, in that place between subconscious and conscious thought, I realized that I was making up a story in my head again. I had become a single-mother, toting my two young children around, trying to make a fresh start after a disastrous first marriage. And when, at the end of the tour, he asked me if I needed one or two applications, explaining that each person over 18 had to fill out their own, I felt a little deflated, having to admit that I needed two.

1 comment:

isimsiz kahraman said...
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