Years ago as a new mother I remember being a bit unsure of myself. It was easy to be so in the town I lived; it seemed my peers had loftier ideas, more money, nicer “things”, and in some way a more worldly experience than I had. Funny what makes one insecure when you examine the list, isn’t it? Anyway, a few years later and I’ve learned none of those things imply an objective superiority or negate a lack of personal or emotional security.
A conversation I’m remembering now in new-Mamahood was about, kind of, money and class. A woman there (one of those intimidating types I instinctively think of as an Alpha-mom, and yes I know this term has been applied directly to myself as well) was sharing a snack with the rest of us: “Organic pineapple. [Husband]’s mother bought it. Boy, I’d like to be able to afford organic pineapple.” The fruit was good, melt-in-your-mouth, but no better by taste than any pineapple I’d had. Alpha-mom made a few more comments about the extravagance of the fare and it’s inaccessibility to us presumably normal folk.
In my naivete (at the time I didn’t know all that much about organic foods myself) and based on her comments I assumed this confection was a seriously expensive, order-it-from-a-catalog nicety that came, perhaps, mail order on some sort of platter with a sprig of parsley and an embossed card. And delivered by a lawn jockey, or something horrid. A few years later and I realize what Alpha-mom was likely communicating was less a fact of price, but rather her emotional reality: a snobbery and judgment on her mother-in-law for, I don’t know, having something Alpha-mom didn’t think she could have, so she chose to “sour grape” and disdain her mother-in-law for this. Or at least, that’s my assessment looking back on what I know.
If we can look at those who seem to be more “well-off” than us with a gimlet-eyed and unfair assessment of their failings as a person (precipitated by the lack of the self-sustaining behaviors not required of them, which we of course believe we participate in and benefit from), how much more horrid we can view the lower class, those whose poverty and circumstances do not excuse their lack of “decent” characteristics. This afternoon I’m on hour seven in the hospital after a battery of tests (sudden onset of medical problems, yay!) and as it happens I’m in the Emergency Room, awaiting the ER doc’s opinion of test results so they can decide if I need some kind of immediate procedure – not quite sure what else they might have done to me since I’d already weathered a few unsavory experiences, including an IV with a 8″ wire needle and an incredibly invasive type of ultrasound*.
The ER room is very busy and nothing I see cheers the spirit: a morbidly obese young woman accompanied by her equally obese mother (wearing the uniform and nametag from Walmart) and a family friend, the young woman vacillating between openly crying and hyperventilating and despite being 10 behind in the queue insisting on being seen immediately; a bearded young man flitting and darting about the room before popping up to the Registrar and explaining, “I was here last night and I got a couple prescriptions and, I don’t know what happened, but I lost them on the bus,” who, upon hearing he’d have to see a doctor again, vanishes. Mothers with unwashed hair in sweats, their infant children crawling on the floor and their expressions strained.
I am chilled to the bone to think of myself, here but under different circumstances. Lacking proper medical care so receiving it only in the ER, where you will not be turned away yet will incur fees higher than if you’d been cared for by rote in a physician’s office. Queried in public about highly personal bodily issues. Juggling my runny-nosed two young babies while awaiting my common-law husband’s L&I claim verdict and treatment.
A horrid daytime soap opera blares on the one screen in the room. Sitting there and listening to the television and the over-loud discussions of potential patients in the room and I am struck with the similarities, spoken with urgency and dire importance:
“… and I said, ‘Doctor. What exactly is wrong with my ribs?’ [indistinct ]… shattered… into my lung.”
“She can’t breathe!”
“She already had a miscarriage.”
“If you even come near him, I will call the police!”
“And now he’s there, in a hospital bed, fighting for his life!”
“He needs to know I’m here – he can’t talk!”
I don’t travel around my seating area to view the soap opera, but I know what’s onscreen. The actors suffering these tragedies are sleek, well-dressed, beautiful, upper-class or ridiculous facsimiles of “criminal class”. Their drama is entirely a luxury they participate in as a hobby – in their spare time between the appearance of running the family restaurant or sipping champagne at parties.
The people in the waiting room have identical-sounding dramas but they don’t vanish off to immaculate penthouses or laughing, cocktail-pouring marital adventures. They chain-smoke, hollow-cheeked and wait for the bus in the rain, or call their boss to try to explain a day off they can’t afford, or fight openly with ex-boyfriends on cell phones they probably can’t afford. I feel like I’m sitting among some kind of Lost, or in some individual cases, the Living Dead. I don’t know if I’m scared this will be me, helpless and un-helped, un-loved, stressed, prematurely aged, or if I’m just overwhelmingly sad that those with a home and security allow so many join the ranks of the Lost and don’t think about them in any way but dismissively and with contempt.
* OK, on doing an image search, I see that it could have been worse.