(This story starts with the post “Alienated Youth is My Drink“)
House hunting in milltown had been a debacle. I’m guessing in retrospect that my parents must have had a somewhat limited budget as they still owned our city house, but the main issue was supply. There just weren’t that many “nice” houses in “good” neighborhoods. To me, many of the houses looked fine, but my parents muttered on the way back to the Realtor’s car things about “taste levels” and “gaudy” and “dreadful wallpaper.” It was 1978, so shag carpeting was pretty much the norm in milltown.
There just were no turn-of-the-century craftsmans with good woodwork waiting to be snatched up. So, with time running out, they settled on a Spanish villa perched above the bay where the ferries steamed in and out. My stepfather made it clear that under normal circumstances, they would never have purchased this house with its wrought iron banisters, swag lamps, frosted mirrors, and an intercom that served every room of the house.
But while the weather held in September, the house seemed sort of exotic to me. As was my lifelong habit, I pretended I was in another place. How often had I blurred my vision to morph the modest skyline of Vancouver into that of Manhattan? And now, I was in old LA circa Polanski’s Chinatown, making the white arches of our two-car carport seem just about right and not the total clash with the thick evergreen landscape that they were.
But when I invited Tanya and company over for the first time in late October, my parents’ position that the house was an embarrassment trumped my delusion that I was in a Hollywood bungalow and I worried that they too would see the place for the tasteless exhibit of pretense that it surely was.
“Is this it?” Tanya asked, incredulous, as we drove up.
“Yes, I know,” I said, hanging my head.
“God, the girl’s loaded,” she said to Shirley in the front.
Again, the complicated class stuff. Tanya was reading “rich” in the same place where my parents read “tacky.” And to further complicate matters, there was something new in Tanya’s voice besides the usual disdain. When she said the word “loaded,” she’d said it softly and -could this be right?– with awe.
But as much as I could’ve really used a little awe and admiration from someone, especially Tanya, I couldn’t enjoy this. I knew we weren’t loaded and more than that, I didn’t want to be admired for something that wasn’t anything to do with me, and most of all, I didn’t want to be set apart. I wanted to fit in.
So, even after Tanya oohed and aahhed her way through our house for the first time, I still kept the Trafalgar Ball (the deb thing) under wraps. I endured a lot of snarky remarks about how many weekends I spent over in the city, rather than let on to everything I was getting done over there–Waltz lessons, shopping for a long white dress (more about this later), the nibbling of cucumber sandwiches, etc.
Until one day, Tanya spotted the creamy invitation that had somehow made its way onto the kitchen counter.
She plucked the thing up and began to read aloud: “Your presence is requested at the… oh my god, what is this?” she asked, the tones of contempt and amazement so tightly intertwined I couldn’t begin to parse out which was the most dominant.
“It’s a debutante ball? Isn’t it? Oh my fucking god! Cinderella is going to the ball!”
I was preparing my defense but I needn’t have. The conversation dissolved into a million questions from Tanya, sometimes her eyes narrowing but mostly they grew wide as I answered to the best of my knowledge everything she wanted to know about where it was, who was going, what I’d wear, how I’d gotten invited.
It turned out I held the key to the golden city where Tanya longed to live. The power that Tanya held so tightly, she passed to me. But it was a power that was so undeserved and ill-fitting, I would soon pass it back to her.