Gemma was my friend. Her family lived June, July and August on the Vineyard and somewhere near DC the rest of the year. We met at our summer job in Edgartown. I liked her right away because she made Birkenstocks look cool which was virtually impossible. She was also my same age, nice and easy to talk to. We took our lunches together. I’d sit in the grass smoking Parliament Lights and she’d eat actual food. I loved the little recessed filter. We called them P-funks. I also liked her smooth hair and flowery dresses. We both walked to work. I’d asked her a few times about where she lived. If you’ve never been to the Vineyard you should know, Edgartown is home to the yacht club, the only Relais and Chateau in the United States and multi-million dollar captain’s mansions. A captain’s mansion faces the ocean and features a widow’s walk; these tiny balconies at the very top of the several story masterpiece where women could watch their fisherman husbands get lost at sea. Isn’t that tragic? I had one friend in high school, who’s auntie’s cousin’s uncle’s sister owned one or borrowed one or rented one so I got to see inside once. It had a dumbwaiter, which is a manual elevator you pull yourself up. It was only ever used by servants so they could get up and down each floor quickly to bring you a biscuit or glass of wine. The house was full of original artwork in ornate gold frames. Every piece of furniture was essentially, some priceless bit of colonial New England history. I remember thinking it would be impossible to actually ‘live’ inside a museum. There I was in my Levi’s and flannel, all unbrushed and scrubby standing in front of hundred year old oil paintings on tapestry rugs that really, no one should stand on. Thankfully my little group of friends weren’t there to destroy the place, just admire and dream about a different life. One person from our party that night became some kind of famous drug dealer and the other person probably married well and became a lawyer or stock trader.
So I asked her where she lived. Crickets. I told her I walked from Katama, which was way down past Ernie Boch’s estate, the front of which faced the harbor. Sometimes his llama’s chased me. He bought llamas so he could claim the land as farm land and pay less taxes, or something. Come on down to Boch Toyota! One time some friends of mine who were friends with this guy who did catamaran tours, got us a free tour. The front of Boch’s house was made entirely of glass, an emerald and sapphire fortress. It was so bright in the sun you couldn’t look straight on it. The regular people who lived down either side of the fork in front of his house loathed the llamas, including our school bus driver. Why does this dude have pets he doesn’t even care about, who just eat his grass, spit at people and stand in the road?
She didn’t want to tell me so I wrongly assumed I could relate. I once met this boy in the park in 7th grade. He was really cute and asked me to the movies. My mom said I could go as long as my girlfriend went too and she would drop us off and pick us up. Great. But I insisted that no matter what, we absolutely would not drive by our apartment with my crush in the car. At the time we were living in yet another heinous duplex that wasn’t any kind of color and had patches of basically, dust in the front with some broken sidewalk fragments. Puh-lease dear god. Just let him think I’m a cute girl whose bedroom looks like something out of 17 Magazine and we’re a remotely normal family with a house. Game day comes and me and the date squad are in the blue Toyota (which I thought was acceptable since it’d been my Papa’s car who sold it to my mom after the divorce). My mom is dropping us off in between one of her 5 jobs and suddenly remembers she left her stethoscope at home. Faaaaaack. What? No. She glanced back at me like she was oh, so sorry, smirk, but I was pretty convinced she did this all entirely to destroy whatever shred of self-esteem I had left. As we drove to our dump she rambled on about her medical job offering a long winded, overly descriptive apology while I slid into a puddle of shame sludge in the front seat. Now he knew, I’m poor and my mom is ridiculous. Hi. His house, I should mention, was a normal house with a lawn, flowers and a little pathway leading up to a blue door; there were tiny birds, a singing fairy and butterflies, probably. Anyway, it was perfect and now he knew I was white trash. We went and saw Back to the Future II and I think we all fell asleep. I never saw him after that but I pretended to cook him a cube steak one night when I was home alone. I pretended we were a normal couple living a nuclear life, serving mealy cow to my imaginary husband on an invisible kitchen table. Anyway, Gemma said she wasn’t embarrassed because her house was gross. Big long pause from me.
Why don’t you like your house? She asked me to promise not to judge her for her dad’s house, then told me she was adopted as a baby and that money really complicates things in families. She loved her dad but wanted to earn her own money and that’s why she had a summer job. Umm, okay. We walked down the quaint lane off Main Street, past The Victorian Inn and white wooden flower boxes overflowing with roses. I loved the smell of rose mixed with sea spray, sunshine and friendship. I was thinking it was fascinating that my new friend was just as scared of being rejected for her wealth as I’d always been for the opposite reason. I was also thinking I wished my clothes had been better in that very moment since I was now guessing everyone at her house was probably wearing tuxedos and ballgowns. They weren’t. But they still looked very important, clean and sleek. I read once that wealthy people look like they’ve been dipped in lacquer and that’s exactly it-polished to a shimmer. I stood in the kitchen feeling like Pig Pen, wanting to immediately apologize for being me and potentially ruining their beautiful life as a result. Instead I was mute. Everything was white and marble and looked like a movie set. Gemma walked us through the part of the house where she said they lived, implying there were other parts of the house that maintained an empty existence. They had a person who traveled with them as a helper who spoke very little English. She was older and European. Gemma said she made her bed every day but she preferred to do those kinds of things herself. Oh.
Her bedroom suite was bigger than my family’s apartment. I walked through her closet, just the right amount of those summer dresses you only see in shop windows and a wall-mount of hooks dripping with beaded necklaces next to a mirror and dresser that looked like a catalog picture. Her king sized bed floated on top of soft grey carpet adjacent to a wall of successive windows overlooking the ocean. Her bathroom had more than one sink and smelled like a a very fancy hotel with lighting that even made my skin look good. I tried to act cool, but once I saw the bathroom I exploded. Your room is seriously amazing! I have to share a bathroom with like, 9 other people and a dog. I wouldn’t be embarrassed of this. Just be psyched. I promise, I don’t judge you. It’s awesome! She even had a whole drawer just for scrunchies.
We were friends from 8th grade all the way through to college. We wrote letters to each other during the school year and hung out all summer, every summer. Our paths wouldn’t divide until after freshman year of college for all kinds of growing up reasons which I wouldn’t fault either of us for. Part of it felt like my fault; the anorexia and family dysfunction muddied lots of relationships. I’d stopped shaving and showed up at her house one night asking for a place to crash after getting kicked out. She hid me in her room for a night and I didn’t like the feeling. It was one of the last times we saw each other. But in one of our early summers of friendship she asked me to go on a date with her cousin. I don’t remember his name. Why Gemma? Why me? He probably wears boat shoes without socks. She’d later live in the guest house above the garage which housed over half a dozen Trek bikes and two Range Rovers, one of which was hers. We used to drive to State Beach smoking P-funks out the window listening to Dave Matthews perched on tan leather seats. I loved the taste of another life I got each with her. We felt like sisters from some other set of parents despite our differences. She said private school was kind of a deal and she hated the way her stepmother used her dad for his money. I liked her dad. I don’t know if he got where I was from but I had a person-antennae and the only feeling I ever got from him was truth and love. Here was this man with alot, but whatever it all was it didn’t define him. I met his wives and they had various shades of ‘money matters’; so did her cousin.
We were supposed to go somewhere, like dinner or something. I’d already decided he was gross and I just wanted to go home and forget the favor. Awkward small talk. It was painfully clear his parent’s bank account hadn’t bought him a personality. He sounded scared, stuck and worried about his future. I did not understand people with money. Apparently where I fit into his situation was some kind of summer bonus he could tell his friends about. Local cherry popper? So, okay buddy, I don’t wanna sleep with you, or even make out with you. I don’t know what Gemma told you but I thought we were having dinner, this is my fancy shirt. I have curfew and I have to work in the morning so…I’m out. He had a box of condoms out on an end table. How is this upper-classy? Is he reaching for his wallet? Were you thinking you could pay me? I’m revolted and start to leave. I figure if I start walking now I won’t be late. My step-grandparents are staying the weekend so our tiny house is even smaller. I want to get home before all the good floor spots are taken.
I’ll drive you. He says. I’ve been an ass. He says. My cousin speaks really highly of you and your friendship. Let me drive you home. I’m sorry. Fine. I’m disgusted and don’t feel safe but it’s late and if I really need to I could most certainly beat the crap out of this guy. Enter the passive aggressive douche. Martha’s Vineyard is the size of a thumb tack but this chowderhead manages to take 45 minutes to drive from downtown Edgartown to Katama. First he took left fork instead of right, then he kept turning into all the wrong side roads, despite my protests. He stopped to smoke a little pot and switch his CD’s around to find a better getting lost soundtrack; STP will never sound the same. He drives all the way out to South Beach making little jabs about being sexually frustrated sprinkled with philosophical meanderings about youth and spontaneity and how attractive I might, kinda sorta be, but not really. I almost get out twice, except now he even has me feeling lost and I’m really anxious about the time. We finally arrive at the familiar rock at the top of my road and I demand that he stop so I can run home because by then I’d had quite enough of this mental rape thing I didn’t know about until then. I smoke while running home.
My mother and her boyfriend are sleeping in front of the door on the pullout sofa. The house is pitch black and I feel like vomiting. You are late. I don’t want to hear your excuses. Just go upstairs. The girls are in our bed and you’re on the floor and you’re grounded. They’re both pissed. I inch up the stairs, try not to breathe and find the pile of blankets on the floor meant for me. I scrunch my shoes off under the blanket and try and settle into the carpet while I hear them muttering about what a gross slut I’m becoming and all I can think over the pounding of my own heartbeats is that I didn’t even do what they’re probably thinking I did. I want so badly to tell them I’m not that, which is why I’m late. That this guy punished me for not sleeping with him because he thought poor girls were a sure thing? The muttering quieted. My heartbeats slowed down and silence took over but sleep didn’t come. There were heavy footsteps from the back bedroom which stopped behind me. There was something warm and wet on my head and that’s when I realized what was happening. It was on my back too. If I couldn’t tell the truth about shitty dates there was surely no audience for this outstanding humiliation. I pulled the blanket up around my neck but also tried to be still thinking it was my punishment for being late. No one ever explained otherwise, except to say there’d been secrets shared between sisters which implied we not inquire any further about what it was or wasn’t.
People make presumptions about what you are and what you’re not that are based solely on what they can see. “Don’t pick on people, jump on their failures, criticize their faults-unless of course, you want the same treatment.”- Matthew 7:1