I'm sorry for my lack of writing. I started teaching at New Trier and it's been pretty overwhelming. Lots of attitude from teacher who believe they are challenged when the majority of their students are 1) Prepared, 2)Motivated, 3)Supported by parents. The English Department is one huge room and frequently you overhear a calm conversation about pedagogy. I mentioned to this one guy my belief that sometimes I'd want to isolate and he reacted as predicted that all this intellectual banter is so much better. Yes, it is. But when you teach challenging kids there is often a point where you need to cry or sit by yourself and figure out how you can help them, how you can teach them, how you can be a good mother and partner when you're so burned out. I'm so burned out.
He had an impossible name, Win Thompson. His parents were ridiculously rich. A servant brought breakfast, a pool, tennis courts, and fancy cars. I crashed his birthday party. Just before he kissed me, he said, “You’re my present.” He was handsome, not sarcastic or preppie but shy and kind and beautiful. He called to invite me to a dance at a country club. “Yes,” I said. This was my first real date. It was 1975 and no one dated in the fancy academic town where I grew up. People hung out, slept together and sometimes fell in love. But it was a cold day in hell that anyone actually invited you out, picked you up, or made special plans.
“The Renoir dress,” my mother said. “Wear the Renoir.” We had made our annual pilgrimage to the Loehmanns in East Brunswick and had found a dress that contained the tints of a Renoir painting. Standing under the harsh fluorescent light in the communal dressing room, an older Jewish lady wearing terrible underwear sunk her elbow into my mother’s ribs and said: “Your daughter looks like a movie star, like a beautiful bird of paradise.” It was true. I looked like something I dreamed about, slender and smooth, hair down to my waist, my eyes huge and blue, straight teeth after 3 years of painful braces tightened monthly, the baby fat gone, cheekbones high. I was about to graduate from high school. We were rarely together anymore. I was desperate to leave home, the last daughter, filled with rage and longing, terrified and homesick. I hated my mother I loved her so much. I was convinced no one would ever love me.
Cape Hatteras for the week before graduation. Surfers; blond boys generous with their beer and their reefer. By the time we drove back to New Jersey my skin was the color of homemade caramel at the moment the sugar melts, hair streaked golden red.
The Renoir dress wrapped around my body, fell to mid-calf, a low neck and a tight wrap around my small waist. Cut deep in back, brown skin against the pink-red-yellow flowers swirling, the colors of an impressionist painting, a girl from a dream. But I was awake. The night velvet on my warm skin.
I looked back at my parents as they faded, forward to watch the sunset that mirrored the fabric soft against my heart. I saw the pulse in my wrist and then he kissed that place and along my neck. It was perfect.
But then ruin. At the dance his real friends saw he had broken rank. These girls were in Lily Pulitzer like their mothers, matrons with bows in their hair and old lady purses. Rich. Cruel.
“You don’t belong here,” they said “He has a girlfriend.”
He didn’t defend me.
My mother sat on the edge of the bed, her cool hand on my burning forehead. “I’m sorry,” she said.
I was that girl in the painting. A work of art.