Janet Garber – Company Wife

June 30, 2014 | By | 1 Reply More

I see the fish-dead faces floating sideways on the surface of the living room.  I walk in anyway, my son in my arms—sit, strip to the waist, plug him in—just in time for the first informal gathering of company wives.

So this is Sarah’s house; so this is Sarah.  She seems to have six children.  Several teenagers with friends sprawl in a corner planning a camping/hitchhiking tour of Europe, a big deal, for this summer.  Two rowdy little boys play outside on the swing, the slide, throw balls, let the dog run after them.  Sarah sits useless like an empty vase waiting for someone to fill her.  Vacant, vaguely polite, vibrating to the voices around her.  Once her oldest daughter looks over, jumps up and comes over to us.

“Mom, I’m sure one of these ladies would like to join a gym with you, take a cooking class, go to a museum, yarn shop, Bingo party, tennis match?”

Sarah listens like a tired vegetable, an eggplant in the middle of her own living room.  Blonde patch on top, the rest roundish, settled into the rug.

She’s only 40, for heaven’s sake!  Her face without angles, without light—could it be no makeup?  I squirm uneasily, tucking my baby, my first, close, sliding his arm under mine, around my side, warming.

Another company wife takes the floor.  Claudette holds forth a ten month old girl.

“Qu’elle est vilaine!” she tells us.

Though it’s her sixth, she’s never seen such a monster for waking in the night, playing, screaming, squirreling all over the house.  She wakes not once, like mine, but ten times.  Claudette’s face is weather-worn, tight.  She’s sucked out, reedy, and bent like an old straw.  Not much left to her but a voice. And she talks, more than the rest of us, blinking, gesticulating, sighing.

Ten years ago, she completed medical school, met young, vigorous Felix (who’s still young and vigorous), then sat down on her eggs and hatched.  Meanwhile she hatched herself, too, into a homemaker.  They say she’s been happy not working; they say she’s cracking up.

I look around for a happier role model.  These are women who play the game. Barbara’s blonde, pony-tailed and pretty, tall like a model, with four kids she admits she didn’t much enjoy raising.  She finally landed a job teaching at the university after nine years of waiting. She’s been teaching a month or two.  And now, like the rest of us, she’s waiting to be shipped to Hawaii, courtesy of CFH Telescope Corp.

Hawaii—I get this seasickness each time I ask myself if I’m really going.  I make believe I am; maybe I’ll believe it after a while.  Buffalo, Rochester, Mexico, Paris—not even four years of trotting around after my husband. Yet I don’t feel this puppy-dog vocation.  I feel ridiculous is all.  I had such hopes for myself.  There I was two steps from my PhD and I couldn’t wait to leap into the frail arms of a visiting Frenchman and cry, MUSH!  The Arctic, the South Pole, wherever you go, I go.  My life was finally going to begin, in a big way.

Claudette, Barbara, Sarah, the others—it’s hard to read enchantment on their faces.  Boredom seeps through their masks of patience, endurance, sacrifice.  But who really cares?

“Don’t consider me, Jack.”  I’m only an accessory. C’mon kids, it’s time to pack up!”

Fear.  I have so much fear as we talk of where we’ve been, spectators never actors. It’s not all right, girls, I want to say.  Why do you do it?  But who am I?  Apparently, the only one young enough, sure/unsure enough, rebel enough, to begin to think a timid “no.”  I won’t go. No.

The teenage girls in the corner are laughing and hugging each other, giggling over adventures they are sure to have, adventures to keep secret and not tell mom about.

Gee, I think.  Remember Elaine (my best friend) and me—ten years ago? Just like them.  I rock the baby in my arms and slyly look at the women looking at the girls.  Ten years from now, will I look like one of these women?

It’s time to go back to the hotel and dress for tonight’s company banquet.

“See you tonight.  See you in Hawaii.”

You bet your life.




Category: Knowing

Comments (1)

Trackback URL | Comments RSS Feed

  1. Dark. Terrifying in its simplicity and appearance of normalcy.

Leave a Reply