Neighborhood Encounters and Alienation

When we first arrived in our neighborhood, Ann, across the street, welcomed us with a plate of cookies, declaring that since our sons were the same age, we would become good friends. Today, I took Liev out for a splash in the kiddie pool. Once she spotted us, Ann waved us over to play.

Befuddled, Liev resisted the walk to her house, but a little girl visiting with Ann waved to him, causing him to break out in an adorable trot to reach her. As we approached, Ann beamed at me with the most engaging, natural smile. Imagine a soap opera star scrubbed clean of cosmetics and kissed by a faint sprinkling of wrinkles. Put this loveliness into Ralph Lauren and imbue her with the spirit of a Disney princess.

Yes, I was intimidated. My house clothes are ratty monochrome studies in comfort and frugality. In bare feet and unpainted toenails, I stepped over, wondering why I was so disconcerted. Did she seem like one of the popular girls from high school I never measured up to? Small talk darkened my internal mood.  Imposter Syndrome inundated me. Was adulthood a never-ending string of phoniness, tricking me and making me phony as well? Every sentence I spoke was a platitude, delivered to be polite and agreeable.

I feared Ann could detect my disingenuousness. High school angst returned full force. Inside I wore heavy black eyeliner and a second-hand trench coat, Beyond Good and Evil tucked under my arm.

Fortunately, the conversation turned to our children. What a relief! I generate compliments with ease and sincerity.  Perhaps my anxiety came from the dissonance of a disengaged conversation. How clever her daughter! How brave her son! What a spacious yard! I took pains not to shotgun blast her with admiration, interspersing conversation with questions. After I mentioned Liev could read, she dismissed me with an indifferent shrug. Hmm.

But then Liev walked up to her son, pointed to his tee-shirt and exclaimed, “Adidas!” He turned, pointed at Ann’s branded shoes and repeated, “Adidas!” Her mouth dropped. At that moment, I realized she had not asked a single question about us. Liev seemed relieved to have something to do and spent the next several minutes reading brand names.

Ann turned her full attention to us, scrutinizing Liev and me. She mentally crossed us off some exclusive list, because her demeanor changed. I suspected we would never be waved over to play again. welcomed back after that day.

It’s not the first time I’ve been excluded from future barbecues. I cannot name it, but our family emits subliminal signals certain people have an aversion to. Maybe we are beyond the acceptable quirkiness levels allowed for our economic level. Perhaps the middle class means average in more than one way.

We chose our neighborhood mindful of how similar the houses looked. How proud we felt to “move up” from our zany first home with its odd location, weird wiring, and twisted construction. Sameness is insidious. I pray not to succumb to it.

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