The Difference Between Them and Me
The difference between them and me
as we sit in a row of white plastic patio chairs outside the tennis court fence in the early morning southern California sun, (not really) watching our children swipe recklessly through their summer tennis lessons,
… is that they are wearing crisp, springy tennis shoes with sharp neon stripes and I am not. They are wearing woven visors around their tight ponytails, and I am wearing a baseball cap. And they are wearing hoop earrings, and I am wearing my grandmother’s pearl studs, which I never replace and have worn every day without thinking for well over 25 years, coinciding precisely with my mother’s disdainful opinion of hoop earrings because only loose girls, she would say sneeringly, wore hoop earrings.
… is that they are talking rather loudly and unashamedly about laser hair removal, while I am trying to read my novel. And it strikes me as particularly uncouth, because I don’t think I’ve ever in my life participated in a discussion of hair removal methodology, certainly not with a group of women I’ve known less than a week, certainly not in public, certainly not for all the world and the unsuspecting, middle-aged male tennis instructors to hear.
… has not changed much in well over 25 years, since I was a high school freshman on the girls’ tennis team. I am reminded of the eternal bus rides to away matches and all the girls with perfect ponytails and matching tennis skirts jabbering rapidly in a language I almost couldn’t understand, about a subject matter I couldn’t fathom to be remotely interesting.
… evokes this weary, age-old, ridiculous emotion: a defensive superiority, a weakling’s haughty justification, bolstered from the platitudes my mother gave me well over 25 years ago. “Someday, they’ll be working for you,” she promised. Or “Real beauty is on the inside.” Or “They may have more money, but you have so much more depth of character.” All these mantras solaced me then, well over 25 years ago, but I know now they are no more true (or false) or lasting than the scientific application of blusher along the cheekbone ridge.
… suddenly becomes profound when the two teenage assistant coaches, who happen to be my former students, smile and wave hello to me through the chain link fence when I raise my head from my book. The young men ask me hopefully what classes I’ll be teaching in the fall, and then turn to their head coach to say, “Mrs. McKeagney was the best teacher ever!” That’s when my counterparts sitting next to me, in our row of white plastic patio chairs, pause in the middle of their animated conversation about the validity and addictiveness of infomercials because they are startled to discover a person with ears and a voice (and a severely underestimated depth of character) has been sitting next to them all this time.
… becomes miniscule as the tennis lessons end, and we all stand and re-gather ourselves (me with my unfinished novel and they with their unfinished Starbucks cups), and our children emerge from the caged tennis court laughing together, knuckle punching, and then come to each of us respectively asking for approval, for water, and for permission to run ahead to the car.
I drive my minivan out of the parking lot, and the difference between them and me, along with my utterly impotent defensive superiority, recedes, as I merge right onto the crowded freeway onramp.