[For the Scriptic prompt exchange this week, Ankita gave me this prompt: "Friendships that went sour."
I gave Venus Moon this prompt: "Do not escape. Light up the road by being more intensely upon it." -Galway Kinnell ]
It's like a metaphor for my life, Dara thought. I never know where to stand.
Dara was meeting her older sister for lunch, the way they did every month, first Thursday, 12 noon, same Panera Bread that was equally inconvenient for both of them. Dara had placed her order carefully, balancing what she really wanted with what her sister would find acceptable, finally settling on a soup and salad that would leave her hallucinating about brownies by 3 o'clock. She had walked down the small corridor to the scrum by the pickup window, and she was standing, waiting for her name to be called.
It was an awkward little knot of people, a few young mothers holding tiny toddler hands, two college girls slouching against the wall in leggings and boots, a pair of overdressed salesmen, and Dara, shifting her weight from side to side, feeling her hips twinge as she leaned, waiting her turn. She watched the college girls pecking at their phones, one showing the other something on the phone's screen which provoked a stream of giggles.
Dara tried standing near the salesmen, the most adult seeming of the group, but the feeling of their eyes on her body caused her to turn away. She looked at one of the mothers, a mousy, nervous looking brunette. She tried a small smile at her toddler, who immediately ducked behind her mother's thighs. She didn't hate children, but children didn't seem to trust her one bit. She had no instincts around them, no sense of what they wanted. She didn't intend to broadcast anger, but her face seemed to do it anyway, and children could see it. She found a patch of wall and stood as still as her heels would let her, willing herself small and unnoticed, staring at the clock on the wall above the cooks' heads.
Dara could hear her sister's voice, chattering away behind her, probably already ensconced in a booth, laptop open, planning playdates or trips or fundraisers or some other child related task. No matter how early Dara left her office, Big Sister was already here, nibbling at a sandwich, making calls, silently judging. Sara was 18 months older, almost to the day, and she did everything first. The shining example of modern achievement, Dara's sister was smarter and taller and better looking and such an exemplar that Dara just started answering to "Sara" in school when the biology teacher couldn't get it right. She sometimes mused on the unfairness of that- their parents really couldn't make her a Beth or a Kate or a Maureen? Instead they took golden Sara's name and just changed one letter, hoping the magic would rub off? While Sara led the perfect life, Dara just bumped along, stubbing her toe as she went.
One of the college girls got her lunch, causing the other girl to fall silent without her partner in crime. The other girl had dark eyes, constantly flashing between her phone screen and the vaguely Hispanic looking cook that was putting up the orders. Dara watched her, rocking gently from side to side, quietly envying her freedom, having the world in front of you, having a multitude of paths and options and possibilities. One of the suited men on her other side moved forward when his name was called. She could smell a bit of his cologne as he moved past her. Dara remembered the yearning of being young, the neediness and the fear that you wouldn't find anyone, followed by the fear that you would. One of the mothers, a pretty Asian girl holding a dark haired baby with enormous eyes, stepped forward to get her meal.
Dara knew she was the constant discussion point among her mother, her aunts, and her sister. They tossed around the theories, that she was working too much, that she didn't socialize enough. They half wondered if she was gay, before assuring themselves that it wouldn't matter if she was. Dara didn't know why she was single as she approached 35, why every cousin and a couple of her older nieces were marrying and reproducing like mad. Dara saw her own branch of the family tree as one of those stubborn stumps, the kind that it takes a backhoe to dig out. While the flowers surround her, there is stupid old Dara, immobile and resolute.
She was straight, that much she was clear on. Like many women her age, she had some same sex adventures in college, but she knew her own head well enough to understand what she was. Dating and relationships were just trivia, things she couldn't be bothered to concern herself with. She was human, she had needs like anyone else, but when she thought of the enormity of the task involved in actually finding a mate, her brain just locked up. It was simpler not to- her simple, quiet life felt like home to her, and she couldn't imagine sharing a bed and a kitchen and vacations with someone else. .
Nobody believed her. There had to be something wrong. When you refuse to follow the herd, you question their choices. Or it implies that you do. Why don't you want what everybody else wants? Dara really didn't care what anybody else wanted. She just wanted to read her books, listen to her music, and watch her movies, by herself. She wanted to live life on her own terms. She knew they didn't approve, but they thought she was missing out, so it was long lunches filled with probing questions that all centered on the big one: why aren't you just like me? And what does that say about my choices, if you don't make the same ones?
The Hispanic looking man said her name and cocked his chin at her. Dara stepped forward, feeling the other salesman's eyes on her hips as she moved. She took the meal she didn't really want, along with her sugarless iced tea, safe purchases to prevent her sister's criticisms of her body, and made her way to her sister's table, ready for another episode of Inadequacy Theater.