As a teenager, the mother of one of my friends had a tremendous influence on me; I idolized her and emulated her to the extent that my own mother began to hate her a little.
My friend’s father was a very, very successful man, he owned three luxury goods stores and her mother was the ultimate trophy wife, she embodied the glamour of the style icons of the day; she looked a lot like Elizabeth Taylor and dressed like her too. I’d never known anyone to wear a turban, as she did by the swimming pool. You’d most likely find her in a gauzy, feather-trimmed dressing gown in the afternoons and to my utter amazement she actually reclined on a chaise lounge, a fan and a frosted martini glass by her side. She rested from late afternoon until dinnertime and all friends had to be gone by the time she got to the dining room. It seemed that their dinners were very intimate family affairs and I imagined them all sitting, dressed beautifully, in glittering candlelight every evening.
She had a habit of speaking in a dreamy, other-worldly manner, with long pauses during which she would gaze off into the distance and then, with a little shake of her head, come back to what she’d been saying.
I was completely and utterly bewitched and quite cross when I would get home to our rowdy house; scowling at my father and brother’s high jinks over the table, my little sisters insistence on saying born up a tree instead of bon appetite. We were just so ordinary in comparison!
Last year, at a birthday bash for a mutual acquaintance, I bumped into my friend after an interval of more than twenty five years. We spent most of the evening sitting outside the party venue and catching up. Towards hometime, I asked about her mom and was told that she died eight years ago. I said how I’d admired her mother and how she’d influenced me so much. She then told me the truth of her childhood.
How wrong we are in our perceptions of the lives of others. This woman was a hopeless alcoholic, she would drink all day long; not even getting dressed (that glamorous dressing gown!) and pass out in the afternoon. When she regained consciousness she would continue drinking; family dinnertime was hell; she would throw crockery across the table at her children and once stuck a table knife into her husband’s hand. Everyone knew to make sure there were never any witnesses. It was their family secret.
©Cindy Taylor 2008
No one keeps a secret so well as a child.