"Is that yo' daughter?" she said, disbelievingly. "How old she be?"
"21," I answered.
"You got a 21-year-old daughter, and you look like you do? Livin' large must be good to yo' face!" she laughed, and suddenly I wanted to be rid of her. I was so tired of hearing that opinion.
She didn't know me. She didn't know the time and hard work put in to deserve what we have. She didn't know I came from nothing, didn't know the tears I've cried, the hardships I've known. She didn't know about the years waitressing, or walking 2 miles to the grocery store to save on cab fare because pennies meant eating dinner or not. She didn't know that I had also known the fear of not making ends meet, not being able to buy needed things let alone luxuries. All she could see was what I now had. That's all anyone could see.
I passed money to her in exchange for her sale. I didn't need the "Industrial Strength Cleaner" she was hawking for an un-Godly price of $64 a bottle. I had felt sorry for her, knowing that she had spent the better part of this 90-degree day walking the streets of this city or another nearby, hoping for just one sale. I paid her cash so that if need be she could pocket it and profit more than the paltry $5 share that was probably hers at the end if she chose to do so.
I knew the photograph of twin babies was a ruse, or just an obvious "feel sorry for me" tactic. But I had just written the weekly $125 check to the cleaning-lady for her 6-hours of dusting, vaccuming, waxing and washing that she'd done in my house and figured I could spare it for a good cause as well.
Standing in front of the Mercedes and the Beemer in the driveway, she had asked me which one I drove. "Both," I had answered, and she had said, "Girl, you want to adopt a black girl?" and laughed.
She didn't know the arguments we had had over these cars. How I didn't want to buy them, thought them too ostentatious, felt embarrassed to drive them for so many years. The BMW a 1997 model with less than 3000 miles on it. The Mercedes a 2001 with less than 15,000. She didn't know how I missed my old Buick, how I'd been happy with it, hadn't wanted or needed more.
I could see myself through her eyes, and it took me back again to the struggle I have gone through in recent years just to stop feeling guilty for our success after we've worked SO hard and have gone through SO much.
So I handed her the money and sent her on her way, feeling somewhat wounded by the encounter. I had thought that I had stopped caring what people thought, stopped fighting with the instinct to down-play things and try to weaken the wall that made me different from everyone else around me.
I was surrounded by opulence and size, our home sitting royally at the end of the cul-de-sac, inviting passers-by to linger and look and dream as they circled by just to be nosy.
There was such an urgency inside of me to stand up and scream, "THIS IS NOT WHO I AM!!!" but it was no longer true. I had gotten used to the space and the finery. I was not the pampered pet that many seemed to envision, I worked hard in my office every day. Still did the shopping, the laundry, the cooking, the bills, the child-rearing, the maintenance of our life. But I had to acknowledge that I will forever be seen as the spoiled gold-digger eating bon-bons in front of the television Soaps by those who don't know me. And it made me feel tired. And alone. And sad.
So as I set the bottles of cleaner in the closet and returned to the telephone, the fax, the computer, and the paperwork, I tried to wipe the incident from my mind and focus upon my responsibilities.
"She didn't know," I told myself.
"She didn't know."