I sat across a table from two women who used to be friends of mine. Now they are like distant cousins you feel obligated to respond to if they reach out to you and say hi. One measure of what a person means to you in your life is how much you look forward to seeing that person. I can’t say I miss or long to see either of those two women again. They are a reminder of a life I used to live and a circle of friends that was broken by broken wedding vows. We are all struggling to make it through each day, week, and month but hearing them drone about it, feels superficial. They are career women who work and support their families. They are raising or have raised children and talk through their daily routine like it’s something. Well, it is something for them and it is something for me, but we are worlds apart now.
It feels like I’m a side dish nobody cares about at the table. My thoughts are the top layer of a casserole dish that has not yet been punctured with a serving spoon and the contents are congealing into a thick skin. Inside, I’m all warm and delicious, but it will go to waste at this table.
The two talk back and forth, looking at each other and barely glancing in my direction. I can hear what they are saying but I have nothing to add to the conversation. All that gossip about people in the group. So much ado about nothing. They casually ask me how things are going and I say something about school.
“Oh yeah, that’s right. What are you going to school for again?” one of the women asks.
“It’s a masters in writing”, I say, delicately leaving out the poetry part as people seem to swallow it better without that. I’m always the one who has to bring this up, because nobody really cares. Frankly I don’t know why I bother. Perhaps I’ll just stop. I consider that for a few seconds as I read the expressions on their faces at my reply. A scrunched nose (or wide eyes or pursed lips) say a lot about what a person is thinking. I couldn’t predict what the verbal response might be though. Sometimes people just gloss over it with a “that’s nice” or “cool”, and sometimes they have a follow up question, but rarely does it go much past that. This time was different. They latched onto the topic as if the subject were up for debate.
“What does that have to do with your job?” was the first follow up question. Then I explained that it doesn’t have anything to do with my job or my career or something some company wants me to do or something that one would do to further their career. It’s more of a life goal – to be educated in a subject that is interesting to me for the purpose of achieving a more fulfilling life. I’m fairly certain I am done going to school for my career. At least as far as traditional schooling is concerned. If I learn new things on my job, which happens frequently and is one of the reasons I like my job, then so much the better, but this Masters degree is a whole different avenue that needed exploring. I write poetry and I want to be better at it.
The same woman who asked what that has to do with my job followed my explanation with a suggestion that I change my area of study to something related to my career so my company would pay for my education. This is an interesting idea but completely obtuse because I just finished describing why I was getting a masters in writing. Nobody is going to pay for me to get a masters in Poetry. Being a writer is a tough gig. I mean, you have to be of the 1% to scratch the surface of making a living with writing. And poets are all people with day jobs or broke and homeless.
The two women then proceeded to have a disagreement about the topic and I was once again a side-dish turning cold. One of the women was on my side about it. Well she was less “on my side” and more just having the same opinion as I do about what my goals are. I watched as they went back and forth on the topic like I was watching a ping-pong match and once that was exhausted I spent the rest of the evening as a semi-solid lump at that table.
I returned to listening to the rest of everything else I wasn’t inclined to comment on, my eyes toggling between the two women, face to face with each other. I don’t recall any of it.
As I got in my car to leave that night it dawned on me that perhaps I’m the one that doesn’t care instead of things being the other way around. I don’t know.
That was about a year ago. I haven’t heard much from either of them and that’s just fine by me. I’m ok being the listener in conversations among friends, but I don’t want to ever feel like a second-rate side dish again. That’s rotten.
Broccoli Rice Casserole Anyone?