Things Are Not Always As They Appear
When I was a kid, I walked a mile straight up our street, to my little Catholic Grammar school, St John The Baptist De La Salle. When I wasn’t struggling with my overstuffed, fifty pound ( my mom weighed it) book bag, the one that was covered in the same blue plaid as my skirt (groovy, I know, don’t be jealous) I was looking at all the houses that lined my path.
It was one of the residential neighborhoods deep in the recently developed, middle class, suburban sprawl of the northern San Fernando Valley in the early 1960’s. Where once there were only orange and lemon groves, now stood, one to ten year old tract homes. I remind you it was the sixties, very cookie cutter; they lacked imagination and color. Some were ranch style with big lawns in the front, the garages in an alley around the back. Others had driveways with some generic plants in the front. They alternated, with the floor plan switching up every so often. Every few blocks the pattern would repeat itself.
It was new families, new sidewalks, sprinklers and the hum of “central air conditioning.”
As an eight or nine year old I was already full of opinions. I knew which of the houses on my walk, I liked the best. Being the anal, Type A, control freak that I was, I preferred the ones that were well maintained, and I actually felt sorry for the ones that weren’t.
If the lawns were perfectly manicured, mowed and edged, the bushes clipped and the roses in bloom, I figured all must be well on the inside too. If the paint was peeling, the lawn needed weeding, and the place was a wreak, well, I thought maybe life wasn’t being so kind to those occupants. I noticed the screens that were brown with nicotine at the corner house, where the man smoked like a chimney, and I actually got frustrated when people chose bad window treatments, like beads, which were all the rage, or kept foil or sheets pulled up over their windows.
Couldn’t they see how that screwed up their curb appeal? Didn’t they care?
That was when I learned two very important life lessons: Things are not always as they appear, AND, some people pay more attention to what’s going on on the outside, than on the inside.
There were two houses that I can still remember loving. One was a light yellow, with white and yellow roses in the front. I approved of their window treatments and I even thought the decorative screen door was charming. It also allowed me to catch snippets of music, TV or conversation as I walked by. A nosey eight year old’s dream. I still love to catch a candid glimpse of how other people live. Although…..
One morning as I walked by, I heard an augment. It sounded bad. I couldn’t make out what they were saying, but a man and woman were definitely yelling at each other. It stared happening on a regular basis, and went on for years. It was like,
I began to pick up my pace, speed walking, just to get past without getting any of that vitriol on me.
Interesting observation number one: Life on the inside seemed to be a hot mess, while outside from the street, there didn’t appear to be a leaf out of place.
The second house was white with blue trim. It had the driveway in front, with two cars parked side by side. I watched the slow steady climb to prosperity that the house revealed on the exterior. It had a very fancy dichondra lawn, which required ridiculous maintenance. My mom tried one once. She was out there every afternoon with cuticle scissors and tweezers. I’m not kidding. It makes maintaining a bonsai tree look like a walk in the park. Anyway……beautiful house, stunning, professionally landscaped yard, a gardener and two cars that got nicer and more expensive every couple of years. I never heard any yelling. I really never heard or saw any people or signs of life. It was the perfect picture of suburban utopia, and I LOVED it.
One day, miss nosey pants here, noticed there had only been one Cadillac in the driveway for a couple of weeks. After that, the lawn started to get overrun with dandelions, and the flowers that seemed to magically appear in full bloom every couple of weeks were dried up and dead. Signs of human occupation appeared now on the crispy brown front lawn. A bicycle haphazardly discarded, like the rider had just flown off in a full sideways skid and disappeared. Trash and old papers collected on the porch. One afternoon I noticed a reddish curtain hanging, like a velvet tongue, out through a newly broken front window.
Not long after, a For Sale sign appeared. Divorce had beaten the shit out of my favorite house and apparently the family inside. That was shocking to me. Everything looked like it was going so well for them. I never saw any signs, there were no arguments for public consumption.
Interesting observation number two: Sometimes the exterior circumstances can reflect SO perfectly what’s happening on the inside. Mimic the slow decline. It can be unexpected, no yelling, no shot across the bow, and it’s heartbreaking.
Which one am I? Do I put up a good front when the walls are crumbling down?
I used to. It was exhausting. When I divorced my first husband, people were SHOCKED. No one saw it coming. Not even him.
But I’ve changed. I’ve become pretty transparent.
I’d like to say I hide things. Save face. Maybe for a day or two, but I’m more like the second house. When my shit hits the fan, I don’t think anyone around me, who sees me, is surprised. If I were a house, MY big red velvet tongue would be hanging out a broken front window.
Which one are you? Have you encountered both? Were you surprised?
Tell me, I’d love to hear about it.