I was vaguely aware that our home and family looked different than those of my friends. My friend, Andrea, had seven brothers and sisters, a perky mom and a handsome professional dad who wore black horn rimmed glasses and a tie to work every day. Their kitchen had beautiful shiny tile, a gleaming stainless steel sink, and an island with a counter top stove, just like the Brady Bunch. Another friend, Carol, lived in a home with dark hardwood flooring that probably reflected her mom's face when she waxed it. One summer afternoon we played in their carefully groomed back yard while her parents napped. When she awoke, Carol's mom gave us each a nutritious snack of neatly sliced apples served on clean china plates, which she had removed from paper-lined shelves, and cold chocolate milk in pretty little crystal juice glasses. Then she drove us to the movie theater in her clean air conditioned station wagon, which the family kept in their neatly organized garage. At my house we ate cold leftovers from the refrigerator staight out of the Tupperware, drove a Chevy wagon that my sister had crashed into a herd of cows, and on a good weekend, we got paid a penny apiece for every fly we killed.
At my eleventh birthday party a girl named Jill, who lived in a house with a fashionably decorated sunken living room covered in soft white shag carpeting, said my house looked like crap. Her words stung.
Part of me knew what she was saying was true, but I was just a kid, so I didn't understand what made the difference between her home and mine. I thought maybe the difference was money. Maybe if we were richer, we would have a cleaner house. Maybe it was my mom. Jill's mom was a teacher, and mine was a housewife who was sick all the time. Maybe it was because we lived in the country, and Jill lived in town. Maybe town people had better houses. Maybe our house was too big; maybe it was too small. Maybe it was too old; I didn't know. I felt angry at her bad manners, powerless to defend my family, and ashamed that I was somehow different. Mostly, though, I felt longing.