It’s not easy, letting someone into your home. Because then they see the holes in the walls, the off-kilter frames, the cobwebs in the corner.
It’s not easy, letting someone see you as you really are. Because then they see the worn look in your eyes, the clenched jaw, the slumped shoulders.
It’s not easy, letting someone in.
Big, black tie ball at the upscale hotel here. It’s New Year’s Eve and Clint, the oldest of the brothers, doesn’t want to go “empty-handed.” He’s the shy one and needs me as social reinforcement. He stands at my doorway and I’m wearing long johns, bowl of chips in hand.
“No way, Clint. Do I look like I have “ball” in me? And it’s 100 bucks. I can’t spend that right now.”
My budget is tight. It’s always tight. It wears me down in that soul-sucking way that only being broke can do.
“Well, I’m paying. Besides, I probably owe you anyway,” he mutters.
Yes, he does. Even though he and his family have a big beautiful home at the end of the street, the boys spend a good amount of time at my place. I feed them and give them clothes, booze and bad advice. Yeah, they totally owe me. But still…
“No, Clint. I need to watch Criminal Minds and um, eat chips. Leave me alone.”
“You’re going. You said you were going last week.”
“I was drunk. Mind changed.”
“Let me see your dress.”
“Clint, please leave her alone.” (I sometimes refer to myself in 3rd person just to make people uncomfortable. I learned it from Buffalo Bill in the Silence of the Lambs.)
“Come on. Let me see it.”
I reluctantly walk into the bedroom and he follows. There it is, hanging from my closet door. A long black, silky gown. Formal and pretty. Mocking me.
“Wow. It’s beautiful. Please, Beth. Come as my date.”
Clint and I aren’t romantically involved. I don’t date any of the brothers. That whole “don’t shit where you eat” philosophy, a phrase that always grossed me out but really sends the message. Having sex with them might cost me the only semblance of a family I have here. So I know what he means by a date. A make-believe date.
Looking at him standing in my doorway, tall and handsome in a Kurt Cobain kinda way, I realize a fake date with Clint may trump a show on abuse and murder. Maybe.
“Okay,” I mutter.
“Great! Now get ready. It’s 10:30.”
Clint and I have this game when I undress in the bedroom. I don’t ask him to leave. He’ll go on the computer or do something to avert his eyes. And I enjoy it. The simple act of undressing with a man in my room feels warm and sexy.
I squeeze into this never-before-tight gown and begin hating myself almost instantly. Why doesn’t it fit like before? Why is it betraying me so? I start taking it off, with a groan.
“Let me see it first.”
“No, Clint. It’s wrong. It’s…”
“Let me see it!”
I turn around and his pale blue eyes light up. A tight gown means something totally different to him, I realize.
“Perfect. Now keep going.”
But I can’t. I’m stuck in mud, suddenly. I want to cry and sink into a pile on the floor. I don’t feel good about myself. Somehow my loneliness feels highlighted by this dress, like I don’t deserve to be in it. A pervasive ugliness lays it unwelcome hands all over me.
Clint sees me struggling and takes over. He picks out some jewelry and shoes (which all seem kinda worn. I want new shoes. Why can’t I get new shoes, like other people?). He watches me apply makeup and tells me when to stop.
“Okay, that's enough. You’re pretty enough without it.” My face warms a little. The words feel good and hurt. Clint isn’t one for giving out compliments and I’m not one for being able to receive one lately.
Living in this house doesn’t help. It’s an old-ass house and while its been a familiar location and offered me the opportunity to start my own online marketing business, it’s still old-ass. My brother is a hoarder and doesn’t see the disrepair that everyone else does. Or he doesn’t choose to. I, on the other hand, can often see nothing but house’s shortcomings.
His shit was everywhere when I first moved in. It took me months to make it livable. I eventually hit a wall and could do no more. This house needs a fucking wrecking ball not a woman’s touch. Here’s your “woman’s touch” shit, anyway. Do we get paid for that magical touch of ours?
Several weeks ago, I had a date over for dinner. He saw the ceiling tiles in the living room, falling in from a leak in the roof.
“Your ceiling really need repaired,” he says offhandedly.
“Really? You free Wednesday?” I respond.
It’s easy for people with sturdy little houses and lives to make comments like that. They don’t understand the decades of dysfunction that brought us to this place.
Sitting in my bedroom after dinner, he looked around at the hodgepodge of artwork and chipped paint on my walls. My home offended his sensibilities. I could tell. If you think this place is a wreck, wait until you get to know me, dude.
Clint is more used to my “mess.”
“Come on, Beth. Focus. It’s quarter of 11. Do your hair,” Clint says.
I brush my hair and pull it up on my head. Then take it down. Then put it back up.
“How about a glass of wine?”
“God yes. Please”
Clint leaves my bedroom and makes his way through the maze of blankets hanging throughout the doorways of the house. We have no central heat here. The bedrooms and the kitchen are heated by space heaters. The hanging blankets, like that leaking roof, inflame the shame, infect my spirit.
But Clint has seen my hanging blankets and falling tiles. He’s done repairs here. Not usually of this personal nature though.
When he comes back in the room, my tears have been neatly placed in the jewelry box.
“You look amazing.”
I try to smile.
"Is my room...awful?"
"What?" He looks around. "No. I always thought you room was kinda sexy, in a gypsy sorta way."
Sometimes I just want my home to be normal. The house I grew up in was nothing like the Joneses. After my dad died, my mother worked full-time and came home exhausted, depressed. The house suffered. Holes in the rugs and furniture, fleas on the dogs, dishes in the sink. I couldn’t stand it.
When I’d throw a slumber party, I’d clean that house all day yet feel so self-conscious and nervous when the other girls would arrive. You can’t clean away that “your home isn’t good enough” feeling, no matter how hard you scrub. One girl was allergic to fleas and got bitten repeatedly. She had to leave.
The next day, I sprayed bug killer everywhere, even on my bed and pillows. I’d be prepared for the next slumber party. As if there would be one. As if I could kill that feeling of shame with Raid.
I read once that shame is one of the most corrosive and useless of emotions. Guilt can spur an apology when needed, for instance. But shame? It serves no purpose other than to make you feel like shit. And like the stains on the curtains, its hard to get rid of.
Clint plays music on the computer as I finish my hair. That helps. My hips sway a little. I grab some red lipstick and take a sip of a nice Syrah I found.
It’s funny. Even with all my tenuous and tight budget, my tastes have continued to get finer, like I was waiting for wealth. My mother used to laugh at my lofty inclinations as a child.
“I swear, you’d think you’re a Rockefeller or something. I don’t know where you get it. Just a head’s up, girl – we’re poor!”
But she was the one who taught me to have good taste. Even on her puny secretary’s salary, we’d occasionally go to fine restaurants and expand our culinary horizons. She took me to the movies constantly, so I could "see the world." She taught me manners, good manners. Somehow I felt like a lady-in-training…just a broke one.
If I complained about the condition of our house, she'd bellow:
A house is supposed to look like it's lived in, damnit. You try raising 5 children on my salary! You try coming home and cooking dinner and cleaning. You see how it feels! No one appreciates the work I do. No one!"
The lipstick is a blazing red. After applying it, I “unveil” myself to Clint.
“Very much so,” he says shyly.
"Thank you, Clint," I say gratefully.
Oh, doesn’t he seem like the sweetest guy? Well, that's because this is a story.
Real life has fleas and worn spots in the rugs. In a few nights, Clint will “jokingly” tell me that I "owe" him money for the ticket he bought me. I will become livid and detail the countless meals I’ve fed him, the times he’s stayed at my place, borrowed my car...
No one appreciates the work I do! No one!
I explain how his jokes just ruin that special feeling I had New Year's Eve. She needs to hold on to that feeling right now. So back off. You hear me? Leave her alone!
But for now, for this night, the stars align and it’s New Year's Eve and Clint is my prince.
He puts my long black coat with a faux fur collar on me and opens up the front door, which is starting to fall of its hinges. We take a step out on the icy front porch, the wood creaking from age. The full moon and blast of arctic air instantly charge my spirits. The night becomes me suddenly.
I feel alive, very alive. I could probably fly there if I wanted. But I'd rather drive with Clint in his old red pick-up truck and sing to the tunes on the radio. We links arms, so I don’t slip on the icy steps. His arms feel so big and protective.
And for that moment, she feels safe and pretty.