Sitting at the cafe in my gym, drinking Kombucha and sweating to death, I looked around me and thought, “I’m a suburban housewife.”
So much of me had rebelled against that – the parts of me which grew up in Baltimore, rode the water taxi with my Grandpere in the summer, ate tapas after screenings of art films, danced half-naked during The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Growing up, living in a decaying building with wires jutting from the walls and with the purple sky of light pollution, I always thought that I would end up like my parents – eating pasta box after box, scraping up money for rent, walking everywhere and gazing at buildings far, far older than I.
I couldn’t imagine another life, and what I did imagine was full of passion and poverty, splintering hardwood floors and blotches of bright paint in the bathroom sink. I was going to be this amazing, self-possessed woman, a woman who wore orange and blue and anklets and tiny bells swinging from second hand boho skirts.
But I met my husband, a college senior while I was a freshman, and everything I thought I knew began to evolve like the slow ticking of a metronome: constant, inevitable, rigid, compassionate.
Moving out to the suburbs – a necessity, due to my husband’s work – I had a set and solid idea of what other people did, here, and what I would never do. Other people drove awful, gas-guzzling minivans; other people were unimaginably wealthy, and had mansions so large and unimpressive; other men worked, and other women stayed home.
And those women! Their impossible post-baby bodies, their spin classes and yoga, their organic cotton pants, their blonde and chortling children – they were as far from me as I could place them. No, I thought – I will never be like that.
And I threw myself into afternoons of sitting on my porch and listening to Cuban jazz, into wearing corsets and garters; I dabbled in curries so hot they made me sneeze, recipes for margaritas and for roast beef with cheap wine; I walked to a Mexican restaurant through grass and shrubbery for a bite of seared scallops with pepitas and plantains; I watched Amelie and Henry and June and cried.
And yet, with that inevitable click of the metronome counting the years and my heartbeat, I found myself at the gym at one o’clock on a Tuesday afternoon – nothing else to do, and a membership to justify, and post-wedding jiggles to eradicate – and I was one of them. A housewife.
Living in the suburbs. Making jewelry to pass the time. Doing laundry, writing blog posts, cooking dinner, working out. No burbling babies on the way – but not so far off, either.
I drank my blueberry Kombucha and was horrified. And I was grateful.
I was grateful for my husband, grateful for the life we have started to build together, grateful for the twists of fate which led me here – in the suburbs, in the gym, in our beautiful home. I never understood – and for so long, didn’t want to – how my life had changed for the better.
It wasn’t just the moment of marriage that shifted my reality from city life to the cool green hills of the suburbs; rather, it was my growing commitment to try new things and venture out into an unanticipated and unlooked-for blessing. It was the unavoidable shift into four/four time, metered, seamless, regulated by breath and love and soul.
Life teaches us lessons in thousands of unbelievable ways. Sometimes – most of the time – those lessons are so hard earned; poverty and loss can hand down more than just fatigue and despair. I don’t know if I would feel the same way about my current status if I had come from a wealthy family, and I don’t know if I would appreciate my life with the same joy and delight without the death of my best friend, my grandfather.
I come from such incredible privilege, in some ways, because my life has landed me in a situation far surpassing the experiences of my youth, and because the hardships of my childhood imaginations (dry pasta, barely paying the rent, being partnerless and alone) never came to fruition, and I never had to face them.
My lesson, then, is that I can see my privilege and not deny it.
This isn’t a post about how great and perfect my life is, or about how life in the suburbs is exactly the mindless pleasantness which I anticipated, or about how I’ve given up on city life because I’m married or go to the gym or drink Kombucha. This post is just a moment in my day – a single breath, a waking – when I realized something about myself, and something about all of those elegant women whom I used to deride.
I am lucky. We are lucky. And it would be offensive, disingenuous, and (in the end) hopeless to say otherwise.
I’m not going to give up on the Baltimore inside me. I’m going to chant and shout and write about everything I think my suburb should be – art spaces, new restaurants, more film, more vibrancy, more life. I will wear the blue and orange, and I will twirl my skirts in summer winds which smell like sex and birth. And that’s okay.
But here, coming back from the gym, sitting on my porch and feeling the sweat cool and typing out this message, I’m going to be a lot more grateful for the beauty that is my life as a suburban housewife.
Image courtesy of Alice Marks.