Outside our small white house in England was a quiet residential street. Each house was a little different from the next one and had a name instead of a number. Each stood on about an acre or a half acre. That was on the other side of the street. From our front gate – a small black wrought iron gate that was really only for looks, it was useless to keep anyone actually out – but from that small black useless gate we could see across to two houses, each tucked behind trees and a nice patch of modest suburban grass.
Our side of the street was different. From our house down to the main road was a big open fenced-in empty field. Our house – small and white and very close to the street – stood like a sentry at the end of a grand driveway, the entrance of which, just a few yards from our front door, was flanked by two high curved walls.
The mansion to which this driveway entrance belonged wasn’t visible to us and I only saw it once or twice. Our landlords lived there. The matching exit of the driveway was much further down our street, and between the entrance and exit were thick ragged trees fenced in by a right row of tall narrow grey weathered planks. Except for much further down, we were the only house on our side of the street.
Although we lived in the English house for five years, we didn’t know our neighbors, not even the two houses right across from us. We knew that the woman who came down to the field behind our house twice a day was called Mrs. Stephens. She stood at the gate and called to the four or five horses who spent their days in the field, collecting them in the evening, walking them up the driveway to their stables and bringing them back in the morning. I never spoke to her. I never saw my parents speak to her though the gate she used was maybe fifty feet from our kitchen door.
My father was not home much. He came back from London or his travels on Friday evening and left on Monday morning and was hardly part of our life there.
My mother spoke to two or three people. There was Mr. King who drove a large black taxi. He had a round ruddy cheerful face and was just what you’d want from an English cab driver, sort of like a friendly Winston Churchill without the cigar. My parents liked him a lot. I could tell by the ring in their voices when either of them mentioned his name, “Mr. King!” as if he were a cartoon character that belonged to them exclusively. They liked that they could call him and he would come and take care of them – drive my father to the airport or my mother into London.
There was Mrs. Grub who came and cleaned sometimes and a fat woman who babysat us. There was Susan, my favorite babysitter, a teenager with long brown hair down her back who seemed to have stepped fully into the mysterious world of adults and could give me information like if I had an oval face or a round one.
There was Mr. Dent, the bent angry World War II veteran who ran the stable my father liked to ride at, and that was about it.
The phone didn’t ring here. It was mostly my mother, my two younger sisters and me. We read books. My sister and I walked home from school and to the library on Saturdays. We watched two TV programs before dinner. After that there was nothing else to watch. It was all grown-up programs like the news. We ate in the kitchen around a small rectangular table.
My youngest sister was four and five as I became twelve and thirteen. She was adorably cute with round cheeks and curls and I could tell my mother liked her the best. She treated her a little like a doll. There was something soft in my mother around Esther that I’d never seen in her before. It irritated me, made me angry. It seemed fake and unjust. I thought Esther was cute too. I just didn’t like how my mother was so obviously different with her, fussing with her hair.
In summer I hit tennis balls against the one outdoor wall that had no windows.
I had come home to this. I was a little bit an outsider. I was getting to be a grown-up. I could feel it. I wanted a subscription to Jackie magazine that had tips about make-up and stories about girls with boyfriends. I felt separate from my mother. Like my father was separate from her. I was separate from my sisters too. My father always separated me out. He had always made me feel separate from my mother and sisters. He had always selected me.
I had been in boarding school when we first came to England back when I was nine. My father away on business trips, me away at boarding school. Me and my father leaving my mother and sisters at home. That’s where they belonged and we did not.
But I had come home. I had come home, bruised from boarding school, my friends had turned on me, friendships in which I took such pleasure turned vicious and I ran home, though it felt like a comedown, to go back to day school, to live with my mother and sisters again, but I had no choice. I couldn’t stay amongst the girls who said they despised me now.
The new school is terrible. I hate it. It always feels so ordinary and drenched in my own failure. The girls who want to be my friends are not the ones who interest me the most, but I have lost my confidence. I cannot shake this feeling of being rejected even before I start. And so I become quiet, someone I don’t even recognize. This isn’t me. I know it’s not me. It can’t be me. Now I always feels like two people – the one I wish I was, and the one who is pretending, who is doing her best to convince the others that she is that girl, the one she wishes she was.