“Our kitchen renovations cost $40,000”, Samantha bragged,”
I wanted to throw up.
I followed her around her new kitchen with a sick twisted knot in my belly. Not from jealousy, but from disgust. We’ve lived beside each other for nine years and I’d only been invited into her home once. Today she cornered me on my driveway. I’d wanted to go for a walk, but she started chatting before I could get away, expertly steering the conversation first to her ‘genius’ daughter and then to the thousands she and hubby number two spent on renovating their kitchen. Whenever I tried to say something about my daughter she nodded impatiently, waiting for me to shut my mouth so she could continue bragging.
I stood simply starring at the woman – middle aged, with a soft plump body and a mop of curly brown hair. I watched her mouth moving, heard the words, but let them slip in one ear and out the other without much comprehension. I only wanted to go for a walk; to take a break from my work day. Since I work from home, I get lonely sometimes and the sunny warmth of the June day beaconed to me. I yearned to be in nature if only for a little while.
“Come on in. I’ll show you our new kitchen,” she said, already moving towards her front door and waving for me to follow.
“Okay,” I said, the twisting knot beginning to form. Once trapped in her house there was no telling how long I’d have to endure her.
“Wow,” I muttered with a forced smile as she told me how much her granite counter top cost, but I was thinking, ‘what a fool’ I paid half that. Of course I kept my mouth shut and allowed her to continue showing off. Now she stood in front of her spanking new, top of the line, stainless steel appliances. I thought about mine. My husband and I ‘renovated’ our kitchen last summer. Renovating for us consisted of painting our kitchen cabinets ourselves and buying a granite countertop at wholesale prices from my husband’s cousin who’s ‘in the business’. We managed to purchase one stainless steel appliance, a gas stove, but hadn’t yet put together the money to pick up the matching fridge and dishwasher. A year later, we still have our white ones and I have to fight the compulsion to explain to guests that we really don’t want the different colours, but we’re simply waiting for a decent sale to complete the set.
I sighed and wished I could bolt from the spectacular new kitchen. I wanted to be outside in nature – to be alone with my thoughts, not caught up in the vicious cycle of keeping up with the Jones’. I was sad more than anything. It was sad that my silly neighbour was more concerned about the colour of her backslash than the oil spill gushing into the Gulf of Mexico at the very moment of our conversation. How alone I felt. How alone and different.
I changed the subject and told her we were going on a family vacation to the Dominican Republic to which she promptly asked, “Where are you staying?”
“At the Tropical Princess,” I replied.
“Oh that’s a four star,” she said frowning. “We only stay at five stars or better. I’m used to the very best. My husband always asks that the bed be covered in rose petals and that there’s a bottle of chilled champagne waiting for us.”
I smiled politely again trying not to bolt. “Good for you,” was all I could manage.
“You better be careful in that hotel you’re staying in. I bet there’ll be mold and you’d better check for bed bugs too,” she warned.
I managed a few steps towards the front of the house.
“Will do,” I replied, while finally my making my way to the front door. I laid my hand on the door knob.
“Well, better get back to work,” I said pulling open the door.
“You have a beautiful house,” I called as I left.
“Thanks, you’ll have to come back when it’s all done. We’re getting a new kitchen set next week.”
“Yeah, sounds great,” I lied. Once outside I took a few deep breaths and tried to ground myself.
It was last summer when our little renovation ignited a flame of desire in not just our next door neighbour, but in the neighbours across the street as well. The Parisi’s spotted my husband and me painting our cabinets in the garage and were inspired to completely redo their kitchen. They watched and waited as we continued with our little project asking questions which I thought of as just innocent curiosity at the time.
I looked across the street at the home of other offender – Patricia and Paul Parisi had somehow managed to weasel an invite inside to have a look at the ‘finished’ project and took great pains to note every detail. They’d asked the colour of our paint and the name of our granite. They asked how much we paid and where we got it. They asked for the model number of our new stove and for the name and number of the ceramic tile guy (another family member) we’d gotten a great quote from, but had decided to wait on redoing the tiles. Then they bought the same stove, but got the matching fridge and dishwasher, bought new cupboards the same colour as what we painted, used our tile guy and granite guy. Now their kitchen is my dream kitchen. I felt slightly ashamed of myself for wanting things, but managed to let it go, after all, it was just stuff, silly material stuff, but at my core it still stung a little.
As I punched in the code to my remote garage door opener, yet another neighbour greeted me.
“Hey Vanessa,” Mary, my other next door neighbour said with a broad smile. Mary is a beauty, inside and out; tall and slender with bright white teeth and long blond hair.
“Hi Mary, beautiful day isn’t it?” I asked.
“It really is,” she answered, sucking in a lungful of fresh air. “Frank and I and the kids are going tree planting this weekend. And then it’s off to the fund raiser. We’re walking in the MS charity walkathon.”
I wanted to hug her. I let out a little chuckle and she gave me a quizzical look. “Mary, you’re what I wish the world could be. You and your family are my hope for the future of not just our community but our planet. Seeing you right here, right now is what I needed. As a matter of fact, I think you’re a sign from God that I shouldn’t despair.”
She thanked me though I could tell I’d caught her a little off guard and my compliments embarrassed her.
“Do you want to go for a walk?” I asked.
“Sure, that’s what I was about to do.”
Together we walked and talked, not about our kitchens or new appliances, but about things that really mattered. We really talked and heard each other.
I choose spirit, I said to myself, realizing in that moment that I did have a choice. That life was all about choices. I could easily be more concerned about material things instead of what really matters. I could be the self-obsessed woman whose only goal in life was to top my neighbours.
I don’t know why I am the way that I am, why I don’t yearn for shiny new things the way so many others do, but I was thankful to Mary for showing me that I wasn’t alone, and that I wasn’t so different.