I’m one of those people who lives somewhere in the middle. If you’re one too, you know exactly what I’m talking about. This is how it goes: I grew up in an impoverished city. We were middle class, for an impoverished city (you do the math). Then I went to NYU, which was like being thrown in the social class deep end, not knowing how to swim. Next I spent a lot of time in the Artist Class (aka, perpetually broke). And now the world around me is decidedly upper middle class. Somewhere along the way, I learned to pass. And people who do this are bridging two worlds, being two people at the same time. So this post from Heather hit me like a ton of bricks. For starters? I married someone from my hometown, and that was no accident. This one’s for my sisters in duplicity. Cheers.
With me, it’s always complicated. I have to bridge various identities that don’t seem to connect and that frustrate the people that occupy the spaces within those identities. One of those people is my fiancé. We’ve known each other since junior high, when he was a wise-cracking cool kid and I was the freakish smart girl in a failing, extremely poor neighborhood. We always talked, but I went off to Stanford for college and he stayed home and finished school there. I was an outlier in my community, the first in my family to go to college, and while he and I share that in common, Stanford and the elite institutions were a whole different world that I had to become accustomed too. When a very small percentage of the place you live has people who look, talk, act, and think like you, and a majority of the campus comes from a world that seems foreign, even if it is only three hours away from your parent’s house, it’s a little weird. None of my friends from back home understood what it was like, and when they visited they were so horrified that many of them wept through the visit, including my now-fiancé. My Stanford friends respected where I came from but didn’t understand it either, and I often found myself acting as the poster child for people in poverty everywhere. When the two meet each other, it usually ends poorly, with hurt feelings on all sides. My friends from home think my Stanford friends are pretentious at best and bigoted at worse, and of course, in their way they are right. They are playing out the cultural scripts laid out for them, although all of my friends are good people who attempt to go beyond that; it’s the primary criteria for being my friend. My Stanford friends think my friends from back home are strange and edgy. We have a nasty wit streak that they should expect by now, but apparently it hits them in the face when there is more than one of us in an area. Also, they don’t understand the dialect I speak when in the presence of my own kind.
Dating in this environment was complicated. And further complicated by the fact I was raised by crazy progressive, rocker cool parents who are secular and white. I had no stated community, I could belong nowhere, but on the bright side my mom’s final statement to me on graduation was that I had accomplished everything she wanted: I had gotten the best education possible and I also hated yuppies. Thanks Mom. Because I am white, people assume that I come from a privileged background and this usually makes for awkward party interactions wherein someone says something bigoted in front of me and I—being the ghetto B girl that I am—tear them a new asshole. You’d think that they would learn that bigotry isn’t a way into a lady’s heart, but this was shockingly common. I took up drinking in college to tolerate the social scene. But I did date in college. I dated douchebags from privileged backgrounds who thought I was exotic and confirmation of why capitalism works. I dated working-class boys whose accent would come out when they drank, and drank often they did. I dated granola loving hippies who thought they were the most brilliant thing on the planet and who wore flannel, but who became annoyed and couldn’t deal with my family, who besides being brilliant and beautiful and loud also have all the trappings of poverty, which means early pregnancy, drug use, early death, violence, and military service. I wasn’t ashamed of where I came from, I wore it like a badge of honor and didn’t try to hide it, in fact, if anything I was louder about it than necessary. But I think some men saw this as a fun and exotic challenge. And I think a few of them were being honest about loving me, but were incapable of being strong enough to fully embody what that meant.
So, after the hippie and I went up in flames because he just couldn’t deal with the fact that I was never going to be anything but edgy, and I couldn’t deal with the fact that he cried all the time, I made a decision. I decided that I needed a working-class boy who was educated. Preferably one from a community similar to mine. I knew two. One of those two is my current fiancé. After a rocky road in the fall, where I made some drunken mistakes, he finally got me to settle down and commit (and stop drinking). And because we had been friends for so long, I knew I had to do it correctly. Because if nothing else, this was one of my oldest friends, and where I come from those bonds are forged in blood. So, if we were going to be together it had to be really serious.
But that didn’t change the fact that I still had to bridge the two worlds. Like the good Stanford student that I am, I had an epic plan for life. But when you commit to someone, you commit to building two lives, so for the first time ever I was seriously taking into account someone else’s needs and preferences. So I moved. I took a job that ultimately injured me and that I hated because it was what was best for us. As my friends saw me drink less and make these decisions, the Stanford kiddos among them became really upset. This was not how things were done, but it was how I was going to do things. I got injured and really sick in the fall, years of stress accumulated, and I found out I had a genetic disorder that stopped me from working. So, now the plan is up in the air. At the same time, my fiancé and I started having serious discussions, setting timelines and working out sticky questions about how things would work. We combined finances, moved forward. Because our relationship moved forward even while my career didn’t. And this turned out to be the most radical decision I could make. But at the end of the day, there is this: my career won’t bring me tea in bed, or make sure that I have Coca-Cola for my migraines, or tell me to go back to bed when I should, or hold me when I am feeling hopeless about the changes that happened to my body. But he will. There is comfort in the fact that when he holds me and says he understands, he really does. That we will never have the fight about whether or not he can handle my roots, because my roots are his and we both think our roots are beautiful. There is a part of me that is always both, but what I learned from my Mom’s remarriage (my mom divorced twice, the second time resulted in a man imprisoned for the abuse of her two eldest daughters, i.e., me and my older sister), was that the right love truly makes us better. The right love is the love that makes the struggle full of joy.
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