“Ronnie, I just don’t think I can live here anymore!” Lydia insisted to her dear daughter who so rudely interrupted and asked to only be referred to as “Veronica.”
“Veronica, Mom,” she argued. “Please call me Veronica.”
Ronnie’s sudden passion regarding her name confused Lydia, but she nonetheless pressed on. “The people in this town are so rude! It’s unbearable.”
“But, Mom,” Ronnie complained, “East Milford has been ranked Number One Family Town for ten years in a row.”
“So?” Lydia couldn’t help being snappy. “None of my family is living here with me.”
Ronnie was guiltily silent and Lydia took that time to pace throughout her front living room, staring angrily at the cookie-cutter white houses and passers-by, oblivious to her misery. How had humanity declined so steeply in the past century bewildered her. She still remembered a time when people would wave back at an occupied window.
“I really think you should move in with me.” Lydia gave up suggesting. “Your mother’s getting older. She needs help.”
“What my mother needs is to stop referring to herself in the third person,” Ronnie decided.
“Veronica, Mom!” Ronnie’s holler was slightly dampened through the phone. “And you know that I have a job and-“
“Yes, honey.” Lydia rubbed her forehead. Ronnie just wasn’t listening! “But maybe you could come down and visit me. The people here are just so nasty!”
Ronnie sighed. “What did they do, Mom?”
Lydia could remember the day as if it was yesterday, because it was. Yesterday morning she had called the local moving company, We Move U and U Pay Us, and politely asked for some movers to bring her boxes into her new house, a modest white split-level perfectly laid out for a young family. The movers stated that they didn’t move on Sundays, which was ridiculous because Lydia knew when movers were supposed to work and that was seven-days-a-week, so she drove herself over to their storage depot and firmly demanded that somebody lift her boxes, she was old and frail, couldn’t they see?
So it should have come as no surprise when she told them where to put each and every box. The movers told her that that was not in their job description. She retorted that such indecent individuals ought to be grateful that she was even giving them a job when they barely deserved to taint the fair county.
Then for some reason the neighbors came out and told Lydia, before even asking for her name or offering a cup of coffee, that she was being unnecessary! They were young, of course, probably brothers, though they didn’t look alike and their matching rings were curious, and insisted that Lydia lower her voice because there were children nearby who had already heard enough cursewords from the internet. Lydia said that those parents were pillowcases for letting their children see cursewords on the internet, but their child-rearing was not her problem: she had boxes that had to be moved and nobody to move them!
Lydia did not understand how people could be so cruel. First the unhelpful movers, then the stingy neighbors: all she longed for was some company in her new house. Then, as if to rub salt on the wound, she heard a small congregation of people outside her window gossip about her! They claimed that she was pompous, out-dated, and condescending, unaware of how to function in a friendly neighborhood. Who were they to judge her! Lydia didn’t even need to look outside to hear their terrible grammar and flashy voices to know that they were more young families, like her neighbors, already setting the small town up against her. How this community could have been ranked top anything bewildered Lydia. They were so suspicious and wary of any new faces. Lydia made up her mind that evening to move back out. She wasn’t sure where she would go, but there was bound to be somebody willing to shower her with sympathies.
“Mom, maybe they don’t like you because you’re behaving like an old witch,” Ronnie said simply. Simply! As if she couldn’t hear how her words stung her dear, aging mother, how they hurt worse than the sunburn she had acquired while being harassed by her neighbors or the box she had dropped on her toe while trying to move it after a mover didn’t.
“Maybe,” Ronnie’s voice brought her back to the present, “maybe if you had been a bit nicer, they would have been nicer back. It’s the golden rule.”
Lydia laughed bitterly. “Is that one of those propaganda-nuggets that awful teacher of yours told you?”
“Mom.” Ronnie stretched out the word, ensuring Lydia was listening. Which Lydia was. She always did. What kind of a mother didn’t listen to her daughter? “I’ve already explained to you that Herb is my fiancé. Not my teacher. A teacher is his job, but his relationship to me is mutual and consensual.” Ronnie paused and Lydia waited, intrigued by the possibilities of an analogy. “That’s like saying that Dad was your principal.”
Lydia snorted. That man didn’t deserve to be a principal, yet a principal he was. A principal at an all-girls school, which all the students thought was strange but the teachers clearly not, and the principal got a great rapport because he organized a weekly therapy session between him and each individual girl, weekly. He spun it like some sort of a progressive beneficiary, something that would improve the school environment for all, but it was really only benefitting him, as he sat reclined in his chair and unbuttoned his shirt and scanned Lydia up and down, up and down, like a laser giving an X-ray. Lydia felt bare, exposed, and naked, and she wished more than anything that she could go back to class. That she could go back to the giggles when she added math wrong and the sneers when she mixed up words because the bullying glances of a few teenage girls was infinitely more bearable then the penetrating gaze of a man plotting his fantasies. She couldn’t leave, partially because the office door was always locked, but mostly because she had told him that she would do anything to pass school, beaten down and demoralized with class after class of failure, but didn’t know that such an “anything” would involve Ronnie at 16 and marriage at 18 and a white, split level house at 18-and-a-half.
Somehow Lydia always ended up at white houses—though this new town took the cake, the entire street was white and felt suffocating, like a wave of carbon monoxide. Somehow part of the sequence was comforting, how they all had symmetrical windows and doors and fences and porches. They were kind of like the generation of kids born from teachers and administrators at the school, until it was shut down and the principal ran away and Lydia took Ronnie to another white house in another high-ranking town, where people thought that she was a pushover and then too pushy depending on how she presented herself.
Nobody cared how Ronnie presented herself, though. Because she was a little girl and little girls can do whatever they want. And now the little girl was an older girl who had changed her name and abandoned her mother for her fiancé and was refusing to move back and help her navigate yet another white house with yet another group of rude manipulators.
“Mom, you don’t have to guilt me,” Ronnie insisted. “If it’s an emergency I’ll come back.”
That inspired Lydia. It was an emergency, and she had a way to be with her daughter and keep her away from the dangerous fiancé.
“You don’t need to go anywhere, Ronnie-“
“Don’t interrupt me, baby. The important thing to hear is that I’ll be moving in with you. Tomorrow.” And Lydia was pretty sure that Ronnie’s apartment was built out of red bricks.