Monday, April 29, 2013
TRULY (inspired by Persuasion) chapter fourteen: "More Advice"
There was something about my Godmother. Though she could be snobbish, she’d always believed in me, always been a friend to me. My Godmother thought I was worth the very best. Suddenly, I was having some issues with the bad advice I’d received years ago even though it had originated from the desire to do good… Confessions of a Post-teenage Hermit
Eleanor was standing at the foot of Elizabeth’s bed, just as she used to do when I came home from school to an empty house after my Mom had gone to the East Coast.
“It’s the new tenants at the Beach House. I’m worried.”
“Oh, I’m sure the house is in good hands, Jane. You’ll be able to have it back some day. You know I offered to give your father some money but he refuses to take it. I’m offering you the same, Jane. I would never see you want for anything. It could be a loan, but I’d rather it be a gift.”
I dried my eyes.
“Thank you Eleanor, I know. But we could never accept it. My father got us into this and I’m trying to get us out. On paper, we’ve lost almost everything … except this… mansion. We’re in so much debt. I’ve been going over the family accounts with our financial advisors. My sisters and father are about to get a wake-up call especially in relation to their unlimited credit cards.”
Eleanor paused a moment.
“But that’s not why you are crying, is it, Jane?”
I shook my head. Eleanor knew me far too well.
“No,” I said.
“Why are you upset, dear?”
“The new tenant of Kellynch is Ben Wentworth’s sister.”
“The Ben Wentworth? The boy you were almost engaged to?”
“Yes… the one I was advised not to marry…”
“Oh Jane, you can’t blame your father for this…”
“If I remember correctly, he had some backing from you and Liz.”
“Jane, as your Godmother, being here for you whilst your mother was absent, I would not have been doing my job if I hadn’t advised you to break off that relationship…”
“As I recall, both you and dad didn’t think he was good enough for me to hang with, let alone marry and… you were both so wrong.”
Tears were welling up in my eyes again by then. Though I didn’t want to hurt Eleanor it was obvious I’d carried these emotions for a long time. I was ready to burst at the seams. Since I rarely displayed my feelings or any anger towards my family, Eleanor looked shocked.
“Oh Jane … in case you hadn’t noticed people who join the military are sent to war. He wanted to be a fighter pilot, if I recall correctly. The fact that he’s invented some computer programme, that’s just a fluke. I believed, I thought, you were not of the personality that could cope with waiting and hoping that a boy would show up for you again after months or years of active duty… His now being wealthy – well, that is just money and lack of it was never the problem from my perspective. I’m so sorry if you misread me.”
“I would have waited. He graduated as an officer in the Air Force. He starts pilot training after summer. It’s all he’s ever wanted to be. He did everything he said he would do. And look,” I pointed to the newspaper; “he has thrived and survived and graduated top of his class at the academy. Meanwhile I’ve grown pale and washed up and… unwanted.”
“Oh Jane, that’s not true. You are still as understated and beautiful as you ever were. Sure, you don’t appear in fashion magazines like your sister, but outer beauty fades and is nothing to envy. You are only young. Don’t be silly. Besides, did he ever write? Did he even call you?”
“No,” I said, “but we did not part… well.” I added, embarrassed to be making something out of what was clearly, nothing.
“Then how much could this teenage passion have actually meant to him? To encourage you to become engaged to a boy who was going away to train for years in a job where he may see active duty would have been wrong. You would have been throwing yourself away, waiting for him to return…”
“But I waited for him to return anyway, and now he is here and he’s perfect and… both you and dad said he’d never amount to anything.”
“But that is surely not the reason you rejected him…”
“I allowed myself to be persuaded and ever since I made that decision, I have lived to regret it. I have never met any man his equal. It’s true I pushed and he… left but I didn’t think my hesitation would be irrevocable. I didn’t realize he would turn away from me so suddenly and cut off all contact.”
Eleanor handed me a tissue. I wiped my tears again and sniffed.
“Anyway, he’s probably married now or engaged. They mostly marry young in his family, also in this family,” I rolled my eyes. “They marry young in the armed forces too and any sane girl would be proud to be an officer’s wife.”
“Oh Jane, you are the most level-headed girl I know.”
My Godmother was trying to make me feel better. It was almost working. The feeling of sadness and regret had seeped into my bones. It had nothing to do with Ben’s job, but his success in his chosen career just proved how wrong the people who supposedly loved me were.
How could I tell Eleanor about my current existence; that when I went to check my new schedule at The Beach Shack, I’d overheard the former Socials (who still met up every week and were now married mothers), gossiping about me.
“Oh, you know Jane Elliot was once part of our group. She used to hang with that hot pilot guy in the newspaper, Ben Wentworth. Jane was once a cheerleader and her sister was the head of the Socials that year… remember?
“Oh yeah, I remember. She let him slip through her fingers, though.”
“I heard he dumped her for someone better looking.”
“Or was that Serena?”
“Yes, Serena Collins. You know, she works as an International Flight Attendant, Who would have thought? She had zero ambition at school, still, waitress in the sky, whatever.
Anyway, poor Jane, now she has no boyfriend, no prospects and she works in childcare when she’s not waitressing, while we go out for manicures and facials,” Someone sniggered.
I pretended I couldn’t hear them as I waited casually for my latte but the whole point of their conversation was that I could.
I turned around as I waited and one of them waved at me.
I picked up my latte and left.
That was just my recent humiliation.
My Godmother had been sitting in silence as I relayed the story.
“Well, Jane, those people are small minded and you can always come work with me, you wouldn’t even have to see them.”
“That’s not the point, Eleanor. I like where I work but if that is what those people, my old school friends, are saying about me, imagine what Ben would think.”
“I’m not sure, Jane, but I know men aren’t as interested in marital status as women,” Eleanor couldn’t resist this quip. My Godmother picked up my cell and skimmed the headlines as I sat up and smoothed my clothes.
“I hear you, Eleanor, but he was perfect,” was all I could say.
Eleanor was silent for a moment. When tears welled up in my eyes again, Eleanor hugged me.
“Oh Jane, no one is perfect.”
“He was perfect for me. I know that now,” I sobbed.
“Oh Jane,” my Godmother tried to console me. “You know of all of your sisters you are the one with the gentle heart and the sweet disposition… and so intelligent and pretty on the outside as well. I just know the perfect man is out there for you.”
“Yes and his name is Ben.”
“Jane, in this day and age, you just have to get back out there.”
At this point, my pale, unsmiling face mocked me from the mirror on the dressing table.
“I’ve been out there,” I said. “And the real world of dating - it kind of sucks…”
“You just haven’t met the right man, Jane.”
By then I’d turned off. I knew my Godmother loved me as I loved her, but I didn’t want to hear another cliché uttered from her lips. I knew she was trying to be helpful. Just like she’d once tried to be helpful before. Now, all I wanted was silence and no reason to ever see Ben again. In a large city like Los Angeles that was highly possible. Wentworth, however, was a tiny seaside town, and it was less likely. Besides, I’d promised Sarah I’d attend the beach bonfire.
“Jane, cheer up. Guess what? I brought an apple pie. Martha made it.” Eleanor said, luring me to the kitchen with her smile. “You’ve become so thin, Jane, we need to fatten you up.”
Martha was Eleanor’s housekeeper. If Martha made it, I knew I should have a reason to put a smile on my face, so I did. I knew I was way too old to be feeling sorry for myself or the past. But I wondered. If hesitating in relation to Ben, rejecting him for all intents and purposes, hadn’t been a mistake, wouldn’t someone else have come into my life by now?
I washed up in the downstairs bathroom and put on some lipstick at Eleanor’s urging. I felt like a little girl again in my father’s house, trying desperately and perhaps hopelessly to impress. It was time for me to stand on my own two feet. Perhaps the financial crisis wasn’t the worst thing that could happen to my family. I dared not say it out loud, but I didn’t get much chance, in any case. Elizabeth and my father gossiped about all the social columns and how they “wouldn’t be seen with so and so for love nor money.” And on and on they went. Work was as good as any excuse, to leave. I grabbed my car keys, said goodbye to everyone and closed the door behind me as I left my father’s house.