When I was in 5th grade, every Wednesday at two in the afternoon, all the Catholic kids were excused to attend catechism at the local Catholic Church. This meant there were only two of us left——two girls. Jews. According to our teacher, Carol was the smartest kid in the class and I was the second smartest. The way the teacher made this pronouncement, not only once, for no discernible reason, made me uncomfortable. I wasn’t even sure it was true—about me. Every Wednesday she let us know she could have left school early had it not been for the two of us. The hour passed painfully slowly, with the teacher’s disapproval patently obvious. During these afternoons she gave us difficult work, then graded it harshly.
In 1971 I was in Denmark with my Danish husband, visiting his family and friends. I didn’t know much about his parents since he never talked about them. One of his sisters told me their mother was the Protestant daughter of a postmaster, with only a grade school education. Their father was from a rich Jewish family, with a PhD from a fine university, but seemingly unable to keep a job because he knew better than anyone about everything. Their mother spoke Danish, French, and German, but no English. Their father spoke Danish, French, German, and English. When my husband and I were together with his parents only English was spoken, leaving his mother out of the conversation. I tried, with no success, to get the two men to speak Danish and then translate, but they behaved as if I’d never spoken.
In 2001, shortly after I moved into my house in Santa Fe, I called an electrician to come and figure out why so many lights inside and outside the house didn’t work. When I was a theatre technician running the light board, we had a rule: if one light is out, replace the bulb. If two lights are out, check the system. When the electrician came, he found a lot of frayed and broken wires as well as many burned-out bulbs that needed replacement. When he was ready to leave, he said, “Everything’s working. Good you called.”
Some weeks later, I was putting a not completely dry pan away in a bottom cabinet when suddenly there was a burst of flames. Too shocked to think, I put out the fire with my hands. After taking care of the burns, I called the electrician who’d checked all the wires and outlets when I first moved in.
When I told him what happened, he reacted as if I were hallucinating. “Have a drink. Take a nap. You’ll feel better.”
Life tales from a woman different living in The City Different.