A rare chance to leave work early, and pick my youngest child up afterschool. Parents I recognize only vaguely, cluster in the playground, some talking in groups, others marginalised, standing alone on the periphery. I stare into my phone, looking preoccupied, the stark divisions shredding my nerves with anxiety. She’s there – her honeyed tone twirling lyrically across the tarmac like a leaf skittering in the breeze. She jokes gently, perhaps flirting a little, with a kid’s dad she knows.
Grocery store checkout, feeling drained, the harsh lighting stings my eyes. Struggling to focus on checking the list once more, in the background of my mind, I feel a slight headache starting. Trying to ignore it, I contemplate taking something before it worsens. I hear her now, greeting the cashier, sparkling with charisma. She’s recounting an amusing tale about her children, infused with warm endearment, attracting others’ gaze beguilingly, with her blue eyes and easy laughter. The cashier joins her in a relaxed exchange of pleasantries.
The gym is packed tonight – unbearably busy, with personal space constantly under threat. The class ends, we file out – she’s talking with her friends as they leave the studio. In the hallway, across the cacophony of countless conversations, floats her voice, drenched in vibrant colours. She’s giggling at something her friend says with an infectiousness which even those not close enough to join her will smile at, close-lipped nonetheless, momentarily distracted, dazzled by her aura of self-certainty.
Never alone, never flat, ever-untroubled, because after all – she has lots of friends, and nothing to bemoan in her Barbie world of synthetic frivolity, where sunshine and cocktails seem always on the to-do list. She wears her confidence like a trademark string of pearls which are taken off at the end of the night, and placed carefully back in their case. Above her, a cloudless sky of gleaming positivity stretches to infinity.
I want to be her.
They think I am her.
But I’m not, really.