Maybe being envious of your therapist isn’t as bad as being envious of your daughter, but this week I experienced both. I hesitate to say that it wasn’t the first time for either, nor will it likely be the last.
My therapist, whose age I’ve never wanted to know because it might endanger her status as a maternal figure, though I place it perilously close to my own, is getting more beautiful and stylish by the minute. Either that, or like a bad tooth, I’ve developed a sudden sensitivity to other people’s tendency to look fantastic. It’s probably some of both.
Whenever she opens the door of her gold-hued office, standing off to the side, smiling that smile of hers, I cast a quick sideways glance to check her out, and always with dread. For once, I wish she’d disappoint me. It would do my self esteem good. Instead, I’m swamped with envy, though I try not to show it, settling myself into the chair facing her own as though nothing in the world were the matter with me.
This last session she just looked so sharp: black tights, a black, above-the-knee skirt, a close-fitting cardigan, and a silk scarf bloused and delicately knotted about the neck. There were boots, or maybe dainty shoes, at one end, and long, fringy earrings at the other. She’s grown her hair long, which cascades down in gray-blonde sheets, some of it pulled back, the rest of it loose and fetching.
It’s just not fair: a woman of vague age growing her hair long and having it look like one of the best decisions of her life.
Her stylishness became the problem of the hour, or one of them. I just felt so abused by it. I had to speak, so like an adult, I laid my envy on the line. She replied that she coveted my shirt, which made me feel a little better, though part of me felt it was a cheap ploy to neutralize the situation or have me take in another perspective. Ultimately, it fell short. After all, I envied everything she was wearing, the whole picture, not just her cardigan.
What makes me want to cry—yes, cry—is that I have no idea how to tie a scarf like that. There are just so many unknowns. I have no idea how to be like her, and be like her I would, if I just knew where she shopped. I would have asked, but couldn’t trust my tone. I felt desperate. I wanted more of what she has. I still want it.
Envying my twenty-three-year-old daughter feels worse, much worse. The previous Saturday night I lost the battle and blurted out that I want what she has, and she, in turn, called me a witch. We were both a little drunk. I was at the sink, wrist-deep in suds, having just scared off the guests with some energetic dish-rattling. Randall, my husband, stood between us, wiping plates like a man afraid to move.
What had happened was a dance spree. A goofy, free-spirited, drunken, deeply entertaining danceathon that happened between Stefana and Russell, the partner of Bryan, both of whom had come up for a their annual fall visit from Pennsylvania. After a late dinner and a good deal of wine, we migrated back to the living room, where some of us had scotch. The music, which had been playing all night, suddenly began leaping off the sound system. It thumped. It shook. It shimmied. Stefana and Russell, sitting side-by-side on the couch, began dancing. At first it was just couch-dancing—all synchronized kicks from their seats and undulating arm movements. Then they were on either side of the coffee table, adding new moves, being ridiculous but looking pretty cool, all of us laughing and laughing.
I was enjoying myself very much, but as time crept on, the music never stopping, Randall now acting as DJ, lining up one danceable tune after another, I became a creature of desire. I wanted to cut loose. I wanted to join the fray. I wanted everyone else to go away so that Stefana and I could groove in our own little mother-daughter dance world. I wanted to be Stefana, or I wanted to be myself as enhanced by her, a new-and-improved me, someone less shy, with perfect hair, freer in her body, more capable of entrancing a male other, or any other, for that matter. They were just having such a blast. But drunk as I was, I wasn’t quite drunk enough to join them, so I sat next to Bryan on the loveseat, pinned by my inhibitions, feeling like my ten-year-old-self-with-glasses crossed with a washed-up crone. I feel like that a lot.
After the dish-rattling and my initial outburst, things only got worse. Stefana promptly removed herself to her room. I followed her up, wanting to explain myself, only sparking another heated exchange. I cried myself to sleep, Randall at my side, trying mightily to tune me out because he had a date to make us all breakfast in the morning.
On Monday, the day she made me sick with envy, I reported all this to my therapist. I felt better about it. But there was something else I meant to tell her, something out of the ordinary. We had gone to the Montague Book Mill on Saturday, where we spotted Maggie Gyllenhaal and Peter Sarsgaard. We actually more than spotted them. We lunched next to them and then mingled with them in the book stacks, getting plenty of close-up views. We were giddy about it all weekend, especially the pinnacle moment, when Bryan walked in on Maggie and her daughter in the bathroom and Maggie let out a yelp. And I wanted their lives, too, and so did Stefana, both of us imagining the romance that produced the child, the inevitably beautiful Brooklyn brownstone. But they’re gone now and we’re so over it, I think. Thank god.