“Is this your house?”
The woman was 60-ish. Nicely coiffed and coutured. We had probably both attended high school at the same time. We had probably since followed a familiar trajectory—marriage, kids, job, maybe a divorce, maybe a second marriage.
It was a logical question. I was “mature”—the elder female of the group. One would assume that I had lived in this farmhouse for years, tastefully remodeling it as the kids left and I became more financially secure. My husband was probably out in the barn. He was probably nearing retirement, and we were settling into our cozy golden years.
* * *
Sometimes, an innocuous question like that takes me by surprise because my trajectory is so far from normal. It’s one thing to do the RTW backpacking adventure when you’re young. But for all my overblown rhetoric about so-much-to-see-so-little-time, the fact is that I’m an anomaly among my peers, which is another word for weird.
Most of the time I don’t care. I’m often in places where weirdos are common. Where people come and go by many different paths.
But here, in my own midwestern backyard, that isn’t so much the case. Here, people work, put their kids through college, take care of their homes, live in the same place for years, and have certain expectations about the way things ought to be. I know this, and I respect it. The Midwest breeds stable, decent, hardworking people.
So why would that question knock me off my pins? Is it because I’m insecure in my life choice? Am I that uncomfortable being “different?”
Well, for one thing, I DO know this culture and its values. I was raised in this midwestern cradle, so when I see that look of incomprehension and feel the grit grinding in the mental gears that try to position me in some social strata, I feel like I’ve just told my mom I’ve dropped out of school. Because here (and, I suspect, elsewhere) judgements are based on the quality of the house, the prestige of the career, and the value of the ancillary accoutrements. I’ve always been a loser at that game anyway, but turning in my chips for an uncomfortable transient life is a choice few of my contemporaries would aspire to. And in fact, few have. I only know of a handful of women my age who travel solo fulltime, although I suspect there are a lot more that I haven’t heard of.
So I see myself through the incredulous eyes of my peers, and I am reminded of just how different I am.
Do I care deeply? No. It’s just an odd and uncomfortable niggle. An unexpected and unflattering reflection, like a sudden glimpse in a store window, that makes you wish you’d done your hair and makeup.
“No,” I told the woman. “This is my son and daughter-in-law’s house. I live in the 14-foot trailer behind the barn.”