A cousin whom I haven’t seen in 20 years decided to tell me my life.
She posts memes revealing she could “live at the beach all year long.” She begs friends to adopt local shelter pets. “Wine o’clock” is her favorite hour. She has an intense love of children (despite the fact that she buys clothes almost-certainly made by other peoples’ children in sweatshops). She’s a Trump supporter; someone needs to run numbers to determine how many Trump supporters claim to love children but don’t want universal healthcare.
“You don’t have a real job. What’re you doing with your life? Don’t you wanna family?” she asked.
“I had corporate jobs. I had a lease. I was married,” I explained. “None of that made me happy.” It’s worth noting that she’s also divorced.
I reminded her she can only afford her home because she put her own mother in a home. I asked if she would rather I had never taken any risks and gone to a college closer to home, simply in order to have stayed closer to the family.
“There’s nothing wrong living 15 minutes away from mom,” she said. “My girls turned out fine.”
“Can they speak French? Did they ever visit Italy? Did they edit a newspaper?” I protested.
“They have good jobs. That’s what matters,” she answered indignantly: “They own their homes, have families. No matter what books, or places, or movies you know, they live better than you. All you have is memories and friends.”
“Better than you.” Those words stung. I shuddered and cried. I wondered if she was right.
I imagined her comfortable life: “Art” from Target; trips to CostCo in a mid-priced sedan; probably never worrying about things like having her shoes repaired.
I browsed her social media profile. There were “Live, Laugh, Love!” memes and silly faces made with family. It made me realize: she’s happy she hadn’t taken the risks. She’s just fine with the fact that her kids will never see Amelie or read Dostoyevsky or weep at seeing the Caravaggios in Rome.
She’s happy with Christmases made in China. She’s happy with children that never had any dreams.
I may not own my home, and I may take the bus, but — all things considered — I’d be happy to tell her that in the grand scheme of things, “Actually, I live better than you.”
Unfortunately, we are no longer speaking.
Last modified: March 8, 2018