My fate was pretty much sealed on the first day we met. As I observed
her through the side view mirror of Derek’s car, something about her
stance, the way her head was cocked, (judgmentally, I thought), should
have forewarned me that I was forever doomed to be categorized as the
‘tiresome daughter-in-law’, to be tolerated at best. I had dressed
carefully for the occasion, in my sedate polka dot dress — small polka
dots, so as not to appear tacky — accessorized with a thin red belt.
“You’ll love my mother, she’s such a fashionista, just like you.” Derek had said eyes twinkling. So, dress to impress, I had surmised,
grateful for some cue on what to expect from ‘Derek’s Mother’. Ever
since I had teased him about ‘overcompensating’ because I was
‘African’ and ‘hardly the kind of girl that he was expected to bring home to Mother,’ he had become deliberately nonchalant about his mother’s preferences and what not, and had refused to offer even the tiniest tidbit to prepare me for meeting his mother. “Nothing to prepare for, darling – you are perfect!” I loved him so much- he was so earnest and so obviously trying (a little too hard in my opinion) not
to appear to ‘compensate’. It was endearing yet quite irritating as it
left me in the dark about the ‘little unimportant details’ which we women know always turn out to be oh-so-important. Like the fiasco with the flowers — I found out later that she thought all flowers were tacky and belonged at funerals, except for white lilies and the occasional orchid. Of course. And my polka dot ‘number’ as she referred to it, was not a hit — on it’s own it was “quite frumpy’ and the patent leather belt
was dismissed as “trying too hard’.
She liked me even less as the tedious lunch wore on. “Your father is a
King?” a slight smile hovered around those perfectly lined and filled
in lips. I remember thinking how impossibly thin her lips looked, like
licorice, thin, pliable and red. “Well… not really, he’s more like a
titled chief you see…” My voice trailed off under her amused stare.
“So you’re not a princess then are you?” Face serious, eyes mocking.
“No, he’s more like a political appointee…”
“Good — cause Derek and I are just common Polish immigrants, aren’t we
Derek tried to convince me later that she was just kidding. yeah, in a very weird, passive aggressive, upperclass Caucasian way, I imagined.
“Loosen up honey,” he said kissing my bare shoulders and rubbing my
neck. It was the irony behind her words that stung. Marcia Gold who happened to be as blueblood as they came had married Derek’s father, Aaron Gold, whose grandfather had changed his last name from Regulski to the less ‘immigrant sounding’ Gold and had proceeded to make a fortune in the hotel business. The darned woman’s forebears had probably come over on The Mayflower and she dared insinuate that I, the real immigrant here, thankyouverymuch, might be trying to put on
Though it irked me to no end, I understood to a degree why she
detested me. I was the direct antithesis of what she would consider
suitable as a wife for her precious Derek. I was so far off the mark
infact, that in the beginning I was secretly convinced that Derek was
dating me just to rebel against his upbringing. I was black — African
to be exact — neither rich nor poor — my boring middleclass status must have been a huge disappointment. How then could she ‘sell’ me? I was hardly the exotic refugee and certainly not the silver spoon bred princess of Zamunda. Aside from being black, I didn’t possess any traits or qualities that could potentially set me apart as a topic for some intriguing discussion at their country club.
I was , in her words (teach me to eavesdrop) ‘ a complete and utter disaster’.
“Give her a chance, honey, she’ll come around.” Derek made puppy dog
eyes at me from across the room. “She’s from a different era, my
mother is.” More like another planet, I thought to myself wryly. I was
meeting Mrs. Gold — it was always Mrs. Gold, by the way, never Marcie or heaven forbid-
Mom — at the dreaded country club, or as they referred to it ‘The Enclave’, to discuss the engagement party that she had insisted on throwing us.
“All white of course,” she spoke in a firm yet unhurried tone.
“The flowers, or…”
“…everything, naturally.” This was not a response, she had simply gone on speaking, as she was not asking a question, she was stating. I felt again chastised, as if somehow I should have known that at engagement parties everything was always white — naturally.
“I just felt that I could incorporate some of my heritage into the
event, with maybe more vibrant colors and maybe the décor…” My words
sounded rushed and choked almost, resentment and emotions forming a large bubble in my throat. She glanced at me for the first time, eyebrows cocked, superior smile in place.
“What, kente cloth and ostrich feathers? Somehow I don’t see that
fitting in at the enclave…” She looked down at her notebook and
adjusted her glasses.
“So, it’s settled — white then…”, she continued, speed bump steam rolled over, crisis averted. I could feel the tears well up behind my contact lenses. I was thirteen again, scared yet defiant,
facing off against school bullies.
“Why don’t you like me, Marcie?” I knew it was a mistake even as the
words rolled off my tongue. I had just called her Marcie!
“Pardon me?” You can stop this before its too late, think of Derek, I counseled myself. Yet I knew I wouldn’t stop. Couldn’t.
“You’ve never liked me or my kind from the first day you met me.”
“Your kind?” her face still expressionless, “You mean…African?” Was she
mocking me again? It was hard to tell, I was emotional and she was a pro, well versed in the art of polite warfare.
“It just kills you that Derek loves me and will marry me regardless of
what you think.” The tears had started to fall, thick and heavy.
Without looking down, she handed me a crisp white handkerchief (monogrammed, of course) from
her crocodile skin purse, still studying me with a look I couldn’t
“You don’t sound too sure about that.”
“I just want to be accepted for who I am.” I was blubbering now.
“Your mascara is running.”Okay, she was definitely toying with me now.
I charged on, pent up frustration finally let loose. “I know I never
will be what you want…”
“Which is?” Face still implacable, I swear the woman had chilled Perrier water running through her veins.
“A friggin’… WASP!” She actually smiled at that, a slight upturn of her lips.
“No… it is safe to say-that – you will never be.” I stopped short,
stung by the brevity of her response and matter of fact manner in
which she said it.
“I’m not your problem dear, your issue is you.” She broke off a piece
of her croissant and delicately buttered it. “You must learn to be you
inspite of me, or anyone else for that matter.” For a minute I thought
I had glimpsed some flicker of humanity under that veneer of icy
Caucasian wealth and status.
“So…white it is then.” My outburst had never happened.