Friday, February 25, 2011

Social Bitch

Before anyone gets offended at this title, let me tell you: it has a very specific history and meaning for me.

It dates back to my formative years. I have a friend, Marjorie, whom you all know from various mentions throughout this blog. She is the most charming and social creature I have ever had the pleasure of meeting and knowing. From childhood, she has always been gregarious, outgoing, pleasant, engaging and fun. My mother, probably the least social person on the planet, did not like her. One day, after Marjorie’s taking leave from a rare visit to my house, my mother summed up her estimate of Marjorie in two words. “Social Bitch” she snorted with disdain, as though there might be something wrong with being charming and gregarious and outgoing.

This phrase has become a running joke between Marjorie and me over the years.

Mind you, Marjorie does have a deep side, and strong feelings. Please don’t discount her as frivolous or shallow in any way. It just happens that she is in fact very social. My mother’s comment hurt her deeply and, if I hadn’t felt compelled to share it with her all those years ago I could have spared her the pain of that harsh assessment. But if I had, we would not have this running gag today. So maybe it was a good thing that I confided in Marjorie. Besides, it kept her from visiting again, which kept her from my mother’s scorn, so all in all, disclosure was the right thing to do, in this case.

In a way, I envy Marjorie’s charm and social grace. She has such an easy manner and a sunny disposition! I am aware of how much it costs her to be so light and breezy, but she pulls it off so effortlessly! I struggle with social events, like to hide in my apartment and shy away from contact. Maybe it is because I am afraid that, even from the grave, my mother will deem me a social bitch too.

But this past Sunday was a different story. This past Sunday was the day that I ‘held court’, as royalty does. Sunday, I had so many people come by to visit that I was exhausted by the end of the day and had to wait 3 days to write this entry. Let me tell you about my Sunday, and all of the visits!

First, there was a nice Skype conversation with my good friends George and Chris. George and I used to work together, and thankfully that relationship ended when I resigned my last job. Because now, we’re friends, whereas before we were boss/employee (and also friends). But now, it is pure friendship, and one I enjoy tremendously.

We talked for more than an hour and then it was time to talk with Gabriel. That is always fun, especially the older he gets and the more diversified his interests are. He even tells jokes and riddles. Some might think that maintaining a steady relationship via chat would be difficult with a 9-year old boy, but for he and I, it is a snap. We have been a continuous presence in each other’s life since the day he first drew breath and my day would not be complete without at least a message to him. Fortunately, on most days, I do get to see him and talk with him.

After talking with Gabriel I was quite hungry. I had gotten up at 9AM, and here it was, 1PM and I hadn’t had a bite to eat! Time to get something between my teeth, and then clean the house up because I was expecting Summer and her parents for a visit this afternoon.

Summer is one of my freshman students. I had the pleasure of meeting her mother when we went shopping together, and then going to their house afterward for a meal, where her father joined us. As is traditional in China, it is a sign of friendship and respect to be invited to one’s home, and food is always offered. My visit to their home happened before my jaunt to Xi’an, and now it was time to return the honor by welcoming them to my home.

While waiting for Summer and her parents, Pixie came by with a gift from her hometown: sausage and jujube. Pixie is a freshman student whose father recently died. She has a hard time dealing with her loss while managing her new life on campus, and we always have deep conversations about it. She is a strong girl who will be just fine after this difficult year. I always feel compelled to hug her and try to make it all better. She left when she got a text message that one of her dorm mates had made it back to campus.

Snacks laid out and house cleaned, kettle full and ready to brew tea, all I needed was that knock on the door that would herald Summer and her parents’ arrival. When it came a few minutes later, I was giddy with joy at seeing them again and ushered them in. They could not stay very long because they had to tend to Summer’s Grandfather, but I had time to introduce them to my family by showing them pictures, and we exchanged stories of our time apart. Before leaving, we made plans to get together again soon.

Next, Sam came by for an hour-long visit. We had sent text messages back and forth during Winter Break, but hadn’t actually laid eyes on each other for nearly a month. I welcomed my friend in and we visited for nearly two hours, catching up on our time apart. His German studies are really coming along well, and he confessed that Baby Erica is sometimes very difficult. That is why he is happy Penny’s mother is staying with them for one month; he can get a lot of studying done as long as his mother in law helps with the baby.

Sam took his leave after eating a late lunch with me, and just as I was closing the door, my cellphone chimed with a text message from Gloria, one of my students. Would I mind if she came by? Of course not, Gloria! I would be delighted to see you!

She breezed in, all smiles and refreshed from her time spent at home. She is from a small town just South of the Gobi Desert, and was happy to return to Wuhan, where the weather is warmer. She brought a gift for me: a small bottle of wine, indigenous to her region of China. She declined to join me for a glass but, blushing furiously, confided a secret: she has a boyfriend! She couldn’t tell her mother and I suspect she would have burst if she couldn’t tell someone, and soon! She showed me a picture of him, a handsome young man. He is lucky to have Gloria; she is a beautiful girl, inside and out.

Our visit was interrupted by Stephanie and Melanie, two other students. Stephanie had a difficult time at home during Winter Break; her mother would not let her leave the house or do anything. Stephanie, having tasted independence, resented her mother’s stance and they fought constantly. At one point during the break, she sent me a text message asking if I thought it would be OK for her to run away from home. I can’t really give you an OK on that, Stephanie! I did advise her to talk with her mother, and it seems that fight got resolved but, during her visit with me, she asked where she could find a job. It seems she truly does want independence from her mother, and she is willing to work for it. Unfortunately, I do not have any contacts or connections in Wuhan, but I did suggest she talk with Summer, who does have a job.

All three girls left at the same time and I turned out the lights. It was time to stop holding court and cook my supper. Just then, another knock at my door: come in, Victor!

We talked about how we spent our Winter Break and for once, Victor was affable and conversant. We enjoyed a glass of brandy (or two) as we talked. He said he was truly sorry he was not in a position to help me more these past six months because he was trying to get his own language school going, and the logistics were a nightmare! He also talked about his home in South Africa and how he misses Capetown and his family. I was quite surprised that he shared that much of himself, but it was a welcome change from the arrogant, standoffish colleague I had known till now.

After Victor left it was past 9PM. I had had more company in one day than I’ve had in the last six months except for the Christmas parties, and, as I turned out the lights and finally went to eat something, I could hear my mother snort “Social Bitch!”

Yeah, Mom? What of it?

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