The Object of Love / Material Girl

Arlene was beautiful.

The only problem she had was that she was born on the wrong side of the tracks, to the wrong family, to the wrong religion, and to the wrong sensibility.

She hated her parents’ home. She hated her last name. She hated her mother’s thriftiness and her father’s lack of sophistication.

She was quite popular in school, and quite naturally her friends would ask to come over to her house, however, she would make up different excuses as to why they couldn’t.

More than anything, she would try to have them not come during dinner.  You see, her parents were immigrants from Europe; uneducated, uncultured and they had horrible table manners.

But that was not the worst: She despised their dishes.

Her mother would rejoice in buying melamine dishes, particularly the ones which had flowers on them even though they would soon be scratched and dulled. Her mother thought them so practical!

Arlene, who was quite savvy from early on, noticed the difference between her parents and the parents of her friends. Her friends’ parents didn’t have accents.  They were “refined”.  They never used their hands to eat. Their homes were bigger and their furniture was upscale. They didn’t raise their voices when they talked to each other, and they bought their clothes at Bullocks Wilshire, not at Zody’s like her parents..

Sometimes she wondered why the other parents let their children befriend her.

Early on she learned how to sew and she made “cute” but inexpensive clothes. She learned how to eat daintily, and adopted perfect elocution and a classy demeanor. All her friends’ parents adored her, and yet she was still insecure.

As she matured, she realized that her looks could be her entre into everything that was bigger and better. She started to work as soon as she could, as she desperately wanted better clothes. Her brother would tease her that she thought she was “hoity-toity”, but she did not care.  She swore she’d change the way she lived if it’s the last thing she did!

At twenty, she met a wealthy insurance broker.  He was handsome, rich and drove a beautiful car.  She thought she was in love, and he left his wife for her.  Arlene was ecstatic!

Shortly after they were married, she realized that he was exceedingly boring.  Despite being a very hard worker and an excellent provider he didn’t care much about entertainment and culture, which was contrary to her friends’ parents who had subscriptions to the philharmonic, the theater and to museums.

So, she decided to live her life just like them, and when her husband would decline to go with her, she would take one of her single friends.

And at this point you might be thinking that Arlene must have had an affair, since she started spending more and more time without her husband. Well, you are wrong.

Arlene was not the type. Her love was towards status symbols, such as her home, her furniture, her clothes and her jewelry. But more than anything she loved-

Expensive dishes!

She had set after set of fine china, each purchased with passion, excitement and compulsive greed. She had enough china to feed guests for days and never use the same set. And of course, she purchased several beautiful antique china cabinets to store most of her sets- and one exquisite armoire for her most precious “babies” – her dinner sets, three of them, which were exorbitantly expensive.

There was nothing that would make her more excited than to have her rich friends for dinner and set the table with her imported china, the likes of which they have never seen. A good cook she wasn’t, but she found an old lady who would cook for her, and they had some splendid and lavish dinners in her beautiful dining room with her beloved china.

Her life was full of beauty and fun, despite the fact that she could not conceive a child.

And then came the day when her heart was almost broken.  Not because her husband threatened to leave her or that sort of thing. It was the Northridge earthquake which caught her off guard.

When the house started shaking she thought that she was dreaming; that she was on a cruise ship – but soon her husband was screaming “wake up and get out of the house, this is a big one!”

Awake now, she was of a quick mind, and realizing what was happening – she knew that there was no way she was going to leave her dishes behind.

Like any devoted mother who runs to their child’s room regardless of the danger, she too ran into the… dining room, screaming to her husband “come and help me!”  He looked at her with horror in his eyes, and ran outside.

Arlene was not a very powerful woman…

But her house was shaking and she was hearing dishes falling down.  She leaned against the big china cabinet with all her might – with a force she did not even know she possessed. She leaned and she leaned and the beautiful antique china cabinet did not fall.  Her most prized possessions were not shattered!

As the tremors started to subside and her husband returned to the house, he saw his wife picking up pieces of china from the floor. However, the big armoire was intact. She looked at him, tears streaming down her face and said:

“I saved them, I saved them!”

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About rachel bar

Psychotherapist and supervisor.
This entry was posted in Greed, Impulse Control, Inferiority, Keeping up with the Johns, Set of Dishes, The American Dream, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

16 Responses to The Object of Love / Material Girl

  1. mim collins says:

    how tragically sad…Mim

  2. Margot says:

    Speechless … and sad.

  3. Maureen says:

    Well, my life isn’t “Arlene’s” – but in the Northridge earthquake I also I lost my entire (and extensive) teapot/pitcher collection (which dated from my great grandmother and included sentimental pieces and travel souvenirs throughout my life). I couldn’t save them. The only breakables which survived were easily replaceable everyday wear. So I get Arlene. Yes, that the “china” in and of itself was so paramount to Arlene is sad – but I believe not one of us is without a “hole” in our hearts, or in our personal identity, that we’ve temporarily filled with “something else” until we are willing to fill it with that which resonates Truth.

    • rachel bar says:

      Maureen, I agree about the “hole” in our hearts, and I know that we want to save some objects during earthquakes and such, however, she completely risked her life!

      • Maureen says:

        Some people risk their lives for their kids, some for their pets, some for material things. How many people have been injured or lost their lives in a mugging because they refused to give up their purse or wallet….We cling to what is most important to us in a time of crisis, without regard to anything else. Her life WAS that china. And yes, it is tragic. What would each of us risk our lives for…without thinking it through, on panic/impulse ?

  4. Martha Carr says:

    Beautiful as always Rachel and yes, sad. I wonder if the magnitude of the event shocked her into awareness of the power of her attachment, or if she continued on as usual. Hmmmm……

  5. While reading the piece, I didn’t really feel sad for her….for least she found something that she really loved and felt that represented who she really wanted to be…I saw her love for her “precious” things similar to Sméagol/Gollum….It’s a blessing that she didn’t suffer a similar fate…I wonder what her husband felt as he watched as he could possibly lost his “precious” (home and his wife)

    • rachel bar says:

      Her husband thought she was crazy, and he was pretty alienated from her at that point. You are right about having something to love, as she always liked to describe her dishes.

  6. Barbara Cooper says:

    Personally, I don’t think it was the china at all that was what was what was important to her. I think it was what the china represented to her in her mind- by owning that china, she had achieved the status she craved as a child. The china was just a physical manifestation of her desire to live as the friends of her youth lived. She probably spent her entire youth studying what her friends had, how they lived, and spent too many precious hours imagining herself having their lives. So, when the quake hit, she ran to hold on to the life she had created for herself as if the possible breaking of those dishes would break her as well.
    I can’t condemn nor criticize her. If you ask a hypothetical question to anyone- “What would you do if…?” I can guarantee that whatever they answer would not be what they would actually do if the hypothetical situation came to pass. We answer what we think we would do, what we hope we would do, but in actuality, in time of crises, there is no time to hypothesize or theorize. We just take action, and unfortunately, sometimes that action is the wrong choice and has dire consequences.
    I think I’m more perturbed by the husband who left her there and ran out to save himself. Did he not love her at least as much as she loved her dishes?

    • rachel bar says:

      No, he did not love her as she loved her dishes, and she did not care for him either!

      I agree, Barbara, that we don’t know what we would do and how we might react. We all have some great concepts of ourselves until we are put to the test!

  7. Dalia Kenig says:

    What came to my mind when I read your story was transitional object issue gone wild. A physical object, which takes the place of the mother-child bond. She hated so much about her parents, it seems like healthy emotional bonding did not happen in this family and my guess is that it runs deeper than her mother’s thriftiness and her father’s lack of sophistication and their other embarrassing ways. Inability to internalize love object can explain why dishes and external appearances meant more to her than real relationships. With all that said, she found her own way to nurse her wound, and I understand why she was willing to risk herself to save her dishes…

  8. Dalia Kenig says:

    correction: i meant dress her wound (double meaning, wordplay)

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