Back in Neplebian Heights we had developed a strong friendship with most of our neighbours. I had clients, Jason had clients, and we were still friends with many of our school and university mates. Life seemed to grow organically and social outings created themselves. Opportunities for social interaction presented themselves daily and without pomp or circumstance. At the grocery store, in the park, even at mother’s group.
Initially, upon moving to Snobsville, I had craved the constancy of these close friendships often. I felt disconnected and struggled to find a place for myself amongst the perfect lawns and large rendered facades. They had seemed beautiful, but cold and uninviting. Jason’s new role within his own company saw him working nights and as much as I rallied against the cliché, I was lonely. I longed to visit Neplebean Heights. To chat to neighbours over the fence and talk warmly about school concerts or trivia night at the local. To feel the casual intimacy of a good conversation with a great friend. In truth, I still miss it every day, but in those first few months I committed to not visiting. I knew I needed to make a go of it in Snobsville and I didn’t want to end up stuck between two worlds.
As luck would have it that is exactly where I have ended up.
Our previous neighbour Kristy Lee had invited Luke, Layla and I over for lunch, and with great trepidation I prepared us for the outing. I made a concerted effort to dress casually – not perfectly casual, like I would aim for in Snobsville, but real casual. The difference is immense. Perfectly casual – not a hair out of place, perfect fatigue marks on designer jeans, crisp white t-shirts, and leather boots – would stick out like a sore thumb in Nepleabian Heights. Real Casual means wearing what is still on the bedroom floor after falling ungraciously into bed each night. Perfectly casual requires thought and planning. Real casual laughs heartily at a planned outfit. I couldn’t in good conscience, leave the house wearing dirty jeans and thongs anymore, but I didn’t want to look ‘posh.’ That would send the wrong message. (When did I start worrying about sending messages with my wardrobe, and why does it seem like I need an ASIO clearance and a cypher to decode what these messages meant?)
I settled on my new jeans, (the pair with minimal fatigue marks), a plain white t-shirt, (non-designer), and sneakers. They were new too, and far more expensive than anything I had ever owned in Neplebian, but I felt confident and self assured. I tried to convince myself that confidence was all that mattered, but found I was second guessing myself.
Dressing Luke and Layla was even more of a challenge. The outfits I had bought them since moving to Snobsville were adorable and obviously designer labels. It was difficult to hide. In truth, there isn’t an awful lot of choice when it comes to non-designer clothes in Snobsville and People don’t seem to do hand me downs, which had previously been my sole source of clothing for them both. So I dressed them both as casually as possible too, jeans and a t-shirt and sneakers for each.
We pulled up at Kristy Lee’s house and for the first time I parked on the street. Usually I would have parked on the driveway at a friend’s place in Neplebian, but it had been a while since we’d seen each other and I didn’t want to be rude.
Kristy Lee Met us on the driveway and gave us all a giant hug. Instantly, I felt relaxed, and for the first time in quite a while I felt like I was home. She gave me an odd look as we walked in the house, (Did I have lipstick on my teeth? Should I not be wearing lipstick? I noticed her face was completely devoid of make up).
“Soooo good to see you! Come on in. Gayle’s here too.” Gayle was Kristy’s best friend from her school years and they were still tied at the hip. Kristy and her husband Eddie ran the local pub and bottle-o, and Gayle worked behind the bar. I had known Gayle for years. She was what my father would have called ‘salt f the earth.’ A kind hearted soul with a kind smile and a level head.
As I walked in Gayle shrieked with laughter, and I was somewhat taken aback.
Red faced, I stammered “What is it?” Then looking at Kristy, “Why is she laughing at me?”
Gayle answered for herself. “Sorry darl, it’s just – well look at you! Oh God, you’re one of them!”
“What do you mean?” When had I become so sensitive about my appearance?
“You look like you’re about to do one of those photo shoots for an expensive family photographer.” Her hands made inverted comma gestures as she said the last two words. “You know, the ones where they’re all running down the beach laughing? The ones that they advertise on the morning show?”
“Oh. Yes I suppose so.”
“The really expensive ones?” I looked all three of us up and down – Luke with his permanently grubby face, white t-shirt and designer jeans. Layla with her permanently grubby face, white t-shirt and designer jeans. And me. All three of us, looking as if we were wearing a uniform of perfect casualness for a pricey, artsy photographer.
I should have known. We had this exact photo hanging on our wall at home. Not content to be outdone by Linda’s big spending husband at the charity auction Jason had purchased the only thing we could reasonably afford at the artificially exorbitant prices. A session with a photographer. I understood how charities made so much money out of Snobvillians now. They outbid each other on useless items to win each other’s respect.
I sighed and laughed a little too. “Oh, god we do don’t we?” The ice was broken. “I didn’t know what to wear!”
They both stared at me for a moment and I felt a little uneasy again.
“Whaddya mean you didn’t know what to wear? What difference does it make?”
“None I suppose.”
The kids watched a DVD and munched on potato chips while we chatted and drank coffee. Not tea, not champers with or without guava. No seasonal fruit or cold tapas platters. No discerning looks that I was allowing my child to eat preservatives and trans fats and watch too much television, or wondering if he was so ‘spirited’ because I fed him rubbish all the time. No underhanded comments offering me recipes my nanny could try for some wholesome organic treats that I can carry with me for the kids to snack on. Just three old friends, chatting, drinking coffee and undisturbed by the children, who sat quietly mesmerised by the television.
And still there was a chasm, and I found myself wondering if I was closer to Neplebian Heights or Snobsville in my quest to find a socio-geographic niche for myself. Or maybe I was overthinking things too much.
“So it’s Luke’s birthday soon.”
“Yes, we’re having a petting zoo come.”
They both stared at me blankly. “Really?” The blinking eyes again. So it’s not just a native Snobvillian thing then. Funny, I’d never noticed it before I moved.
“Oh, it’s really not that expensive. Luke went to a party last week where the parents had hired a helicopter!”
“Um, yeah.” Kristy Lee’s ug boots were tapping the ground impatiently as I talked, she politely smiled as I described the party bags, (which contained vouchers for tutoring, gourmet gluten free chocolates and educational puzzles.”
“But there were no lollies?” Gayle was incredulous.
“No. I suppose not!” We laughed uneasily.
As we left later that day, Luke tugged at Kristy-Lee’s oversized grey cotton t shirt.
She bent down on her knees and gave him a cuddle. “What is it honey?”
“Why don’t you have a pool?”
My face was suddenly the colour of the union Jack. “Uh, we’re saving for a holiday!”
Ever precocious, my darling troublemaker continued on. “Cool! Where are you going?”
“We thought we might go to Queensland to see Movie World. Pretty exciting right?”
He sighed and looked her in the eye. “I guess. Why don’t you go on holidays in Fiji like normal people?”
It was time to step in. “Okay! Time to go. Luke are you ready? Can you grab mummy’s Nappy bag please? Sorry guys, he’s just a kid.”
Gayle smiled kindly. We’ll see you soon.”
“Yeah, maybe next time you can come see our new place.”
“Sure.” I was certain Kristy Lee didn’t mean it. Though all three of us valued the friendship, none of us felt particularly comfortable outside our natural habitat. The difference was, theirs was familiar and cosy, but it didn’t quite fit anymore. Like a broken in pair of ugg boots that are suddenly so worn they are a size to big. Mine seemed to make sense for me right now. I hoped our friendship could overcome the geographic hurdle, but in honesty it was probably as much about the psychological distance between our homes as the travel time.
Driving away past the Toyotas and Holden’s and towards the black Lexus SUV’s it occurred to me. , I didn’t even know what my natural habitat was anymore.