Saturday, August 08, 2009

A View of Appearances

Chantay Savage - I Will Survive

The day seemed picture perfect.

I was out on the water, taking in the sun and enjoying the view of the lake and all the posh homes along the lakefront from a pontoon boat. Invited to an appreciation luncheon with other assistants, it was a rare midday treat. A chance to kick back, relax, enjoy a tasty beverage, and have fun with some of my colleagues from work.

And it was nice. The sky was as blue as the water, bright and clear - as though it had been painted. Looking out on the water, the rays of the sun almost looked like diamonds bouncing off the soft waves. Lily pads dotted the surface of the water, and tall pond grass swayed softly in the light breeze. There we sat, about 20 of us, enjoying the warmth of the sun, and the camraderie of the day. All manner of people were along the shore - grilling burgers and corn, taking a quick swim, sitting on chaise lounges to catch some rays, working on their homes, or watching a boat load of laughing women sipping from plastic disposable cups watch them. Almost on cue, a swan glided across the water, its feathers so white it was almost invisible in the light of the sun.

"The turtles eat them, you know. We've got snapping turtles in the lake, and they just pop up and pull the swans under the water and eat them. It's sad sometimes, watching a mama look for her babies and they've just been pulled under."

The woman driving the boat said this matter of factly, catching all of us off guard. A flurry of "No way!" and "You're kidding!" rushed from our mouths like a quick gust of air. A couple of us looked down at the water, as though we expected a turtle to leap out of the lake and pull one of us in as easily as our captain said one grabs a swan. How can something that seemed so benign and harmless be suddenly so threatening?

Just goes to show that appearances can be deceiving.

Much like our hostess, the captain of the pontoon boat who seemed so happy and together as she greeted her guests. Every year, the group of us gets together for an appreciation lunch thrown by our bosses. This year, the hostess offered her home on the lakeshore as an ideal location. A tent was erected on the backyard lawn next to her tiki bar. A buffet lunch was set up in the garage that was so organized and clean, it seemed as though it had never held a car. Her home was beautifully appointed - floor to ceiling windows that provided a view of the lake made for a magazine spread, perfectly coordinated furnishings, decorations lovingly selected to highlight and enhance the newly renovated home. A photo album dedicated to chronicling the work done to transform the house from a timeworn one story ranch to a three story modern showplace sat on the granite island in the kitchen. It seemed perfect - a reflection of a couple's love, hard work, and dedication to each other.

Appearances can be deceiving. Our hostess showed us the photo album and took us on a tour of the house fighting back tears the entire time.

"I thought we were building a life together," she said, choking up. "I don't understand how all of this happened. I don't know how much longer I'll be here."

Her story came out in unexpected quick bursts during lunch as the guests arrived. If you asked her for a drink, to use the restroom, or the name of the caterer, you were as likely to get the expected answer ("Sure, the tiki bar is to the right...just go up the stairs and it's the first door on the know, I can't remember, let me get you a card...."), as you were a sudden rushed confessional:

Ithrewhimouthow'boutadrink'causetodayisallabouthavingfun," followed by a self conscious laugh and an abrupt change of subject to the weather or the week at work. The life she'd been building with her husband had been snapped up and pulled under with the discovery of his infidelity and deception. He'd been cheating on her with other men and women the entire time they'd been together. When caught, he offered no apology, no explanation, nothing. What seemed like the perfect relationship had all been a lie.

Appearances can be deceiving.

Just like that, a lunch that usually about the usual conversations - demanding bosses, challenging workloads, the upcoming busy season, and promises to keep in touch - turned into fellowship and sisterhood. We shared our stories about relationships gone wrong, how we healed, said it was okay to cry, and really got to know each other. We offered names of lawyers ("Girl, he helped me out and I know he'll help you...."), books to read, invitations to girl's night out whenever she needed, shoulders to cry on, whatever she needed to get through, get by, get past the hurt and shock. Our hostess was grateful and seemed surprised by the support she received. The end of her marriage is still new - the confrontation she shared in a sudden stream of consciousness confession had only taken place a couple of months earlier - but we were all old friends, willing to talk when she couldn't, listen when she could, hug and laugh to make the pain go away.

As we sat on that boat, floating through the water, I looked at the homes and families along the shore. It all looked so picture perfect, houses that anyone would covet, parents and children playing in the yards, boats in slips ready for a sail, swans swimming past proudly displaying their grace and beauty. I looked at my hostess, trying her best to stay cheerful as she pointed out homes, telling the stories of her neighbors and the lakeshore. She was smiling, punctuating her stories with a quick laugh or an off the cuff joke.

Appearances can be deceiving though, because every once in a while she'd quickly wipe away a tear or her voice would crack just a little - her heartbreak peeking through ever so slightly, like one of those unseen turtles in the lake taking a quick peek out of its shell to grab the little bit of happiness she occasionally set free.

More later, but not before I say to my friend that this hurt will pass and everything will work out. Stay strong, hang on, don't let this hurt steal your joy. You will survive.

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