The strangest thing happened Saturday.
Dennis and I dropped Punky off at her Saturday acting class, then went on to the downtown library to spend some time with Bruiser on the children’s floor. We stayed there an hour or so there before heading back out to retrieve Punky from class. As we were leaving the library, we ran into one of my stepdaughters’ teachers from junior high. Dennis and I both stopped in the narrow hallway that led to the parking deck to say hello, pleased to run into a teacher that we hadn’t seen in eight years.
She greeted Dennis warmly, and asked what my stepdaughter was doing now. He told the teacher about her college and her major, and she expressed pleasant surprise, before asking a few more questions. Although I was standing right next to Dennis and clearly “in on” the conversation, and although I had seen this woman many, many times while attending events for both my stepdaughters during junior high, she resolutely avoided my gaze. It was as if I wasn’t there. And she very obviously intended for me to feel that way.
Suddenly, it was as if we had entered a time warp and Dennis and I were newlyweds again. Back then, teachers and parents used to pull this kind of thing all. The. Time. To some, my brand new Second Wife status marked me as an outsider, a woman who deserved to be ignored. Ostracized. Scorned. Certainly not everyone acted this way– In fact, most people didn’t. But I could count on a good snubbing from a mother or teacher at least a few times a week, whether I was at a parent’s night or a recital or a soccer game. Some ignored me. Some muttered comments about me under their breath. Some asked rude questions, like whether both my children had the same daddy.
All of the feelings I had after being treated this way came rushing back as my stepdaughter’s former teacher continued to ignore me. Despite the fact that she wouldn’t glance my way even for a second, I pretended like it was a normal conversation, smiling, nodding, doing all the things one does. But none of it worked. I could see Dennis was uncomfortable with how she was acting, and trying to end the conversation. “Well, it was good seeing you,” he said as soon as she paused. “Good seeing you, too!” she gushed. “Yes, it was good seeing you!” I added brightly. Her smile faded as she looked at me for the first time. “Hello,” she said flatly, and went on her way.
I didn’t say anything as we walked on to the car. You know how this kind of thing goes. You process it for a while. You make excuses for the other person. You wonder if you were being too sensitive, if it was unintended, if you’re reading into things that weren’t really there.
“Wow, she was so rude to you,” Dennis said as soon as we were out of earshot. “That was unbelievable!”
“I KNOW!” I exploded, relieved that it wasn’t just my imagination. “That was so weird. It hasn’t happened to me in YEARS! But it made me realize that that kind of thing used to happen ALL THE TIME.”
Yeah, that used to be normal. MY NORMAL. I just took it. I got used to it. And over time, people got used to me and the animosity faded away. But every year or two, someone from our past comes along and does it again, and all of those snubbings from my first few years of marriage come rushing back.
Now, ten years later, the occasional hostility doesn’t make me feel bad about myself like it did back then. It just makes me incredulous, I guess, that people can be so mean. So judgmental. And for what? I happened to meet and fall in love with a divorced man who had two daughters. That’s shocking, I know. What’s worse, I handled their carpool. Attended their recitals. Brought snacks and drinks to their soccer games. Quit my TV news job and worked from home so that someone would be around when they got home from school.
Clearly, I was a brazen hussy and a bad example.
I wish now that I could go back in time and tell my twenty-something self that I was doing a good job. That I was trying my hardest. That I had done nothing wrong. And that I didn’t deserve to be treated that way, by anyone. We all have these moments, don’t we? Unexpected run-ins that put the past in stark perspective. I’m actually sort of glad that teacher was so rude.
Because now, for the first time, I can see that the problem was never me.