I once had a student who claimed to be psychic tell me that I had a problem with jealousy. “You’re a jealous person,” she said. “You should work on that.” I stood in front of her gawping, trying to imagine a scenario where I might have given a college prof unsolicited psychic advice. But then again, I’m not clairvoyant.
I wanted to give the student an automatic D for cheekiness but quickly banished the thought before she could intuit my intentions. She was, after all, a good student. Even if she had it wrong.
I’m not jealous so much as I am given to small fits of envy, which is, I think, an entirely different animal. Jealousy makes you scheme and plot and try to steal things away from other people that you want and believe to be rightfully yours. Envy just makes you miserable because you have this notion that you are lacking something other people have managed to provide for themselves.
For the last several years, basking here in Z’s love and all of our glorious freedom and good times, a lot of the things I used to be envious of don’t even phase me now. Someone gets a new house? Good for them! Someone has a new baby? How exciting and life affirming! Someone goes on vacation? What was it like? Someone gets a new dog? When can I see it, please?
But then a summer holiday like last week’s Memorial Day rolls around, and my green eyes get greener. On any given day when Z and I are sitting beside Lake Washington in our relaxi chairs, reading, I’m happy. Any time we score an hour or two on Hudge’s houseboat on Portage Bay, I’m pretty content. But if it is a summer holiday, I can only assume that everyone we see is with family or a big group of old, close friends, cooking out, playing croquet, sailing. Living some version of the American Dream that I’ve failed to provide for myself.
It didn’t help this year that I came home from Indiana feeling six degrees more homesick than usual. And I was already crabby because of the weekend-long, self-congratulatory posts on Facebook that imply the poster knows how to patriotically observe Memorial Day (which they believe is three days long), while I must surely be an ingrate who needs reminding and barely deserves my American citizenship. It also didn’t help that I’ve had a stomach thing going on that’s had me on the world’s blandest food for two weeks.
It really, really didn’t help on Saturday when Z and I tried to go to Golden Gardens, one of our favorite city parks with gorgeous views of Puget Sound, only to discover the parking lots were full and the place was crawling with people who had a similar idea. (We were reminded of the time two years ago when we took my mother there for a quiet picnic in a stand of trees by ourselves, only to soon be surrounded by fools balancing on slacklines and blocking our views, hula hoopers gyrating in front of us, and, I kid you not, someone with fire batons that they tossed in the air dangerously close to us. It was as if we’d accidentally set up our picnic blanket in the middle of a circus.) Last Saturday, as we drove around hoping to score a parking spot, Z and I looked at each other and one of us said, “I forgot how much I hate summer in Seattle,” and the other one concurred. It’s a refrain we’ll be repeating until September, especially when the cruise ships roll into town, crowding things up even more than they already are.
And so I thought about how if only we were in Indiana (though not by the Speedway where the Indy 500 would be running) we wouldn’t have to jockey for a park bench and we could rest our eyes on a landscape not littered with humans. My homesickness was compounded.
On Sunday, when I woke up to one of those hard rains that had set in for the whole day, the corners of my mouth twitched into a small smile. When Z and I decided to drive to Lake Washington and we did not have to dodge any cyclists or fight for a parking space, the smile got larger. We parked at a boat dock, where no boats were bothering to venture out so miserable was the day, and we sat listening to the rain on the roof of our rental car. We watched a gaggle of geese, wave patterns, a soggy Labrador being walked by his soggier owner. I napped.
There was a tiny, naughty part of me that delighted in the notion of other people’s fabulous plans being ruined, but I instantly felt a smidgen of guilt and did quick penance of saying to no one in particular, “Sorry about your plans.”
No. It wasn’t a good day because other people’s plans were ruined; it was a good day because there were no expectations by anyone, including myself, that the day should be more fabulous than it was. There was no reason for envy.
And the rain on that roof was so soothing.