by Elizabeth T. Andrews
American Reporter Correspondent
FebRUARY 13, 2007
WHERE PERFECT ROSES GROW
CARTERSVILLE, Ga. -- Women like Debbie B. hold more than their share of the sky up.
They are the glue that holds our towns together, the keepers of the family flames, the quiet women who never burn their bras, march in protest parades, or kick holes in the front door of city hall.
The Debbies in our towns get up every morning, ready their classrooms for our children, open our banks, lay out our doctor's schedule, open cash registers, answer phones, run restaurants and dozens of small needed businesses, then, at the end of the day, they close the town down, go home, get up the next morning and do it all over again.
At around age three, Debbie invited me daily to her very fine tea parties. I had to sit in a tiny chair at a tiny table and drink pretend-tea out of a tiny cup.
We were, according to her, two women enjoying tea and grown-up conversation about our lives. Debbie's pretend-life was always the same: the perfect husband, the perfect little house with its perfect picket fence, two beautiful children, a pretend-dog or cat.
In her real world she led her little sister around by the hand, pulled up her diapers, scolded her for misconduct. She ironed her daddy's handkerchiefs, insisted on learning how to make macaroni and cheese, and became the family "have-to" chief in charge of: We have to have a big Christmas dinner, and we have to send birthday cards to Aunt Millie even though we haven't heard from her in 10 years, and we have to go to the school play, and we absolutely have to say blessings at mealtime 'cause that's what nice folks do.
She walked solemnly through childhood, graduated with presidential honors from a junior college while working at a child-care center, got engaged to "the boy next door," waited for him to finish college, married him, fluffed her traditional feathers and settled down in her "live-happily-ever-after" nest.
Fifteen years later, Debbie stood at the front door with her young son and daughter and kissed the perfect husband-father goodbye. He walked, suitcase in hand, off to his new life with his new girlfriend, a young co-worker who, oddly enough, looked a lot like Debbie.
The good old Georgia boys' court gave Debbie and her two children one-fourth of the departing husband's not-meager salary.
"I always thought he would come back," she said to me much later. "I always thought he would come back."
But he didn't, and this stoic, quiet woman swallowed her pain, dug in her traditional heels, kept her children in the same house in the same neighborhood, and in the same schools. Her church became her refuge, assuaged her pain, filled her need for a sense of family.
"Why don't you move back to Orlando?" I asked her. The new wife of the old husband had moved into their new house across town and Debbie often saw them together in the small town where they all lived.
"I don't like change," she said softly.
She brushed off her broken dreams, went back to college, got her teaching degree and, years later, I finally heard her speak without pain of her former husband.
The Debbies of any town are the stuff from which The First Wives Club was fashioned. They dream the all-American dreams, they fill the happy-family albums, they attend their daughter's swim competition, and refer proudly to their only male child as "my son." They planned their dream, and dreamed their plan.
Where the road of dreams divides, and the too common American reality of the "other woman" collides with the first-family wedding pictures, the first-family Christmas tree, the save-for-later baby clothes; where that fork in the road appears is where the Debbies begin the dance of "Who am I?"
Their entire lives are, too often, designed around being Mrs. Somebody. Every dream they ever dreamed was wrapped around being one-half of a traditional whole. And so begins the pain-filled process of trying to give birth to yourself.
The determined Debbies either discover they are not appendages of males but are, instead, women fearlessly and wonderfully made, or they launch an intensive campaign to find a replacement to fit into the perfect house on Perfect Street where perfect children and perfect roses grow.
Debbie chose the road of introspection.
What did I do wrong? Was it all my fault? I don't want to go through this again. I have to have some answers, some insights. What would I say if he wanted to come back?
She stumbled through the first Christmas alone, pretend-gaiety mixed in with the hot chocolate and the untangling of the lights for the tree. And as the Christmases dropped from her single-woman-raising-children-alone calendar, she slowly took on a kind of soft wisdom and self-acceptance missing in her earlier identity as Mrs. Somebody Important.
The Debbies in our towns are the town's backbone and its heart - there for their children, there for their church, there for their community.
If I were mayor of Anywhere, U.S.A., I would declare one day a year Debbie Day. I would read aloud a statement that says there are no perfect streets, no perfect homes, and no perfect families. I would declare loudly that we can, and we should, celebrate the Debbies everywhere who have found their wings, not in the exterior world of life as we dreamed it would be, but in the inner strength of the individual soul.
That's where the perfect gardens grow. There, and only there, is the permanent home of personal peace.
AR Correspondent Elizabeth T. Andrews is a former columnist for the Orlando Sentinel now living in Cartersville, Ga., where she writes poetry. Reach her at email@example.com.