By Miss Havisham
Anyone familiar with Great Expectations (and if you’re here you must have noticed the theme) should have a passing knowledge who Miss Havisham is. She’s the bitter old woman wearing the tattered wedding gown dating from her jilting at the altar decades ago, unwashed and unbrushed hair sticking up like a Brillo pad, sitting around watching rats eating what’s left of her wedding cake (though how any cake could last that long is a fact that’s always baffled me). And for kicks? She teaches her ward, Estella, that men are shit and she should use her beauty to make every one of them pay.
A good life, Miss Havisham has. Well-rounded. Well, sort of. Okay, not really at all. The woman hasn’t seen daylight in at least 40 years, and she sure as heck doesn’t bathe. We can safely surmise that, considering the dress and all. While I’m not saying I’m exactly like her, not that bad, once you’ve read my story you’ll know my own secret Miss Havisham-like tendencies. But let’s not spoil it quite this early. That would stop you reading the essay and, well, that’s not what this is about now is it.
To begin at the beginning, I’m the sort who whines constantly about the weather. In the winter it’s, “I’m so COLD!” In the cold months (in Chicago that’s October through May) I can never get or stay warm no matter how much I bundle up. The one time I’m comfortable is when I’m dressed in flannel pajamas, hibernating beneath the down comforter.
If I had my way I’d hibernate all winter, though I’m thinking the library (my employer) would have some issues with that. Family Medical Leave all winter, every winter? Sounds a bit suspicious. (Though if you know a doctor who’d sign off on that let me know.)
At work it’s equally horrible. The library keeps the thermostat in the staff room set somewhere around 60 degrees year freaking ‘round. I guess they’re afraid if it gets too warm we’ll all fall asleep. That problem’s avoided by keeping our teeth chattering, which sounds like a room full of typewriters going full speed. The collected condensation from our breath gives the room a foggy, Dickensian feel. It’s really very Scrooge and Marley, and appropriately literary for a library.
The funny thing is, no matter how much I complain about winter cold, as soon as the temperatures rise to 90 or above for more than two consecutive days I start whining all over again, this time for the opposite reason: “It’s so HOT!!! Turn on the air conditioner, you cheapskate, or I’m calling my attorney!”
Don’t get me wrong. I’m all about 80 to 85 degree weather, clear blue skies dotted with little puffy clouds, flowers bursting into bloom (though I’m afflicted by allergies, a misery for another time) and all that sort of stuff. It’s the humidity that kills me. When the mercury hits 90 and the humidity’s high my makeup runs down my face, making me look like Tammy Faye Bakker as Picasso may have depicted her (were he very desperate for material). Very not attractive, in case you don’t remember the 1990s.
Then there’s my naturally curly hair. It’s not the pretty kind, the sort that’s thick and wavy (like my daughter’s, damn her), but the kinky variety that turns Einstein-like in high humidity. Ever see ‘Bride of Frankenstein’? I’m that chick’s twin when it’s humid. Either her’s or Marge Simpson’s, though my hair’s a little less blue. No matter what you hear about miracle hair products on TV, there hasn’t been one created yet that comes near making a difference on my hair. It’s a travesty, I tell you.
Not to sound like a big whiner or anything (too late for that), but when it’s sunny my pasty Dutch-Irish complexion burns like Thanksgiving dinner at my mother’s house. Like her food, it doesn’t matter how much sauce/lotion you put on it. Burned is burned. My dermatologist thinks of me as his poster child for future melanoma. He can’t look at me without shaking his head, mentally planning what he’ll say about me in the eulogy.
Considering my feelings about pretty any extreme form of weather, spending life sitting around in a tattered wedding gown in a manor house with heavy velvet drapes shut against the weather doesn’t sound half bad. In winter you just light fires in the fireplaces. In summer, hey, it’s England! It’s generally pretty temperate there, give or take a freakishly hot summer. Throw in a fortune of mysterious origin and who needs work! I’d be slave to no man’s thermostat.
The downside would be the lack of good hygiene, though the hired servants wouldn’t dare complain in my presence. And the hair? It’s already like Mrs. H’s half the year, so who’d notice? That leaves one lack: a minion, a young protégé. I’d need to apply for someone to be just like me: smelly and comfortably warm year ‘round. There must be a taker somewhere, someone willing to come live with me in my darkened Victorian mansion, picking up pieces of my tattered gown as they fall off, talking about how all men suck. Hell, that’s half the female population right there.
Just one request, please. Someone clear out the wedding cake and set out some rat traps. I may be willing to endure a lot of things, but even a hermit must have her limits.