Isn’t That Nice? by Jan Jalenak

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            He knew who he was. He knew what he wanted. He knew he could have what he wanted. He loved life.

            His sister was confused. She knew what she wanted and thought that maybe someday she’d have it but someday what she wanted kept changing, because she kept changing. As she went through her life, she grew to accept so many other things, because they were tangible and transient, temporary, even though down deep they weren’t what she really wanted.  She grew to appreciate the world as it entered her existence. She loved life.

            He was given a football. He was taught to throw the football and given encouragement for his ability. He was told he was special.

            She learned to throw the football. They told her she was cute because she knew how to throw a football. She thanked them and giggled because they seemed to like it when she giggled.

            He was given the freedom to make a decision. When they gave him a set of building blocks, they said, “Build something.” They watched him play with his building blocks and said, “My, how creative you are.”

            She played with the building blocks. They gave her suggestions of ways to build. When she didn’t play according to their method, they said, “No, no, honey, that’s not right. Do it like this.” She was not given the freedom to choose.

            He was a boy. Someday he would become a man.

            She was a girl. Someday she would become a little lady.

            He would be strong.

            She would be soft and pretty.

            He would excel and do great things.

            She would do satisfactory things and marry a great man.

            He grew up, did well in school, and became a man.

            She grew up, learned to giggle at the appropriate times, cry at the wrong times, and became quite a confused little lady.

            He was told he was smart. He knew how to use his smarts.

            She was told she was cute. She was glad she was cute but wanted to be smart. She didn’t know she was smart.

            He wanted to do great things.

            She wanted to do great things.

            When he told people what he wanted, they looked at him square in the eye and nodded.

            When she told people what she wanted, they smiled and said, “So, who are you dating?”

            He had clear vision.

            She had visions.

            He judged the world by the definitions of his parents and teachers.

            She understood the weakness of others and felt their struggles.

            He had certainty.

            She had passion.

            He was a Republican.

            She was not.

            He made money.

            She wanted to but didn’t place it first on her list of priorities. It was always in the future. She got used to not having it. So indeed, even her definition of money changed, although she knew she’d eventually have all that she wanted. Someday. What was it she wanted?

            He studied the market and methodically went about planning his future funds. He talked to his friends about what companies they were investing in. Sometimes they invested together. They talked about going into business together and talked about baseball and travel, about airline fares and frequent flier programs, credit cards and debit cards. Mutual funds and pension funds. Insurance policies. “Aren’t we too young to be talking about insurance policies?” Then they’d laugh and talk about women and just what is date rape anyway? They’d shake hands, avert their eyes and say good-bye.

            She invested herself in all that she did and with whom she came into contact. She got hurt. She would cry and the hurt would go away, until next time. She and her friends talked about world peace and human strength and deficiency and organic food, theatre and where to get the best shoes. They talked of their dreams for the future, the quality of life they’d like to have and the quality of life all people should have. They spoke their carbon footprint and mercury in salmon being bad for us in our childbearing years. Then they’d get quiet and talk about love. They’d laugh and discuss the most intimate details of sex. Then they’d hug and say, “we have to do this more often.”

            They both worked hard. They knew the difference between right and wrong. They were loved. They had much strength in the love they shared. Their values were definite and they were well grounded in their ideas of family tradition. Their parents had confidence in their strength as adults in the modern world. He was following the right path to do great things. “Aren’t we proud?” She was following a path to do great things. “Isn’t that nice? Now, why isn’t she married?”


PHOTOGRAPHY COURTESY OF MARCUS COOPER.