In most circumstances, a kinship of feeling need only be categorized by two simple words: sympathy and empathy. The first acts as a sort of spoken condolence, the latter, a more active visualization of feeling. We either commiserate with the person, or we can go so far as to comprehend the problem. Being a believer in emotions more complex than the simplicity of “either/or,” I struggle when trying to find a word which will adequately condense my recent months without tiresome explanation. Filing through lists of vocabulary, I still can find no one word better than a common, idiomatic, “until you walk a mile in my shoes…”
This may sound melodramatic, and the theme may have already been driven into the ground via popular books and movies, but until you’ve lived a nanny’s life in Westchester county, New York, you don’t know the meaning of degrading.
When I turned onto Walworth Terrace several months back, I had no idea what trials awaited me. Stressful jobs, college courses, awkward adolescence and even third-world living could’ve never prepared me for the constant state of tension I had unknowingly accepted. The glamour of Manhattan was merely a perk upon moving north, but it quickly became an expensive escape from the prison of an erratic, demanding, elitist family. Parents unaware of their children’s wickedness, and children well aware of their stately status tore away at my self worth on a daily basis. The stories, standing alone, don’t begin to do justice to the constant unease I felt, thus my grapple with the inadequacies of “empathy.”
Because, try as you might, you will never feel the knot in my stomach when I heard a car in the driveway, you’ll never know my methods of sneaking around corners to avoid the family, you’ll never grasp the malice I felt toward the family who was doing the same and worse to my best friend down the street and you’ll never be able to put on a cloak of understanding until you hear the type of things I heard.
Words were blunt. Actions were fraudulent. Moods leaked disdain. Status bled arrogance.
I encountered people who thought no more of their children than if they were house plants. I lived in a neighborhood which shunned cars lowlier than Mercedes. I worked for children who didn’t even know my last name. I watched families participate in activities to feign togetherness then go their separate ways. I was accused of being a minimalist worker and was referred to as someone “beneath.”
I left Walworth Terrace. I left with a smile on my face, a renewed happiness to have escaped and refurbished outlook on the plight of a minority. There are things I wish I would have been brave enough to say to the parents. There was deceit on which I would’ve been thrilled to shed light, but I didn’t.
I didn’t tell them that their children teased me with my meager $200 per week salary by having me endure abuse on a trampoline.
I didn’t tell them that their children told me I was less of a person.
I didn’t tell them that their children told me they could care less about my past, my ambitions, my self-worth.
I didn’t tell them that their 10 year old son said “goddammit” all the time.
I didn’t tell them that their children mocked my religion saying, “You Christians think Jesus is God’s son? Mary just got pregnant with someone else and blamed it on God.”
I didn’t tell them how belittled I felt to hear them say I wasn’t “entitled to use their air condition.”
I didn’t tell them how out of place I felt in a region where no one opens doors for strangers, no one says thank you and no one even acknowledges another’s existence.
I didn’t tell them I was constantly misinformed due to Sanskrit text messages and irresponsible parenting.
I merely packed my things and said goodbye.The geyser of bitterness, hurt and angst I held back was never let loose. And now its just a jumble of stories vomited incoherently on a page in hopes someone will believe the culture shock I endured. In a way, it’s a mirror image portrayal of my sentiments after Thailand. The theme is similar but somehow so much more grim than its more joyous reflection. After Thailand, I was bombarded by happiness unable to be recaptured or understood. After Walworth Terrace, I am bombarded by a confusion and anxiety unable to be recaptured or understood.
Until you walk a mile in my shoes.