Sunday, June 29, 2008
Guest Column by Eileen
In 2001, I moved from Wisconsin, to Scarsdale to NY To work for a very wealthy family. The family had two boys. The boys were 4 & 1. I was 20 years old. I had just graduated from junior college and was taking a hiatus from school.
My salary was to be $475 per week. I would live in a studio apartment on the third floor of the family home. I interviewed with the family by phone. They seemed nice enough. They flew me to NY to meet them. I was more than excited.
I dressed in white keds, white socks, white shorts and a pink blouse. My brown hair was in a pony tail. I was picked up at the airport by the father. His initial greeting was friendly, and then his phone started to ring. From that moment on, he communicated with me by hand signals as he spoke to someone on the phone. Grab your bag. Come this way. There. That car.
The car was an Expedition. He motioned for me to put my bags in. He didn't help. The whole way home he was on the phone talking about a merger. Endsol was creating a problem. I began to fear for Endsol. A meeting was called. He and his phone partner wondered together if Endsol would show. We won't give him a choice, my chauffeur shouted.
We pulled up to the impressive house. He put the phone down and helped me carry my bags in. Inside he screamed Benny, Benny, Benny.
Benny was a very short, very wide housekeeper. The father apologized sharing with me the fact that an unexpected problem had come up with work. I'd gathered that much already. But I nodded sympathetically. The father told me he had to tend to the problem. He assured me Benny would help me to get settled.
Then he was gone. The front door shut and there I stood in the entry way. Benny looked at me, clucked her tongue with disgust and pointed, 'your room on top, up top".
I took the first of three loads up. The studio apartment was a big living room, an enormous bathroom with a massive tub in the center of the bathroom and a bedroom off of the living room. Once you walked up that staircase you were in the studio. There was no actual door there nor was there any door on the bedroom. The bathroom had a wood slatted door that could be pulled shut but made me immediately ill at ease. No knob. No lock.
I looked around at my new digs. A large TV, stereo, game counsels, a big coffee table and two comfortable sofas in the living area. Hardwood floor. Oriental rugs. The bedroom offered a single bed and was thoroughly covered in pink and lace. I began to unpack. I hung my clothes in the bedroom closet. I took out my photographs and spread them around the area. A few in the bathroom, some on my dresser and still more in the living area.
I heard Benny yelling from the first floor. 'The babysitter, the babysitter. You come down here'.
I made my way back down the steps. I fond her in the massive, completely white kitchen. She gestured to a plate on the counter. 'I make the lunch. Mr. David tell me to make the lunch for you. I make the lunch. That's it. I no make you lunch after this. I no work for you. I work for Mr. David and Miss Sarah'.
What could I say? 'Thank you'.
Benny said, 'You eat. I go. Mr. David be home 7;30. No kids today".
I tried to take it all in. 'Thank you', I said again. I wondered where the kids were, where 'Miss Sarah' was. I sat and ate the lunch she had prepared. A very symmetrical turkey sandwich. Wheat bread, mayonnaise, sliced apples, potato chips and ice tea. Finished, I cleaned the plate and returned back upstairs. I watched TV until 9:30 feeling lost.
At 9:30, Mr. David comes home. He again apologizes. He again tells me about an unexpected problem. I am tired and nervous. I wonder if it shows? He tells me he had expected to spend a good chunk of time with me today. He tells me he wanted to show me around the house and around town. He tells me that I would really help him out if I continued to be patient with him. He tells me his wife took the kids to Buffalo and they wouldn't be returning until the day after next. I imagine that this is a scam. I imagine there are no children. No wife. Just this man. And me. I grow more nervous.
He tells me I should make myself at home. I should swim, use the car, take a walk and feel free to poke around. He tells me he is flying to Boston in the morning but will return tomorrow night at 7. He promises he will make time to show me around then.
I wonder to myself why his wife isn't here. Does he know what I am thinking? He tells me that Sarah has no patience for change. She's not good with new people. I smile politely.
The next day I am all alone. I don't feel alone. I feel as if this is some sort of test. Every motion detector looks like a hidden camera. I make breakfast. I make breakfast in a way I have never made breakfast before. I am meticulous. I walk around the kitchen with perfect postures and a smile on my face. I sit to eat my breakfast with a nap on my lap. I dab my face with my napkin after each carefully chewed bite.
Growing bored, I decide to take a spin in the car. I have no intention of going far. The neighborhood as we came in appeared small. I dress up and head out to explore.
I cruise out of the driveway. This is a breeze. This feels right. I turn the CD player on and Bruce Springstein begans to croon. I start to feel really good. I'm in control. I'm a New Yorker. I'm powerful.
I make mostly right turns and drive by the house twice. My house, I think to myself. The sun is beaming through the sun roof warming my head. I press on. Right. Right. Right. Left. Right. The road narrows a bit. The houses grow closer together. Did I go to far? I look for a place to turn around. But where? A still busier street looms ahead. With nowhere to turn, I had straight down the hill. I encounter a road called Central. A car pulls quickly to the right of me. He is turning right leaving me with the option to turn left. And so I do.
There are cars everywhere. Service stations. Strip malls. Stores I've never heard of and foreigners every where. Wisconsin seems awfully far from here. There is too much activity on my right side. Still more on my left side. In my hesitation to turn around, I end up pressing on.
I reach up and snap shut the sunroof. I fear it is illuminating my panic. I turn the radio off. My nerves are crackling. I keep driving. I have let go of the idea that I will do anything to regain control of this ride. The idea of turning either left or right overwhelms me. I press on. In my head, I feel as if something magical is about to present itself and set me on the correct course. Nothing happens. I am still driving. Am I still in Scarsdale?
Now there are too many stores, too many people and still more lanes of traffic. I must turn back now. My heart is palpitating. So many, many cars. So many, many people. I hastily get in to the left turn lane. I pull out the car length and a half to wait my turn. The light turns yellow. And then? And then red. No arrow. No pregnant pause. The cars race at me from the left and the right. I try to back up. I can't. Cars are beeping. The light changes again. I race forward. Nope. No light. Nothing. Traffic is heavy. There are no breaks. Beeping all around. I wait for a chance to turn. And then the light is green again. More beeping. Now screaming. I am in the middle of the intersection. Cars in both directions are swerving around me. No one stops. I feel like I am a bout to pass out. I burst in to tears.
Lights pull up behind me. A quick conversation with a police officer that reeked of beef jerky. Now he stands in front of me. He stops traffic and directs me to pull over. I do. He pulls behind me. He asks for my licence. Nice enough guy. I notice he happens to be a Yonkers police officer. I am still crying. He offers to lead me back the correct way. I follow him to what had to be the end of Yonkers and continue back on Central. I heed his directions. In 12 minutes I am back in the garage. Breathing deeply. Sighing with relief.
Once inside, I stay in my room for the rest of the day. Reading magazines. Watching television. Doodling. From downstairs, I hear the father call for me. He asks me to come down to the kitchen. I am in the kitchen now. He is apologizing again. Yes, I know. You had something unforeseeable come up at work.
HE asks me if I've eaten. I lie and say yes.
'What' he asks.
'Breakfast', I say.
He smiles and shakes his head, 'you'll eat a steak? I bought steaks'.
I smile politely. 'Thank you. yes'. He fries a steak in one pan, frozen hashbrowns in another. All the while he talks about the details of the nanny position. The impending renovation, school clothes, the upcoming school year, David's lobster allergy, Michael's musical talent, Sarah's intolerance for chaos and new people.
He is almost funny. And I find myself laughing. He gives me a tour of the house complete with the sump pump in the basement and instructions on what to do if there is a power outage. He shows me the children's bedroom, gestures to his room, the guest room, the alarm system, the closet with the linens and then he points deliberately at closed door, 'That', he says 'is Sarah's private area'.
I don't ask many questions. The tour concludes at the bottom of the steps where Benny had met me the first day. He says good night. I thank him. He starts to walk away, I ask, 'and when will the children be home tomorrow'. He laughs and says, 'Don't worry. They will find you'.
The next day I am bored. So bored I fall asleep on one of the sofas. I am awoken by footsteps on the wooden stairs heading up to mu studio. A thick haired, freckled boy bounds over the sofa landing in a prone position. Another boy appears next to me, immediately flips on the play station and sits down on the rug. I turn on the charm. I dial up my enthusiasm. I ask them about their trip, their drive, their summer.
Michael picks up one o my delicately framed photographs and asks, 'Who's so ugly'? as he tosses the picture to his brother. David responds by grunting, 'oh she is so gross' and throws the frame at the sofa I am sitting on. I frown, 'That's my sister'.
Michael responds, 'She needs a new face'.
'And better teeth' adds David.
'That's not nice', I correct. They are 6 & 9 but I am so upset by this I almost burst in to tears.
'Where's your mom', I ask.
'Take us swimming', David, the older child responds.
"Sure I guess I could do that. Let me check with your mother first'.
"Sure I guess I could do that. Let me check with your mother first'. Michael repeats holding his nose up to indicate that I resemble a pig.
David has leaped up and run to the bathroom. The door is partially open. I hear peeing. Michael gets up and heads that way. 'Shut the door, shithead', he tells his brother. I can hear peeing. 'Do you want to see David's penis?' Michael asks.
'I do not'. I respond tersely.
He laughs and shoots down the steps calling out, 'be fast. I'm hot'.
David exits the bathroom. I hadn't heard water running. I hadn't heard the toilet flush. As soon as David heads down the stairs, I grab a suit. I go to bathroom to dress and see urine all over the toilet. I mop it up with toilet paper.
I tread down the stairs in my Sears very modest 2 piece bathing suit. Sarah is walking from downstairs and meets me on the second floor landing. She looks me up from head to toe and says, 'Well I hope you're going swimming.'
'Yes, Michael and David asked..' I began an explanation but she cuts me off. She raises her hand in the air.
'Just keep it down. I have a migraine'. she says.
'Certainly'. I say.
She moves to walk away from me and I call out, 'nice to meet you'.
She covers her ears dramatically and raises a finger to her lips, 'shhhhh'.
I had arrived on Tuesday. It was now Thursday. I would last through to the following Thursday.
I would leave by cab as soon as the house went quiet. I had my bags packed and ready since Wednesday, just waiting to seize the opportunity. The kids were atrocious, ugly, obnoxious and not at all as bright as their parents thought they were. The father was a workaholic who no doubt conditioned himself to spend so much time away as to avoid his needy, demented wife. His wife was antagonistic. insecure, accusatory and distrustful. She had flipped out when she found out that her husband and I had dinner together that night. It was a dramatic fight, a screaming match in front of both children and myself.
The nanny agency offered to find me another position. I was not interested. I waited for 8 hours at the airport to get a flight back home. I wish I would have had a chance to see New York, but I don't for a second regret that I didn't make it as a nanny.