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By comparison

Updated: Jan 15, 2022

Sandton, South Africa

I remember the day we went to see the old friend. She was my contemporary, not only in years, but in society and status as a pampered Southern woman recognized for some degree of attractiveness, and more than her fair share of good luck.

We went to her mother’s house on the marsh and sat at a table next to a large picture window, looking across the creek toward Harbour Town. They did most of the talking, showing the bizarre hysteria of their earlier friendship rekindled for half an hour, enthusiastically by my husband, and perfunctorily by her. I said little, and felt superfluous, but I wasn’t. She could not have showed off nearly as well had I been absent.

She spoke of the house in Jo’burg with the high fence and the coterie of guards who rotated in ‘round the clock with their automatic weapons. She spoke of it proudly as though she were introducing us to a newborn child. That also happened in that same house, after the fire had claimed it for rebirth, but later, and with much less pomp and circumstance.

I was perplexed by my mounting feeling of disgust and discomfort. I told myself at the time it was because she seemed to be ignoring me. That was so much easier a slight to digest. The true gut punch was drowned in a perfidy that I had not yet allowed myself to recognize, or name.

We were there to increase our importance by listening to hers. It did not matter whether any of it were true. The ritual was never about truth. It was about self-definition by comparison.

Hilton Head, South Carolina

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