The Ballad of the Trophy Wife
I just finished training a few days before. I’d only had the chance to work in my department for maybe two afternoons before working a Saturday in the bed and bath department at JC Penney. I was freaked out about working a Saturday on my third day. I was also freaked out about working on a day when the Assistant Manager, a curmudgeonly lady named Nancy, had inexplicably called out. Nancy never called out, she was a warhorse defending JC Penney policies to the letter. I had met Nancy one of the afternoons I worked, fresh out of training, and I also met Pat, the other lady who worked days. I would work weekends, as I’d had afterschool activities to keep me busy when I was 16.
I locked my purse in my locker, and headed out onto the floor after taking one last glance in the full length mirror to make sure I was dressed to code. I wore a dress; pantyhose were required when wearing a dress. We couldn’t go sockless at all. This was 1990, when those Eastland deck shoes were popular. We all wore them without socks and I lived in mine then. Eventually I learned that if I wore a longer skirt I could wear knee highs instead of stockings, which was more comfortable. It’s so funny how relaxed the dress code at JC Penney had gotten since those days, I went in there last Christmas and there were people wearing the forbidden jeans. I remembered all the time I wasted on all those Saturdays and Sundays I pulled stockings on and ironed everything to perfect creases. My associate number was 247, and I had to key that number in every time I rang up a sale, so they could keep track. They. Whoever "they" was.
But that Saturday something very cool happened. I was supposed to work the 12-9:30 shift, closing. Normally when I’d work that shift Nancy would work 10-5. But Nancy wasn’t there. The manager of the department was out that day too, as managers only worked one weekend each month. It was only my third or fourth day working. How would I handle this whole department on my own for 8 and a half hours? (I am not bad at math, I had a lunch break.)
“Hi, I’m Mindy,” she said. I doubt we shook hands. Teenage girls don’t shake each other’s hands. Our shifts overlapped for 4 hours. The bed and bath department wasn’t very exciting. It’s not like we had a lot to do. The towels had been folded, the tops of the displays dusted, the display beds fluffed. It wasn’t like the clothing departments, where shirts constantly slid off their hangers, sweater displays were constantly destroyed by a customer that wanted that size in that color.
So we hung out. She was from Somers, I was from East Windsor, though I lived in Somers. Mindy worked at JC Penney for about a year longer than I did, because she’s a year older than me, and we could start working there at 16. She worked in the men’s department, and eventually floated around to cover shifts in various departments and ended up answering the phone in the office. She even did the “The store will be closing in 10 minutes” announcements.
Eventually I’d hang out in the office when I took my breaks to catch up with her. She’d pop by the bed and bath department to chat when it was slow. And we became friends. She went off to college first, and came back to tell me about her boyfriend. I went off the college the next year, and I told her about my college boyfriend. I went on my study abroad to Sydney, we wrote letters because email was barely a thing back then. She graduated college while I was still there, I graduated the following year. We hung out at each other’s houses. I moved to the Boston area to start my career. Then a few months later she did too. Her apartment wasn’t ready yet, so she crashed on my couch for I think about 2 weeks.
She met her husband, Todd, at a bar in New Hampshire. He was a marine on a weekend leave and it was love at first sight. I met my husband, also a Todd. We moved in with our Todds. Hers left the Marines and got an MBA. Mine started a company in Rhode Island. We went to each other’s weddings. She and her Todd moved to upstate New York, her Todd became a CEO. My Todd and I moved to Rhode Island, and mine is the CEO of his company too.
We’d go months without talking. Then we’d reconnect and pick it up again. We’d swap emails until one of us got busy and didn’t reply, but it was OK because then one of us would just write again and it would start all over again.
We were on the phone one afternoon after work. I was outside taking the laundry down from the clothesline while we talked. She was telling me about how she had to go to some event with her Todd, and get all dressed up.
“I call that trophy wife duty,” I laughed. Sometimes I get dressed up and go to events with my Todd too.
“Trophy wife duty,” she laughed too. “I like that.”
And then it caught on. She sent me a bottle of nail polish, the color was called Trophy Wife. It was such a crack up when I opened that package.
Last Friday I drove the 6.5 hours to her new house, right on the shore of one of our Great Lakes. I texted her on the way, I’m in Albany… I’m in Syracuse! (Voice activated, not actual texting mind you.) I arrived at her house, and sunk into a friendship that has lasted for more than half of my life. We talked about life, and it was such a different conversation than when I’d hang out in the office at JC Penney during my breaks. But it was so comfortable sitting there in her living room, with one of her dogs dozing on my lap. We talked about our families, our husbands, our lives as adults. We joked about our teen selves.
“What do you want to do when you get here?” she asked me on the phone before my trip up to her place.
“I want to go shopping with another girl,” I replied. “I never get to go shopping with girls.”
“Me too!” she practically squealed.
And it was like all the times we’ve shopped together when we were teenagers and college students. “That’s amazing on you,” one of us would say. Or “No, no no nononono. Take that off,” we’d laugh.
“This is the weirdest shirt I’ve ever seen. How does this even work? I am going to try this on just to understand the mechanics of this weird thing.” I held up some poncho thing in Loft.
“The mechanics? Of a shirt?” she laughed. “Wait, how does that work?” she laughed again.
There really is nothing like having a friend that gets you, a friend that you’ve known since way back when.
added on 04.17.18