The Highland Park Woman [April 1976]

Some are born into the club, others never quite make it.

THE HIGHLAND PARK WOMAN is thirty-two or thirty-three. She says she honestly forgets sometimes. She’s not particularly afraid to tell her age (she’s not that old) but she seldom does. It’s not really necessary: a ten-year-old son in St. Mark’s and a seven-year-old daughter in Lamplighter, three bedrooms and three baths on one end of Beverly Drive, her station wagon, his 98. Although she isn’t young young anymore. Last summer, in Acapulco with the Frasers, she gave up her bikini. And came back and enrolled in Louise Williams’ exercise class. She like ballet better but thinks it doesn’t keep the tummy quite as flat.

Early thirties, but downright good-looking, seated in Houlihan’s and having a Bloody Mary—one Bloody Mary—with Judy and Anne. She easily passes for late twenties, although the men who eye her probably don’t demand that kind of youthfulness and girlish charm. She’s the woman they have in mind when they get back to Detroit and Denver and tell their associates about those wonderful Dallas women.

Her hair is, or was, blond, but that was a good many streakings and tintings and tippings ago. Pulled back, short, cool. Her eyes are blue or hazel according to whether or not she has on her tinted contacts. Or prescription sunglasses. Big, oval or round. She never leaves home, summer or winter, without her glasses, of course, so unless you know her very well you don’t know what color her eyes really are. Probably not even John, her husband, remembers. Her figure is much more important, and it’s still competitive. Although the Highland Park woman hates to compete, if you want to call it that. There’s something so lower middle class about competition. Dallas is full of young stewardess types. It would be foolish and wasteful at her age to compete with them. And she certainly does not consider waitresses and bar girls to be competition at any age. God forbid.

The Highland Park woman is on a permanent diet, of course, and the only reason she doesn’t go to Louise Williams’ as often as she’s paid for is that she can’t always get one of the other girls to go with her. The Highland Park woman rarely does anything alone. She would never, for instance, go to a movie alone, even Cinema I or II. Neither would she drive all the way out to the Dallas Museum of Fine Arts unless she was meeting someone there for soup-and-sandwich. One of her friends, Laura, drives alone to Fort Worth from time to time to see an exhibit at the Kimbell or the Amon Carter, but the Highland Park woman would never do that. She can’t remember, since she was little girl chasing butterflies, when she didn’t like doing things in groups. Oh, there were one or two special close friends when she was in Hockaday, but they were in Cotillion and Junior Assembly like everyone else. Even in college—at The University—her sorority was mainly girls from Highland Park she’s known all her life.

“Maybe it’s some kind of social phobia we have,” she says of this insistence on doing things together. By herds, her friend Dick says. Dick says things like that and she’s never quite sure how he means it. She’s not sure he does either. Dick doesn’t work in an office and he didn’t grow up in Highland Park. Or Dallas. But she likes him despite the cynical way he has of teasing and referring to her social instincts. But alone too much, she becomes uneasy. It’s not the fear you read about in newspapers of muggers and rapists. It’s a funny little constant fear of being caught out in the open without an umbrella when it rains. A fear that one of those women who wears rollers to the grocery shop will suddenly push in line. Will invade, Dick says. Oh well, she supposes it comes from her mother’s narrow social views. The Highland Park woman vows secretly and sometimes sincerely she will not rear her daughter the way she was reared. She stops just short of vowing she will not rear her daughter to be a Highland Park woman.

The Highland Park woman is married, like most of her friends, to her first husband. If she divorces John, if she’s widowed too young, or if he deserts her—thinking the unthinkable—she can rarely get another one in Highland Park. She must be willing to leave for a happier hunting ground. That is, if she convinces some married girl friend she is safe to have around at Cozumel or La Jolla. Eligible males between the ages of 35 to 55 are few to nonexistent in Highland Park. Or gay. And the men control the money. Knowing this, even if she has a bad marriage a Highland Park woman will put up with the husband she has much longer than will, say, her Houston counterpart.

Her younger sister, who is 28, is what the Highland Park woman calls “a fix.” She is currently unattached, unhappy, and sleeping around. Although to hear her tell it, it’s simply divine. She has made all the mistakes younger sisters usually make, but in spades. She had a abortion in high school—wouldn’t go to Hockaday because there were not boys—then dropped out of The University to get married (slightly pregnant, of course) and never got her degree. Instead she got Bennie. Then Bennie, Jr. Then Earl. And for a while thought there’d be another name to inscribe in the family Bible. But the Highland Park woman told her, “Get rid of it.” And she did. “Just don’t think about what it was. Or whose it was, if there’s any doubt.” Well, there was some doubt, perhaps, because Bennie moved out on her. Although now he’s always trying to patch things up “for the good of the kids.” The Highland Park woman doesn’t like to think about her younger sister or her two darling boys or her abortions or Bennie or whomever she’s sleeping with currently. Which is generally an airline

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