A Corporate Wife.
That's what she called me. Then, 'I didn't know there were still people like you ... my mother was one', back in the sixties ... then, presumably because she mistook my expression as one that invited elaboration, 'when my father worked for Shell ...' and she trailed off.
'I do work, you know', I smiled. Through gritted teeth. And I do. When I get the gigs. From home.
I'm not sure what a Corporate Wife does. But I know she has better hair than me. I bet all her handbags have matching shoes; I don't imagine she carts a satchel about that she must scratch about in for phone, keys, notebook and instead turn out a melted chap stick, three broken biscuits and a feather her youngest daughter gave her 7 years ago.
It wasn't the words. It was the tone. The insinuation that I had neither the inclination nor the intellect to do anything but sit back and paint my toenails pretty pink, flick through Hello magazines and wait for my husband to bring home the bacon. The suggestion being that I wasn't just married: I was married to his job; defined only by what he does.
That's why it stung.
If you are 'just' a wifeandmother, there is a danger that people will view you as an extension of your husband - and later, your children. A's Wife. H's Mum. That's what you do. And often that's all they know that you do because that's what you do most of; that is the most visible part of you.
Which renders an awful lot of you - of me - invisible.
If you have a proper job - one takes you to an office every day, where you engage with real life flesh and blood other office goers, where you can't wear your pajama top all day simply because you can't be bothered to dig something else out, where you need to brush your hair, that part of you - that office going, busily and obviously engaged, smartly attired, neatly coiffed part - is visible, but so too - necessarily - are the appendages: the marriage, partner, children - they are evident in the photos on your desk, the holidays you take, the occasional excuse or rescheduling of meetings for school functions you must attend, the phone calls you receive.
If you are that person, you are the sum of all your discernible parts. And you may be considered all the more complete, better rounded, more whole, for it.
I, on the other hand, hide out at home, in my pajamas, or at least the t'shirt I slept in, with my hair standing on end. And at home - thus attired - this week - I did not paint my nails or read Hello; I filed a commission and pitched for another; I nursed the feral cat I have adopted after an operation, pathetically filling hot water bottles at 2am when I felt her weak body climb on top of me to steal the warmth; I downloaded crosswords onto Mum's ipad and did them with her, trying hard not to feel a seeping sadness that the stroke she had has robbed her of her swift, arrow-sharp intellect and instead focussing on the positive baby-steps she makes in recovery; I edited a first draft of an essay for my MSc writing son, wondering when he got so grown-up; I listened to a tearful daughter on Skype and I tried to give the right advice, all these thousands of miles away, without crying myself; I decamped newly hatched bantams to a brooder and checked them hourly - adjusting water bowls and light bulbs; I counselled a friend, hours on the phone, trying not to let uncertainty leak into my voice and betray how unsure I felt of what I was telling her.
Oh. And I hosted a dinner for fifteen in manner of a Good Corporate Wife.
So, no, I didn't go to an office and yes, the most visible (so that others saw it) thing I did, I did on account of the man I am married to. But that does not mean I lack substance, totality, sincerity, a brain. It doesn't mean I care less, put less hours in.
All it means is I probably earn less.
I am the sum of many parts; I am whole. An untidy jigsaw whose missing bits are made up for by the picture that the assembled bits, once you've bothered to look beyond the gaps, makes.