I've read my fair share of romance novels. When I was a kid I'd come home after school, lock the door to the den, and devour my mother's regency romances. As an adult, I go on tares were I read three or four in a weekend - thanks to their easy availability in supermarket check-out lanes. They're fun and generally harmless (although if I were you I'd avoid Katherine Woodiwiss, who throws around phrases like "love wand" a little too often for comfort). But this is not my point.
My point is that in romance novels there is such a person as the scullery maid She scrubs the floors and gets beaten by the vindictive housekeeper. The scullery maid doesn't get a lot of page time, though if you read regencies, you have to take it as a matter of course that there is such a person in the household of the rich, titled, hero and/or heroine. Households in this kind of fiction do not run without them.
The scullery maid and the hall boy and the assorted footmen and butlers and vindictive housekeepers exist in order for the hero and heroine to exist and woo their loves. The servants, generally, do not feature in the story - except occasionally as props. Butlers and housekeepers get a fair amount of use as comic relief and substitute parental figures- but not a peep out of scullery maids. If there is a scullery maid who is the romantic lead of such a book - she's usually a disowned noblewoman who's lost a bet, or something - in other words she's not a real scullery maid. She's just suffering until the hero realizes there's a hot girl in his kitchen on her hands and knees - and then he finds out who she really is and marries her. Happily ever after ensues.
I am not, sadly, a noblewoman in disguise as a scullery maid. I am just the scullery maid - with the dishpan hands to prove it.
I used to think I was sort of a Jane Eyre. The gothic governess-type. Yes, life was tad on the miserable side. I would have to work and put up with great hardships - but I would be clever and resolute. Anyhow, eventually I would fall in love, perhaps discover my true love had a mad wife hiding in his attic - but eventually, my story would sort itself out - and I'd be deliriously happy, walking the moors and whatever else gothic feminist heroines do.
I am not Jane Eyre.
I used to want to be Anne Shirley. I wanted to have red hair and a temper and be spunky. I made some strides in that direction - I dyed my hair "Sunset Auburn" off and on for two years. In Anne of Green Gables, Anne writes, and so I write. But my hair, sadly, is an odd shade of dark brown with very little natural "tones and highlights" so the red hair looked fake (not to mention much darker than the model on the box). And frankly, as Anne gets older - she gets boring, and I didn't want to end up boring. Also, as I got older I began to suspect that my reason for wanting to be Anne was because the guy that plays Gilbert Blythe in the PBS movie of Anne of Green Gables is hot.
I am not Anne Shirley.
Similarly, I am not Jo March, nor Elizabeth Bennett nor even any of those hundreds of romantic heroines that litter the pages of my guilty pleasure reading.
I suppose I could look to contemporary lit to find a parallel to my life, but I'm pretty intent on declaring myself a scullery maid today. I'm sure there's some existential anti-heroine with a collection of corn flakes that look like homicidal dictators, somewhere in literature that will fit, but that takes effort and I'm feeling a little sorry for myself today.
Thus, I am the scullery maid.
Now here's why: I spent five hours doing dishes today. But that's not even it, really. You see, in order to make some extra cash I worked at my old job today. I used to work for a church, which, given my status as a heathen, wasn't such a good fit for me. All through grad school I worked there, stuffing envelopes and answering the phone and generally being the whipping boy, er, girl.
I was laid off last summer. And that sucked. I wasn't eligible for unemployment because churches don't pay into unemployment insurance. I went totally broke and had to work two jobs, just to make up for the time when no money was coming in. Forget any mention of severance pay from the church - there was no such thing. In other words, I was fucked. So naturally, I didn't feel to inclined to do nice things for this church - because the parishioners generally treated me like servant when I worked there and didn't consider that I would be S.O.L. when they voted to eliminate my job.
And yet today, I spent five hours doing their dishes. At the very same meeting where they voted to give me the axe this time last year (though I didn't know that until July). All morning I kept telling myself I could use the extra money - it was all worth it for the money - because that car repair bill last week broke the bank. I tried damned hard not to be bitter. I smiled and opened doors and said, "Oh it's good to see you too," and "I know it's been forever." I made chitchat when someone saw fit to speak to me. But in general, the whole morning just brought back bad memories.
An old lady - a slightly hunchbacked old bat with a high-pitched voice and the social manners of an angry jackal - kept saying, "Melissa, where did you put the name tags?" "Melissa, why aren't there any silver tea spoons." "Melissa, why didn't you put out any hot water for tea? That's very rude. People here expect tea." She was the worst offender. But there were other subtle reminders that I never should have walked through the front door this morning. People looked at me uncomfortably. Even though I worked there for THREE YEARS and spoke to these people on a DAILY basis - most of them couldn't remember my name. I liked getting to see the ministers and the senior minister's wife. They're very nice people I respect. And I tried to convince myself I was doing something nice for my old boss so she would remember me fondly and be a good reference in case I need to look for another job. But I couldn't do it.
The money wasn't worth it. Scullery maids, whether in literature or the annals of history, were never paid enough for their labor. They got humps from bending over scrubbing dishes and chapped hands from the harsh detergents. No one remembered their names either.
I am not generally a "feel sorry for me" kind of gal. I don't like it when people parade their misfortunes out for cheap sympathy. I'm not asking for any now. I think I just need to get all of this out in the open. If I am going to style myself as a great heroine, or at the very least worthy of being a trashy romance novel kind of heroine instead of just her lowly maid, I'm going to need to work on my story. Just because I am the scullery maid today doesn't mean I'll be one forever.
It looks like I'm going to have to write my own story. Today however, I'm just going to crawl in bed and nurse my emotional wounds a bit longer.
Cinderella can kiss my big white bottom.