She opened the car door and stepped out. Had someone been watching they would have thought it was one of those intentionally shot, sexy scenes as a bare leg clad in a sexy black pump hit the pavement. As the rest of her emerged she was the vision of beauty and elegance. Her carefully chosen evening gown with the slit up the left side was sure to catch the attention of many, but it wasn’t because she was vain. She simply had good taste, and liked to look good for a special night out. Her husband was being honored today. Her husband had won another big case. Civil rights cases were tough to win, and he had been winning it for the little guy for years now, in several high-profile cases. When she had met him, it seemed they were just heading to a normal upper middle class future, with the normal rate of advance as lawyers. But practicing law was different than learning it. As having a family came into the picture, her passion for the law was less. She had been offered being partner at her law firm, but it just didn’t seem all that appealing. She also saw how much her husband loved practicing law, and how good he was at it, and it wasn’t a difficult decision for her to pull back and practice law part time. Children and family meant something to her, and she knew that she would never find enough happiness in her career to compensate for not seeing her children more often. They would have had no trouble affording a nanny, but it killed her thinking about a stranger spending more time with her children than her. They would still be very comfortable, they had a nice house, and a good life was about more than money. She hooked her arm in his and walked together into the venue for the evening.
It was a reasonably big crowd as they entered the room. People were dressed to kill, and she was equal to the task. Some familiar faces approached them to welcome them. She felt a bit like a celebrity as she saw more people swarm towards them. This was their life now. They had made it. They were doing positive things in the world, and she had the right balance in her life in terms of career and family. But as the people came and went the focus was not on her. There was requisite smiling and small talk. Even genuine heartfelt warmth. There were good people in the room, but even they wanted their time with the man of the hour, and in many ways conversations with them were the worst. “What was it like to be married to such a great lawyer? How proud are you of your husband? Did you think he would win the case?” She tried to remain positive. Of course he would be congratulated, schmoozed, networked, and charmed for his accolades. What else did she expect?
She expected to be seen as important. She expected to have value. The way that she saw herself. Was it so hard to believe that as talented as her husband was that he might have married someone equally talented, with equal intellect, and with an admirable moral center? The magnificence of her dress felt like it was fading into the scenery. She felt like an object attached her husband’s arm. No one seemed to see her as having value, even when she knew that it wasn’t true. She could put up with it for night though. Right?
But if this case was any indication, he would become busier and he would get bigger cases, and his fame would continue to grow. She realized in that moment she would not be putting up with this for one night. It wouldn’t stop. How long could she take being solely defined by her husband’s career and success? Why didn’t it matter that the only reason her husband had so much time to be a great lawyer and have two children was because of her? Why didn’t the excellence in the choices she made for her life, marriage, and family, make less difference than his? And she was invaluable as someone to talk to when he’d come home and talk about his cases. After all she was a lawyer too. It wasn’t her husband’s fault society was like this, but she couldn’t help but wonder if it even entered his head to think about these things. If he was he’d make more of an effort, wouldn’t he? She wondered, if the situation was reversed, would any man be treated with as much indifference as she felt from others right now? Suddenly she was jolted out of her grim analysis.
“What a stunning dress! It must be nice to buy such expensive clothes after your husband’s big win!?” She nodded and smiled and hoped that she look convincingly gracious for that horrible compliment. She had the dress for several years and she could afford it all on her own. It was like people thought she had suddenly been invented for the purpose of accompanying her husband. She expertly stopped herself from crying and made an excuse to her husband to go to the lady’s room. She stared in the mirror, not knowing whether a flood of tears or pure rage would come next. It dawned on her that the rest of the evening would be spent wondering whether it was better to just continuing being small and hide in a hole somewhere, or to be visible in the crowd but still feel alone. She decided the former was the easier choice, but then she’d have let this superficial group of people chill her into hiding. She was better than that. It might be a hollow victory, but she held her head high and walked out again. There was a loose line of people waiting to talk to her husband. Eventually they would sit down at a table to eat, and he would give everyone else their undivided attention. With the grace of an empress she crossed the room and sidled up next to him. Outside darkness gave a respectful wave goodbye to the dusk, and inside she was content to be the stars shining through the night, even if the heads in the room were too heavy to ever look up.