The Point of No Return
White. Everything is white. White roses, white tablecloths, white dresses. Margaret always did love white. She likes to think that everything in this world is perfect and innocent, including me. If she knew even half of what I’ve done, she wouldn’t think I was worthy to wear white. Their precious little darling daughter isn’t what they think she is. Tonight is certainly going to be entertaining.
Maybe she will faint from shock. Seeing her daughter in this dress, with this boy, at this party. Ha! I’m supposed to be the Adeline Reed, daughter of Nathan and Margaret Reed, heiress to the greatest banking fortune this side of the Mississippi. This is my debutante ball, where I will “become the lady I was bred to be,” or so everyone claims. I’m supposed to emerge gracefully, clad in the designer white dress that Margaret so carefully selected to be as modest as possible. According to the choreographer, I should make my way carefully down the grand staircase, where I should curtsey to my date, that simpleton Randall my parents wish me to marry, and dance the first waltz with him. Oh the look on their faces when they see what I am actually going to do. They would never approve of this dress, but I think it makes my point quite nicely. The fringe and the feathers do cause me stand out. And of course, it is crimson. Nathan will hate that.
I smirk with mischievous glee. The music of the band is slowly fading. My entrance is drawing near. I’ll make them sweat a little first; it will only make this more dramatic. I hope Randall is in his place. I do relish the prospect of rejecting his smug offer to dance. And to think Nathan expects me to marry that naïve idiot!
I hear them announcing my name. I, of course, am the last lady to “come out,” as this party is for me. Ah, they are saying it again. Once more, just for the effect. There it is. Showtime!
I emerge from behind the double doors that led onto the balcony on the grand staircase, overlooking the marble ballroom. The collective gasp is both audible and amusing. I can’t resist smirking widely, laughing inwardly at their amazement. This dress is rather shocking according to their standards of modesty. The little red flapper number comes to right above my knees, and could hardly be considered a dress when compared to the floor-length white ball gown the crowd was expecting me to be wearing.
I walk down the stairs gracefully of course. It wouldn’t do to trip at my coming out party. Oh no, that wouldn’t be lady-like. You see, for me, this isn’t a party to celebrate my becoming a lady; it is more a celebration of my open defiance of them. Oh sure, I had been subtle before. But that had never gotten the point across well enough. This should communicate my intentions and political affiliations clearly.
Randall is waiting for me at the bottom of the staircase, his mouth gaping in open astonishment. I brush by him without looking. Instead, I march right up to one of the waiters. Frank Waters, an average looking male from a middle class background, or so Nathan and Margaret would have classified him. But to me, he is a part of secret brethren, a fellow believer in the cause with whom I work side by side. He has been in on my plans for this evening from the beginning, and was only too willing to participate when I asked him to play a part in this evening’s performance.
I had worked hard to plan this out; I detest sloppiness. So of course, I had talked to the band leader before the party to arrange for a different type of entertainment. Ah, right on cue!
The lively jazz tune begins to fill the hall. Jazz is one of the few things I think this country has produced that is valuable. Like all things that have any worth, it was born from the working class. I do love good jazz; it conveys so many emotions in a way no other music genre can equal. Frank escorts me to the middle of the dance floor, where I lead him in a lively rendition of the Charleston. As I dance, I see the faces of the old money, the comfortably rich, the upper class, all of whom are astonished by my behavior. I can hear their whispers:
“Oh my heavens! I’ve never seen a girl dressed so scandalously!”
“The poor Reeds, having to deal with such a daughter. It’s such a shame they couldn’t have a son for their heir.”
“I hear she was going out with a worker from the cattle yards for over 3 months!”
“Well I heard that she has been fooling around with those Communist boys!”
“A little birdie told me that she is even a Red herself!”
These words came from the upper echelon of society, the privileged class who thrive on the blood, sweat and tears of the proletariat. I can’t stand them. With their noses held high in the air, they walk about this life blind to the suffering all around them, choosing to ignore the injustice they are causing. And worst of all, they breed. They breed sons like Randall, ignorant pinheads who can’t see this country for what it truly is. They bear daughters like that Cynthia Bratton, who are so superficial they only care about what the newest fashions from Paris and Milan are or the latest gossip about who did what with which boy. I can feel my intelligence drop whenever I listen to their conversations.
But now is my moment. It’s my turn to share my views, no matter how disdainful these rich pigs may find them. Soon, with any luck, I’ll just be another “Red bitch” to all of them.
I seize the nearest champagne glass from a waiter’s tray and climb three steps up the marble staircase on the left of the ballroom. With a knife, I call for a toast. Silence falls across the room as the music ends abruptly.
“Good evening everyone, and welcome to this celebration of wealth and excess, supposedly thrown in my honor. In spite of my wishes, I find myself in the midst of this sickening display of riches of which I no longer wish to be a part. I know what you all were expecting this evening, and I trust that I have since defied your expectations. I shall proceed to do so once more. Every individual in this room has heard of my plans to attend Smith College in Massachusetts. However, I have since decided that I will no longer abide by this decision of my parents, and I have chosen instead to attend the University of Alabama.”
The chattering that had arisen during the initial part of my speech ceased. No one had been expecting that. The South is taboo to these people, considered to be far interior to the excellent schools of the Northeast. No one in their right mind who had the wealth of the Reeds would send their daughter to that backwater pigsty. My parents had the same opinion, which is why they were sending me to Smith, where I would finish my education and “rid myself of these rebellious tendencies” according to Nathan. Then I was to come back to Chicago, marry Randall and live the fairy tale life, ending with a “happily ever after”.
Instead, I am taking my parents’ dreams and burying them in the mud where they belong. I do not want my parents controlling me. I want to cut myself off from them completely. I want them to disown me, to completely and utterly reject me, denying my very existence. I believe in everything they hate: Communism, full equality for all peoples in every aspect of society, more freedom for women, modernity, and rejection of the standards of the old guard in favor of the new generation. I want to do something more with my life than to plan parties and stand as a show piece besides a man, as Margaret so often did. I want “to feel that I am a part of something big and challenging and worthy of my life.”
“Frankly, I don’t give a damn as to your opinions or thoughts about my actions. I could not care less about what you think of my behavior. And so, it is with great pleasure that I finally announce my full membership in the Communist Party of the United States of America. It is my intention to one day lead the rising wave of those you oppress. For far too long in this country, the workers have been repressed for the benefit of the few – you. They suffer for what? So that you can throw lavish parties like this, spending more money on these lily white roses than the average family does on food for an entire year! I will no longer be a part of such injustice.”
As my words of revolution echo across the decadent room, I turn to my parents. My father the banker, who defined the very idea of success by capitalism, stood horror stricken. My mother looked as if she had seen someone die. In a sense, she had. She had witnessed her vision of an innocent daughter perish before her very eyes. My past actions she brushed off as based on bad influences or childish whimsy. But now I was 18 years of age, and by her definition, a fully grown lady. Margaret couldn’t ignore a willful proclamation of my beliefs and intentions in such a public manner.
I’m pretty sure Nathan knew that something like this would happen all along. He isn’t as ignorant as he seems. One doesn’t acquire a fortune like his through pure, honest hard work. He must have realized I would do something on this scale. I always have had a tendency for drama. But still, a public declaration of membership in the Communist party was not something one heard every day. Good, maybe this will finally make that capitalistic fat bastard act.
“Finally, I would like to bid everyone adieu for this evening. My sincerest wishes are that someday, every single one of you will fall from your high perches to the cold, hard ground and see what this reality truly is. And I can only hope that I am the one who has the privilege of pushing you off that perch.”
On that high note, I step down the stairs, where Frank is waiting for me. I am leaving home tonight to enjoy a short tour of the South before college begins. My bags have all been shipped out before this grand finale. I do not know how my parents will respond. I can only hope that it is with utter contempt, for that will make this much easier for me.
For the past year I have tried to reason with them. I have tried to explain why I turned from the Republican to the Communist party. They refused to listen to my pleas or my reasoning. Mother and Father – no, Margaret and Nathan – would rather isolate themselves in this world. They are content and happy, and they cannot comprehend why I am not. They never have understood my urge to roam and rebel, my inability to ignore a challenge, not since the first time I ran away when I was nine. I can’t stay here. I can’t be who they want me to be.
Oh, just listen to me! I’m such a cliché. I can’t turn back now, what would they say? What would they do? I just openly defied them, in front of every member of Chicago’s upper class! Maybe I could just sneak back in tonight and apologize. I don’t want them to hate me, do I?
No! I can’t go back. I don’t hate who they are, I hate what they represent. I hate their friends, those entitled fat cats who think everyone lives to serve them. I have to leave, but they don’t have to understand. I have to burn this bridge. I can’t leave any chance of going back; I’m not strong enough to resist the siren call of home. I can’t risk letting myself become complacent like them. That fate is not what Destiny intended for me. The greater cause is worth the sacrifice of my comfort.
But now, a new adventure awaits me. I can feel it calling for me, a great challenge that I want to face. I want to be tested, to do something, to leave an impact on this world. I want something more to live for than the next party or newest dress. I want to travel, to see what life is like outside of the bubble that is the world of my parents! A complete break from them is for the best. That’s right Addy, keep walking. Don’t look back, it’s a sign of weakness. Now is not the time for frailty. Now is the time for courage.