It takes a woman's touch for this.
This really happened. I know, everybody says that. And I probably wouldn’t believe it either if I hadn’t seen it up close.
Let me give you a little background about women. It’s hard sometimes, for women to be friends. I mean, the really close -- not trade each other for opportunities, or men, or popularity -- kind of friends. There is a noticeable lack in that mindless “he’s my buddy” male attitude. Women are more selective, more calculating – the true definition of “motivated”. Even so, there is still a deep sisterly bond that transcends even the biggest and most bloody war that will always, after a time, errupt between them. I know about that bond. And without talking about it at all, other women know it too.
At that foundation, we, (women that is) are all the same. And sometimes the choices we make come from a deep guttural place -- a place that requires a fierce tribal loyalty – a place of unwritten law with demands and obligations that can be as self-extricating as an animal chewing off a foot off to escape a trap. A place I call the “hard line”.
Whatever you might think of me after this story, how ever you might judge me – you’d have to look at me from that place. That will be hard for you men; it’s like looking at all of the lines of perspective around you and seeing all directions at once, showing all exits and entrances, feeling the view expand around you until, like a rat in a maze, it all seems to make sense and the way seems clear. That’s what you get from the hard line – clarity, direction.
So, who hasn’t found themselves in a place where they just felt stuck? No way to move forward or back, no way out? And you get desperate, and hungry, and your mind doesn’t work just right most of the time. You know, desperately, that something’s got to change, it must change – or why bother living it anymore.
And sometimes, the “hard line” offers the only option. I’m not saying that it’s always the best choice, but it does get things moving again – gets the blood flowing – so to speak.
“It’s just not working anymore.” I just sat back and listened. “It’s too hard. We’re different people. I mean, we sleep in different bedrooms – we have separate friends, separate bank accounts, separate lives even. All either of us ever do is bitch about what’s wrong with the other.”
Why don’t you just leave? I asked. “I tried that once. It didn’t work. He follows me or he makes it tough on the kids. He makes way more money than I do and besides, where would I go? We were supposed to be building a life together. How am I supposed to raise three kids on what I make?”
To make a long story short, I hooked her up with a few big wigs that I know. One of them, Keith Harrington, had just been named CEO of the most successful women’s magazine in the states. His wife, a gorgeous former model, owned her own agency, was highly successful in her own right, and traveled quite a bit on speaking tours, encouraging young ladies to be both beautiful and bright.
I told him about this story, in pretty straight terms since he and I have known each other forever, and he actually made contact. He needed an assistant and she needed a job, and what made that even better, was the fact that she was actually pretty good at it. Within a few months, she was indispensable to him, and she was actually gaining some control of her life, at work and at home. Things were improving at home because her husband was glad to have some of the financial pressure off, but like all good things, something has to end.
After almost 6 months on the job, things at work were going smoothly. She liked the work and Keith liked having her there. She began, slowly, to move up in status and to see the job as a career rather than just a way to make money. But money was still an issue, and it was becoming a bigger issue again. Slowly and subtly things were getting tight at home again. Nothing had changed there. No big extravagant presents or “extras” had been purchased. Dutifully, she handed over her check each week so that her husband could pay the bills, reserving (of course) a small something for herself, which is coincidentally part of the “hard line” rules of women. Gentlemen, we always have a little something stashed away…just in case.
Things continue to get tight at home, and it seems as if her husband is calling in sick more often and disappearing at night more often, and she’s helping with homework more often, and something just feels wrong. And as the stress grows, the feeling of being completely trapped, the intuitive knowing that it’s all falling apart around her; she has a breakdown at her desk.
Keith, marshmallow that he is, takes her into his office to counsel her. He’d always wanted to be a priest or a psychiatrist, and this was an opportunity for him to apply all that he’d read on those subjects. He talks to her, soothes her, offers compassion and new things to try at home and ways to adjust her attitude to what is happening. She calms down, she dries her tears, thanks him for his sensitivity and his help, goes back to her desk, and that’s when she hits the “hard line”.
You see, if I didn’t make it clear before, the “hard line” isn’t a place that’s easily accessed. Even by women. It’s not a place you travel to or a core place inside of you. The “hard line” exists in a no-space, no-time type of place. You hit it, or it hits you. Like running into a brick wall, or making a b-line for the only exit in a blazing building. It’s instinct, it’s survival – there are no other choices. And when the hard line hit, she could barely believe that the answer had been so simple and so present, the entire time.
At home, she made a conscious effort to do better. She cleaned, did the shopping, laundry and made every meal. She put her heart and soul into her relationship, because that is what the “hard line” had instructed her to do. Her husband had a long history of health problems, most of which had been genetically passed to him like some twisted inheritance. When he got sick, she nursed him back to health, bringing him juice and hot soup, his cold medicine, his sinus tablets, his blanket, anything he asked for. And as she fetched and carried for him, without a single show of appreciation, he simply demanded more. But she remained calm, reassuring, providing for his needs and never wavering from her task.
After a month or so, he felt a little better, but not 100 percent. Then he’d pick up his medicine and take it with him as he disappeared for hours both in the day and at night. Dutifully, she bought the cold medicine and made sure that his supply of sinus tablets didn’t run out. In fact, she was careful not to let the prescription come out and when he complained that they were no longer working, she lovingly switched the pills in his bottle with those from her mother’s prescription, which was a bit stronger. Well, truth be told, maybe more than just a bit stronger.
In his world, everything was fine, though he started to feel a little shaky at times. But hey, she wasn’t asking any questions or making any demands, what more could he want? As for her, she knew that in time things would change, the “hard line” had showed her they would.
And one day, having called in sick again and being home alone, he dropped like a stone on the living room floor. No chance to call for help, never knowing what hit him, and the “hard line” prophecy was fulfilled.
After the drama of a funeral and many kind condolences, she put on an affected “brave face” and went back to work. My friend Keith, (Keith “the marshmallow” Harrington) tried to take it easy on her, offering his help, giving her his pity, encouraging her to “let it out”. She distracted herself by counseling a co-worker who had become her friend and was having similar troubles at home.
Amazingly similar. Almost a carbon copy of her own life. And when the breakdown came, she felt it was her sacred duty to share what she’d learned with her sister, a fellow sufferer, why should she let this wounded bird hit the glass too. It didn’t have to be that way, not the way it had been in her marriage, why should she let this colleague, this friend, suffer the way she had. So she shared what the “hard line” had told her.
At first her co-worker was shocked, and they even stopped talking for a time. They would send guilty little glances back and forth across the office, creating a stress that their fellow workers attributed to grief. But it wasn’t grief, it was desperation, it was the faint clicking of twisting and empty chambers, the rushing sound of steel across flesh, the tick, tick, tick as the pills fell into the bottom of an empty plastic bottle.
Some weeks later, the phone rang at her desk and she looked around the office to see who was missing. Yes, she was right. The “hard line” was working again. Working to free another woman, to open another door, to give another chance for life.
Keith said she took the news quite well, considering her own loss had been so recent. They wanted to take their lead from her, on how to comfort, how to be there without pushing. And she kept them at a safe distance, not too close, but not pushing away all together. Within a week, her friend was back at her desk, endlessly repeating the story of how her ailing husband simply died in his sleep. No warning, no unknown or strange illnesses, it was completely unexpected.
As we go through grief, we tend to latch on to the strangest allies. And that co-worker did just the same thing. And so it went on, consoling, protecting, solving. And it still goes on today, in that tribal womanly place that no man can understand.
And you won’t believe me, but I know that this story is true . I know it, because my year of wearing black has been over for a while. I know it, because I lived it and now other wives, friends – I’ll call them, come to me for my advice now too. I tell them just what I’ve told you. The way that it was told to me by another caring sister. Even as we speak there is a woman out there, neglected by her husband, under appreciated, left on her own too much while he goes off to chase windmills. And I tell her the truth. And any day now…she’ll be passing it on too.