Wednesday, September 15, 2010
Posted by Maggie May Labels: the secret life of women
M. is in her thirties, married with two children under the age of five. She has metastasized breast cancer. Recently she had an operation on her brain to remove scar tissue from the cancer that had been killed with radiation. She has cancer in her lungs and her liver. I see her often. She wears mom jeans and button up shirts and plain practical shoes and if she ever wore makeup as a mother, she has quit now, with the swelling and bloating of her face, constant running eyes and stinging skin that her weekly chemo regime has given her. She picks up her children with a smile every time. She chats with the other mothers and teachers and laughs often. She asks for practical life and children advice and quotes lyrics from songs that she loves. She's dying. Sometimes, she posts on FB and people say ' keep your spirits up! ' or, ' you can do it, M! '. I wonder what she thinks of all this. She married her high school sweetheart and has prom pictures with her hair teased up and her slim girlish body tucked into a black dress. Her husband's face is more exhausted every time I see him. He can barely meet my eyes now to say hello. I wonder what he thinks of all this, and his wife who must keep her head up and 'do it!'. What is she supposed to be doing? I'm not sure. Keep living the way people are used to her living until she dies, I suppose. Anne Lamott says some things are unbearable, and we just don't want to believe it is so, so we encourage and support in the face of the most monstrous realities, effectively denying the person the right to sharing their real experience. I'm not sure what the other ideas would be, but it's worth thinking about.
L. is a young, married new mom. She comes from an Orthodox Jewish family who immigrated here from South Africa. She grew up observant but not truly Orthodox in ritual. She does not wear a wig or eat only kosher. She does not sit away from her husband until a Rabbi has assured her that no drop of blood is left on her underwear from her time of month. However, she was expected to seriously date and marry only Jewish men. In her early twenties, she met and fell head over heels in love with a non-Jew, and became seriously involved. Her father and mother issued an ultimatum: either break off the relationship, or we will no longer have anything to do with you. She would not. They did. For two years her parents did not speak to her or see her, a family that until that time was incredibly close knit and spent much of their free time together.
After the two years she gave, and left him. Now married to a nice Jewish man, her relations with her mother and father again are constant and by all appearances close. They spend an evening with the family every week, often for Friday night feast, take a plethora of pictures that are then framed and hung in all houses, and spend all major holidays and occasions together as well. Her parents dote on their granddaughter and the family is whole again. I watch her talking and laughing with them and wonder what her heart feels now.
The women in my own family hold close to the vest their hearts. Fears, desires, passions and motivations are silent. Intellectual pursuits are paramount, and discussed vigorously. Family stories are acceptable as long as they are completely innocent ( hard to come by unless we are discussing the newest generation ) or cloaked in 'joking', which is often, to me, more painful and awkward than the truth itself. I am not the kind to ever joke to make a hard point, and it is hurtful to me when it is directed my way. I am silenced. I don't know how to respond to the secret message, so I don't respond at all. I don't know where I came from, some strange clockwork of relatives I do not know or never met, with a passion for revelation and stories told out loud. Of course like any family, my family of origin works differently around each other than they do with anyone else, unfortunately- not that everyone would agree with me- for the worse, with strange and cruel dynamics often brewing in the pot, spoiling the goods and leaving the truths of our lives silent. Not every dinner is for bare bones truth, not every meeting for the spilling of the heart, but when the environment is so disjointed that these things can never, or almost never happen, it is the end of the expansion of love or intimacy. I love my family of origin, but with rare exception don't really know any of them. My attempts at honesty with my own thoughts or emotions have often been met with open derision in the form of sarcasm or direct mocking, or aggressive interrupting and talking over me that is exhausting. Maybe the political pundits can accomplish a meaningful exchange this way- maybe not- but I can't.