April 25, 2007

Writer Without a Story: The Man-Woman Thing

A middle-aged man wearing a conference nametag walks through the lobby of a hotel, a grateful smile on his face, tears flowing unrestrainedly down his cheeks in full view of airline pilots, flight attendants, bellhops, concierge, and arriving guests. What does he think he’s doing? What kind of New Age foolery have I gotten brainwashed into?

It could be that I’ve been working on my shame. Or my fear and terror. Or the accumulated pain of being a husband, an ex-husband, a father, a son, a brother. It doesn’t matter what has unlocked my tears. It doesn’t matter who I think I am or what particular hairpin turns and long straightaways have driven me here. I’m here, that’s all, I’m letting the tears flow in plain sight for the first time in my life. You look at me. Are you disgusted, worried, embarrassed, amused? Good. That’s what I want.

Let’s say we’ve been working on the man-woman thing. A lesbian has stood up and said that for the first time in her life, after doing one of our exercises, she has felt trust in men, and she invites any man to walk up and embrace her. A stunning woman in expensive clothes and perfect makeup has stood and told us what it has meant for her to be unapproachable, to be dependent on the armor of her face. A young man has stood and told us that when he was a child he molested younger boys. A man with an earring and a prim voice has told us he knows we think him effeminate, and he’s been thinking of himself that way all his life.

Or maybe sitting in morning meditation I felt hands clutching my arm and then a woman’s forehead leaning between those hands, and I put my free arm around her and held her, eyes closed, for half an hour as she shook and cried, my arm cramping, and I knew I would have stayed there till my arm fell off. And afterward she wrote me a letter and told me it was the first time in her life she understand what it felt like to be breathed by another human being.

Or I had sat on a lawn in the southern California springtime and shared worksheets with a woman who had been terribly hurt by a male relative as a preschooler, who told me that being with me was the first time she had ever felt free of her belief that men were shallow and harmful and untrustworthy, and then I’d watched as she stood in front of three hundred people and said so.

“It was like falling in love,” I told my roommate, and he said, “I would drop the ‘like.’” I didn’t know her last name or where she lived or what she did for a living. It wouldn’t have mattered if I hadn’t known her first name, either, or if we’d never exchanged a word. We worked together for an hour or two and shared a special meal. We looked into each other’s eyes and saw ourselves. Then we parted. And it didn’t matter if we never saw each other again, never spoke again during the school, although we did. We had gone through the entire course of a relationship, from first meeting to inevitable ending, in two hours.

Those women helped me as much as I them. The lesbian taught me that I am not suspect. The stunning woman taught me that I do not have to be either covetous or intimidated. The woman who leaned on me taught me that I am everyone and I don’t care who sees it. The woman I shared a meal with taught me that love arises and falls away and lasts forever at every moment.

And if I honor her and treasure her memory and wish her joy for all her life, how much more shall I do so for the woman who lived with me for sixteen years and bore my children and raised them with me and taught me and traveled with me and suffered from me, and who parted from me with the greatest honesty and kindness and wisdom?

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