After The Second Day
Her extended family joined the vigil, which had taken over most of the house after the third day, while the 14-year-old daughter of a missing businessman remained sequestered in her bedroom. The very first sign of concern was her father not calling home upon his arrival to the hotel. Then, when he missed his business meeting the next day, Priscilla’s aunts and uncles began coming over with solemn faces and God-fearing eyes. What does a teenager think about in that frightening situation? What does anyone think about in that situation?
The way Priscilla describes it to me makes all the ambient noise stop as I’m listening. There was a collective gasp in the living room. She says, “I remember hearing that……. and I knew.” She looks down with a sense of compunction, then begins fidgeting with her hands. “The body was found in a dumpster on Monday night, shot 12 times in the back and a few times in the neck.” Since the body was found in a distant city, the police asked her mother to confirm her husband’s corpse by sharing specifics of his clothing and undergarments over the phone that only a wife would know. “My mom didn’t want to accept it, so she denied that it was him.” Meanwhile, alone in her bedroom, Priscilla went through the onslaught of confusion and self-indictment that came all too naturally as a daughter began to grieve the death of her murdered father.
The memories she had of her dad were not fond. He was quite strict; and more often than not, his tone held a pejorative edge, as he did his best to imbue his daughter with the urgency and fear that came as tenets from his own childhood. Priscilla remembers the time her dad found out she was no longer a virgin – he burst into her room, manic and irate, and woke her up to chastise her with howling ferocity. But even with the tension that guided most of their interactions, Priscilla still wishes she had been able to say goodbye to her father one last time.
Priscilla’s mother was inconsolable and unwilling to accept the truth; so, as sometimes happens under such emotional pressure, young Priscilla metamorphosed into a deranged version of a responsible adult. She held stoic form, as she went from door to door of her apartment complex, announcing the gruesome death of her father to each of her neighbors. It wasn’t until her father’s wake that somebody offered her what she felt she needed: A silent and long-held embrace. Everyone up until that point had offered a stockpile of standard condolences, but kept their souls at arm’s length when they hugged her, and covered their emotions with platitudes. As she remembers it, “The best reaction to my father’s death was a friend who just came up and gave me a hug, long and tight, and didn’t say a single, fucking word.”
Upon hearing this story, I would rush to diagnose Priscilla with some form of modern neurosis – surely the young girl wasn’t able to process such a traumatic event adequately, and instead built a cornerstone of emotional pain. But I would be wrong, and it is usually the women, in my unprofessional opinion, who are best suited to deal with immense pain without buckling from mental overload. What is it about this side of the species that makes them so adept at processing pain? And why is it that my side of the species is often times so quick to dismiss their calls for help?
Priscilla is now 37, and a mother of her own lovely little laundry basket of sunshine and giggles. I asked her to be my first interview, because I thought I knew what to expect. But as she calmly replied to my questions, I realized something. These stories are commonplace. This is nothing new for women. Women have been dealing with shit their entire lives, and the stories I’m about to share are as pedestrian to women as talking sports is to men.
When I ask her about regrets, Priscilla mentions a lasting impression from her ex-husband. She’s embarrassed by her answer, claiming it to sound too material, but she mentions the sale of their first jointly owned apartment. He was ambitious, climbing the ladder at his corporate job at a rapid pace, and wanted to flip the place and upgrade. “To me, it represents my lack of decision, me not making my own decisions, me not sticking up for myself, for the things I believed in. This was about what I valued versus what my ex-husband valued and me not being able to speak my mind. And this happened over and over again. I was presented with decisions that, when I look back, I was much more informed and capable of making than I thought I was at the time.”
Priscilla found her passion in teaching, which did not allow her to contribute equally to the monthly mortgage payments, so the argument always ended in his favor regardless of whether or not the topic was finances. He earned more money, thus his voice was the final tally. “He had a very different personality than me, in regards to working and climbing up the career ladder, which I never truly believed in. He made me feel less capable of giving opinions. He never truly listened to me.” As she tells this story, I think back to all of the arguments I’ve had with former lovers and how I would blithely suffocate their valid points with circuitous monologues of passive male pride. “He did say I was capable, but he said it in a way that suggested he only thought I was capable of the small things. It was never like you are intelligent, you make good decisions, you are half of this house. He made me feel like I wasn’t important, because I wasn’t putting money into the house. But at the same time, he liked the idea that I was dependent upon him.” Why is it so easy for me to understand this logic?
The marriage had been dissolving for years, but the impetus for change came suddenly. She decided to take a yoga-teaching course; and, on the first day, the instructor said, “We start with ethics and truth, because if you’re here to learn more arm balances, then there are better courses than this one. If this next year doesn’t change your life completely, – the way you see things, make you a more caring person, make you a better citizen of humanity – then there is no point for me as an instructor or as a friend.” After the second day of diving into ethics and truth, she knew she needed to address the void in her heart.
They were both in the kitchen that evening, shuffling around each other in palpable silence, when she finally let it all out. “This is not a relationship. This is not a marriage. Obviously, we’re not in love with each other.” And so the truth was finally released, and the fire cleared years of brush. It is from the darkest ash that comes the most fertile soil.
What does it mean for a woman to feel she has finally made a decision for herself? She tells me, “I was finally old enough to look at myself and admit the things I was doing to please other people.” For me, it was the exact opposite. I remember the day I realized I had been doing everything to serve me and only me. Until I was 33 years old, I had never considered putting others ahead of myself, and now I’m listening to Priscilla tell me about the polar opposite life. I grew up thinking I had a right to everything, that I could do anything, and there was no one I had to fear. She grew up thinking………well, it’s probably easier to understand with this story.
When she was 25, Priscilla was romantically pursued by her direct boss, a good-looking teacher at the school where she worked, and the way she hesitates when describing him gets my brain over analyzing right away. “It’s different when you work with someone, because you have to see them everyday. And he was also the protégé of the big boss who was grooming him to take his place.” Her story gets my brain drifting into a parallel reverie.
I remember when I was in my early 20’s, and my girlfriend was extremely attractive. This brought an intriguing element to our relationship, because I was forced to reconcile with the behavior and advances of other men who would constantly pursue my girlfriend. She would tell me about situations at school, or at work, where time and time again, men who she assumed were platonic friends would profess their interest in her romantically, even though they knew she was dating someone. I remember getting angry with her, because she would never tell them with what I thought was enough certainty, a terse and rigid denial, that I suggested as the only method of rejection capable of getting through their wanton pursuit. But why is it that I knew so well what she needed to do? And why didn’t I ever stop to ask her how she felt about it instead of jumping straight into my protocol for adamantly rejecting all competitors?
I asked Priscilla why she never flat-out rejected the guy, and she hesitated. It’s the same look my ex-girlfriend gave me when she tried to find a suitable way to deliver an unfathomable concept to me – a man who behaved like they did. It’s similar to an intervention. The addict must be ready to hear the message regardless of how many friends and family members are willing to testify to the damage being caused. So I asked Priscilla why, in general, women can’t be more direct in their rejections of men. “Because we’re scared of you,” she replies. There it is. There is the concept that I struggle so hard to understand.
“It’s hard for me to see that he raped me, but he forced himself on me. Why is it hard for me to say that he raped me? Because I went to his house. I was sitting on him and kissing him.” They had just begun seeing each other when this happened. It was a Saturday, and they both had to go to work that day, so they agreed to meet at his house and go together. When she arrived, he was finishing getting ready so she waited on his bed. She told me that she was wearing a dress, and recalled how her mother always taught her to be careful of what she wore in order to not send the wrong signal or else she would be asking for it. What is it exactly that women are asking for when dressing themselves? Is there some clandestine plan they hatch in the morning using only passive desires and manipulative methods to get what they truly want? Is this how they ask to be fucked? Or are they asking to be treated as possessions? Are they begging to be abused? I have a hard time believing someone brushes their teeth in the morning and thinks about such things.
She told him no multiple times, but he continued, forced himself inside her, and finished as he pleased. He was casual afterward, and Priscilla didn’t know how to feel. Automatic internal responses began to fire inside her head, and she blamed herself. She felt like a whore, and she continued on the rest of the day in normal fashion. They went to work together. They continued seeing each other. It wasn’t until a few days later that something triggered the alarm in her head, and it came from a completely different circumstance.
Priscilla attended a conference with some teachers, and they went out for beers afterward. The man had planned a surprise dinner for her and expected her to call him immediately after the conference let out. When he didn’t hear from her for hours, and the food stood cold on the table, he stormed off to find her and give her a piece of his mind. He found her with her friends and caused a scene in front of everyone, insulting her with callous disregard, and it was only then that Priscilla thought that perhaps she should not stay with this man. Why do so many women choose silence? Why are they taught to question themselves before they question the actions of a man?
She doesn’t feel distant to me. Instead, she is quite steady with her words, and her eyes convey a sage sense of understanding, of acceptance, of forgiveness, of a deep compassion that implies there is hope for this world, hope for mankind. I’ve been complaining to her about my direction in life lately, and she allows me to vent patiently. She teaches yoga these days and speaks of the incredible reward, the nourishment she feels when she offers her students all of her heart. In the way that she finds rich rewards by teaching yoga, she encourages me to find my people in regards to writing. Give it away. Help others. Teach. Open your heart.
She is a mama to a lively little girl, and it’s obvious, by the pitch of her voice, that she finds solace in this role. She told me that one of her favorite memories from childhood was of walking to school with her mom and brother every day. Now she walks her daughter to school and spends those majestic moments trying to be silly and free. This woman is independent, capable, intelligent, and she isn’t even an outlier – she’s the norm. These are our women. This is who raises us.
On the topic of a higher power she said: “I’m not sure if I believe in a higher power, in a higher being, but I do believe there is an order to the universe. I do believe there is a reason for us to be here.”
“What is that reason?” I asked. “To experience in a unique way. You can only make the choices you make because of the experiences you live through. And the choices you make will take you to different paths. And these different paths will put you in direct contact with the people who need exactly the experiences you have lived.”
I think that more than one of us needs to hear this story.