On the day Rory wed Paul, Aunt Sophie handed them both a card with a generous check inside, gave them both a hug, and grasped their hands in hers. “You will have a wonderful life,” she said simply.
For the young couple’s fifth anniversary, she took Rory to dinner and, again, handed her another generous check. This time it was made out to Rory alone. “For any extra expenses you might have. More importantly, here is your second present, Rory dear, one I hope you’ll enjoy,” she said, handing her niece a small wrapped package.
“Aunt Sophie, you gave me too much already,” Rory said, though she was already opening the package. It was obviously a hardcover book, and she was eager to see what it might be this time. Kate Chopin’s The Awakening. Rory looked at her aunt, unsure of what to say.
“I thought it would fit in well with the other books I’ve given you, dear,” she said simply. “I’ve always been an advocate of strong women, you know.”
“I’m familiar with the story, Aunt Sophie, and someone who drowns herself isn’t strong.”
“Oh that, no. It’s the awakening itself where she’s strong. Think about how hard it is to admit the truth sometimes, dear, to see those you love for what they really are. Sometimes, we hide from it ourselves, convinced that we’re failures otherwise.”
Rory nodded slightly, suddenly sure that her aunt saw what her mother refused to acknowledge. Not wanting the conversation to turn in certain directions, Rory gave in. “I’ll read it. I promise.”
“I know you will, dear.”
Rory smiled as she tucked the book and the check into her purse. “Thank you, Aunt Sophie.”
“You do know that you have an amazing amount of talent. I imagine that it could be intimidating to some.” Sophie watched her niece glance down and swallow. She watched as Rory’s hand moved to her neck and adjust the scarf she wore.
“I imagine so,” Rory replied after a moment, unable to meet her aunt’s eyes, wondering what she would think if she told her the truth.
“Oh, I doubt that there’s much to imagine. Some people in this world simply can’t handle others being more talented or more successful than they are, so they look for ways to destroy those wonderful people.”
The words wouldn’t come for Rory to reply. They shriveled in her throat and died, suffocated by the fear of hearing them said aloud. “Admitting the truth would probably kill them,” she said instead, trying to sound flip, trying to lighten the mood that was descending upon her.
“Admitting the truth can be terrible for some people, but not admitting the truth can kill us as well.”
Primer, Undated Draft
In literature, there’s something called the Quest Pattern. It’s simple enough: the protagonist has mysterious origins, a magical weapon, a wise guide, and a climactic scene where he or she comes to resolution. Luke had Obi-Wan and a light saber to help in his battle with the Dark Side, embodied in his father, Darth Vader. Superman had the Fortress of Solitude and his sun-granted strength as he battled his own version of darkness.
As I write this, I find myself unable to think of female equivalents save for Wonder Woman. Supergirl and Batgirl are options, but they are secondary characters in literature and comic books. Somehow, to me, they seem to be token superheroes, designed to capitalize on the adolescent girl market just as various superMEN made off with the adolescent boys’ allowances.
Other women, though, have their own strengths – they are Janie, Edna, and Sethe. Their Eyes Were Watching God. The Awakening. Beloved. Stories of women who have their own quests, though these quests are hardly as obvious as those that Luke, Clark, or even young Peter Parker had to take on.
My point, you ask? To ponder the role models who inhabit literature and other writings. To look at what young women learn, and to note that the most powerful weapon any woman can have is a wise guide, a wild woman who was not beaten into her rightful place by society. Someone who digs in Mother Earth to connect with her rightful parent, who throws that window open to herald death, who swims to meet it, and who seeks it with a handsaw only when absolutely necessary. Wild women are dangerous to society, for we don’t ask – we expect. We vote, we educate. We teach to our daughters under the guise of bedtime stories, and we train them to smile softly as they tell the truth. Look the part, even if you don’t play it.
I have my own wise guide, and count myself quite lucky. Aunt Sophie saw me through a childhood with stories not of Cinderella and Snow White, but with tales of stronger women, ones who didn’t wait for Prince Charming and the Kiss of True Love. She introduced me to Janie through a well-read first edition of Hurston’s controversial novel. Sethe’s life came to me when I left for college, a going-away gift.
But Edna, Mrs. Pontillier, was a different story…
Rory deleted the draft. This was useless. Where were the words when she needed them? Aunt Sophie, who opted to live independent of marriage after being widowed during the Vietnam War, was far from the sort of woman who advocated sitting and waiting. Meanwhile, Rory’s fifth wedding anniversary was last week and “sitting and waiting” was exactly what she was doing.
Downstairs, she could hear Paul talking to someone on the phone, quietly, stifling a laugh now and again. If she put her ear to the heating vent, she would hear him better, whispering promises to whomever was on the other end of the phone. Rory didn’t listen now. She didn’t have to, not again. Once was enough to know what that tone and that laugh meant. The only piece of the puzzle was what the woman’s name was this time. After four years, there were quite few to choose from.
Leaning back in her chair, Rory stared at her bookcase. How did I get here? Her eyes roamed the titles on the shelves. How did I lose him? How did I lose me? Without thinking, she opened The Awakening, flipping through the pages without seeing them. She hadn’t read it since college, remembering how she thought Edna’s desire for more to be nothing but foolish, indulgent, and irresponsible. Funny how perspective changes, she mused, staring at the book.
“Rory, I have to run back to the office for some papers.” Paul’s voice came up the steps, interrupting her thoughts. How casual he sounded.
I never had him to lose, did I?
Sitting in the armchair she kept by the dormer window, Rory continued studying the hardcover book, turning it over in her hands. What am I waiting for? The next beating? I can’t keep waiting. I can’t stay here any longer. Already it was too easy to stay home, to sit silently in blind agreement. His absence tonight was a relief because he wouldn’t be here to pester her in the dark. He doesn’t love me. The words came to her, but she felt nothing. He doesn’t love me. He never did. He’s married to me, and he doesn’t love me. Why wasn’t she devastated? Why wasn’t she sobbing for her lost dreams, the destroyed friendships? She felt the weight of the book in her hands, heard the silence of the house, and she remembered what else her aunt had said.
Not admitting the truth can kill us as well. But how much easier it was to tell those lies, to believe that nothing was wrong.
Finally, she got up and retrieved her precision knife. Pulling the garbage can over to catch the mess she was about to make, she opened the book and began hollowing it out. If she was going to leave, she had to do it when he least expected it – and she had to be ready for that moment, whenever it was. The check from Aunt Sophie was made out to her alone; she hadn’t told Paul about it when she came home. She would use it to retain a divorce lawyer.