Monday, February 12, 2007

Some Advice on How to Be Insensitive (Without Really Trying)

He wishes he could do something. He wishes he knew what to do.

The woman down the hall is sobbing. It's the most awful sound he's heard in a long time. It's the sound of a woman's heart actually breaking.

It's the sound of a woman whose burdens have finally taken their toll. No matter how strong her back was before, she would be hard pressed to continue to survive this load.

He knows the woman. They've interacted on many an occasion and are friendly with one another. But their relationship lingers in that shapeless nebula between friend and acquaintance.

She's still sobbing. He's still pained by it.

It has long been common knowledge -- unspoken but for soft, dirty whispers that suggest juicy gossip but in fact betray sadness -- that her husband is a philandering cad. Word quickly and quietly has spread that this jag has been brought about by her discovery that he has taken a week-long cruise with his girlfriend -- while his wife is left to tend some books in the office, and to sob uncontrollably upon the discovery.

She is of a certain age, a certain generation and culture and background for which divorce is simply not an option. She has on many occasions shared her frustrations, her sadness, her fear, her anxiety with people that her husband is cheating on her. For some with whom she shares this information, their patience has begun to run thin; for them, her is unwillingness to take control of the situation and leave him causes endless frustration in the midst of her vulnerability.

She's on the phone, crying bitter tears and speaking in another tongue to an unknown confidant. She's packing up her things from the office she and her husband share. It's unclear where everything is going, but by the time she leaves her office, the walls will be bare, save for the picture hooks. Most of the paperwork will have made its way into one of many boxes, but the computer, printer, and lamp will likely remain where they are. She will probably not return to retrieve them, ever.

He sits down the hall, his heart quietly aching at the sound of so much suffering. In the movies, it's easy to disassociate oneself with a sobbing woman's trauma by letting oneself just think about what a phenomenal acting job she's doing. When an actual real-life acquaintance is cut to the quick, though -- stepping outside oneself takes substantial effort.

He steels himself. Closing the door would appear rude, even if his intentions were noble: she'd probably want to know, somewhere in the back of her mind, that her wailing wasn't necessarily absorbed by everyone around her. But then it would also appear as if he just couldn't be bothered with her problem, and so he shut the door on her. Either way, it's a cruel and heartless gesture, so the status quo wins out, and his door remains open.

He'd love to go to her and hug her, because he knows she needs it. He'd love to take the phone from her and tell whoever it is on the other end to just drop whatever s/he's doing and get over here pronto because Good God, man, can't you hear the pain in her voice? She needs you!

He sits alone, in his office, awkwardly trying to act as though nothing is happening.

He wishes he could do something. He wishes he knew what to do.

He wishes he had the balls to be a man.

1 comment:

Jon said...

That's why they're headphones!

All kidding aside, there's nothing you can do. She'd probably me embarassed if you came in and offered a shoulder to cry on....