10 October 2008

A Friendship Between a Man and a Woman

Today Bruce and I went to a Thai restaurant near his office in Soho for lunch. We often meet on Fridays for lunch, and we'd been to that restaurant before. The food's always been good and the place is cozy enough to be comfortable but not too compressed for a claustrophobe like me. And, it seems, whenever we go there, one of us shares some story or another that reveals, or more exactly, confirms something one of us always suspected of the other.

Today Bruce told me of how his intervention may have saved a young woman's life, or at least kept her from even more harm than she suffered. Four young men were hanging out on the block where Bruce lives. They all were dressed in the same outfit, with some sort of logo. The young woman in question was walking down the block, toward a club around the corner. Bruce was on the opposite side of the street, walking to his house.

The young men stalked and tried to accost the young woman. But Bruce crossed the street and walked between those young men and the young woman to the corner. Then, a split-second after he turned away and started to walk back to his house, he heard her scream.

One of those young men grabbed her. As she explained afterward, she thought he wanted her purse, so she slid it down her wrist so he could take it easily. But he didn't touch it. Instead he struck and grabbed her, and banged her head against a car.

Well, Bruce charged at the guy and scuffled with him. He ended up with a cut and bruise on his upper lip and a few other scratches and cuts. The young man took off and joined his cohorts, who, it seemed, were hiding behind a car. They made a dash through the parking lot of a supermarket across the street, and disappeared into the night.

Bruce made no attempt to portray himself as a hero, which is typical of him . Rather, he said that it was the only thing he could do, ethically and practically.

I thanked him, on behalf of that woman. "I've never met her, but you did something for me when you helped her." He seemed to understand what I said. I've known him long enough to have smake sense of things that made even less sense.

Somehow I felt more like a woman--specifically, his female friend--as he told this story. Of course, this has to do with how I felt for the young woman I've never met and most likely never will meet. But more important, something I long suspected became absolutely palpable: his unique combination of a strong sense of himself and empathy.

In other words, he doesn't do things like helping that young woman to affirm his manhood or to exact vengeance against anyone or anything. After he related the story, I realized that this is the reason why I've always felt safe--even protected--with him, even though for much of the time we've known each other we were doing the sorts of things male buddies do together. (Yes, we've been to a sports bar together. And we once pursued the same woman, who finally chose "none of the above.") In other words, what he did for her was utterly characteristic of him, and I know he'd do something like that for me because, well, he has. No, he didn't face down a would-be attacker, at least not physically. But at various times, he has defended me against verbal and psychological bullies and was, well, there for me when I felt weak and vulnerable.

And so, as a woman, I really appreciated what he did for that young woman I most likely will never meet. On the other hand, if I'd heard it when we were younger, I probably would've cheered on his heroism or some ther such quality I wanted to find in myself.

So, while he has never been physically imposing, there are few people around whom I've felt more protected than I feel around him.

In other words, even though I've never had, and probably never will have, a romantic relationship with him, there are very few people around whom I've felt so safe and, in some way, protected. That, of course, is a major reason why I've been able to talk as freely as I do with him, and why he can telll me stories like the one he told me today.

It's as if he's always known what I, as a woman appreciate--even when I was acting like "one of the guys."

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