10 August 2010

Understanding His Girlfriend

Today, I went to Bicycle Habitat again to bring Hal some small parts for the bike I’m building.  Hal, whom I’ve known for a long while, is putting it together.  Raul, another mechanic whom I haven’t known quite as long, but with whom I worked briefly in a Brooklyn shop, was putting together a not-bad but not-quite-as-nice bike.  We chatted about one thing and another, and he started to talk about his girlfriend.

He’s about my age, and his girlfriend is “a few years younger,” he said.  “She gets weird sometimes,” he added.

“What do you mean?”

“Well, sometimes she doesn’t want me to touch her breasts.  And sometimes she doesn’t want me to touch her at all.”


“Yeah…but this is the weird part:  She says, ‘It’s not your fault.  It’s not about you.’”

“Well, listen to her,” I said.

From the expression on his face, I could tell what he was thinking:  “She’s
really gone over to the other side!”—or something like that.

“It probably isn’t about you,” I started to explain.

“You’re right,” he said.  “And I know why she’s that way.”

I anticipated, verbatim, what he said next:  “She was abused, by her ex-husband and by her family."

“That’s terrible.  And it takes a lot of time to get over it.”

“But she should get over it.”

Now, I am a layperson.  But I might know a bit more than the average layperson about the kind of trauma his girlfriend is suffering.  So I felt confident in saying what I said next:

“She needs to heal at whatever pace she needs to heal.  It’s not about you; all you can do is to be supportive.”

For an instant, his eyes narrowed and his jaw slackened.  On one hand, he seemed to be thinking, “She’s really gone over to the other side.”  But he also seemed to want to hear more.

“It won’t be easy.  You probably have seen that already.  But just remember…She’s not rejecting you.  She’s fighting something that won’t leave her so easily.”

He sighed.  “You’re right.”  Then, after thinking some more, he said, “You really understand this.”

“Well…” I said. After a very long pause, I continued, “I know something about these things from experience.”

“What do you mean?” 

I had an instant debate with myself.  It ended when I decided that I had nothing to lose by saying what I said next: “I was abused, too. I understand how she feels.”

He was less surprised than I expected him to be.  “It was a family friend.  That’s why he could do it:  My family trusted him.  So, as a child, I thought speaking against him was an act of betrayal.  That’s why, even though it happened from about the time I was six until I was nine, I didn’t talk about it until I was thirty-four.”

His eyes widened.  “You know, I thought you had a lot of courage.  But I didn’t know how much until now.” 

That, coming from someone against whom I used to race, and with whom I worked.  But it’s still weird to hear things like that.  So I demurred, “Well, you know, I just do what I need to do.  And I only do what I need to do when my back is to the wall, when I have no other choice.”

“Still,” he said, “You’re doing it. Thanks!”

“For what?”

“For helping me to understand.”

The funny thing about getting older is that you end up playing roles you never imagined you could.  What’s even more ironic is that you start relating to people in ways you previously couldn’t when you cross from their side of the street to the other.