On a late summer’s eve I sat at my kitchen table typing away, the sounds of chirping crickets my sole companion. I am not an individual who works well against a backdrop of white noise: no music wafting from Pandora, no CNN anchors relaying the day’s events. Just me, my work and the open balcony door in my studio apartment, where the fresh water air from Lake Michigan wafts in pleasantly.
I perched while working contentedly, attempting to ignore the familiar rumbles in my stomach, a reminder that I had once again labored through mealtime in the pursuit of written perfection. Just then a heart-rending wail went up from the alley behind my urban abode.
The source of the cries was a woman in the throes of grief, so caught in its clutches, reeking of a recent pierce, that she had not the self-awareness to withhold the details of its genesis. The familiarity of her ejaculations immediately produced a stabbing aftershock of pain. It is not so long ago that my former neighbors tacked a note to the rented condo door which read: “We are sorry about your domestic disharmony, but your yelling and crying disturbs us. Please keep it down.”
This woman’s private struggle suddenly made very public, I was drawn to the open balcony door, feeling much like an intruder stumbling upon an intimate moment not meant for my ears, but literally unable to shut out the intensity, the forceful strength of her misery. It seems that only that day, the lady learned from her four year-old child that “Daddy has a new girlfriend,” a woman of dubious immigration status who has been seeing her husband for some time. The victim wept and bellowed on her cell phone, and as much as I pitied her predicament, I wondered about the auditor at the other end of the line. Who was it? Were they equipped to withstand this torrent of anguish? Could they be the rock against which she broke herself?
I stopped typing and listened knowingly yet helplessly as the woman wondered about the prospects for her future: how would she provide for her kids, how would she live through such betrayal, what had she done wrong? And though she never wanted to see her tormentor again, how would she survive without him?
I wanted to go to her, put my arms around her and smooth her hair. I wanted to do for her what so many had been unable or unwilling to do for me, in part because I didn’t know how to ask. “This too shall pass.” Trite, overused platitude though it is, it’s repeated so oft for a reason. I wanted to reassure her that 18 months from now, she could very well be working contentedly, alone in her own space with more to keep her company than the feeling of lack.
But I understand from experience that out-of-body sensation that befalls the lost and bereft. So isolated from the normal continuum of human emotion, you forget where you are and what you’re doing. An outside reminder from a disinterested party can be jarring and shameful to the point of complete collapse. It’s a delicate balance at that stage of grief just to keep taking breaths. Instead I watched the woman retreat back into her apartment. I knew what awaited her: so many complicated decisions over days, months, even years, her life changed forever, every certainty overturned.
I am not a woman of prayer, but I am a human of empathy. Her tears have only begun but may they be granted a reprieve for rest. She’s going to need it.