‘What would happen if one woman told the truth about her life?
The world would split open…’
This line is from a poem by Muriel Rukeyser entitled Kathe Kollwitz. Rukeyser was an American poet who began writing in the 1930s and was lauded for her anti-war, feminist stance. She believed individuals could create social change and that by calling things what they are, by the power of truth, a difference could be made.
I have been a fan of her writing for many years. I also believe in the power of truth and in trying to make a difference; but it can be so hard that sometimes when the truth is staring you in the face all you want to do is turn and run. Jude wants to turn and run. Her world has split open.
My friend, Jude, is married to Tom. He is a corporate lawyer specialising in mergers and acquisitions. You know how it goes – buy, sell, suck the life out of the small business guy until he has nothing left but his name hanging on one nail over the door; sell, sell, buy.
Jude’s sister wryly refers to her brother-in-law as ‘the catch.’ Believe me, that’s what he is. The body of an Adonis, went to all the best schools, wealthy family, fabulous in Ermenegildo Zegna. He is the guy Jude and I fantasised about when we were 15, dreaming of Aragorn from Lord of The Rings or Lancelot on his white charger coming to take us away to the land of happily ever after. Except that Tom turned up in Gucci and an SLK Mercedes bearing hothouse roses.
I have believed for over 20 years that Jude was happy. Perfect kids, perfect home, someone to rely on – married to the catch. If anything, it was my face that was full of darkness, not hers. Last week she broke down over coffee that turned into 2 bottles of red wine. Seems that the catch is not as perfect as we all thought. Seems that the catch has a penchant for ladies of the evening. And I don’t mean nurses on night duty.
It was a session of de-cluttering that did it. Jude was tired of not being able to walk into her walk-in wardrobe and decided to throw a lot of stuff out. Some of that stuff included a shoe box full of receipts from The Pussycat Club. (Yes, I know, I thought it was a gag at first too – it sounds so Austin Powers, but a gag it was not.) Some of the receipts were 5 years old. Why did Tom keep them? Perhaps he couldn’t stand the guilt anymore and wanted to be discovered, maybe it was for tax purposes; but there they were in black and white – ranging from 60 dollars to 500 dollars.
The other thing that alerted Jude that something might be up was an attack of cystitis that didn’t go away. Turned out to be gonorrhea. Seems as Tom’s appetite for destruction grew, so did his common sense and sense of self-preservation. Jude is now on antibiotics and awaiting the result of tests for HIV and Hepatitis C.
We are sitting in the park watching a dog chase a ball. He is a large dog with ears that flap as he runs, his back legs slip sideways as he nears the ball, spraying dirt over our shoes. We can’t help but take pleasure in his excitement, his joy in simple things is contagious.
‘Tom has moved out,’ says Jude. ‘When I asked him why he did it, why he had been with all of those women, he looked at me blankly like I was a stranger and said “Because I could.” He has to be sick to behave like that, doesn’t he? I mean he can’t want to do it by choice. It must be a sickness, an addiction.’
Millions of people the world over apparently battle some form of sexual addiction. The constant need for sex is less about getting pleasure from the act and more about filling an emotional void. Many addicts were abused as children – not always sexually; mostly emotionally. I know that Tom, despite all his trappings of wealth, led a neglectful childhood. His father was emotionally distant, rarely expressing affection; his mother began drinking every day after lunch.
Jude knows all this but it doesn’t lessen her pain. ‘If it was an affair with one woman, I would be really angry, I would want to lash out at her; but these faceless hordes of women – all that’s left of them is a box of receipts. They’re as broken as him. All I can do is feel sad.’
I hold Jude as she cries. As the sun goes down the moths emerge from the shadows, dancing above the grass. Rainbow lorikeets rush into the trees, slashing the sky with their songs. A toddler rides past us on a three-wheeler singing: If You’re Happy And You Know It. An elderly man tips his hat, wishing us a pleasant evening. I am struck by the good and the bad in life all at once and how you just never know what’s coming next. But mostly, there’s the realisation that the perfect life is rarely just that – there is always a flaw lying somewhere beneath the surface. My grandmother always said : Be Happy With Your Lot. I think she was right, because your lot might just be a damn sight better than someone else’s.