In preparation for getting my license, I practiced driving with Mom. She let me take my time as I steered our blue-and-white 1969 Impala convertible down country back roads, through quiet neighborhoods, and eventually into downtown. Then, after I’d successfully parallel-parked three times in a row, Mom said she wanted to show me something. She got out, walked behind the car, and shouted for me to look in both the side and rearview mirrors. Nothing. She wasn’t there.
I’d read in my driver’s ed manual about a car’s blind spots, but I’d filed this information away with other things I learned in school but didn’t quite believe — that everything is made of atoms, for example, or that geometry would prove useful in real life. When it came to blind spots, however, my mother made a believer out of me.
It’s been years since Mom died. Friends tell me how their deceased mothers appear to them in dreams on a regular basis. One claims she and her mom talk more since her mom died than when she was alive. I envy her. I want the same to be true for me. I have tried, before sleep, to invoke my mother in my dreams, but with no luck. I have had no conversations with her; just the occasional feeling that she’s with me, hidden from view.
For most of my life, I assumed I was in control of my health. I rarely got sick and had little compassion for those who did. In my twenties I took up long-distance running because I’d heard it would improve both my mental capacity and my immune system. I got the flu once, but other than that I cannot recall ever being ill in my twenties.
In my thirties, I exchanged running for Sufi dancing, because I’d heard stories of near-miraculous healing associated with Sufi work — everything from relief of lower-back pain to cancer remission. I became more selective about what I put into my body, spurning drugs, alcohol, meat, dairy products, and sometimes even sugar, while consuming vast quantities of organic vegetables. And I came to believe that all disease was self-induced, that sickness was the result of either bad eating habits or lack of spiritual balance.
About seven years later, a close friend was diagnosed with lymphoma while still in her forties. I was shocked and horrified by her rapid deterioration and death in less than six months. Here was a woman who had devoted herself to Sufi practice and healthful eating for more than twenty years. How could she die of cancer? Was it possible that Sufism did not provide immunity from disease, after all?
With time, the shock of my friend’s death faded, and I reassured myself with various rationalizations: She was never very grounded, anyway, and was probably holding on to too much anger. Who knows? She might have died even sooner if not for the Sufi work.
When my older sister was diagnosed with breast cancer three years ago, it was a lot easier for me to explain: she smoked, drank, and ate rich foods. Although I gave her several books on alternative cancer therapies, she cast her lot with traditional medicine — had a mastectomy and took chemotherapy. As far as I was concerned, chemotherapy was poison and went against everything I believed about the body and health. We grew apart.
Both my parents died this year. In the face of this stunning loss, my health theories were not very consoling. On the advice of a friend, I began reading books about death as a natural part of life, and about spiritual teachers who, while dying of cancer, had described the illness as a gift: a means of purification, an aid in getting to the next level. In a flash, I saw that all my running, dancing, and healthy eating were really just strategies for cheating death. I saw my pride and arrogance. I saw my harsh judgment of my sister and my friend. How could I not have recognized the irrefutable, inescapable truth — that we all die?
In college, I was attracted to a man named Daniel, who said he was straight. I was openly gay, myself, although not the type to go to bars or participate in a lot of “gay community” events.
For some reason Daniel allowed me to get close to him, and after knowing each other almost a year, we became part of a ménage à trois with a woman. The relationship began spontaneously (each of us swore he didn’t start it) and lasted six months. During that time, the three of us were equally sexual with each other, and Daniel seemed to have no problem with this. Once, though, when we were talking about our previous sexual experiences, Daniel said that, to him, only intercourse counted as “real” sex. By this definition, Daniel and I hadn’t been having sex at all.
Several months later, I began to wonder how our relationship might be affecting Daniel’s ideas about his sexuality. I asked him if he thought he could ever be in a permanent relationship with a man.
“No,” he said, “I don’t think I could be gay.”
“Why not?” I asked.
He answered, “I just don’t like going to bars.”
As a young woman, I fell in love with a married man ten years older than I. Steve was intelligent, successful, worldly, strong, and many other things I was not but wanted to be. To my great surprise, Steve fell in love with me, too. We had a brief, passionate affair — one to which I have since compared all other romances.
At one point, Steve told me his wife had sensed something was different between them, and he’d almost told her about me. I was startled. I had never thought of myself as a threat to their marriage. “I wish I could give you everything,” he told me once, and I cried to think that he loved me that much, but I had never envisioned a life with him.
A few weeks later, I felt a change in Steve. He became distant and started treating me like his mistress, not his lover. I knew immediately what was going on: He had been considering leaving his wife for me, and now that he’d decided not to break up his marriage, he didn’t want me to settle for a relationship confined to secret meetings and telephone calls. So, out of kindness, he’d begun to act as if he didn’t care for me.
I didn’t let go so easily, however. I hung on as the relationship deteriorated. Finally, I moved thousands of miles away to keep from seeing him. But I never stopped loving him. Even after getting married, I still thought of Steve and missed him. I’d wonder how he was, and how it would be if we saw each other again.
Recently, I came to a realization: I’ve been lying to myself all these years. The truth is, Steve stopped acting like he loved me because he stopped loving me.
My brother is not a cautious driver. He’s wrecked two of the three cars he has owned and carries high-risk auto insurance. He tailgates, doesn’t use turn signals, and drives either much faster or much slower than the surrounding traffic. The most frightful thing about his driving is his absolute refusal to check his blind spots when changing lanes. All he does is glance in the rearview mirror.
Being his big sister is as frustrating and frightening as being a passenger in his truck. My brother can be gruff, stubborn, and ungrateful. The coddled only son and middle child, he learned at an early age how to get whatever he wanted, whether it was the bow and arrow, the McDonald’s meal when he didn’t like what Mom had made for dinner, or the trendy Nikes that cost a quarter of our father’s meager weekly income. My brother simply pouted until our parents gave in. On top of this, he rarely said thank you or showed any gratitude for the lavish birthday and Christmas gifts they gave him every year, just to see him smile.
It all came to a head on my brother’s nineteenth birthday, when Mom bought him a rather expensive portable electronic keyboard. Music was one of the few things he’d taken pleasure in during high school, and he seemed to miss it now that he was in college. So Mom thought the keyboard was an ideal gift. When my brother unwrapped the present, however, he couldn’t hide his disgust.
“It’s portable,” Mom said hopefully, “so you can take it to school with you.”
He said nothing, just stared at the box, not even bothering to open it.
“Don’t you like it?” Mom asked.
My brother responded by burying the unopened box beneath the discarded wrapping paper. He didn’t even look up as Mom broke into tears and fled the house.
I had never before felt so angry at my brother. I lashed out at him, screaming that I hated him and calling him an ingrate and a selfish bastard. He stormed out of the house, and we did not see or hear from him for about six weeks.
He’s never apologized for the way he acted, and I’ve never apologized for the awful things I said, but my brother has matured since his nineteenth birthday. He can still be moody or mean, but now he apologizes later. He also seems to have developed a capacity for empathy. After I experienced a miscarriage, he called to tell me how sorry he was, and there was a comforting tone to his voice that I had never heard before.
Recently, I returned for a visit, and my brother, home for the summer, took me to a baseball game. He drove, and I wasn’t surprised to find that his driving skills hadn’t improved. As he jerked from one lane to another in heavy traffic, I asked him why he didn’t check his blind spot. He chuckled and replied, “Because I can see just fine in the rearview mirror.” I laughed, too, and decided to just look straight ahead for the rest of the ride.
Greensboro, North Carolina
The sun slices through the Venetian blinds onto the kitchen table. Soon it will slice across my mother’s fluffy pink robe. I stir some honey into my tea and ask if poor Aunt Faye still visits the grave of her husband, George, every week, talking to him as though he were there.
George was my father’s brother. Five years ago, in the middle of their divorce, George told Faye she could have the house, and then he shot himself. This I’ve always known. But I’m surprised now to hear that, when Faye first filed for divorce, George threatened to shoot both her and her lawyer.
“Everyone in your father’s family is like that,” my mother says casually. “When your grandparents were getting divorced, Grampa used to wait outside Gramma’s apartment with a revolver. They were so afraid he would kill her, they got a restraining order, and your father had to testify against him in court. Can you imagine? Dad was Grampa’s favorite son.”
Suddenly, from the next room, I hear my father shout into the phone, “You better come back here and take care of the crappy job you did on my kitchen cabinets, or I will shoot you!”
I can’t see anything wrong with the cabinets. “Who is Dad yelling at?” I ask.
“The contractor,” Mom sighs. “I can’t believe he’s still upset about that. I should never have said anything.”
Later, sitting on the floor with Mom looking through some old photo albums, I notice an angry purple bruise on her leg. I touch it with my finger. “Do you still bruise easily, Mom?” I ask, watching her face closely.
“Yes,” she says. “I always have.” She turns the page. I try not to wonder where the bruises come from. I don’t want to know.
Santa Barbara, California
I am a handyman by profession and write a home-repair column. There are plenty of us home-repair authors out there, but I give one piece of advice that sets me apart from the rest: do nothing.
I have worked on my comfortable old apartment in San Francisco for more than twenty-three years now, trying to make it “perfect.” In the process, I’ve discovered that perfection is: (1) not a permanent state; (2) not only transitory, but rare; and (3) often not worth pursuing in the first place.
Case in point: hairline cracks in plaster. This is earthquake country, and though we go awhile between big ones, we have small ones all the time — just enough to undo repairs. I could spend a good portion of my time carefully patching cracks and repainting. Instead, I simply don’t see the cracks.
Often, I begin projects that cannot be completed all at once. For example, I have gradually remodeled my entire kitchen except for one section of counter that I cut out in preparation for replacing the whole counter top — seven years ago. But I can walk through my kitchen, taking pleasure in all the fruits of my labors, and not even see the gap in the counter top. It is invisible, and will remain so until I am prepared to do something about it.
There’s an unpainted space on the wall, where my file cabinet used to sit. I moved it last year and will eventually paint the area, but in the meantime I see only the large blue vase on the nearby counter, the charming little shelf I built from scrap wood, the shining chrome hardware on the window.
Some years ago, I did a thorough inventory of every room in my apartment, listing everything I intended to fix, restore, clean, upgrade, paint, or change. For the next few months, that multipage list lay on my desk like a stern reproach. Then I simply tore it up. Now I walk through my home feeling pleased with what I see. Everywhere I look, there is some wonderful detail to note, some touch that makes me happy — and no noticeable flaws. Believe me, it’s not a bad way to live.
Mark A. Hetts
San Francisco, California
I seldom saw my father while I was growing up. A doctor, he was always at the office or the hospital, or else playing golf. I have few memories of him, and only two happy ones: when he made scrambled eggs on a Sunday morning, and the time he bought halvah at a delicatessen and broke me off a crumbly, oily bite.
I do remember on Labor Day when I was eleven, my sister and I went bike riding with my father, a rare event. Before we left, he brought out his tools and tinkered with my bike, fixing something; I can’t remember what. A mile later, heading down a steep hill, I realized I had no brakes. I sped past my sister, past my father. Although I was moving very fast, the world seemed to slow down, giving me time to think about the yellow flashing light at the intersection at the bottom of the hill. I thought about putting my foot down to stop the bike, but I looked at the ground speeding past in a gray blur and was too frightened to try. Spotting a driveway on the left, I cut my handlebars to turn into it, too late, and smashed into a wooden fence.
When I got up, my head was spinning sickeningly, and my eyelid was torn and hanging. My father the doctor had little sympathy for illness and pain, however. Wounds, blood, and abrasions did not alarm him. He insisted I walk my bicycle home.
I am thirty-three now and live on the opposite side of the country from my father. Our relationship is cordial but distant. A few years back, I began to reflect on this incident: Why hadn’t my father summoned help, or at least let me lie down? Why had he made me trudge home injured, pushing a bent bicycle?
This year, I met my father and his third wife for dinner at a restaurant, and I asked if he remembered the bike ride, the accident. He stared at me blankly.
“On Labor Day?” I said. “When I was eleven? You worked on my bike, and I ended up with no brakes?”
He looked puzzled. He had no memory of it at all.
I had always prided myself on being rational and levelheaded, so becoming the disciple of an Indian guru, taking a Sanskrit name, and leaving a successful career to move into an ashram at age thirty-six felt slightly out of character. My grandmother worried I was joining a cult. My father harbored suspicions about this charismatic guru and his devoted followers. But my husband and I were convinced we had found someone who would lead us out of the darkness of delusion and into the light of God.
I remember the first time I bowed at the guru’s feet; they were cool and dry against my forehead, and smelled of incense. His eyes, when I sought them, looked at me with all the love and purity I longed for. Was this what the early disciples of Christ had felt, this heart-opening rush of devotion?
My husband and I sold our home and gave a portion of the proceeds to the ashram. Housing was tight, so we lived in separate dorms for months, considering ourselves lucky to be living there at all. We served the ashram six and a half days a week in exchange for room and board and a stipend of thirty dollars a month for necessities like shampoo and shoes. But we wanted nothing material to stand in the way of our spiritual progress. We were busy, happy, devoted, and certain we were on our way to God.
As my husband and I rose in the ranks of the guru’s disciples, we landed positions that allowed us to see the behind-the-scenes reality of the man we’d believed was so pure. For example, while we all worked for nothing, the guru raked in huge sums of money through various schemes. He spoke passionately about simplicity, but was secretly fervent about his bank account.
When we questioned the guru’s financial arrangements, older residents responded, “At least he’s just into money — not power or sex.” Our illusions shattered, we left the ashram and began to pick up the pieces of the lives we’d given up. (A year later, after admitting he’d had inappropriate sexual relations with several female disciples, the guru resigned as spiritual director of the ashram.)
I have looked long and hard at how blindly I accepted the guru, how I mistook the validity of his teachings for personal perfection. So desperate was I for a clear road map to enlightenment, that I was willing to close my eyes to what should have been plainly evident.
And yet, for each time I’ve berated myself, I’ve also said a prayer of thanksgiving. Through his imperfections, the guru erased from my mind the paradigm of the perfect master, leaving me free to live my own life and find my own answers. Is there any greater teaching than that?
When our child was born, my wife and I were immediately caught up in the euphoria of being first-time parents and couldn’t stop marveling over this new human being we’d brought into the world. We had little immediate family around to help out, though, so our excitement was soon tempered with exhaustion.
Six weeks later, my mother came for a short visit. I was eagerly anticipating some much-needed rest, but she showed almost no interest in playing with or holding the baby.
Watching my mother board the plane home and reflecting on how the weekend had gone, I thought to myself, I guess she just isn’t a kid person. Then I realized: She never was.
They say that love is blind. I sure seem to need a new pair of glasses, at least. Whenever I get close to a man I’m attracted to, I suddenly lose sight of his most obvious faults.
Take Bob, who loved cats and whom I thought was a genius. When I went to his house for our first date, I ignored the newspapers, Coke bottles, and other junk piled everywhere, leaving barely enough room to walk. At least he cleared the bed; that was something. By the time I found out that Bob hadn’t paid his taxes in years, that he was in trouble with the federal government for defaulting on his school loan, and that he was ignoring a large cyst on his cat’s chin, it was too late. I had to live with him for eight months until the lease was up.
Then there was Charles. He played the piano and was a photographer and illustrator. No matter that he smoked three packs of cigarettes a day, while I hated smoking, or that I ate health food and he bought bubble-gum-flavored canned pudding at the grocery outlet. Art was what counted. Of course, he also graphed his disturbed moods on a crumpled piece of paper he carried in his pocket, and wrote down his every thought, sex act, and dream in his journal, then sent copies to his mother. He said he’d rather be a bum than punch a time clock; even the thought of a job interview made him sweat. I was grateful when he let me go.
Tim was a large man with a deep voice, a big potbelly, and frizzy hair. Though we once had sex eight times in a day, he said if I’d only lose fifteen pounds he’d be “all over” me. This he said with his potbelly hanging out of his jeans. One time, he turned to me with a childlike expression and asked, “Do you think I’m handsome?” I said yes, because I loved him, but he wasn’t going to win any contests.
I may have a blind spot when it comes to love, but sooner or later the sun breaks through the clouds, and I can see again.
My childhood was haunted by the spectres of dead relatives and marching SS soldiers and high-ranking Nazi officials. During my waking hours, I watched Ozzie and Harriet and Leave It to Beaver, but barbed wire and snarling dogs inhabited my dreams. In school, I learned the history of sixteenth-century explorers and Pilgrims landing at Plymouth Rock, but my history was Kristallnacht, Hitler’s annexation of Austria, the invasion of Holland, and the bombing of London — all of which my parents had witnessed and survived.
In high school, when I developed friendships with people from outside my mostly immigrant neighborhood, I was shocked to learn that this history was a complete surprise to some of them — even to other Jews. I could not imagine a reality that did not include Auschwitz, Bergen-Belsen, or the Babi Yar massacre. Some of my friends wanted to learn more about this history; some did not. I developed a sixth sense about who would rather not know.
During the civil-rights movement, I was shocked and angered by my parents’ lack of response to the struggle. They were in a new, safe country now, able to blind themselves to the oppression of others. Besides, there was not much room left in their lives for anyone else’s suffering.
Now I find myself growing similarly unwilling to see. For years, I thought that compassion demanded living with a full awareness of every horror that transpired, that to do less was a betrayal of history — and, ultimately, of my family. Yet I have long since stopped learning the details of atrocities. There is not much I can tell you about Kosovo or Rwanda. All the particulars of genocidal slaughter and vanished families and murderous villains pass by me now. I turn the page in the newspaper, turn off the news.
A new generation of children has grown up with new nightmares of destruction, new images of monsters. I try to keep them in my heart, and I wonder if they would be as surprised as I was to learn that people like me do not know their history.
San Francisco, California
My friend aces all the other tests — names the presidents back to Eisenhower; figures the sum of a quarter, dime, nickel, and penny; and spells world backward. I ride a small updraft of hope. Then the neuro-oncologist holds up one finger on each hand, spreads her arms wide, and asks him how many fingers he sees. “One,” he says. Not two. Blind spot in the upper-left quadrant. My heart drops.
The doctor shows us the MRI films, and I flinch when I see the size of the tumor — twice as large as before. It is advancing rapidly, like a wildfire through the forest of his brain.
At forty-nine, my friend is dying. After all the surgery, all the radiation treatments, the steroids, the supplements, the care, the anguish, it still comes down to this. The examining room is too small to contain the devastating news. As the doctor leaves, my friend hugs his wife. Then they walk out to tell family and friends the news.
Mary Beth O’Neill
Low self-esteem must be my blind spot. I cannot count the number of times my poor regard for myself has held me back unnecessarily. Although in high school I made straight A’s, taking the SAT was an insurmountable hurdle; I was afraid a low score would brand me as an idiot forever. I didn’t go to college because I didn’t think I could make the grade — why borrow thousands of dollars only to fail? It seemed easier and safer to get a job and get out of the house. I took the first clerical job I could find and sentenced myself to a mundane existence, convinced that a job was just a means of earning a living to support the loving family I would one day have. Creating a happy family would be my great success.
I promptly married an alcoholic and had a baby. Three years later, I divorced him and set about raising our daughter alone. Naturally, I received no child support from my ex-husband, who couldn’t even support himself, much less anyone else.
I didn’t fare much better in subsequent relationships. The last guy fooled around with a woman from work, drank himself into a stupor night after night, and then left me after deciding I was “not enough fun.”
It has been twenty years since I graduated from high school. One night a week, I attend community college, trying to revive my dream of becoming a writer. I battle my urge to overeat every day of my life. There is no man in my life, because I do not trust my judgment about men, and I have had enough of alcoholics.
Until now, I have taken the easy road to a hard life at almost every turn. Did I subconsciously believe I deserved no better?
Mary Ann G.
San Diego, California
I’m a writer: novels, short stories, poems — I do them all. Of course, I’m convinced that my words are fraught with significance and weighted with sublime wisdom, even though one brutally honest friend has said I sound like Foghorn Leghorn, that cartoon rooster who is always spouting inane profundities.
I believe my sentences are smooth and elegant, that they flow gracefully from the pen and settle into the reader’s head like a fine Chablis. Another friend has told me that trying to get through them reminds him of an obstacle course in basic training.
To me, my words are crimson with passion, poetry disguised as prose, suffused with subtle alliteration. A third amateur critic once said reading “all that flowery stuff” was as bad as being locked in a hothouse.
Then there are those who damn me with faint praise. Do you know what it’s like to present the product of your creative endeavors, the outpouring of your soul, to someone who comments, with a wan smile, “It’s very nice”?
“Very nice”? My cat is very nice. The seat covers in my car are very nice. I want to hear how my story moved you in a way that Hemingway never did. I want to hear how even F. Scott Fitzgerald couldn’t match the artfulness of my descriptions. Save “very nice” for your mother-in-law’s pot roast.
But I pay no attention. In my mind, I paint them all as illiterate Philistines, and I persevere. I labor on into the night, hunched over my glowing laptop like a demented demon stoking the fires of hell. If this is a blind spot, then so be it.
Princeton, New Jersey
I was eighteen when I first tried meditating. I immediately felt at home. My teenage angst, my burning questions about my place in the universe, and the painful memories of a difficult childhood all were lightened for a few blissful moments. I left the zendo glowing and for the rest of the day went happily about the business of baby-sitting two lively children. Suddenly, wiping up spilled milk and singing “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” for the hundredth time didn’t seem so bad.
Enthusiastically embracing Zen the way only a wild youth can, I dropped out of college, sold my car, packed my books, and moved into the Zen Center. At first, Zen was my beloved bridegroom; I could see no fault, no potential rift on the horizon. When I moved into the monastery, however, I began to sense something was missing.
I wanted to hear the voice of the feminine. I wanted to hear how women managed the conflict between their longing for the eternal and the demands of children on their hip; and I wanted to hear how men incorporated their tears, intuition, dreams, and soft hearts into their practice. But most Zen stories ignored women and described spiritual awakening with metaphors of swords and blows. Those stories that did include women portrayed them as questionable spiritual vessels. In one, Buddhist celestial beings demanded that a woman of deep spiritual maturity change into a man before she could reach true enlightenment.
When I brought this up with the Zen priests, they blandly replied that I was a part of a great experiment allowing women to join men in formal Zen practice — which would “probably only lead to more babies.”
How could my beloved Zen be so blind to women’s experiences? And how could I find my place in such a patriarchal tradition? I began secretly reading Wiccan writings and saying clandestine pagan prayers by the river on full-moon nights — then rising at 3 A.M. to join the morning meditation.
In the end, love of meditation practice won out, and for fifteen years I disavowed my longings, eventually taking ordination as a Zen priest. The phrase “Zen is beyond gender” rolled with great sincerity off my tongue.
And then I met a young woman who told me, “I’ve always been drawn to Zen, but I’m also a feminist, and I’ve never felt that I’d be welcome at a Zen center. What has your experience been?”
My throat closed up, and tears came to my eyes. The tradition’s blind spot had become my own.
My husband rarely came home right after work, and never told me where he went. If I asked, he’d yell, “Why are you trying to control me?” Then one night, he didn’t come home at all.
At about 4 A.M., I finally called the police. A cop came to the house to fill out a missing-person report, and I told him Andy had last been seen at work.
When he asked where Andy had gone after work, I didn’t answer. The cop looked up. “He didn’t tell you?” I shook my head. Just then, the phone rang. Answering it, I felt a flood of relief at the sound of Andy’s voice.
“It’s me,” he said. “I’m in jail.”
The cop didn’t seem surprised by the news. This disturbed me. Did I look like the kind of woman whose husband would be in jail? Or maybe that was where most missing husbands turned out to be. After he left, I returned to the phone.
“Here’s what happened,” Andy said. “On my way home, I got a flat tire in a bad neighborhood. I’m out changing the tire when this guy stops to help. Then he asks if I want to get high. We get in the car and smoke a joint, and before I know it, the cops come out of nowhere and I get hauled in.”
“What happened to the guy?” I asked.
“What? Oh, I have no idea,” Andy said. “I guess they took him in, too. I’ll call you back when I’m ready to be bailed out.”
He called back a little later and asked me to come down to the jail. “You won’t believe this,” he said. “The charge they’ve got me under isn’t possession; it’s solicitation. Now, listen to me. I swear I didn’t do anything. While I was sitting in the car, this hooker walked up. She leaned in and said, ‘You looking for a good time?’ So I joked, ‘Yeah, sure, baby.’ She must have been an undercover cop, because here I am in jail. I can’t believe they did this to me.”
My head was spinning. Could this explain his strange behavior? Could the man I’d married actually do something like that? But he was so adamant about his story. Maybe he was telling the truth.
“Honey, please,” Andy went on, “I haven’t slept all night and I’m feeling awful. I’m telling you the truth. I was in the wrong place at the wrong time and got caught up in a sting. I’m innocent — I swear. If you don’t come get me, I’ll spend another night in jail. Please?”
I went to get him. On the way home, he told me he was going to fight this, that it was an outrage, that they would be sure to drop the charges because they had no case.
In the driveway, he turned to me and started crying: “Oh, baby, do you know what it’s like to spend the night in jail? Do you know how awful it is to be accused of something so disgusting?” His shoulders were shaking. “But you know what the worst part is? It’s that my own wife, the person I count on the most, doesn’t believe me. Oh, God, how can you do this to me?” He focused his eyes right on mine. “I love you,” he said. “I wouldn’t lie to you.” He didn’t look away.
I moved closer and touched his hair, then reached around and held him tight.
My neighbor Betty used to tell me repeatedly that her husband, Henry, was wonderful, but I never understood what she saw in him. No one thought Henry was wonderful. Even his brothers said Betty had a blind spot when it came to her husband’s faults.
Betty and Henry had been married seven years, had a son and a daughter, and supported themselves by farming. Henry’s bad temper grew worse as the years passed. He swore at the cows during milking; he kicked the cats; he threw dirt clods at the dog. Betty excused his behavior by saying, “It’s just his way.”
She and the children didn’t fare much better. Henry demanded things, instead of asking. He raised his voice all the time, even in the presence of guests. The children became fearful and learned to stay silent during meals and to spend evenings in their rooms so they wouldn’t disturb their father. Betty told me they all liked a quiet house.
Betty didn’t have many friends, only the women she saw at church and at the grocery store. Still, she never complained. Every Saturday she took the children to town to purchase the week’s food and run errands. Sometimes she would buy them ice-cream cones and candy, which had to be eaten before they reached home, so Henry wouldn’t know. Betty said Henry was a good provider and never squandered his money.
One Saturday, Betty and the children dressed in their Sunday clothes for the trip to the store. She bought picnic supplies, a carton of soda pop, and even some mineral water. (People remembered this because it was so unusual for her.) Then Betty left with the children and was never seen again in that town.
After a couple of months, the minister told me that Betty had called him from her parents’ home. She had been planning the escape for more than a year, saving back part of the household money.
Not even Henry had seen it coming.