I wake to the sound of thunder, to morning in monochrome, color sucked from the sky.
I begin to wonder: Am I missing the women who used to populate my life? Am I grieving their departure, or am I also a woman who walked away – turning my back on friends and loved ones without realizing?
- Do women walk away from passion more often than we think?
- Do women walk away from a fight more easily than men?
- Do women walk away from each other, at the most critical times?
Passion is a powerful word; it resonates with its own importance, its multiplicity of meanings. It is, in each of us, a flowering of inexplicable roots.
I study the sturdy assemblage of letters. They seem hardy, indestructible. The word “pass” stands firmly at passion’s door: as though we could – and must – step through into its embrace.
The word passion conjures sexual intensity, soulful struggle, fervent and pursuit – all-consuming emotion directed in ways that overtake judgment, inspire accomplishment, and tumble into a fair share of folly.
Yet the origin of the word is hurt, or suffering. A strength of feeling that is, ultimately, consuming.
Are some of us more wired to be passionate, whether directed at a person or a field of endeavor? Are we unable to live without a level of engagement and vitality that promises dizzying heights – emotional, physical, and intellectual – even with the risks involved?
In times of storm, our passions toss us wildly, threatening to sweep us away or pull us under.
Sometimes, to save ourselves, we must walk away.
There are echoes: a residue that burns its faint music into the bones; it is an incurable thing, a luminous illness, an awareness of sorrows, a final deep breath of self.
Then we march on, mastering the art of our newly acquired shallow, measured breathing.
- Is walking away from passion more prevalent in women than men?
- Is it only so in relationships? Is it so in sexual encounters?
- And in pursuit of our most profound dreams?
If we turn away more often, is it because we are the shoulder, the backbone, the strong center upon which others depend?
Is passion easier to pursue before we have children because we haven’t yet been split open, life pulled from our bellies, and in the emerging bond which holds us we realize a potency strong enough to change everything that comes after?
Why do women walk away from a fight? Why are we less likely to choose violence, unless pushed to defend our own?
I’m speaking of fighting for our tiny patches of turf, for our glimpses at what we really want, for our rights to live as we wish. I’m speaking of emotional rights and financial rights and professional rights. Rights, and rites of passion.
A woman’s rights are always about human rights.
- Is the notion of fighting for or fighting back learned?
- Is it circumstantial?
- Is it generational?
Do we weary sooner than the men, when it comes to the battlefield? Are we held back by a desire to make peace even when peace promises the wrong choice, convincing ourselves we are doing so for our children, hoping they will have what we did not – a chance at passion?
Without self, we sleepwalk. We serve no example.
- Do women walk away from who they are?
- Do we turn, just slightly, from seeing ourselves?
- Does it happen in barely perceptible shifts that occur in relationships, in marriages, in the minutiae of daily compromises that ultimately chip away at who we are?
- Or who we could have been?
If we turn from ourselves, is it because we’ve lost our mirrors? Have we lost the courage to look into them? Or is that kind of searching inward too exhausting, too grueling, too encumbering – so we walk away from ourselves and others in order to survive?
Not all women do these things. Some women walk away at certain junctures and it isn’t black or white, and it isn’t yes or no. It isn’t like this Sunday sky, all darkness and mourning. It may be a single circumstance that triggers one loss; it may be a pooling of circumstances, a rush, a flood, a deluge beyond damming up, beyond sand or sackcloth, beyond anything we can do until it subsides on its own.
Then we break out the mops so we may clean up. We wait and mop again if we must.
We get down in the mud. We see what we can salvage.
Women who walk away from each other
Sometimes women walk away from each other when we need each other most. Perhaps this is a natural erosion that comes with the years, a necessary withdrawal from friendships and feelings that are too intense to sustain, especially with dwindling resources.
Perhaps we aren’t alone in this. Perhaps men walk away from each other, and from themselves. But I cannot say if our men will admit this. Perhaps they are more likely to walk away from women.
Once, amazing women peopled my life. We were younger then; it was a time before stony marriages and crumbling careers, before devastating illnesses and the weariness of raising children.
It was a time before shadows: celebrations in shadow, silences in shadow, even growth – in shadow.
It is thundering again. When it storms, the dog scratches at my door and I let her in. If it is late at night, then I will not sleep because she circles restlessly in fear and the scratching of her nails on the hardwood will wake me. But I let her in so she will not be alone. I let her in so I will not be alone.
But it is morning, and she is frightened like a small child – cowering, coming close, wanting contact.
She seeks refuge from whatever it is about the noise that terrifies her; I have always been her refuge and I will remain in that role for as long as it takes.
At times, she is so afraid that I sit on the floor and lean against a wall for support. She climbs into my lap, despite her size and weight at nearly 80 pounds. And I stroke her face and I hold her as I would hold my child and stroke his brow and hair if he were upset. As I would comfort any child seeking solace, whispering that everything will be alright, relieved to serve some purpose.
When women walk away from battle, I believe they do so to be able to say everything will be alright. Somewhere in the picture, there is a child who needs to be protected.
When women stand and fight, it is for the same reason. But we haven’t read the Art of War, or if we have, we haven’t lived its teachings in the ways of men who fight. We are inexperienced warriors. Our casualties are numerous.
When women walk away from passion, we abandon our selves.
If it is passion in love, we cling to ephemera and detritus, and we say we are grateful. The detritus makes us smaller. The ephemera lightens us: worn love letters, fading snapshots. Physical sensations of lovemaking return freely in our night dreaming. There are dried petals of a rose once glowing and alive, now pressed between pages in a yellowing journal.
There is a child’s face.
Somewhere, always, there is a child’s face.
If it is passion in pursuit of our dreams, we will ache until our memories are obliterated by age or exhaustion. Or we will circle back to ourselves, to our passions, however many years have passed, and we may dare to push against the door as it opens – first a crack, then an inch, then into the light. Whatever the outcome, we must turn toward the light.
When women walk away from each other, they leave behind a battered soldier who has little recourse but to turn and walk away herself. Sometimes it is only a few steps, but they are steps backward. They are steps into darkness.
When women walk away from women with malice, it is a strange, bristling, soundless sort of betrayal. It is a killing thing. And women are not made to be killers. We are defenders. But do not provoke us into war; we protect our own, fiercely.
When women walk away from a family, I have trouble understanding, yet I know enough to comprehend that it is about survival, and possibly, family survival. I also understand there are many ways to walk away. Some are physical, some are emotional, some are chemical. Sometimes there is apathy. Sometimes there is rage. And where there is rage, there may be blood.
Sometimes there is a ghost that goes through the motions: hands to soap the dishes, arms to empty the laundry basket, feet to travel the produce aisle, a voice that says everything will be alright though there is neither conviction nor reliance.
If there are ghosts, the children will see them and opt for their presence. Children believe in presence even if it inflicts pain. But children can be wrong in their perceptions and assessments. Perhaps it is better to walk away from the phantom. From all the phantoms.
Women for women, as best they can
After divorce, men and women may lose the friendships that were once owned by the “couple.” Sometimes, one lobbies or manipulates to gain custody of the friends, much as they struggle over possession of everything else.
If you add a dramatic change in circumstance – issues of finance or social status, revelations of some other life-altering event that cannot be foreseen – then people walk away out of discomfort or fear.
They do not say the words but they experience them all the same: If it could happen to her, it could happen to me.
The woman following a dramatic change becomes a contagion. Distances open like wounds. Friends, allies, even family members may disappear. Sometimes in pieces. Sometimes, suddenly. I do not think they do so easily, but they do so. It will not be everyone you love, everyone you count on, but many may turn away, you may not blame them. I do not blame them.
This is the time when angels surprise us, angels who unfold their wings from their hidden hearts, sharing no history with our other selves, and bearing no scars of a future that has been discarded.
Sometimes, our angels may be men. They spread our legs in jubilation and wonder, filling us with the coin of their realm. Tearfully, gratefully, boldly, we may walk away feeling richer and with resources enough to live for awhile. Their gold is jostling in our bellies.
Sometimes men offer friendship with their currency, and now we have silver to add to our growing good fortune even if the burden of carrying this wealth becomes hard to sustain. And yet we bear it.
We always bear the weight of men.
I have never been wise when it comes to recognizing the enemy, but women have never been the enemy. They gift me with tales and hopefulness, with sisterhood and mothering, with mischief and practicality. They challenge me, they inspire me, they instruct me, they cherish me, as I have challenged, inspired, instructed and cherished them.
Yet the years and miles intervene. Illness slows us. Accidents lead us down unexpected paths. Responsibilities determine our priorities. We wade through heavy chapters as best we can. Sometimes we lose each other between the lines or simply turning a page, suddenly bereft at finding ourselves so alone.
My friends of many decades are scattered across the country, and we are increasingly out of touch as we are separated by our daily battles that are private, by our worries that are consuming, by our lifestyles. Some of us are separated by judgments. Some of us are separated by fear of contagion.
The dark, the light
It is morning and yet it is as dark as midnight and rain is falling steadily. I hear it on the roof, on the tinny ventilation pipes that poke through shingle and asphalt. It is a lightless start of day and so memories are spilling over like the water that is rushing through the gutters that are thick with pine needles and debris, the water that gushes over the aluminum lip, the water that pours down hard onto the ground where it submerges plant beds and destroys.
I come to understand that it is temporary destruction.
When life spills over, some women walk away while others will stay and fight or stand in support. But weariness may suck us under and we find ourselves walking away from passion, from kinship, from community; we walk away from whatever frightens us because we feel we must, and yet we miss the women in our lives, the women who never intended to walk away, the women who are unafraid – or were, as I was once – but who are caught in the complications of their own battles, struggling for their next breath in the shallows or the depths.
To some of these women, perhaps it seems that I am the one who walked away. And it is “only” that I am fighting for my next breath, still stroking the dog’s coat as she trembles through the thunder, still holding my children close to my breast whenever they need me, still trying to find the voice to whisper my all too fragile mantra: everything will be alright.
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