I am casually acquainted with a man, who is falling apart before my eyes. I meet him on the sidewalk where he tells me what malady has recently befallen him. I can’t remember how the casual confidences began. Recently, we had a conversation about his ability to work. He told me he had no choice but to work, however slowly, because he is not eligible for disability. It pains him to work, as it pains him to do everything else. If I catalogued all that has been replaced in his body, you’d wonder if the original man could survive without all of the artificial parts.
Last week, on the sidewalk, he told me, he will never have sex again. He cannot tolerate the muscle contractions. He is sad, so sad that his worries are aired during our sidewalk encounters.
I’m trapped in a male dominated industry, which is challenging on the best days and trying on the worst. I happened to waste almost an entire day, last week, tolerating a meeting than ran on and on and on, while every man there got his two cents worth in and, in most instances, it wasn’t worth two cents.
I was relieved to find time to talk with a woman, working with one of the businesses represented. She took my hand in both of her own and told me she knew she could trust me. She can. She went on to tell me a long story about something she did 20 years ago, before she was married to her husband. She lived with the secret for 20 years, punishing herself for something she had done that involved a sin of omission, averting disclosure. Over the years she’d worried, wondered, and sometimes felt threatened by her secret. Finally, the secret exploded in extortion. She ignored her fears and went directly to her husband to tell him what she’d done before they had married.
She said, “Twenty years ago I had sex with your cousin. It didn’t mean anything to me and it didn’t mean much to him. It was a mistake and I’m sorry I didn’t tell you earlier. He is trying to blackmail me.” She and her husband were very quiet and careful with each other for a few days. Finally, he told her he wanted to talk about something. He asked if she’d mind if they bought two alpacas. He said he’d always wanted some and since the dog died, last spring, he’d been considering it seriously. Then he said, “That business with Jack is ancient history. I know who you are and I love you. Jack won’t bother you again.” She showed me a picture of her husband feeding the alpacas.