The Woman from Everywhere and Nowhere

August 30, 2008

In my last episode, I mentioned a woman who began a class with a scowl and then transitioned to laughing at my jokes. As my employer is becoming more and more obsessed with anonymity, I will just refer to her as (..). 

One reason I am alert for scowls in my classes, is that I have sometimes been accused of not “smiling enough.” I agree this is probably a grievous fault on my part. I like it better when people smile at me than frown at me; at least, as long as the smiles strike me as genuine and sincere and not the product of over-dependence on anti-depressants or the result of a phony and manipulative idea of “customer service.” So I should smile more often, but as I am not a friendly person, at least I am not a phony friendly person.

In fact, I may discover a special bond with the frowning person. We sometimes turn out to be especially compatible. In the first class, once I saw the scowling woman was not in serious uproar with me, I paid more attention to the woman who had lost much of her short-term memory.

A few days later, I met (..) again. She participated in three classes in one day at a different library.

We seemed to now have a “relationship” (platonic) going, so I asked her, “Last time I saw you, you were reluctant to tell me where you were from? Are you willing to tell me now?”

“Sure,” she said, and told me. She is not Japanese or Chinese, but comes from an area that might be loosely called in the “general neighborhood” of those two countries.

 

My wife is a small woman. my wife’s diminutive size bothers her in two ways. First, she dreams of being what she calls a “brute.” By this she seems to mean that she would like to have the capability of knocking somebody out who irritates her (as many people do) with one swift punch.

Second, her bosom is small; she feels herself discriminated against in our breast-obsessed society. She is not greedy; “I just want to be ‘normal-sized,’ she snarls. I have said to her on many an occasion: “If you lived in Japan or China, you would fit in perfectly both in terms of stature and of chest bumps.”

 

The interesting thing about (..) is that she doesn’t fit her apparent ethnic group. She is about 5’10” in height. Yes, she is slim and without excessive body fat, but she is big-framed and looks capable of defending herself well in a rumble. She also has a bosom of pleasing proportions to her height and build.

My classes are brief. I have found it useful to get quick assessments of my students as the class starts. Lately, I have been concentrating on the “extrovert-introvert” dimensions. “Some of you are extroverts and some of you are introverts,” I tell my classes. The introverts will tell me about themselves first; when I don’t abuse the first responders for speaking up, the introverts then consider it safe to take a small risk and cautiously reveal a bit about themselves.

In the first class of the day, I asked, “Extroverts, please raise your hands.”

(..) waved her hand vigorously, bobbed up and down, and generally called attention to herself.

I then said, “Introverts, please raise your hands. By the way, if you don’t raise your hand for either group, I know what you are, but I won’t tell.”

A few people cautiously raised their hands.

(..) waved her hand vigorously, bobbed up and down, and generally called attention to herself. I concluded: she is a vigorous extrovert and a vigorous introvert.

 

She is also a woman who seems to “contain multitudes,” as Walt Whitman so pungently described himself. From reading David’s blog, I have become aware that has multiple parts of his personality as a result of childhood trauma. He refers to them as his “alternates.” Although I was skeptical about this phenomenon when he first talked about it, I now tend to believe him. For one thing, some of his comments to me in the past seemed to have a strange tone to them; taking these as comments from one of his alternates makes some sense to me.

In evaluating (..)’s behavior and mannerisms, it occurs to me that she may be a person with alternate personalities. I have been working to “hook up” David with Truce (who currently resides in Australia), but perhaps (..) may be a better option; Seattle is less of a transportation challenge than Sydney. Does she have multiple alternates who could hook up with each of David’s alternates? More likely they would only have multiple ways to be incompatible. I will stay with my Truce plan.

(Most likely, I am just drawing bizarre conclusions with no basis in reality.)

 

(..) is also volatile. At one point a fellow member of the class asked her a perfectly innocent question. As part of her answer she said, “…yes, sir.”

The gentleman said, “I just noticed that you said, ‘Yes, sir’; were you in the military? I was in the military myself.”

She said, rather coolly, “Yes, I was in the military.”

The gentleman, with natural curiosity, asked her about her military service. Her face immediately froze into a stiff mask that communicated I’m not even giving you my name, rank, and serial number, much less any other information.

 

She took three classes from me during the day. After each class she remained in the classroom to ask me some technical computer questions; I in turn asked her some impertinent personal questions which she answered not only freely but in a spendthrift fashion; we gradually got to know each other.

The interesting feature of our on-going all day conversation was that my mental picture of her changed as the day progressed. In the morning she would tell me one thing about herself; in the afternoon, the story would change, and change again by the evening class; not in the sense that she had been lying about herself, but in that new layers and depths and perspectives revealed themselves to me.

If I were a talented writer of fiction, I might be able to use her as the nucleus of a short story of surpassing brilliance. As a mere and very ordinary blog memoirist, I will simply reveal the final story as best I can.

 

She told me that she had worked for a hospital for twenty years and then lost her job. She is now taking free computer classes to help improve her job skills. My impression is that her job in the hospital had not been a highly skilled one. She berated herself for not taking the opportunity to improve her skills while she had been working at I don’t know what, but it was probably more as a custodian or cafeteria worker than as a doctor or a nurse. [Truth eventually turned out a little differently than I thought, but not shocking.]

She told me that she had recently been divorced. At first, I had the impression that she had decided to divorce her partner for a typical husband-type offense, but as they day went on, she explained that their marriage had been perfectly happy (or so she thought) for twenty years, until one day he told her he no longer loved her and was moving out.

“Mid life crisis?” she wondered.

She also told me that she had an 18-year-old son living at home. He doesn’t have a job (“He gets jobs, but then he loses them,” she told me.) Son lolls around the house, probably takes illegal drugs, sleeps until noon, refuses to help with household chores, hangs out with disreputable friends, and so on, she lamented.

At first, I thought she was completely fed up with her son and was desperate to get him to move out and support himself, or at least leave her alone.

“I called the police,” she said, “and asked them to talk to him.” The cop took her son outside and talked to the boy. He then brought the son back in and said, “There is nothing we can do. It is your problem.”

“I hoped the cop would at least scare him,” she lamented, “But my son didn’t care. He just laughed about the cop. There doesn’t seem to be anyone who can help me.”

It became clear to me that she in fact loves her son greatly; rather than wanting him out, she just wanted to help him.

“I go to church every day and pray for him,” she said.

She said she comes to a library every day and takes every computer class she can. “It keeps me busy and takes my mind off my troubles,” she said. I was beginning to understand why she frequently scowled. As I said at the start, she is a woman who has not been physically injured (as far as I can tell), but who has been severely buffeted by psychological vicissitudes, caused by her fervent desire to do the right thing.

 

(To be continued: this mini novel is still continuing and developing)

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5 Responses to “The Woman from Everywhere and Nowhere”


  1. There’s just no greater death knell for a healthy life than trying to do the right thing. Kick the kid out, write the husband off, and get on with it, I say. I’d be happy to tell her so. Send her down here and let Jack straighten her out. She’ll probably never recover from it, but hey, that’s not my collective problem.

    I think probably she has no idea what an introvert or extrovert really is … she just wants to feel that she has an answer, because people in classes who have answers are noticed. She’d probably stand up enthusiastically and wave if you asked the class to voluntarily identify which of them consider themselves to be serial killers.


  2. I need more coffee. “Probably” three times in two paragraphs? Someone, please send the style police over to threaten me appropriately.

  3. modestypress Says:

    Actually, she is quite intelligent and sophisticated. There was a knowing and self-mocking expression on her face as she nodded.

    Actually, that entire class was quite sophisticated. When I started talking about extroverts and introverts, people started talking about their Myers-Briggs profiles and one person said, “I am an introvert who has learned how to behave like an extrovert.”

    The style police are taking the day off, so you are on your own to run amok as you please.


  4. That is quite an educated class, with the Myers-Briggs contingent. It’s an interesting test … a little too revealing at times, perhaps.

    I apologize for maligning the sophistication of your student. 🙂

  5. pandemonic Says:

    I think I can guess her ethnicity. Perhaps I will email you later with my guess.

    She sounds astonishingly like my own mother. Now there are some stories that I’ve pushed back…


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