The Lives of the Dead

Some of the most interesting people I meet are dead…

Archive for the category “women’s studies”

Bark, Roots, and Berries

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Wal

I was a medicine woman, like my mother before me, and her mother before her.  From the time I was old enough to walk, I foraged with the older women in the woods and the fields,  by the streams and rivers, for roots and bark and leaves and berries with which to make remedies, salves, syrups, and potions.  I soon knew both the proper and their common names of them all.   I knew which very similar-looking green berries were good for settling the stomach and which would cause even greater upset.   I learned the best times and places to harvest green shoots; how to know when their medicine was strongest.  Even out at play or on an errand, I got into the habit of filling my pockets with leaves and flowers that soothed and calmed.

At my mother and grandmother’s side, I learned how prepare each cure, and the proper dose for each ailment.

There were books, too.  Some had been passed down from many mothers before us.  Some were written by my mother and grandmother.  Most other women did not know how to read, but this was a skill essential to our field, and so the knowledge of it was passed down with the other teaching.  Our skill was rudimentary — we needed  just enough to be able to read or write a recipe or describe (and perhaps draw) a plant or flower and where to find it.

This was knowledge that needed to be taught from a young age.  There was too much to learn to start as an adult.

We three women, along with my father, shared a small cottage with a garden for growing that which could be cultivated.

When I was twelve,  my father and grandmother were killed in an accident with the cart, on a steep hill in the rain, on their way home from market in another town.  It was difficult to live without them, for they were both wise and loved by us.   Having no choice, my mother and I carried on.  We were fortunate in that my mother’s skill and calling provided us with enough money to survive in some comfort. We never went hungry, had candles and oil enough for light, and were warm in the winter.

Also in our large town, was a midwife and her daughter who was several years older than me.  The town was small enough that I knew of them  but not so small that we knew each other well.  Our mothers sometimes consulted on women’s matters, but because of our age difference, we   girls did not much associate with each other.

As I got older, I devoted myself to my calling.  My mother passed on when I was in my late 20s. I did not marry.  I should have.  But I never was much interested in the company of men,  and since I was capable of surviving on my own without one,  I didn’t see much point.  I had no mother to urge me to the altar.  I was content, alone in the cottage; just me and my few animals whose company gave me more comfort than most people.

Over the years,  as with our mothers,  it became necessary for me to consult with the midwife’s daughter, who, when her mother died,  took on her mantle,  as I had taken on my own mother’s.  She had married young, had no children, and by then was a widow.

After the first consultation,  we began to find excuses for others.  We enjoyed sitting and discussing the various aspects of our callings. We compared notes and tried to understand why certain cures or techniques worked sometimes, but not always.  Sometimes we experimented together.  For example, I suggested a numbing, healing leaf poultice to ease the tearing and after-pain of childbirth.  She knew a mild sedative that soothed colicky babies..

Our age difference was less important now, and we completely enjoyed each other’s company.  She was truly the first and only friend I ever had in my life.

Several years into our friendship,  there was a large fire in her corner of town, and her house was damaged and uninhabitable.  Several people had been killed, and she felt lucky to have gotten away with her life and her bag of tools.

There was not even a question that she would move in with me.

The fire turned out to be a blessing for both of us, for as we got older,  we found it lovely and comforting to have company in the evenings. If one or the other of us had to go out in the night to attend to a labor or illness,  we could often be accompanied by the other – for company, as protection,  as an extra set of eyes and hands to work.  After a many years like that, we could spell each other if the other was not available or not well enough to travel, and as long as the case was not too complicated.

After only a couple of years together,  we delivered a beautiful baby girl to a mother who died two days after childbirth, despite our best efforts to save her.  The girl’s father was a drunkard and ne’er-do-well.  He had no interest in the child; he saw her only as a burden.  There was no other family.

And so, with her father’s blessing, we took the girl and raised her as our own.  We both taught her our trades. She was smart as a fox, that one,  and learned so fast.  By the time we, her mothers, had passed over,  she was more than capable of fulfilling both our positions for the townsfolk.

She eventually passed her knowledge on to her daughter,  and that daughter to her daughter.  And so this valuable information,  these skills and knowledge which kept the human race alive generation after generation, became the dominion of women.  And thus it went for centuries.  Until the men called it Science and took it away from them.

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If you are enjoying this blog,  please click the link above to subscribe and receive posts via email (new posts every three days).  When you think of others who might enjoy it too,  it’s easy enough to help spread the word! Post your favorite stories to social media.   Email a particularly apt link to a friend.   Even better,  talk about the concepts with others (whether you agree or disagree. )
Also,  I have started a discussion group on Facebook,  for conversations about any of the concepts/issues in the posts.  Honestly, these are things in here which I don’t fully understand myself.  I would love  get your thoughts on this…even if you think this is all a bunch of hooey.
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Asch in Ashes

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Mir

I was thirteen, and my brother sixteen, when we left our family home and set out for the New World.   It was a great adventure – both exciting and terrifying – but as long as I had my brother to care for me, I felt safe.

He and my parents had been saving money to send us both together.  The plan was, they would continue to save and my brother would find work and send money home, until eventually they would join us.

My mother had a younger cousin who had been living in New York for several years. She was, by our standards, a “real American” already,  settled with a husband, an apartment, and a job.  They had agreed to sponsor us and take us in until we could make our own way.

My brother was a big strong boy, tall for his age.  He quickly found work ferrying packages from suppliers to manufacturers, from manufacturers to the showrooms and shops.  It had been agreed by all before we left that I was to continue my education for at least two years.  My parents wanted me to also become a “real American”. They made my brother promise to keep me in school.

Our cousins were very welcoming and kind.  They gave us a corner of their small apartment.  There was just one cot, and my brother and I took turns sleeping in it while the other slept on a pile of folded blankets on the floor.  I often let him have the bed, even when it was my turn because he worked so hard during the day and was so physically exhausted.  I didn’t have the heart to make him sleep on the hard wooden floor.  It was by the grace of his hard work that I was able to remain in school. Since I didn’t have money to contribute,  I made myself as helpful as possible – cleaning,  washing, cooking some simple meals,  doing marketing and errands, mending clothing as I’d been taught by my mother.

When I was 14, and my English passable, my cousin found me a job at a small restaurant owned by her friend and her husband.  The husband cooked and the friend waited tables, but they had a young daughter who needed attention after school while they prepared for the dinner customers.

It didn’t pay much but it was the perfect situation for me.  I started in the afternoon, so I didn’t miss any classes.  I would sit with the girl while she did her schoolwork, and my own English skills improved.  Sometimes if they needed extra hands, I cleared tables or swept the floor or even chopped vegetables.  Occasionally, they’d send me out for an errand.

They were good to me and I was determined to justify their faith in me.  I worked hard and they came to rely on me more and more.  For this, they raised my pay as much as they could afford. It wasn’t much, but it enabled me to contribute a bit to the rent and to my parents’ travel fund.

I had been working there for just over a year when we received terrible news.  My father had become ill and within a very short time had passed away.   My brother and I would not, could not, let my mother remain alone in the Old World.   My brother took on extra shifts and I found additional work minding other children in the evenings.  Within the year, there was enough in the fund to bring her to us.

In the days before her expected arrival, I was so excited I could barely eat or sleep. When we met her at the boat, we all burst into tears at the sight of each other, touching each others’ faces and stroking each other’s hair, reassuring ourselves that we were all real.

We went back the apartment and my mother and her cousin caught up on the family news, remembering old times, laughing and crying.

Later, the three of us squeezed into our corner, with my brother and I insisting my mother take the cot. It was obvious we could not remain in this situation for much longer.  Fortunately, my mother was an experienced tailor and seamstress, and she was able to find work quickly.  Within a couple of months we were able to move to our own small room on Hester Street.  It was tiny, and the bathroom, down the hall, was shared by others, but to us it felt like paradise, an unimaginable luxury to be living with just our own family in our own room.

I finished school in my sixteenth year, and my mother got me a job at the factory where she worked, making ladies’ blouses.  Initially I was thrilled to have a real job; to get a regular paycheck; to be an adult among other women like myself and my mother — new immigrants, filled with hopes and dreams for a better future – but the novelty wore off quickly.

We worked long hours, six long days a week in very unpleasant conditions. The supervisors treated us more like slaves than workers. But, with the three of us bringing home a salary each week, we were able to save money.  The dream was for my mother to buy a sewing machine and have her own tailor shop so we could get out of that awful factory which seemed to suck more life out of us every day.

And then,  one Saturday afternoon,  there was chaos!  A fire!  There were so many flammable scraps and pieces around that it didn’t take long for the fire to be raging.  The doors were locked as they always were.  There was no escape.

I pressed to the window with my mother and the other women, barely able to breathe, terrified of being burned alive and equally afraid of jumping onto the unforgiving pavement below.

In the end, I jumped.  My mother stayed.  It didn’t make a difference.  We, along with dozens of our friends and coworkers, all died that day.

My brother,  alone and lonely,  soon took a wife.  They named their children after me and my mother, so our story would not be lost – a story of two women with dreams, unfulfilled.

 

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If you are enjoying this blog,  please click the link above to subscribe and receive posts via email (new posts every three days).  When you think of others who might enjoy it too,  it’s easy enough to help spread the word! Post your favorite stories to social media.   Email a particularly apt link to a friend.   Even better,  talk about the concepts with others (whether you agree or disagree. )
Also,  I have started a discussion group on Facebook,  for conversations about any of the concepts/issues in the posts.  Honestly, these are things in here which I don’t fully understand myself.  I would love  get your thoughts on this…even if you think this is all a bunch of hooey!

The Perfect Life

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Gra

I had a perfect life. That’s what everyone told me.  I was blessed.  Lucky.   Other women envied me, wishing even for a slice of my life. They envied my handsome successful husband,  my three beautiful children,   my large home in the best neighborhood. I was quite attractive and always dressed in the latest styles.  I never had to go to work. I was free to enjoy the kinds of activities women of leisure enjoy.

I should have been happy.   I had what everyone else wanted; what everyone else was sure would make them happy.  I felt there was something deeply wrong with me because even though I had all this, I was profoundly dissatisfied.

I was happy enough when my babies were small, until the youngest started school.  Suddenly, my days were unfilled.   I didn’t quite know what to do with my time.  My husband traveled frequently on business and was often gone for days, weeks at a time.  I didn’t particularly miss him, but it did leave me lonely for adult company.

I joined a club and met some other women who also needed to fill their days.  We gossiped, complained, and bragged over cards, over lunch, in the pool.  I needed a challenge so I took tennis lessons, and risibly fell victim to that utterly predicable and clichéd story line:  attractive but bored, unhappy housewife has affair with handsome, raffish instructor.

I craved emotional diversion.  I was desperate for my blood to run with passion again, to feel that yearning in the heart and loins.  I rejoiced to feel alive and desired. I hungered for it like a drug.  He began to appear frequently in my dreams and always in my fantasies.  I touched myself, imagining it was his hands on me. Everything reminded me of him. I lived for our weekly trysts.  He became the main focus of my thoughts and attention. I needed him like oxygen.

The weight of my need was more than he was willing to bear. I was too attached, too needy.  I became demanding and weepy.  I wanted things from him that were ridiculous to expect from such an ultimately meaningless relationship. I became undignified.  And so he broke it off.

I was devastated.

I could not go back to the club.  I could not bear to see him with other women.  I could not even bear to be out in public, so raw and so vulnerable.

In the beginning, I would have a drink or two in the morning – enough to help me tolerate the empty hours, but early enough in the day so that I would be relatively sober and put together by the time the children came home from school in the afternoon.

After a while, I’d drink just until the moment the first one walked in the door.  I thought they were too young to notice.  (I was wrong.)   Eventually, I didn’t even care enough to hide my drinking — not from the children who seemed not to need me, not from the housekeeper who was smart enough to do her work and mind her business, and not from my husband when he was around.  He didn’t seem to notice me much anymore anyway.  Other than civil dinners lacking all intimacy, we mostly stayed to ourselves,  him in his part of the house and me in mine.

The drinking transformed from something I did to numb my sorrow and loneliness to a genuine addiction.  Early on, when necessary, I was capable of functioning out in the world  —  go to the market, the shops,  bank, the hair salon.  I’d have just a quick one before setting out and I could tolerate it for a few hours. I didn’t think anyone knew my secret. (I was wrong.)

Over time, it became more important to me to be able to drink at will than to be able to hold myself together for the sake of others.  I was aware enough to recognize that in my usual condition. I was too sloppy to be in polite company.  When drunk, I was prone to doing embarrassing things. I did not want to bring that humiliation on my family.  So I stayed at home.  Besides, daylight and other humans had begun to bother me.

Once, while in the middle of figuring that out,  I picked up my youngest son and some of his friends at an after-school event.  I was quite drunk.  The teachers must have noticed my condition, but they dared not stop me from driving. Although it would have been the reasonable thing to do,  it was not their place.  On the way home, I swerved off the road on a sharp S-curve and came perilously close to a fatal accident.  Fortunately, nobody was hurt, but the children were terrified and I was deeply shaken.

To my credit, I learned from this incident never to drive in that condition.  And since I was almost always in that condition, it was easier to remain inside, curtains drawn.

As my appearance deteriorated, so did my health.  I grew soft and sloppy.  My face puffed and my muscles sagged.  I looked years older than my chronological age.  I had gone from the envy of all to the person everyone pitied, including myself.

Towards the end, when my condition was too awful for my family to continue to ignore, they tried to get me some help, but I was already beyond the point of salvation.  I didn’t want to stop.  I didn’t want to change. I just wanted to remain numb until I died, which I expected would not take long.  I knew it would kill me.  I hoped it did so quickly.

My children cried because I loved the bottle more than I loved them.  My husband felt guilty for not having gotten me help earlier, when possibly I might have been saved.

But it was not the drink, itself,  that did me in. That was a symptom. What destroyed me was my guilt over not being happy despite all that God had given me. According to everyone else, I had everything a woman could desire to achieve maximum satisfaction.   If I was unhappy with all this, clearly there was something wrong with me; there was nothing that could make me happy. I was too damaged and undeserving of happiness. If I could have assuaged my guilt by giving those slices of my life to whoever could take benefit from them, I would have.  Such advantages were wasted on me.

I had made the grotesque mistake of believing what everyone else did: that money and possessions and status and appearances were the source of happiness.  I could have been happy in that my situation, just as anyone can be happy in any situation, if I had simply placed the greatest value on the smallest things.

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If you are enjoying this blog,  please click the link above to subscribe and receive posts via email (new posts every three days).  When you think of others who might enjoy it too,  it’s easy enough to help spread the word! Post your favorite stories to social media.   Email a particularly apt link to a friend.   Even better,  talk about the concepts with others (whether you agree or disagree. )
Also,  I have started a discussion group on Facebook,  for conversations about any of the concepts/issues in the posts.  Honestly, these are things in here which I don’t fully understand myself.  I would love  get your thoughts on this…even if you think this is all a bunch of hooey!

The Great Rift

 

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Aki

I lived in a small village at the edge of a large salt lake. We did not have much that we didn’t make or grow ourselves, or trade for other goods. We had existed in this place, on this dry, inhospitable land for as far back as our collective memory and stories went. We followed a careful social order which kept everything and everyone stable and status quo. We each knew our duties and responsibilities — to our family, to our neighbors, to our small tribe. There was a strict hierarchy, and we all knew our place. The chief was at the top. His was only law we knew and the only law we needed.

One day, some wazungu arrived on a small bus driven by a man known by our chief.  The driver spoke our language and also that of the mazungu. Some of the men in our village had seen white faces before, in the city, but never had they come to us.

They were completely strange creatures to most of us women…not just their skin color, not even the texture of their hair or their impractical clothing… but the way the conducted themselves. There was no chief. The women laughed and talked among themselves, mostly ignoring the men, who never thought to scold or beat them.  What kind of women were these? Where were their children?  Did they have no important work to occupy them?  Why did they behave so freely, so foolishly,  as if they had no care in the world?  Were they not aware of all the misfortunes that might befall a woman if she let down her guard even for a moment?

We stared at them, and they stared at us. The driver told our chief to tell us to simply ignore them as they came from far away and wanted to watch us go about our lives in our usual way.  For this, the driver paid the chief a few shillings.  As he kept the entire amount for himself, he was quite happy with this arrangement.

After that, they came approximately once a moon, sometimes more, sometimes less.  This went on for many years.  Sometimes the driver gifted us all with a large bag of rice or beans, and then perhaps we might have a feast.

These wazungu were pleasant and friendly enough even though we could not communicate with them in words. Mostly, they wanted to watch us women doing our work…fetching water,  cleaning grain and pounding it into flour, weaving thatch, gathering wood and making a cooking fire, nursing our babies.  They liked to see inside our huts, where we slept. They seemed to particularly like watching the children, playing and climbing and running.

They pointed their small boxes at us but it was a long time until most of us understood what the purpose of that was.  None of us had ever seen a photograph of ourselves. I doubt I would even have been able to identify myself in a photograph. Some of the friendlier wazungu seemed to ask permission before pointing their camera box at us, but since we had no idea what they were doing, we just shrugged and smiled and let them do it.  We found it inexplicably strange.

We became accustomed to the visits. Some groups were nicer, more friendly,  more polite than others,  but mostly they were a waste of our time. Usually, we could truly ignore them as we went about our business but sometimes, they got in our way and made things more difficult. And for our compliance, we got nothing for ourselves.

We villagers knew better than to ask them for anything as compensation. That arrangement was strictly between our chief and the driver. The visitors also understood this and never offered us anything.

And then one day, the village was turned upside-down.

The wazungu came and their visit was going as they usually did.

There was a woman, in the village, of very low status. Her husband had left her and their infant son, and run off to the city, (so we were told.) She had been a bad wife (for why else would he have left her?)  and now she was a burden to the rest of us.

This woman, I shall call her K, was always far more fascinated by the wazungu than the rest of us. We used to tease her that one day she was going to hide on the bus and go away with them, but of course, it was a joke because where would she go?  What would she do?  She might have been low status in the village, but at least she was cared for.  Would any mzungu care for her out there?  She, as we, knew the answer.

Then, one afternoon, just before the guests climbed back into the bus, one of the mzungu women pulled the colorful scarf from her own head and gave it to K.

This small, soft, useless square of cloth nearly started a war.

After the bus left,   K tied the scarf around her head, the way the mzungu wore it,  and strutted around the village, acting better than the rest of us, behaving higher than her status.  She wore it like a crown and carried herself like a queen.

This immediately caused anger, resentment,  and jealousy among the village women.  The girl had done nothing to deserve any such honor, and in fact, she’d only received this gift because she’d lingered too long around the bus people, and let them hold her child,  when she should have been working.  It seemed doubly unfair that she was rewarded for her bad behavior.

We grumbled and gossiped, but she pretended not to care. This went on for several days, until one afternoon the chief’s first wife walked across the village,  her eyes burning with anger and purpose.  She walked into K’s small hut , pulled her outside, struck her knocking her to the ground, pulled her hair, grabbed the scarf off her head, and triumphantly tied it around her own.  K lay crying and moaning in the dust.

Violence among women was unheard of in our tribe, and this was shocking. None of us had liked K’s attitude but we were appalled at the behavior of the chief’s wife.

The women were immediately divided in opinion. Some believed the chief’s wife did the right thing, that it was the only choice.  Some believed that as badly as K had behaved, nothing justified violence. And along this line, we fell into two camps.

The rift threatened to tear us all apart. Finally, the chief himself,  who tried as much as possible to remove himself from the petty problems of women, stepped in to settle things.

It was a delicate matter since his wife held high status, and it would be a humiliation for her to beaten publicly. This would only cause further problems.  He had the right to beat K, if only for her inappropriate behavior in the days prior. But he could not beat one without beating the other, and fortunately for all of us,  he was not the kind of man who enjoyed giving beatings.

He consulted with each woman alone, and heard some other opinions (whether he wanted to hear them or not.)  In the end, it was arranged thusly:  His wife returned the scarf to K, and in turn K made a show of giving the scarf to the chief to use as the village flag.

The wazungu never returned.

Throughout the rest of my life and even now, my mind returned to those few days.  I recognized how close we came to being destroyed by divisiveness and unrest and lack of forgiveness; how easily the fabric of our society might have become completely unraveled despite the fact that we depended upon each other for survival.

We were fortunate to have a wise leader who resolved the problem in way that satisfied everyone, and allowed us each to learn some important lessons.   The wrong decision might have destroyed us.

 

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If you are enjoying this blog,  please click the link above to subscribe and receive posts via email (new posts every three days).  When you think of others who might enjoy it too,  it’s easy enough to help spread the word! Post your favorite stories to social media.   Email a particularly apt link to a friend.   Even better,  talk about the concepts with others (whether you agree or disagree. )
Also,  I have started a discussion group on Facebook,  for conversations about any of the concepts/issues in the posts.  Honestly, these are things in here which I don’t fully understand myself.  I would love  get your thoughts on this…even if you think this is all a bunch of hooey!

A Late Lesson

old-woman-with-cane

NEW!

Zor

We were a love match.  School sweethearts. We married young and within a few years, together we opened a men’s haberdashery.  We worked hard and slowly made a success of it.  A few years later, we had a son.  He was a clever boy.  We put him to work in the shop when he was old enough to wait on customers and handle money.   You could say he grew up there.    My husband expected him to take over the business.   Our son had other ideas. The store was stifling for him.  He had no interest.

Eventually, he went off on his own,  pursuing a line of work more suitable to his talents.

We had a falling out.  It was mostly with his father, but since he regarded us as an indivisible unit,  he stopped talking to me, too.  He moved far away.  We never repaired our relationship. We were not close. I barely knew his wife or his children — my own grandchildren.

My husband didn’t seem to mind this loss too much.   If his son had no use for the business, he interpreted it to mean he had no use for him, either.  The business was his baby.  Over the years, he nurtured it, dedicating many hours to making it thrive.  I was always at his side, doing whatever I could do to help.  But the vision was his.  He knew where he wanted the business to go, and he was good at finding ways for it to get there.   I did not resent that my own dreams never had the opportunity to manifest because, to be honest,  I did not have any big dreams.  I was content being a mother (until I wasn’t any longer), and being my husband’s helpmeet.  This provided me all the satisfaction I needed in life. The business grew into a successful enterprise which allowed us to live an agreeable and secure life.

We grew old together,  still working side by side in the shop.  We continued to live, as we always had, in a comfortable apartment above the store.  Over time,  the world changed and it was harder to keep up.

Business had not been good for a few years already when my husband suddenly died.

I was completely lost.   I had little idea how to run the store — what to stock,  how to negotiate with suppliers,  how to balance the books.    We had almost nothing in savings – every last coin had been spent trying to remain afloat.  My husband had been good at treading water.  I began to drown immediately. It did not take long for the store to fail completely.  Without any source of income, I soon lost the apartment, too.

At 83 years old, I was alone,  without a home.  I reached out to my son who was kind enough to send me a pittance, just enough to pay for a roof over my head, but not much more. I was grateful not to have to sleep on the street but in all other things, I was completely at the mercy of strangers. Most were not very merciful.  I was sick and frail.  I was consumed by the pain of loneliness.  I’d worked hard my entire life.  I’d been the good and faithful wife of a good and faithful husband. I’d lived in relative security and comfort.  I did not understand how all this misfortune had befallen me so quickly.  I resented the world for taking everything away from me.   I became increasingly forgetful. Confused.   It was easier to let go of reality which had become simply too painful to bear.

I was dead within two years. Two years which seemed to stretch out to an eternity. Two years which, looking back,  defined my life more than the eighty three years lived before it.

Sometimes,  life lulls you into a stupor and doesn’t give you the lesson until the very end.

 

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If you are enjoying this blog,  please click the link above to subscribe and receive posts via email (new posts every three days).  When you think of others who might enjoy it too,  it’s easy enough to help spread the word! Post your favorite stories to social media.   Email a particularly apt link to a friend.   Even better,  talk about the concepts with others (whether you agree or disagree. )
Also,  I have started a discussion group on Facebook,  for conversations about any of the concepts/issues in the posts.  Honestly, these are things in here which I don’t fully understand myself.  I would love  get your thoughts on this…even if you think this is all a bunch of hooey!

Blessed Are You, Among Women…

woman walking to well

photo: gyaandna.com

 

first published July 20, 2015

Lei

I never had to think for myself. Where I lived, a woman was not meant to think. She was meant to obey.  She was meant to follow first her father’s, then her husband’s commands. There was no good reason to teach her to read or write.  Men had to be careful not to let women have access to new and strange ideas.  A woman’s place was just below that of a good pack animal. She was judged by how much work she could do, by how much she could carry, and by her acquiescence to her master’s will.

The men held fiercely to their small power over women. Every possible minuscule advance in our status was weighed with great solemnity. They discussed and argued.   The loudest voices were the ones who warned, that if we were allowed to do this, soon we’d want to do that. And if we did that, there’s no telling when we’d demand to do such-and-such. Or, if we found out this, we might surmise that which might eventually lead us to discover so-and-so. And then, before you know it, we women would not be able to be controlled.

As a female, I learned at the breast that I was inferior to males, even the stupid ones, even the lame ones, even the young ones, even the evil and crazy ones.

I didn’t get angry about it. It never dawned on me that it should be any other way.  I would no sooner think that I could change the color of the sky or stop the snow in winter. These were just the immutable facts of life; laws of nature. Why waste energy on trying to change what cannot be changed?

Joy and relief were only to be found among women. In this sisterhood, we eased each others’ burdens and shared our hearts. We did not converse about changing our lot. We did not secretly plan to topple the status quo. We had no power and we knew it. And even if we could, by some miracle, shift the balance to our own favor, what then? We did not have the knowledge or skills to run things.   Perhaps we might eventually have learned what was necessary, but we might well have starved before then.

In our group of women, there was a funny one who could really make us laugh.  She imitated perfectly the fat man’s swagger, and his way of talking down to everyone as if he alone knew all the answers.  When she told stories of things she had seen in the village or in the fields or on the road to market,  she described them in her special way, noting funny things most of us would not have noticed. We giggled like little girls at her sharp-eyed observations.

But even she dare not show this talent to the men. She was far too clever to reveal her cleverness.  And if she dared not to rise up;  if she, in all her cleverness, saw no hope of changing the existing conditions, how could any of us even think about dreaming of change? It wasn’t hopeless. It just was.

We were not completely helpless. Sometimes the women banded together to achieve certain concessions from the men. But our demands were not for freedom or education. Such requests would only cause us to be beaten back down severely, to teach us our place.  We used our wiles.    Once, we wanted a new well closer to our end of the village so we didn’t have to carry water so far. We convinced the men of the economic logic in this. If we didn’t have to waste our time carrying water, we would then have more time and energy for other, more productive work. It was suggested – with words which were never spoken – that less time walking to and from the well meant less time for gossip.   Men hated women gossiping because they did not know what we were saying, and they understood something that we did not – that if we women ever decided to rise up together, the men would be helpless against us.   They could not vanquish us as an enemy. They could not kill us all. They could not live without our work; without our child-bearing and child-raising. I think they all lived in fear that one day, amid our gossip, we would suddenly realize  that although the men had the guns, the women held the power.

The idea of less time spent together appealed to their logic, and so we got our well.

Any man who thought by curtailing the time women spent together pulling water, they would curtail our gossip,  did not understand women at all (not that many of them did!). We simply made up the missed time while doing other communal chores.

This sense of community made light of our work. I cannot say the gossip did not sometimes get hurtful or petty or manipulative. In every group, everywhere, there are always those who will be small-minded and those who will rise above. Thus defines the dynamics of the group.

Our aspirations were never much higher than these types of mundane changes; changes which did not raise our status but merely rearranged the packs on our backs.

I cannot say I was unhappy. My life was my lot, and I accepted whatever came to me. I did not expect grace or kindness or respect in the world and so I did not feel deprived not to have it.

There is something to be said for accepting one’s lot in life the same way one eventually must accept one’s own face, the structure of one’s own body. Wishing for something different is a pointless. Better to put our energy into making the best of what we have.

To fight against that which cannot be changed is a sure recipe for an unhappy life.

____

If you are enjoying this blog,  please click the link above to subscribe and receive posts via email (new posts every three days).  When you think of others who might enjoy it too,  it’s easy enough to help spread the word! Post your favorite stories to social media.   Email a particularly apt link to a friend.   Even better,  talk about the concepts with others (whether you agree or disagree. )
Also,  I have started a discussion group on Facebook,  for conversations about any of the concepts/issues in the posts.  Honestly, these are things in here which I don’t fully understand myself.  I would love  get your thoughts on this…even if you think this is all a bunch of hooey!

Right in the Eye

beaten-woman

 

Ber

I killed him.   I did.  I suppose I should have felt some kind of guilt or remorse but those feelings never occurred to me.  My immediate and final reaction was relief.  I had no choice.  It finally came down to him or me.  My actions were inevitable.

His abuse of me was no secret to anyone.  My body bore the colors and stains of his irrational anger. I never tried to hide them.  I wanted others to know.  I wanted justice.  I wanted vindication.  I wanted somebody to save me; to stop him. But nobody wanted to get involved.  Whatever was going on was between a husband and wife. It was nobody else’s business.  And so no one ever intervened on my behalf.

I made them uncomfortable.  Seeing me like that compelled them to have an opinion; to take sides; to confront the immorality of their silence.  But I refused to hide.  I wanted them to be feel guilty about their cowardice,  to feel uncomfortable in the comfort of their own lives.

I’d wear my bloodied, bruised face and body into town, forcing them to confront their own complicity by doing nothing.  Passing people on the street, I would look them in the eye and nod hello.    When I walked into the General Store, they’d all turn to look and see who’d just come in,  and then immediately, they’d look away.  I would walk right up to the counter, and ask for what I needed, and they had to wait on me,  all the while pretending they didn’t understand that I’d been beaten like an intransigent mule.

Some of them felt sympathy but I didn’t need their pity.  I needed action.  Most shunned me, as if I were shameful.  But why should I have felt shame?  He was the guilty one.  I was merely his victim.

I always knew that the day might come when I reached my limit, and I wanted everyone to understand why.

We worked our own land,  so although he was known in town,  he mostly kept to himself.  He mostly drank at home, but occasionally he drank at the saloon.  After a few,  he would become belligerent. But nobody ever stopped him from drinking, and nobody every stopped him from going home, even knowing what he was likely to do when he got there.

And then one night, in one of his rages,  he grabbed me by the throat and nearly strangled me to death. I managed to get away.  I grabbed his gun and I shot him, right in the bed.

I didn’t know what would happen to me but I didn’t run.  In any case, I had nowhere to go.  In the morning, I went into town and presented myself to the sheriff.  There was a trial.  It was quick.  I had nothing much to say in my own defense that wasn’t already obvious to all from the marks on my neck and years of history.

The jury of men deliberated for a long time but in the end, they could not set me free. That would send a bad message to the other wives.  And so, I was hanged.

I was calm when they put the noose around my neck. I felt I had fulfilled my destiny.

____

If you are enjoying this blog,  please click the link above to subscribe and receive posts via email (new posts every three days).  When you think of others who might enjoy it too,  it’s easy enough to help spread the word! Post your favorite stories to social media.   Email a particularly apt link to a friend.   Even better,  talk about the concepts with others (whether you agree or disagree. )
Also,  I have started a discussion group on Facebook,  for conversations about any of the concepts/issues in the posts.  Honestly, these are things in here which I don’t fully understand myself.  I would love  get your thoughts on this…even if you think this is all a bunch of hooey!

A Mere Babe in the Woods

New

deep woods

                                                                       have a listen…

Gre

I was still just a girl when he took me as his bride.   It was just a few months shy of my sixteenth birthday when parents arranged for me to marry him.  He, at twenty-three, seemed ancient to me.

He was a hunter and trapper and lived deep in the woods, far from town, where we had both grown up.  Although he had some money, he was somewhat coarse and lacking manners, having lived alone for many years.   He was big and tall with a long thick black beard and wild black hair.  He towered over my tiny frame. Although his size was intimidating, he did not seem unkind. I was not afraid of him.

He had done well in his trade over the previous years, and felt it was time to take a bride; to start a family.  He came to town to seek not a beauty or a spoiled rich girl.  He needed a wife to do the woman’s work,  to mother his children.  He knew he could not live alone forever.  It would drive him mad, like some of the old woodsmen he’d met.

In the village, the daughters of wealthier fathers had better choices. I was a plain girl,  from a poor family.  I felt lucky that my parents were able to find me a husband at all.  To not have a husband and children was a cause of great shame. It was the worst kind of failure, a bad reflection on the girl herself, and her family. Nothing good became of such women.

I was not asked if I wanted to marry him. It was not my decision.  In any case, it was not a question I would have thought to ask even myself.  As most young girls, I’d often wondered what kind of man my future husband would be but it never crossed my mind that I would have any choice in the matter. I could only hope my parents chose well.

Our marriage was a practical transaction. He was in need of a wife and I was in need of a dependable husband with whom to make babies. He’d heard of me though some family of his who still lived in town.  He sought out my parents and made the arrangements. We were married in a quick service the next day. Afterward,  we rode back to his small house, in the forest,  far from any neighbors.

He was solitary by nature; not comfortable around people. A more social man never would have taken up that line of work.  Whether he preferred being alone because he was not good with people, or whether he was not good with people because he spent so much time alone, I really don’t know. I always suspected he never had much use for other humans.

In the beginning, living there was torture.  When he was home, he barely spoke at all,  and there was no one else to talk to.  I would often have imaginary conversations with myself, in my head when he was there,  or aloud when I was alone.  Every few weeks, we went to town for supplies and to visit my family;  more often in the nice weather,  less in the winter. Although the trip was arduous and took the better part of a day,   I always looked forward to it.

My family might not have had much money,  but I was trained to be a good, efficient, frugal wife.  I saw what needed to be done around the house and I did it without grumbling.  This was my lot in life, same as my mother’s, and her mother’s, and her mother’s before her.  Without choice, I had no cause for complaint. I did my best and learned to find satisfaction in my own accomplishments.

In bed,  he took me when he wanted me, not cruelly and not forcefully,  but neither without any passion or recognition of me as a person.

Eventually, there were children.  Five. Three boys and two girls.   The boys followed in their father’s trade, and the girls married better than I and lived in town.

After all those years of marriage, even without speaking,  we learned to communicate. We took care of each other, watched out for each other, even worried about each other.  We became kinder, more thoughtful.  We slowly pushed the boundaries of our trust.  We respected each other’s differences and gave each other plenty of room.  I don’t know if I would call it love,  exactly.  It was two people making the best of their circumstances.

He died at a old age, and by then, I was old myself.  It was too difficult for me to be alone in the house,  so I moved back into the town  to be closer to my children and grandchildren.

You might think, after all those years,  after all we’d been through together,  I would have missed him. But no. What I missed was the quiet solitude of the woods.

—–

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-Adrienne

My Husband, My Jailer

New Post

falling down stairs

Am

I didn’t know him when I married him.  I was a young woman and he was much older than I was. He had never been lucky with women, never been married. My family arranged for me to travel from my country to his to be his wife. They said my life would be better there.

I was taught that wives should behave in a subservient manner towards their husbands so I knew my place.  I was clever enough to know I should hide my cleverness. I was efficient.  Reliable. Pliable.  Not too demanding, at least not initially.

This was my appeal for him.  He was a sad, weak man who needed a weaker woman to make him feel strong.

After a couple of years, we had a child.   I devoted myself to motherhood which gave me far more pleasure than my marriage.  I did not have too many friends.  My social circle was very small.  For the most part, I was limited to the wives of his friends, of which he had very few.  Some of the wives were also foreign-born, married sight unseen like me, but they were not from my country.  The language barriers made it difficult to share our experiences although I assumed their stories were similar to mine. I would have loved to have had a friend to talk to about my marriage,  but it seemed my own husband was not the only one who preferred to keep me from getting to close with others.

Initially, he was kind to me.  He sometimes lost his temper but he went through the motions of apology.  He pretended that we were a happy couple in love.   But we were not.  Soon he made less of an effort to control his temper.  He was an unhappy man and nothing I could do could change that, although I worked hard to be a good wife and give him what he needed.

I eventually realized that any intimacy we had at the beginning was purely fantasy. In reality, we had nothing in common.   When I first came to him, I respected him.  He seemed to me smart and successful and knowledgeable about the world, but of course this was only in comparison to the men I knew from my village.  When I got to know him, however, I recognized that he was not worthy of even my insignificant respect.   I tried to hide my growing contempt for him, but such things show on the face,  in the tone of voice, in the  lack of genuine interest in pleasing him.

He took out his anger at the world on me.   I could do nothing right.  I was useless.  He was going to send me back and keep our son.    No man would ever want me again.  Even my own family would reject me because I was such a terrible wife.  I would go back to my village and live out my days sweeping the streets, an outcast, a pariah.

I believed that he could do this.  Worse, I believed that he would do this.  I tried harder to put on a good face for him; to be obedient and of service.  I made myself small and invisible when I was not fulfilling his present needs.

And then, one day in the market, I saw a woman who had a face typical of the women who came from my country.   I said something to her in my language to see if she would respond.  To my delight, she did!  We became fast friends.

She had come over as a young woman and found work as domestic help.  The family she worked for was kind, and even allowed her to take some evening classes in school to improve her language skills.  This was something I dared not even ask my husband about. I already knew the answer.  I’d be punished in one way or another just for suggesting that I wanted to become more independent.

We met once or twice a week, me with my son and her with her charges.  We would do our shopping then steal a few minutes for ourselves in the park, while the children played. We chatted in our mother tongue,and for the first the first time since I’d arrived, I felt that I had a friend of my own, someone who understood me.

Even though, as a married woman, I had more status than she did, I was envious of her position.  She knew things about this new land that I never would have imagined and never would have discovered on my own. She was a window into the culture.  She might not have had much that was her own, but at least she was free (so it seemed to me, anyway.)

Eventually, I confided in her how unhappy I was.  I felt like a prisoner in my marriage, with escape being worse than captivity. I didn’t want to stay but I had nowhere to do. I had very little of my own money – just the little bit that I managed to hide away from my household budget.  It wouldn’t get me and my son anywhere. I had no skills and could not support us.  In any case, my husband would not rest until he had hunted me down.

I felt like a trapped animal.  The isolation of my marriage was unbearable.   If it weren’t for my son, I might even have killed myself but I would not leave him alone to be raised by that man.

In the early years, when I was merely unhappy, I used to pray for more kindness and understanding from my husband, more patience for myself.  Eventually, however, my prayers were not so noble.  I began to pray for his death.  I knew this was a sin, but it was the only path I could see to my salvation.  With him gone, I would be free and have the house and his money.

These wishes soon became manifest in my actions.  At first, I was defiant in small, secret ways.  For example, I would not wash all his clothes but rather fold them and put them back as if they had been laundered.  One afternoon, as I began to prepare dinner, I noticed the meat had gone bad.  I fed it to him anyway.  Slowly, I became emboldened.  Sometimes, I would pull plants from the side of the road and add them to his food, hoping that they were poisonous.  One day, after he beat me, I was so angry, I picked up some dog feces in the street and added it to his soup.

I would “accidentally” leave small objects, such as toys or shoes, near door and along the hallway, hoping that he would trip while drunk and break open his head.

I didn’t have the nerve to actually murder him, but I tried to give Fate a helping hand.  But none of these efforts,  not any of my prayers, seemed to have any effect on him.  How could a man so evil be so lucky?

I never told my friend about my prayers or small sabotages. I didn’t want her to feel responsible if I succeeded.  Maybe I was afraid she would encourage me to do worse to him, and that I would allow myself to be led.

Finally, one day, after many such miserable years, he was drinking in the local bar and simply fell over, clutching his chest.  I pretended to others to be sad – I had become quite good at pretending – but I was relieved that he was finally dead, and that I was not responsible for his death. (I didn’t figure my prayers had killed him because I’d been praying for a long time with no results.)

There wasn’t a lot of money left after everything was sold,  but it was enough to let me start over somewhere else.  I took my son and my friend, and we went far away, and made a new life for ourselves. It was sometimes a struggle, but at least we were free.

—–

If you are enjoying this blog,  please click the link above to subscribe and receive posts via email (new posts every three days).  When you think of others who might enjoy it too,  it’s easy enough to help spread the word! Post your favorite stories to social media.   Email a particularly apt link to a friend.   Even better,  talk about the concepts with others (whether you agree or disagree. )
Also,  I have started a discussion group on Facebook,  for conversations about any of the concepts/issues in the posts.  Honestly, these are things in here which I don’t fully understand myself.  I would love  get your thoughts on this…even if you think this is all a bunch of hooey!

Beautiful Birds in a Cage

 

New!

Schi

I was born into slavery ; I never knew any other life.  My mother was taken as a girl.  As I was the product of her body, so I was property as well.  My mother was concubine to the master and even though I was the offspring of that union,  I had no birthright.

We, and others like us, had to work because we were not wives.  We had no power, no rights, little privilege.   We were at the beckoning of the master’s mother, who ruled us like a queen.

Those who were concubines went to the master or his guests when summoned.  Otherwise, we worked in the house or in the court at jobs that best fit our skills and age.  The concubines did not work in the fields,  lest we become unattractive and our usefulness diminished.

When I was young, I sewed tiny precious beads onto beautiful fabrics, in elaborate, intricate designs using the finest golden thread.  These were later made into clothing for the family.  I did this until my fingers cramped and bled (I had to be careful not to stain the silk!) I did it until my eyes crossed and I was nearly blind. I did it until my neck and back ached even when I slept.

Still, my lot was better than the slaves who worked the fields and orchards. I thought myself lucky.  I was fed regularly. My living quarters were clean and dry and warm in the winter. If I became very ill, my symptoms were tended to by the doctor.  We were not beaten or whipped.

We were kept away from all men. Our bodies were not ours to give nor for any man but the master to take or share as he saw fit.  We belonged to him, to be used or lent at his (or his mother’s) whim.  I was never sent to the master because I was his own child but I was, from time to time,  offered to visiting dignitaries or officials.  These men were not gentle or kind,  but fortunately, as I was not particularly beautiful or adept in bed,  my charms were not in high demand.   Eventually, I was completely ignored for such things.

All I knew about life beyond the walls was what some of the others,  including my mother, told me. For many, the outside world seemed more difficult,  full of poverty, back-breaking work, and starvation.  Almost all were young virgins when they were captured so they did not long for lost husbands or lovers or children.  Many were captives of war, and were grateful for the peace and plenty of their new circumstances.  But some were captured away from their families.  These girls found adjustment most difficult. They would weep and cry when they first arrived but in time they forgot their old lives and settled into the new. I was lucky because I had nothing to miss,  and because my mother was there to teach and protect me.

I did not consider my life bad or unfortunate.

When the weather turned warm, I enjoyed being outside in the courtyard with the others, working, gossiping.  Not all the women were embroiderers.  Some minded the children.  Some played instruments and sang. Some were dancers.  Some were ladies’ maids to the women of status.  Some of the favorite concubines  had only to keep themselves attractive. This was very important as it was her access to the master that gave her power.  Each of us had access to different parts of the household, and so each had different information.  By sharing what we knew, we could put together a bigger story.

Oh, the plots and rumors and intrigue that were discussed!

Some of the older women, longtime favorite concubines and lesser wives, those with more power and influence than I could ever hope for, were quite adept at grand manipulations. A carefully planted rumor, a well-told lie, a damning truth, whispered genially and sincerely in the right ear, all served to help accrue more power and influence.  Over the years, there was more intrigue and machinations than I can recount. There were poisonings and betrayals, false friendships and lies, all in the service of power and rank.  But my own ambition was never so great as some of the others.

When I was young, I was useless at that game but I observed and listened closely, and slowly, I learned the way it was played.

My first manipulation began accidentally when I befriended the youngest child of one of the lesser wives.  The nanny who minded her was dull and sullen and was too lazy to play with her. I could see that the child was bored so later, alone, I fashioned a small doll for her from scraps of blue silk, with eyes of fresh water pearls and tiny lapis beads, and a smile of garnets. This was not done with any specific plan in mind.  The girl seemed lonely and I felt sorry for her, so I made her a small gift using what I had at hand.  She was, after all, my sister (although this was not common knowledge among the other women.)

I gave it to her the next time I saw her.  She was delighted. And her nanny was pleased that someone else made an effort to entertain the child, relieving her of the burden of having to pay attention.

Several days later, when we were again all outside together, the girl came over to where I sat to watch me work.  She seemed fascinated by the idea of making designs with beads and thread.  As I worked, she listened raptly as I told her stories about fantastic creatures and faraway places, completely of my imagination.  I felt a kinship for her and although she did not know who I was,  she sensed the attachment.

Seeing us together, it occurred to the nanny that I was perhaps entertaining the child too well. She suspected that her position might be in jeopardy.  She called the child to come away from me but she was reluctant to go. In that brief moment, I sensed opportunity. I whispered to the girl to come see me again soon.  I’d have more stories for her.

Her nanny, by then, had become wary and prevented her from visiting with me. But the girl kept her eye on me.  I would smile and wave.  I would tell funny stories to the other girls my age to make them laugh, so the child would see this and feel she was missing the fun.

And one day, not long after, I was summoned by the girl’s mother and informed that I would now be her nanny.

And so, my rank among the women of the household increased.

The girl loved me because I devoted myself to her.  And I loved her, because, even though there was a great difference in status,  I knew we were blood. We shared many of the same features, and I brushed her long black hair and styled it like my own.

When she was grown enough to no longer need a nanny, she kept me close by making me her ladies’ maid. And so my rank increased again, as I was now privy to more important information, received firsthand, which made it more valuable.  Information was currency.  I could trade it for favors.

Eventually it came time for her to marry.  Her husband lived afar. Although she wanted me to come with her, I was still property of the household and her father would not give me to her. Both he and I understood that if I went with her,  her husband would be my new master,  and if he took me as his concubine,  as was his right,  it would cause her deep pain.

She did not see the danger of this new situation as I did.  I consoled her,  assuring her it was for the best.

We bid our tearful farewells.  She was both a child and a sister to me.  She was the only person I ever missed.  I only saw her once again, many years later, when she returned for her father’s funeral.  It was a sweet reunion.

By then, I had spent many years as a ladies’ maid to increasingly important wives,  my circumstances improving and my status growing.

I was a slave , but as a life,  it was better than many who live free.

Humans are all and always slaves to someone or something.

If you are enjoying this blog,  please click the link to subscribe and receive posts via email (new posts every three days).  Think of others who might enjoy it too,  and help spread the word! Post your favorite stories to social media.   Email a particularly apt link to a friend.   Even better,  talk about the concepts with others (whether you agree or disagree. )
Also,  I have just started a discussion group on Facebook,  for conversations about any of the concepts/issues in the posts.  Honestly, these are things in here which I don’t fully understand myself.  I would love  get your thoughts on this…even if you think this is all a bunch of hooe

artwork: Kamil Aslanger  (I discovered this image a year after writing/channeling this post but it’s such a perfect image, one might think it was actually inspiration for this story. It was not.)

 

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