Phyllis Schieber Author

Women's Fiction by Phyllis Schieber

Men and Love, Or Not

I knew from the start that Marva was unique.  She took care of my mother for several years and was, as my mother always said in Yiddish,a Gutte neshumah (goot-teh nesh-uh- mah): a good soul. A decent person with a good heart.  I had a phone call from Marva this week. Marva is at least ten years younger than I. She is also the mother of five, a grandmother, and the person who taught me more about patience, kindness, and good humor than anyone else I ever knew. One day, in the early months of my mother’s first serious decline, we brought her back to her apartment from yet another hospitalization. I was already weary, and I had no idea what was ahead, how really bad it would become in the months and years to follow.  After we got my mother settled, I left to do some errands. When I returned, my mother was resting. She looked so sweet, so vulnerable, curled into herself with her head resting on her folded hands as though in prayer. Her skin was flawless as it remained to the day she passed. She opened her eyes and smiled at me. I had this sense of knowing that I would never again have my mother whole. I lay down beside her, curved my body around hers, and placed one of her hands on my cheek, flattening her palm with my own. I cried softly for no other reason than I was sad and exhausted. And then Marva sat down beside me on the bed and stroked my back, soothing circular strokes, murmuring in her lilting Jamaican accent that, “It’s gonna be alright.” I believed her.

After my mother passed, I stayed in touch with Marva because she had become part of my life. Still, lives get busy, and sometimes months go by before one of us calls. She phoned me last week, and I was so happy to hear her sweet voice. She said, “Oh, Phyllis, I had a longing to hear your voice and your laugh.” And, as always, I was moved by Marva’s sincerity, her ability to speak from her heart. We talked for quite some time, and at the end, she said, “I love you.” And I told her I love her, which I do. After we hung up, I began to think about how women express their love. In Wiling Spirits, I describe the night that Gwen and Jane, the two main characters “fall in love”:

Yes, women do fall in love with each other. Differently, of course, than they fall in love with men. Falling in love with a man is a feverish experience.There is little control. But falling in love with a         woman is much more serious. It guarantees so much more for the investment. For it is from other women that women are nurtured. It is from other women that they hear what they hope to hear               from men. I understand. I know how you feel. I’m sorry for your pain. I care about what you think: Words that need no prompting. In that circle, women tell each other things that men and                   women tell each other first with their hands and lips and tongues before they can tell each other with words. Women comfort each other with touch that is meant to heal, rather than to excite. The           mysteries of love are less complex between women. The hidden passages are easier to negotiate. And the dangers do not seem as great as when the same journey is taken with a man.  Around each         dank and frightening corner, women hold out their hands to each other and form a human chain that is, quite simply, spiritually different. The lucky ones find men who (and it is a deep and well-           kept secret between women) are more like women.

I have a circle of women friends who sustain me, keep me sane, remind me of my worth, and reassure me that I am treasured. We say, “I love you,” at the end of every conversation; we sign off our emails with the same words, and when we see each other, we embrace and affirm our love. I think it is because women spend so much of their lives nurturing—their children, their husbands, their partners, their ailing parents, their students, co-workers, the list is endless—that they understand the words are a gift, a promise. The words are a reminder to those we cherish that they are not alone, that they matter.  I know a woman who was my student many, many years ago. P. was in my tenth grade class when I was a twenty-three-year-old English teacher. Her life story was incredibly sad and painful, not unlike the stories of many of the students I met along the way. I became a presence in her life, and we stayed in touch. After she graduated from college, she visited often. I welcomed her into my family, called her frequently, sent her money when she was in need, and told her that I love her at the end of every conversation. My son, now twenty-five, recently overhead me say, “I love you” to her and asked, “Do you really love her?” And I said, “It doesn’t matter.” I tried to explain that the words were a balm to P.’s soul. She knew she could rely on me for that bit of normalcy in her other otherwise complicated and often lonely life. My words were an offering that asked for nothing and gave everything. In fact, I do love P., but I wanted my son (who always, always, says, “I love you too” when I say, “I love you” to him at the end of every conversation) to understand that expressing love is not a threat.

In Women are Just Better, Anna Quindlen quotes the observation of a friend who says, “Have you ever noticed that what passes as a terrific man would only be an average woman?” And that’s when, as Quindlen describes it, “A Roman candle went off in my head… What I expect from my male friends is that they are polite and clean. What I expect from my female friends is unconditional love, the ability to finish my sentences for me when I am sobbing, a complete and total willingness to pour out their hearts to me, and the ability to tell me why the meat thermometer isn’t supposed to touch the bone.” Hence the title of her piece, Women are Just Better. One of my good friends, a sane and clear thinking Midwesterner once had the following to say when I complained about my son’s evidently male behavior, “You wouldn’t want him to act like a girl, would you?” I know what she was saying, but sometimes I’m not as sure of the answer.

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May 4, 2010 - Posted by | Uncategorized, Willing Spirits, women's friendship | , ,

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