This is what happened to me today, and I thought I would share it.
I enjoy the “Bucks…I’m a caffeinated bit of trouble when I start my day sucking on a green straw – as perhaps you may have noticed when casting a musical in a mythic land….not that I suggest you do that.
I used to be able to get more work done at Starbucks, but lately, every time I go in, someone sits with me, or next to me, and they start talking. I think I just have ‘that face’.
Today I was ‘busy’. I looked ‘busy’. I had a laptop. I had a large drink with a green straw that Mayor Bloomberg would have taken away from me (But seriously, Your Honor, it had no sugar, it was just a very large glass) and there were two ladies sitting next to me conversing in another language that I recognized, but do not speak myself. However, they switched at one point to a language that I am familiar with, French, and something about the way I twitched must have given that away, our tables were inches apart. We began speaking.
We exchanged names, but I am not going to share that here – because there is a safety issue for one of the women. Let’s call them Dolly and Molly, after Dolly Levi and the Unsinkable Molly Brown.
They were very excited to talk to me once they realized that I was a ‘real American’. They thought I was European because of the way I look, and because I understood a smattering of French. After they asked about my heritage and what I ‘identified as” (I replied “New Yorker”), the next question Dolly asked me was one that has plagued women as long as there have been women and men – “Why do men cheat?”.
I gave some opinions, they gave theirs. I said, “Well, I never really understood cheating, because if you are unhappy enough to cheat, then be honest about it and divorce”, at which point the Dolly pointed to her friend and said, “Like her, she divorcing now, very bad.” I said I was sorry to hear that. Molly looked at me and said, “It’s like…movie with J. Lo, you know? With the boxing? And there is one with Julia Roberts, same thing. Like me.”
The films Molly referenced are both about women running away from abusive spouses and having to hide. The whole conversation then changed, it became at once specific, and at the same time, universal.
Molly was not from America, and she was trying to divorce her husband. I say trying, because her husband was refusing to recognize that she wanted to leave. He had taken the children (2 teen girls and a young boy) back to his country of origin. She had left with one suitcase, and taken no jewelery, no money – just her suitcase and their children. She had taken out a restraining order in the United States. However because she had been with her husband since she was twenty, and because he is, as many domestic abusers are, very persuasive, he had been able to convince her that she did not need a restraining order, after all, he was in another country, right?
The minute the restraining order was lifted, he came in the middle of the night and took the children back to his Country. There was nothing she could do. Throughout their marriage, Molly was subjected to extensive physical abuse, because, until the birth of her son a few years ago, she had ‘only’ produced daughters. This led to her husband buying a house and a Mercedes for his Mistress, and installing her a short distance away from their home, which shamed her in front of her neighbors.
He told her, “If I cannot get a son from you, she will give me one.” Even after Molly gave birth to their son, he kept his Mistress. He continued to beat his wife. Had anyone looked closely at Molly, they would see a small groove on her cheekbone. She fills it in with makeup. When I have seen that kind of mark before, it has been from being struck by someone wearing a ring, although I do not know if that is the cause in Molly’s case. Molly is now in her late 30’s.
I asked if she was working with a lawyer here, and she told me she was. Dolly was with a Human Rights Organization, and was very supportive – they shared an ethnicity. Dolly told me, even though she has returned to her country of origin for trips, she no longer ‘identifies’ herself that way. She told me that ‘Education is freedom’ and that her greatest wish is for women everywhere to educate themselves so that they only would marry if they fell in love and he was ‘a good man’. Molly said she would like to find a good man, and smiled when she called her husband, her ‘Ex”. It took her about a half an hour before she stopped saying “My Husband” and switched to “My Ex”.
Dolly pointed to her friend and said “Look, look at her, see how beautiful? Why? Who would not love to have this woman as their wife?”. Molly has a chic haircut, wore a beautiful dress, heels, no jewelery, and her face was beautifully made up. To look at her, you would think she is a ‘typical’ Los Angeles dweller, upwardly mobile and able to spend six bucks on a blended drink without thinking about it. She shared so much, I wondered if she would regret it later, but in listening to her I realized that, on many levels, she ‘needed’ to be heard, she ‘needed’ to be seen.
She told me that her Husband was very wealthy, very well respected in his Country. For Molly to have left him is a huge insult, and she is afraid. She is afraid for herself and for her two daughters, who are nearing teenage years. Her Husband could tell them anything about her and then marry them off to men who are just like him. He has cut off any support, she is on her own. When she first tried to leave, he had her committed to an Insane Asylum, so that her ‘word’ was no longer ‘good’ with anyone who knew them. Her son is very young, and will likely forget her if she does not return.
Molly hopes that her children will understand, but she knows she might never see them again. When she went to the restroom, I asked Dolly if she had a way to support herself. Dolly said Molly is in college, and they are giving her a place to stay, and support and so on. She said that they are going to help Molly fight for her education and her children.
When we parted, I wished them so much luck. Dolly thanked me for listening, she told me I was ‘A very nice lady, educated, you see? Educated, very good.” They both told me, repeatedly throughout the conversation, how happy they were to be in America. How much they admired American women.
I know I am going to think of them often. I am unlikely to forget Molly’s face or her circumstances. I would love to punch her husband ‘in the kisser’, as we say in New York. Not that violence solves anything, but I would love to. It would make ME feel better, because hearing this story, my emotions were…well, all over the place is putting it mildly.
Some last thoughts about Molly, she deserves to have them said – she is absolutely gorgeous, non Muslim, and fluent in several languages – in case you thought you knew where she was from. I am also hoping, that she is like the nickname I gave her for this posting, unsinkable.
Here in the States, we’ve been hearing quite a lot about the “War on Women”. Listening to Molly, was a sobering reminder that in many parts of the world, women are not even part of the discussion.
In 2009, the Dalai Lama said “The World will be saved by Western Women.”
Let us hope so.