It was my birthday and I was both sad and glad for myself. I had lived a long life, filled with difficulties of every kind one can imagine. I had spent a good portion of it struggling to survive in the face of poverty and want. I had struggled to raise three children, mostly alone, in the midst of that poverty and want. I had worked long hours and after that, worked even more hours as I raised those children: getting my bachelor’s degree right after the second was born. I Finished my master’s as I carried and gave birth to my third. Cooked their diners, gave them baths, put them to bed then sat down to study for my doctoral comprehensives. I wrote while holding a nursing baby in one hand, and turning over pages of books with the other. I had endured deep loneliness, doing what I did without anyone to help me: no family to come to my aid, no man save the one who got angry if his dinner wasn’t ready and the one before him who had gone insane and wandered homeless from one place to another because God whispered in his ear that he should.
I had almost died on several occasions, went right to the edge of the precipice as a result of an allergic reaction to penicillin, from gangrene of the gall bladder, an ectopic pregnancy, a driver who wasn’t looking where she was going because she was texting. I had come so close to death that I felt it move air out of the way as if it were a fan. But I not merely endured, I prevailed over it all; emerged triumphant over circumstances so difficult, over labor so long and arduous, over obstacles so diverse, circumstances and people so demanding. My birthday, was a celebration of my strength, my endurance, my tenacity. I could taste my life, bourboned honey coating my mouth. It was on the one hand, a happy day as I celebrated my long life with people I loved, and a sad day, because so many people I loved would not be there either in spirit or in flesh. Most of my…my children, my grandchildren, my great grandchildren would not remember it was my birthday at all. If they did remember, they would not be moved to offer their congratulations. My most beloveds would not, for one reason or the other be there either; the pain would be excruciating. But I would celebrate with other people I loved. There was a song from the early seventies that went “if you can’t be with the one you love, love the one your are with” and that I would definitely do.
I was so busy with my reading and writing, that I would not realize I was hungry until early afternoon. By then I was ravenous and decided that since it was my birthday, I would go to one the cafes a few blocks away and eat lunch.
I noticed her immediately, noticed nothing else but her. She moved so slowly across the short carpet of grass before the bus stand, so slowly across the concrete, and then, so exquisitely slow as she stepped into the street. Her head turned only to watch the two oncoming cars. And ever so slowly, carefully measuring her distance she waited for the one closest to her to come close enough and then stepped in front of it. Deliberately, thoughtfully. The car swerved just in time, and as the driver straightened his wheel, he was moving directly at me. It was only at the last minute and because he had slowed before he hit the curb, that he did not hit me.
My eyes returned to her and I watched a man grab her around the neck, turn her, lead her back onto the sidewalk, onto the grass. He stood before her, looked directly into her eyes and then I understood that he was deciding whether he should beat her or not. As for her, she didn’t care. She was a broken woman. Absolutely. You could see the indifference she felt … she was indifferent to whether he beat her or not, she was indifferent to everything around her, and she was absolutely indifferent to life. He looked into her eyes and then put his arm around her shoulders, drew her to him, and walked away with her. He knew she had had enough….of him, of her life, of life itself. Whatever he had done….and perhaps he had done nothing, he understood that at that point, no matter what he did he could not bring her back to him.
I realized how lucky I was. For all the difficulties, the suffering, the physical ailments and pain; for my indifferent and disfunctional husbands, I had not been broken. Not because I was stronger; but because I had never endured the punishment she had endured. She had reached the breaking point, and while I had often thought of ending my life, I had never reached that same breaking point…..the point at which I actually could step in front of the car.
I spent the rest of the day in bed….thinking of her.
Mary Metzger is a 74 year old semi retired teacher. She did her undergraduate work at S.U.N.Y. Old Westbury and her graduate work In Dialectics under Bertell Ollman at New York University. She has taught numerous subjects, from Public Sector Labor Relations to Philosophy of Science, to many different levels of students from the very young to Ph.D. candidates, in many different institutions and countries from Afghanistan to Russia. She has been living in Russia for the past 12 years where she focuses on research in the Philosophy of Science and History of the Dialectic, and writes primarily for Countercurrents. She is the mother of three, the grandmother of five, and the great grandmother of two.