I didn’t ask. I reached across the space between the two of us, and I took her hand in mine. And then I turned, and walked toward the door. Pulling her along. I’d heard enough. I’d seen enough. Hell, anyone with eyes could see the pain that she was in. And yet, everyone in the room acted as if nothing was wrong. As if she was OK.
To me, sometimes, it’s like people are broken in some way. Like they’re blind, and just can’t see what’s there. Right in front of them. I couldn’t help but see the hurt within her eyes. I couldn’t help but see the way her lips pressed together too tightly. I couldn’t help but see the way she kept looking at the floor. As if trying to keep anyone from seeing her. As if hiding something.
And everyone acted like they didn’t notice, and didn’t see, the hurt that I couldn’t help but see. I’d had enough of that. Enough of that social game, where people lie to each other, and pretend that everything’s OK. She’d told me half a million times about how she wasn’t going to give in to self-pity, and throw a pity party. And while that’s commendable, and I agree with that completely, that doesn’t mean you ignore that you are hurt. And, damn-it. That’s what she was doing. And that’s what everyone else was doing too.
I decided I’d have enough. That I wasn’t going to play that game. That stupid social game of self-denial. Of self-abuse. And I wasn’t going to let her hurt alone. Because the simple truth is that no one really wants to do that. Hell, who wants to live alone? Who wants to have friends that are only friends when everything’s OK? Who want’s to have friends that are never there when you need them. And why does everyone pretend that’s OK? That it’s OK to say to someone, “If you need something from me, just ask,” or “If there’s anything I can do, let me know,” when both you and the person you say it to know you’re lying. What good does that do?
So there I was. Holding her hand. Pulling her toward the door, out of the room, then out of the building. “Where are you dragging me?” She asked that endlessly. And I kept saying, “I should have done this long ago.” And “You’ll find out soon enough.”
I took her outside. And looked around a second. Until I spotted a small, landscaped garden, with a tree in it. And a bit of grass. And a bench people could sit on. And I pulled her toward that. “I’ve had enough. You need this,” I explained, as I pulled her along behind me.
I stopped at the garden. There were snapdragon flowers there. In full bloom. Yellow, orange, white and red. The flowers were a shocking splash of color against the stark color of the building and its parking lot, and sidewalks. All black, and gray, and silver. Chrome, and steel, and glass. And in the midst of all that professional styling, and color, there they were. Those snapdragon flowers. Sticking out like some guy in a tie died t-shirt in a business meeting.
She needed to see them. And I knew that. “Look. Flowers.” That’s all I said. And I did not let go of her hand. I wasn’t letting her continue lying. Nope. I was going to make sure she saw those flowers. Saw that they were real. Saw that they were beautiful. Saw the gift they were from life. Because I knew she ignored them. And she did exactly what I knew she would.
“So? Flowers? What do they have to do with anything?”
That’s when I looked straight into her eyes, “I know you’re hurt. Don’t lie to me about that. I can see it. It’s there. In your eyes.” Yeah. I knew I wasn’t supposed to say that. But hell, I wasn’t supposed to have grabbed her hand, and hauled her outside to see the flowers in the first place. Sometimes, you know. You just have to take the rules people follow and lock them up in a desk drawer for a bit. And do what needs to be done. What should be done. “I love the flowers. Sometimes, I think they’re the only sane thing, the only real thing around here.”
All I had to do was get her to look at them. For just a moment. And I knew that would lead to her looking at them more. “I like the yellow ones the most, I think.” And that worked. She looked at the flowers.
“The yellow ones are OK. But the orange ones look better.”
It was about that point that I realized I was still holding her hand. So I let it go. “Oh. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to do that. I mean. I didn’t mean to…” And I put my hands in my pockets. It was an unwritten rule that I’d broken, and I knew that. And so did she. And she knew too that I had deliberately tossed that rule out the window, and taken her hand anyway.
I stood there. And just looked at the flowers for a bit. At their colors. The way they look so delicate. So soft. So fleeting. There for just a few days. And then gone. “I like flowers.” It was a true statement. I wasn’t lying.
And she was looking at the flowers. So, I crouched down, and let my fingers feel the grass. She watched. And actually smiled. “It’s OK.” That’s all she said. I didn’t have to say anything. And neither did she. She sat down on the bench. And looked at the flowers a bit. Then closed her eyes. And after a moment, she smiled. “Thank you.”
That was real. That was the truth. All she’d needed was a moment. And someone to spend some time with her. And acknowledge that she was hurt. That she needed just a moment. Just a bit of time. To close her eyes. And remember what’s real in this world. And what’s fake. Remember what matters, and what doesn’t.
I just smiled. I didn’t say a word. There was no need. After another minute or so, I finally spoke, “I’ll stay right here, and keep you company, for as long as you wish. And when you’re ready, then we’ll go back.”
She’d stopped trying to hide the hurt from me. She didn’t cry. But she did tell me that sometimes it was really hard. That life was really hard. So I sat down on the bench next to her. And we just looked at the flowers for a little while. And as we sat there, I watched the hurt in her eyes fade. That’s when she told me what was wrong. That she was feeling very lonely. That her husband was on deployment, and would be gone for another 8 months. And it was hard. She missed him so much. But she had to carry on. Every day.
I found myself wishing I had some way to tell her that I understood. That it was OK to hurt. That hurt was a part of life. That missing someone you love was a part of life. And that the feelings she had of being alone, and of things being hard, were OK. I wished I had a way to show her how transient feelings are. That they come and go. That they explode to life. And that they fade away. That they are not permanent. And are nothing to be afraid of.
“I like the flowers. I wish they would be in bloom for longer. They add such color to the world. And then, they’re gone.” That’s all I could think of to say. As we sat there on that bench, looking at the snapdragons, I finally asked her, “Why do people lie?”
“What do you mean?” It was an honest question she asked. So I gave her an honest answer.
“Well… Why do people sign sympathy cards for people they don’t even really know? Why do people say things like get well soon when they don’t really care if you get well or not? Why do people just look at you while he’s gone, and tell you that you’ll get over it, and then pretend that you don’t miss him?” I looked at her eyes again. “Why do people lie?”
She tried to explain it to me. That it was a social behavior. That it was the appropriate thing to do. To let people know that things would be OK. To give them the feeling that everyone cared, and was concerned.
We sat there, on that bench, and talked about that social behavior for a while. Me asking questions, and trying to understand. And her trying to explain. And that’s when she finally realized that I could ask the questions I asked because I really didn’t understand. “I know it’s a lie. What they say to me. The way everyone pretends that everything is OK. But it helps me, I think. To have people around me that behave as if nothing’s wrong. As if nothing’s different.”
We talked a bit more. And then we went back inside. Back to work. She was much better. I knew that. And she acted like she was better. She smiled more. And seemed more relaxed. And there was less hurt in her eyes.
Yeah, I know what I did broke the rules of social behavior. And I guess I’m able to break those rules because to me, they’re just rules. Like the rules of a board game. Like a Monopoly game. All documented somewhere. And everyone agrees to play by them, and follow them. But I know that to a lot of people, those rules are real. And they can’t imagine doing anything outside those rules. And that me stepping outside those rules sometimes disturbs people. A lot.
But I knew too that on that day, she needed a friend to step outside the rules. And give her a moment of honesty. So that she would know that someone knew. And really, honestly cared. And really, honestly was a friend that would help her, if she ever asked for help. That she’d needed something more than just a social behavior pattern. That she’d needed something real. In a land of professional, grown-up behavior. In a world where feelings have no place.
She’d needed to know that it’s OK to feel. And sometimes, you just have to break the rules, and do what you know you should.