© 2010 David’s Harp and Pen
Up until now, I have talked a lot about my guy friends. In most romantic comedies, the heroine usually has the support of a large arsenal of female friends who help her navigate the ups and downs of romance and life in general. I haven’t talked about any of my female friends because, the truth is, I didn’t have any. It wasn’t a lack of desire or effort on my part, either. I’d tried most of my life to fit in with the girls and women around me, but something would always go horribly wrong, and in my experience, unlike guys, girls are much less forgiving.
It all started back in first grade. Even at that young age, I was really spacey and klutzy, so the other kids, especially the girls, teased me to no end. I guess if I were them, I would’ve teased me, too. I still remember the times I would come to school with my clothes on inside out, or have different shoes on each foot, and even the times I forgot to get dressed at all and showed up in my pajamas (how I managed all this will be a subject for later discussion). It didn’t help that I didn’t have the expensive name brands all the other little girls had, either. One day, Lisa Wakinstrapeski, the prettiest, most perfect girl in school, invited me to her birthday party. I was thrilled beyond words that she would even condescend to talk to me, much less invite me to her party. The word on the street was she wanted one of the new Patty Potty-training dollies, the kind that peed in their diapers, and the lucky little girls who owned one got to change the diapers and put Patty Potty-training Terrific Talc powder on the doll’s diaper rash. So, I broke open my piggy bank, got my life’s savings, and bought one for her birthday. I was so happy with myself, because I was sure no one else at the party would’ve paid as much for their gift as I did for hers.
A week before the party, Lisa started to bug me mercilessly as to what I was getting her for her birthday. I kept telling her it was a surprise, but she wouldn’t give up. Two days before her party, she cornered me on the playground and said, “Margaret Ann, if you don’t tell me what you got for me for my birthday, you won’t be my friend any more and I’ll tell everyone in class you’re a poopy head!”
Well, I couldn’t have that, so I told her. She didn’t say anything. She just walked away and didn’t even so much as look at me until the day of her party.
When the big day arrived, neither she nor any of the other little girls paid me any attention at the party. During the gift giving, she opened all the gifts except mine. Confused, I went up to her and asked, “Why won’t you open my gift?”
She answered snidely, “I already know what it is. You ruined the surprise.”
Almost in tears, I said, “But, you said if I didn’t tell you what it was, you wouldn’t be my friend and you’d tell everyone in class I was a poopy head.”
“You shouldn’t have listened to me. And I’ve already been telling everyone you’re a poopy head since the first day of kindergarten,” she said snidely.
As I aged, my success with same-sex friendships went from bad to worse. It seemed wherever I went, other women turned their noses up at me. I still have nightmares about the night Genie Jeffries, wife of the guitarist in my band, had me over her house for what was supposed to be “girl talk.” I was working two jobs at the time and had been going for 16 hours straight, but she insisted I come over that night. I had tried unsuccessfully up to that point to strike up a friendship with her, and when I went to her house that night, I thought maybe she had softened to me. Not so!
When I arrived, she was not alone. Roxanne, Genie’s best friend and the wife of my drummer, was there, too. I thought that was odd that someone else was there. I sat down and Roxanne handed me some snacks and a Dr. Pepper. When I looked at Genie, she was drilling holes into me with her eyes.
There was a painful silence for a while until I decided to break it. “So, Ladies, how are you tonight?”
“Well, you’re trying to steal my husband, so how do you think I am?” Genie replied with all the fury of a nuclear explosion.
“Excuse me? What did you say?” I felt like a sequoia tree had been rammed through my stomach.
“You heard me! What do you have to say for yourself?” she demanded.
“Eh…only that I’m not trying to steal your husband?” I answered sheepishly.
“You lie! I know it all! How could you do this to me?” she scowled.
“You know WHAT? There’s nothing to know.”
“Oh please. You asked him to come over and help you move, but when he got there, there was no furniture!” She accused.
“No, there wasn’t when he got there. The other guys had already moved it all, but I still had too much stuff to fit in my car. I still needed help transporting everything.”
“You wanted him over there so you could be alone with him!” she accused.
“No, that’s not true! And come to think of it, the whole time he was there we weren’t alone. There were three other guys there the whole time. In fact, I can’t think of a time when I’ve ever been alone with Bobby!”
“Yeah, you’re always surrounded by a group of guys. And then you wonder why I’m suspicious,” she said sarcastically.
“Well, if the moving thing is the only reason you’re upset, then, yeah, I am wondering why you’re suspicious!” I answered. I was starting to get mad at this point.
“That’s not the only reason! Our husbands told us you were crying at band practice on Tuesday. Why do you feel the need to cry on the shoulders of married men?”
“My cat died! I didn’t plan on crying! It just happened!” I shot back defensively.
“You have to know that guys can’t handle that, and when you make big emotional displays in front of men, it confuses their little brains and creates unhealthy emotional attachments!”
“Eh, no, I didn’t know that. Like I said, my cat just died! I wasn’t planning on crying about it at band practice, and I’m sorry if that upset you, but really, there was no harm intended! Next time I’m upset about something, I’ll call one of those psychologists on the radio,” I replied timidly, wondering if some mass memo had been sent out about crying etiquette and everyone in the world had gotten it except me.
“Why can’t you just admit what you’ve done and what you’re after?” Genie pressed angrily.
“I’m not admitting anything. If I did something inappropriate, I apologize, but I don’t want your husband in any way, shape, or form!” I yelled.
Genie’s face started to contort like an ant under a magnifying glass as it channels the rays of the sun. With a Hannibal Lecter look in her eyes, she asked me, “Why? What’s wrong with Bobby?”
At that point, I thought maybe I had been sucked into some bizarre parallel universe, or maybe I was trapped in the mind of one of those afternoon talk show hosts, the ones with shows that always end with the guests trying to beat the crap out of each other.
“Are you asking me why I don’t want your husband?”
“Yes! Is he not good enough for you?”
“Well, he’s MARRIED!!! And even if he wasn’t, he’s not my type. I mean, have you talked to him at length any recently?”
I had really set her off. Her face puffed out and turned orangish-red. Her head looked like a habañero pepper.
“You little Jezebel! First you try to steal my husband, then your storm your way into my house and insult me! Are you even a Christian?” she yelled.
All my desire for diplomacy went up in smoke.
“Wait a minute! First you were mad because you thought I was in love with your husband and now you’re mad because I’m not? And I didn’t storm my way into anyone’s house! You were the one that insisted I come over here tonight, even though I told you I was too tired!” I screamed back. I picked up my purse and coat and headed for the door. Genie followed me.
“I knew when I met you I wouldn’t like you. There’s something wrong with a grown woman who tries too hard to be one of the guys. Don’t walk away from me! I want to know. Why don’t you have any girl friends?” I turned around and stared at her incredulously.
With one hand on the doorknob, I answered, “Think about everything you’ve said and done to me tonight, and you’ll discover that you’ve already answered your own question!”
There it was in nutshell. My Lisa and Genie experiences entirely summed up my difficulties to build any lasting friendships with my own gender: mixed signals and my woeful inability to read minds. As confusing and frustrating as men were to me, women were much worse. Things began to change when Ryan started his internship, and I thought perhaps my losing streak with connecting with other women was over. Wrong again!!!
One Sunday, I headed out the door after church to meet with Rhonda Mitchell, the worship arts coordinator. She wanted to have lunch with me about something. I didn’t know much about her, except that she worked at the church, she was about 60 years old, and she seemed like the type that had been involved in church ever since Jesus started the first one. More about her later, though.
I got to my car in the church parking lot, but realized my keys weren’t in my hand. I started to dig through my purse furiously, not wanting to be late to my lunch date with Rhonda. I wasn’t expecting anyone to sneak up behind me as I looked for my keys, so when I heard the word “boo” whispered right in my ear, I jumped, screamed, and threw the contents of my purse all over the place. I turned around to look. There stood Ryan, once again rubbing his ears.
“Oh, I am so sorry!!! I didn’t mean to…” I started to say.
Ryan interrupted, “It doesn’t matter what you do. I’ve got perfect hearing and you’re not going to change that.”
“It wasn’t intentional, I assure you. I have a lunch date I need to get to and I can’t find my keys.” I bent down and got on the ground to look under my car.
“Oh, you have a date?”
“No, no not that kind,” I said, my torso now completely underneath my car. I saw my keys under the center of my car and grabbed them.
“Well, I won’t keep you, then. I just wanted to ask you something.”
“Oh, okay. Give me a second,” I said as I tried to get back up. I couldn’t. I was stuck under the car. I tried pushing myself out, then sliding myself out by bracing my legs against the ground. No cigar.
“Do you need some help?” Ryan asked, trying not to laugh.
“Do you mind?” I whimpered.
“Now, if I minded, would I have offered?”
“Knowing you, I guess not,” I sighed. Ryan put one arm around my waist and grabbed my right hand with his other hand. With one swift yank, he had me out, but not before I scraped my face and the back of my head.
“Ow!” I moaned like a little girl, ashamed of myself.
“Poor thing! Is there anything I can do?” Ryan asked.
“No. No, there’s no hope,” I rambled. “I’ve been prayed for, anointed with oil, been to deliverance seminars, had every demon that could possibly be related to accident proneness cast out of me, gone to finishing school, and even taken special herbal supplements. Nothing works!”
“Ah. Well, I meant was there anything I could do for those scrapes, like get you bandages or ointment or something.”
I wanted to crawl back under my car and stay there forever.
“Look, I wanted to know if we could be buddies on All About Me?” Ryan asked, not skipping a beat. (AllAboutMe.com was the latest and greatest social networking website.)
“Ah, sure,” I answered, rubbing my sore, scraped face. “But wait, I just started using All about Me. I don’t remember what my username is.”
Ryan walked up to me, brushed some of the dirt off my face, and said, “Oh, don’t worry, Darlin’. I’ll find you.”
As he walked away, I couldn’t decide if he was making a promise or a threat. I didn’t have time to think about it, though. I gathered up the rest of the contents of my purse, hopped in the car, and headed to the restaurant for my meeting with Rhonda.
When I arrived at the restaurant, Rhonda was already seated on the patio. On the seat next to her was a stack of Worship and Warfare magazines.
“Margaret, thanks for meeting with…what happened to your face?” She asked, alarmed.
“Eh, I got stuck under my car and scraped my face trying to get out. I couldn’t get a hold of you and didn’t have time to get home and fix myself up,” I answered as I sat in my seat.
“Why did you get stuck under your car?” she asked in a slightly accusatory manner.
Why do people ask me questions like that? I thought. As if I got stuck under my car on purpose.
“Well, I dropped my keys under the car and then I got stuck and Ryan had to pull me out,” I answered.
A waiter approached our table and asked, “What can I get you ladies to drink?”
“Diet Coke, please,” Rhonda answered.
“An ice water with lime, thanks,” I replied.
“Alright. A Diet Coke and an ice water with lime. I’ll be right back with your drinks and to take your order,” the waiter said and walked away.
“And who is Ryan?” Rhonda asked me.
“Oh, Ryan O’Loughlin. He’s one of the new worship arts interns.”
“Oh, the Irish boy! Yes, well, he seems very nice. Very brave of him to come to America by himself, being so young.”
“So young? How old is he?”
Holy crap! He’s 12 years younger than I am? How is that possible? Oh, I could never get involved with him. And there’s no way he could be interested in me! A 12-year age difference? I think that’s illegal, even here in Tennessee, I thought.
The waiter returned with our drinks, took our food order, and quickly left again.
“How old are you?” Rhonda asked.
“35,” I answered, still mulling this revelation around in my head.
“Hmmm,” she said in a busybody type way. “Robbing the cradle, are we?”
“No, no we’re not dating. We’re just friends, if we’re even that,” I answered as my cell phone beeped. I looked at it to see a text message from AllAboutMe.com.
“Ryan O’Loughlin wants to be buddies on AllAboutMe.com,” the message read. “Click on this link to accept his request.”
“Do you need to get that?” Rhonda asked.
“No, it’s okay. It’s just a buddy request from Ryan,” I answered.
“So, how long have you two been dating? I don’t know how it could ever work, what with the age difference, cultural differences, and all,” she said snidely.
“I told you, we’re not dating. We’re…we’re casual acquaintances, at the most,” I answered.
“Well, I was surprised as anyone to see you two together, what with all those other men I see flocking around you at church,” she continued, obviously not having paid attention to anything I had been saying.
“No. See, Ryan and all those guys are just my friends. I haven’t dated anyone in 13 years.”
“Well, if you want my two cents,” Rhonda started, and I knew she was going to give me her two cents whether I wanted them or not, “it’s no wonder nobody’s shown any interest. It’s not good for a woman to be surrounded by men all the time. Any decent man will look at you and think you’re either unavailable or a tramp.”
“Decent men think I’m a tramp?” I asked, startled at this revelation.
“Well, not that I know of, dear, but you have to be careful. You can’t be one of the guys, you know. If you’re serious about getting married one day, you better leave the boys at the playground. Getting too close to men not your husband creates artificial intimacy and unhealthy emotional attachments, and next thing you know, you’ve gotten involved with the wrong man, lost the friendship, and left alone and bitter. Remember what it says in the Song of Solomon. Don’t awaken love until it so desires.”
Wow! I went from being excited about meeting someone really nice to becoming a bitter, trampy old woman, I thought. Maybe I should have stayed under my car.
“Ah, well, thank you for the advice. I’ll think about it. Was that why you wanted to have lunch with me?” I asked.
“Oh, no, of course not. No, the reason for lunch is we in the Worship Arts Department have been reading your articles in Worship and Warfare magazine and have been very impressed!”
“Oh, well thank you!” I said.
“Yes. I find it amazing that someone with such great spiritual insight can have such poor judgement when it comes to interpersonal relationships,” Rhonda said.
“Thanks…I think,” I answered, not sure of what else to say that would be appropriate.
“So, we want to start a website just for the Worship Arts Department and wanted to know if you would consider doing our blogging?”
“Well, sure, yeah, absolutely! Thank you for thinking of me,” I answered, humbled at the thought.
“Wonderful. Now, you do realize this is purely volunteer.”
“Yes, that’s fine.”
“Good, good. I’ll send you an email with all the details.” My cell phone beeped again. This time it was a text from Shane, once again in the middle of a personal crisis. I furiously shot back an answer, not wanting to be rude to Rhonda.
“My, aren’t we popular?” she said.
“Eh, not really. That was just a friend. He’s having a personal crisis,” I replied.
“He is having a personal crisis. I see,” she said in a tone I couldn’t quite decipher.
“You see what?” I asked, because I really wanted to know.
“That’s another part of your problem, dear. You shouldn’t make yourself so readily available to all these boys. They don’t respect you for it. They’re taking advantage of you.”
“They don’t respect me?”
“Don’t answer your phone for a few days. Let them know you’re not just there to serve them. That’ll whip them into shape!” She said authoritatively. For someone who didn’t know me, she certainly acted as if she did.
“So, Rhonda, I would love to connect with some of the women at church, but to be honest, I have trouble some times…”
“Oh, well,” she interrupted, which I saw she was good at, “you should come to Hannah’s baby shower on Saturday. As far as I know, all the women at the church are invited. Didn’t you hear the announcement at church last Sunday?”
“No, I wasn’t at church. That would be really cool!” I answered, getting really excited.
Hannah Wagner was my pastor’s daughter. I never really talked to her, but the thought of getting to bond with the girls had me ecstatic.
“Well, we’ll just count on you being there, then. It’s Saturday, 2:00 at the parsonage.”
“Wow! I’m just so thrilled! That’ll be so much fun!”
My cell phone beeped yet again. It was a text message from Bruno. Not answering his texts could result in a criminal warrant being issued for me.
“Another one of your boy friends?” Rhonda asked with a snooty look on her face.
“You don’t understand. Bruno’s a cop. If I don’t answer this, he’ll send the SWAT Team after me.”
“Remember what I said. It’s all about propriety, Dear. There’s no harm in making them wait every so often.”
I thought about what she said and thought, maybe, she was right. After all, she was older, and married, so maybe she knew what she was talking about. I put my cell phone down.
“Would you excuse me? I need to use the ladies’ room,” she asked.
“Uh, yeah, sure,” I answered. When I was sure she was out of sight, I picked up my cell phone again and went to All About Me to accept Ryan’s buddy request. After all, I didn’t want to be rude. Attached to his buddy request was a message.
“I told you I’d find you, Darlin’. My cell phone number is 011 (353) (087) 292-8584. Why don’t you send me a text message with your cell phone number so I have it if I need it? I don’t know yet if I’ll get an American cell phone while I’m here. Peace, O,” the message read.
I put his number into my phone and tried to text him, but the message was returned.
Hmmm… I wondered. I wonder if I have to do something special to text him since his cell phone is Irish?
Using my cell phone, I went to my cell phone provider’s website for instructions to send an international text message. It was all very confusing. If I understood it correctly, how to send a text message depended on the recipient’s cell phone provider, time zone, age, income, and position of the planets. I proceeded to a search engine to see if I could find any definitive information on the subject. The first hit was an Irish cell phone company.
The website said, “Prices for SMS are dependent upon subscriber’s pricing plan. A per message surcharge applies to SMS sent to all countries outside of Ireland.”
I didn’t know why, but that just sounded odd to me. So I went back to AllAboutMe.com and, in what I thought was a private message that only Ryan would see, asked, “I got your buddy request, but I can’t figure out how to text you. I did a search on the Internet, and one website said something about sending texts to all the countries outside Ireland. That just sounds weird to me. I mean, how many countries are inside Ireland? I thought Ireland was its own country. Did it get upgraded to continent and I not find out? I know when Pluto got downgraded from planet to asteroid, I was the last one to hear.”
Rhonda returned, followed by our waiter with our food. We sat in silence and ate our food, and I was still mulling our previous conversation. I started to think perhaps I should heed Rhonda’s advice and quit guy friends cold turkey. As I thought of the possible ramifications of such action, I turned to survey the other tables on the patio. To my horror, I saw a couple with an infant two tables down. Out there in the open, plain as day, the mother had her top pulled all the way up, and her bra pulled all the way down. In full view of the world, she fed her baby with one breast while the other sat on top of the table like a place setting. I was so shocked at the sight I accidentally knocked my drink and my plate off the table.
“What in the world?” Rhonda exclaimed.
Attempting to be subtle, I gingerly pointed in the direction of the topless mom.
“What? Haven’t you ever seen a woman breast-feed her child before?” Rhonda asked me, like it was the most normal thing in the world.
“Well, no, to be honest. Surely you don’t approve of that, do you?” I asked nervously.
“It’s the most natural thing in the world, dear. Women do it all the time. When your baby’s hungry, there’s no time to be discriminate.”
“But, is that even legal?”
“Some woman not so long ago took one of those big department stores to court when they asked her to leave because she was breast-feeding her baby in the front lobby, and the court ruled in her favor!”
By then, I was really confused. How could it be that me having a bunch of male friends made me look like the church hooker, but this woman having her chest sitting on the table like it was part of the china was the height of virtue? Maybe it was one of those female things I had never understood.
After Rhonda and I parted ways, I drove home. As I walked into my front door, my cell phone began to go crazy. I looked at it, and it had filled with text alerts from All About Me. I walked over to my computer, put my phone and other things down, and pulled up All About Me to see what was happening. It turned out that private message I had sent to Ryan was not a private message, after all. I had posted the message on his bulletin board, where all his buddies, whom included Bruno, Larry, and Shane, could read it. I re-read my post and the comments that followed:
Margaret Sims: I got your buddy request, but I can’t figure out how to text you. I did a search on the Internet, and one website said something about sending texts to all the countries outside Ireland. That just sounds weird to me. I mean, how many countries are inside Ireland? I thought Ireland was its own country. Did it get upgraded to continent and I not find out? I know when Pluto got downgraded from planet to asteroid, I was the last one to hear.
Ryan O’Loughlin: LOLOLOL!!!!! No, Darlin’. Only one country in Ireland. Actually, Ireland is a world all its own! ;)
Shane Cooper: OMG! Mags, do not think out loud online! Lather, rinse, repeat.
Bruno Spallone: Yes, Mags. Ireland has been upgraded to continent. You should also know that Brooklyn has been upgraded to universe.
Shane Cooper: Remember, Margaret’s always been in her own little world.
Larry Mandusky: Very funny, Bruno and Shane…NOT! Take heart, Margaret. Remember, the Word says we’re strangers and aliens here on earth, looking for a country of our own.
Ugh, I thought. I will never live this one down.
I plopped down on my couch and Bernie curled up at my feet. Wanting to clear my head, I decided to give the Song of Solomon a read on my computer Bible. To be honest, it wasn’t a part of the Bible I read with any frequency. In fact, I had always wondered how it made its way into the Bible in the first place. Perhaps, though, reading it again at that particular point in my life gave me greater understanding. Boy, could I really relate now to the Shulamite. She was the odd ball, very unsure of herself, always saying and doing the wrong thing, surrounded by boys, criticized by the women around her, yet somehow, she had caught the eye and captured the heart of the one who was both shepherd and king. The world stopped for a moment when I came to chapter 4, verse 7: “O my love, how beautiful you are! There is no flaw in you!”
I had been terribly insecure most of my life, and although most people had said over the years that I would grow out of it, I felt like it was only getting worse. Not in every respect. I mean, I think I had gotten to the point where I truly believed in my heart of hearts that God loved me unconditionally, but I still didn’t believe that another human being could love me unconditionally. I wondered what it took for the Shulamite to finally get over that insecurity, to finally accept that she was indeed loved by King Solomon, and to understand that maybe the things she hated about herself were the very things he cherished about her? What if I had met my King Solomon?
I walked away from the computer and threw myself down on my bed and said to myself, “I will not read into anything. I am not the Shulamite. If Larry saw me misapplying Scripture in such a flagrant fashion he would rebuke me on the spot! I will not awaken love until it so desires, and step one to not awaken love at the wrong time is to NOT read the Song of Solomon!”
My cell phone beeped yet again. I walked back over to my computer where I had left my cell phone. There was a message from Ryan. He had texted me directly, wanting to make sure I had his number. While I thought about how to reply, my computer screen flashed. I looked to see even more alerts from All about Me. My post to Ryan was quite the sensation, apparently. There were comments from the boys, milking my little lapse in judgement for all it was worth, and also comments from Ryan’s Irish buddies, asking him if American women were really as nutty as they’d heard. A blunder of this magnitude, now an international incident, was surely worthy of granting me entrance into the witness protection program.
Saturday came before I’d realized it. The temperature was unusually high that day, so I was torn about what to wear. Most of my cooler tops were in the wash, so the only really comfortable top I had to wear was a clingy, sleeveless back silk sheath. I thought I looked really cute, to be honest. As I walked out the door, my cell phone began to beep like mad. Both my visual voice mailbox and text inbox were overflowing with messages from Ryan, the Power Trio, and All About Me. It then dawned on me that I had spent so much time deliberating about how to reply to the boys’ messages that I had neglected to reply to any of them at all. I thought I should at least let them all know I was alright, but when I looked at the time, I saw I was running late for the shower.
Oh, no, I thought. Well, when the shower’s over, I’ll text the boys and let them know I’m still alive.
The parsonage was bustling with activity and all things pink. The estrogen was so thick I could’ve cut it with a knife. All the women seemed to be heading to the back patio. I was very nervous, but my fears subsided slightly when I saw Rhonda. I walked up next to her and shook her hand.
“Hi, Rhonda, I’m here. Thanks so much for inviting me! I’m really excited!” I said, barely able to contain myself. Rhonda gave me the once over, grabbed my arm, and pulled me aside.
“I’m glad you made it, dear, but what’s with that top?” She asked right in my ear, keeping her voice down. I looked at my top, not sure what she was getting at.
“I don’t understand.”
“Well of course you don’t. Look at yourself. I can see all your business!”
“I still don’t understand.”
“Margaret, dear one, that top is entirely too tight. What were you thinking about wearing that to a church-related event?”
“But there’s nothing wrong with this, is there? I mean, it’s hot outside, and we’re all girls, right? It’s not that tight! Besides, at the restaurant, when that woman was milking her baby—or the other way around—you were perfectly fine with that!”
“Exactly! She was feeding her child! Surely you understand the difference!”
Pushing the issue more than I should have, I said, “Well, no, I don’t. First of all, I’m not trying to show off my chest, but if, for argument’s sake, I was, are you saying it’s only okay if it’s being useful at the time?”
Rhonda gave me the look, the look I’d first gotten from Lisa all those years back on the playground. She walked away from me and stepped out on the patio, leaving me to ponder the error of my ways. Suddenly, I saw the light! Not literal light, of course, but maybe, just maybe, all the things my guy friends had said about women all those years were actually true. Maybe we women really do have a weird list of rules longer than the length of the Great Wall of China, as well as a list of exceptions to all those rules, which was most likely the length of the distance between the Earth and the Sun. Maybe my problem with relating to women all this time was that I dared to question all these time-honored traditions passed down from mother to daughter (although somehow bypassing me). Maybe the fast track to acceptance with the XX chromosome crowd was to simply accept what I didn’t understand and keep my mouth shut. Well, it sounded like a good idea at the time.
I walked on to the patio, and all eyes were on me and, more specifically, my ring finger. Did I mention that in churches, it’s also very hard being the single woman? The married women are immediately suspicious, no matter how much heartfelt reassurance the new single woman offers that she is merely focusing on God and her career. The single women, most notably the over 30 die-hards, see the new single woman as a threat. I was preparing myself for the worst.
I sat down in a chair not too far from Hannah. She seemed really nice and sweet, although a bit overwhelmed by all the attention. I had decided I would say hello to her when I was intercepted by a large, scary group of women that, I can only guess, was Hannah’s security.
“Welcome to the party,” Woman One said.
“I’ve seen you at church a lot, but I don’t think we’ve ever met,” Woman Two exclaimed excitedly as she tried to shake my hand off.
“Oh, this is Madeleine. She writes for that magazine, you know? And she’s dating that British guy, Bryan, who’s interning in the worship arts department,” Woman Three happily told the other two.
Woman Two looked at me curiously and asked, “But I thought you were married to that guy on the worship team. What’s his name? The one who always has chocolate stains on his face and hands?”
Before I could answer, Woman Five cut in and said, “Oh no! They were over a long time ago. No, she started dating Bryan right after she and what’s-his-name broke up. What’s his name again?”
Woman Three answered, “Oh, ah…it’s right on the tip of my tongue...Gary! That’s his name, right? The waiter guy?” Then she turned to me and said, “Don’t worry Maddy, it’s his loss. Honestly, after what I heard he did to you, I don’t know how you still speak to him. I mean, the nerve of him. And now he goes around saying God’s given him the gift of singleness. Well, that’s a gift to all women everywhere, if you catch my drift!”
All five women, whose names I never got, all laughed amongst themselves. I couldn’t believe the elaborate stories that had circulated about me without my knowledge. I began to wonder if I had been living a double life all that time and everyone knew it but me. The only thing I was sure of was that I had just been steam-rolled, and I wanted to set all those women straight about my personal life, but I was interrupted.
“Ladies, Ladies! Gather ‘round now! We’re going to do the gift exchange now!” Came the booming, over-powering voice of Carole Hadley, the wife of my pastor and Hannah’s mother. I’ll be honest. This woman scared me at times. Maybe because she always seemed too…oh, I don’t know the word, but too something to be real. Absolutely everything she had, including her husband, was color coordinated. She was also the queen of frou-frou. Don’t get me wrong; it was some top-notch frou-frou, but frou-frou nonetheless. I doubted she’d ever had a bad hair day, skin day, or wardrobe malfunction in her entire life. I was sure she was a nice enough woman, but I found her extremely intimidating. It didn’t help that she liked to spice up the women’s conferences by randomly dropping the v-bomb, which to me, was more disturbing than the f-bomb.
As Hannah opened the various gifts, I intently watched everything going on around me. There was a lot of laughing, crying, and hugging. I could tell some of the women there had a long history together. It seemed every time Hannah opened something new, all the women would let out a long string of oohs and ahs, and then someone would put their arm around Hannah and give her a friendly squeeze. I was so jealous. It was such a special moment, until the women…well, until they started to really be women.
I’m going to share a little known secret about women, at least little known to the male population at large. Women accuse men of being crude, which they are. However, men evenly space out their crudeness so that, eventually, those around them can build up an immunity to it. Women, on the other hand, store up all their crudeness for very special events, such as baby showers and women’s retreats; when unleashed, their crudeness would make even the most hardened sailor, truck driver, or morning radio deejay blush and run for cover. I soon discovered that baby showers are not events for the faint of heart, or the weak of stomach, of which I was both.
Woman Four asked Hannah, “When are you due again?”
“Two weeks,” Hannah replied.
“Oh, how exciting!” Woman Three squealed.
“Yes, it’s going to be smooth sailing from here, I’m sure. Dr. Sanders says he really likes Hannah’s uterus,” Carole shared happily. My head turned so fast I thought I got whiplash.
“You’re really fortunate to have such a great uterus, Hannah,” Woman Two remarked. “Mine is tipped and doesn’t sit right in my pelvis. Let me tell you, conceiving in the first place was a nightmare.”
“Oh, but you’ll have no problems with yours, Hannah. I can tell just from the pictures,” Women Three reassured her.
Pictures? I thought. Pictures of what?
Then I saw the pictures. Someone had made up a little commemorative program of the shower, and there on the front page was an ultrasound photo of Hannah’s womb. I stared at it for the longest time, unable to absorb the magnitude of what lay in front of me. I must have had an unusual look on my face, because Woman Four sat down next to me.
“Are you alright?” she asked sweetly. I should’ve followed my previously established rule and not said anything, because questioning these time-honored female traditions and codes of conduct only got me into trouble in the past. It was like looking at that fatal car wreck, though. I just couldn’t help myself.
“This is Hannah’s uterus, on the front page of the program,” I said nervously as I pointed to the picture.
“Yes, I know, isn’t it lovely? She’s going to make great babies.”
“But, is that normal? I mean, showing pictures of your internal organs like this?”
“Well, sure it is! It’s so everyone can see the baby!” I looked at the photo again, still confused.
“Eh, I don’t see the baby.”
“It’s right here, see?” She pointed to a gray speck in the middle of the photo.
“But that doesn’t look like a baby. It doesn’t look like anything.”
“Of course it wouldn’t! She wasn’t far enough along yet!” This only heightened my confusion.
“Okay. So, ah…I’m sorry. Please forgive me. I’ve never seen anything like this before. Ahm…so…what makes her uterus so perfect?”
“Oh, there’s a lot that factors into it: the size, where it sits in her pelvis, and look here. See nicely rounded the walls are, how it’s that nice V-shape…oh, and look at her Fallopian tubes. Notice how the arches are in just the right spot…are you sure you’re okay? You don’t look well at all!”
“I, ah, I don’t feel well, to be honest. I’m sorry. I’m not used to this.”
“Not used to what? This?” She pointed again to the ultrasound photo. My stomach started to churn at an unreal pace and I swallowed very hard, afraid I was going to throw up.
“I don’t know what you’re getting so worked up about,” she said. “This is a beautiful thing. It’s a natural thing. It’s a woman thing.” My mind pondered the preceding conversation, and I started to wonder if maybe I was somehow deficient as a woman. I began to feel really bad that I didn’t have a closer, more personal relationship with my own uterus, like all these women seemed to have. Perhaps a good way for me to develop friendships with other women was to get some ultrasound photos of myself and carry them around in my purse. Pictures of my womb, though, still seemed a little too intimate to me, so I contemplated instead getting shots of my liver, or something a little more exotic, like my spleen.
My stomach had gotten really upset, so I ventured over to the drink table for some ginger ale or clear soda to calm it down. Turned out that was also the wrong place to be.
Woman Five stood in front of the drink table in a lively conversation with more women whose names I never got.
“So, I thought, this is kid number three, so it’ll be a breeze, right? Wrong!” She said in an animated fashion. “Brandon was two and half weeks late. The doctor kept saying be patient, but he was a man, so what did he know? I was absolutely miserable! By the second week, I was ready to grab John’s hunting knife and just cut the kid out myself!” Maybe I would’ve found that funny at the time had I not been trying to keep my entire digestive system from nuclear implosion.
“When I hit week 42, everyone was getting worried, so the doctor said he had no choice but to start stripping the membrane,” she continued. She then noticed me standing there and asked, “Are you alright? You look awful!”
“Str…stri…stripping the membrane?” I stuttered. I know, I know. I shouldn’t have asked, and I have no one to blame but myself.
“Oh, that’s when they go in and peel back the membranes to separate the baby from the cervix,” she answered.
“And how do they do that, again?” Woman Three asked.
“Well, sometimes they use a clamp, but if it’s a midwife, she just uses her fingers.” At that point, my gag reflex kicked in and my face turned a lovely shade of pea green.
“You really look terrible. You better sit down,” said Woman Five. She pulled a chair up for me to sit on.
Weakly, I said, “I’m so sorry. I have a little bit of a weak stomach, and all this talk about…you know…” All of the women laughed, which only made me feel worse.
“I take it you don’t have any children?” Woman Two asked.
“No, no. Just a dog.”
“Well, you better toughen up. The life of women is blood and guts, and you know what they say. ‘No guts, no glory.’”
“Besides,” Woman Five chimed in, “human women have it easy as far as childbirth goes. Most animals, after giving birth, have to eat the umbilical cord and the placenta.” I thought I was going to pass out right then and there. Suddenly, a mad fit of uncontrollable dry heaves came over me, and I didn’t know how to make it stop.
“Well, great! Now look what you’ve done! Stop torturing the poor girl!” Woman Four commanded. She came around beside me and handed me a drink in a paper cup. When I looked at the cup, it had punch in it, the super red, homemade kind that had chunks of melon-colored sherbet floating around in it. For some strange reason, the mere sight of it made me feel much worse. I covered my mouth, jumped from my seat, and ran straight for the bathroom. After a few moments, I was able to regain my composure. I looked at myself in the mirror to assess the damage.
Courage, Margaret, courage! I said to myself. The world of female relationships is a minefield, but a navigable one. I splashed some water on face, took a deep breath, and headed back outside. As I surveyed the yard, I noticed Carole and Rhonda socializing in a corner with some women who looked like they were well past childbearing age. I thought maybe this would be a safer place to hang out. Again, my discernment that day was way off.
I walked in on the conversation in time to hear Carole say, “I tell you, Ladies, I thought it was going to be the end of our marriage.”
“Oh, I hear you. When I had mine, it was hell on earth. At one point, Ray thought he was going to have to have me committed,” Rhonda shot back.
Okay, Margaret, I thought to myself. Suck in your gut, put your game face on, and interact. These are your sisters in Christ. Fear and nausea, be gone!
“What happened?” I asked, trying to show genuine interest in whatever they were talking about.
“Oh, we were just talking about our hysterectomies,” Carole answered casually, as if they were talking about getting their nails done.
Oh please, God, no! I prayed silently. How much more can one woman take?
“Oh, I’m so sorry. My condolences,” I said quietly, wondering if that was the proper thing to say.
“Nobody died, Dear,” Rhonda quipped.
“I might as well have!” Carole shot out. “I was absolutely miserable, and I don’t care what anyone says. The hormone replacement therapy is worse than the hysterectomy itself.”
“Tell me about it. That Premarin made me a raving lunatic. The mood swings were so bad, I was ready to kill anyone that peed standing up!”
“What’s Premarin?” I asked innocently.
“You take it when you’ve had a hysterectomy. It replaces all the estrogen you’ve lost after they take out your ovaries,” Rhonda answered.
“I see. And how does it work?” I asked. Why did I have to ask? Why, why, why?
Carole answered, “I’m not exactly sure. Premarin is an abbreviation for pregnant mare urine.”
My poor stomach was about to collapse on the cellular level. I kept telling myself to be mature about the whole thing, that this was normal girl talk, and if I wanted to be one of the girls, I would have to get used to it.
“Really? Pregnant horse urine? That’s…uh…hmm…so, do you…eh…do you just drink it straight, or do you mix it with something?” I asked, hemming and hawing to get the question out, trying to look genuinely interested.
Carole gave me the strangest look and replied, “It’s in pill form!” I felt really dumb at that point, more so than usual.
“Of course, the worst part of it for Ray was my libido became nonexistent. I mean, the mere thought of him coming anywhere near made my skin crawl!” Rhonda shared. Carole and all the other women in the group nodded their heads in agreement.
Oh no! I thought. They’re talking about sex.
“Preach it, Sister! I was there, too. You know what an animal Norman is. The first few months after the operation, well, I wasn’t in the mood at all. He just walked around the house like a hurt puppy dog,” Carole added.
I had passed the point of no return. It was bad enough they were talking about sex, but to hear my pastor’s wife talk about her relationship with my pastor? That’s like thinking about my parents…ugh! I get the heebie jeebies just thinking about it! The ladies continued on a little longer about all their love lost until Carole noticed I was quickly headed into a catatonic state.
“Oh, Ladies, we better stop. I think we’re making Madeline here uncomfortable,” Carole giggled.
“It’s Margaret,” I somehow managed to get out.
“So, Madeline, how did you handle your hysterectomy?”
“Oh, I’ve never had one.” That was the second time in my life I had gotten the Hannibal Lecter look, and receiving it from seven women at once was downright terrifying. I felt like I was surrounded by a flock of carnivorous vultures that had just descended on fresh road kill.
Thinking that might have been a good time to lighten the mood, I asked, “What? Am I the only one here with a uterus?” I found out quickly that was NOT a good time, because the answer to my question was a resounding “yes.” I excused myself again to the bathroom and quickly scanned all available exits to the parsonage. I wondered if I would be able to escape with my dignity and reproductive system intact.
When I got out of the bathroom, I saw all the ladies congregating around the really long table outside. As I walked outside with the greatest of trepidation, I heard Carole announce, “Ladies, Ladies, it’s time to cut the cake. I just want to thank all of you who helped make this such a special day for Hannah and me. Let’s dig in!”
I got behind Rhonda in line for the cake. She turned to look at me and asked, “What is wrong with you? You look like death warmed over!”
“I…ah…it’s been a rough day,” I said, not in the mood to try to explain my female deficiencies.
“Well, the day’s almost over.” When we made our way to the front of the line and I looked at the cake, I realized my nightmare was just beginning. There, plastered across the sheet cake, was an edible image of Hannah’s aesthetically pleasing and architecturally perfect uterus. However, this picture must’ve been taken when Hannah was further along, because the baby clearly looked like a baby this time. If that didn’t send me into an epileptic seizure, I didn’t know what would. To add insult to injury, Rhonda handed me a piece that was a cut-around of the baby’s head. She tried to hand it to me as I started to shake.
“I’m sorry, Rhonda, I can’t. It’s too, too gross,” I muttered, not even wanting to acknowledge the presence of the dreaded piece of cake.
“What are you talking about? It’s just a piece of cake!”
“It’s what’s on the cake! That’s the baby’s head, for goodness sakes! It’s, it’s barbaric!”
“Well now you’re just being melodramatic!”
“I am not! It’s the principal of the thing! I am not a cannibal!”
“Just eat the cake and stop being ridiculous!” I couldn’t hold it in any more. As Rhonda shoved the piece of cake in my face, I turned away and threw up all over the sheet cake. A collective gasp rose up from every woman there, sucking all the oxygen from the yard at once. I looked at all the women there staring at me, including Hannah.
“I…I am so sorry,” I stammered and ran out of the house to my car.
The car drive home was interminable. The only comfort I felt on my arrival was when my dog Bernie jumped up to me and licked my hand as I patted his head.
“Well, Bernie, I’m not one of the guys, but it doesn’t look like I can be one of the girls, either, so I guess it’ll just be the two of us from now on,” I said to him, determined that I was not going to cry.
I walked in the back door, so preoccupied that I forgot to close or lock the door behind me. When I set my phone and keys down, I noticed that my cell phone was dead. I walked over to my charger, plugged in my phone, and turned it on. The phone made sounds I’d never heard before, so overloaded with voicemails and texts, most of them from the boys.
Oh, no! I thought to my dismay. I never got back to any of them! Oh, I am so dead!
As I began to play back the messages, I contemplated, in light of recent events, what I would need to do in order to fake my own death.
Voicemails from Shane:
# 1: “Mags, what is going on? I’ve texted you, I’ve called you; I’ve stalked you on All About Me, and nothing! Don’t you know I’m having a crisis and my chocolate supplies are depleted? This is unacceptable! Call me right away, as in immediately!”
# 2: “Okay, Mags, I give up. I guess you’re just too important now to talk to me, so I guess we need to discuss custody arrangements of our mutual friends. I’ll take custody of Bruno if you take Larry. I’m sure we can come to an amicable agreement about Ryan. Okay, then. Since you’re not talking to me anymore, I’m not talking to you. Well, so long!”
# 3: “It’s me again. I just remembered I’m going to Atlanta next week for that audition and you promised to dog-sit Hayley. So, feel free to keep that appointment, and when I get back, we can go back to not speaking to each other. Bye!”
Voicemails from Larry:
# 1: “Margaret, no one’s heard from you since Sunday morning. I’m not worried, because the Word says we’re to cast all our cares on the LORD. However, it would be helpful to continue to not worry if you called or texted one of us.”
# 2: “Hey there, Mags. I am still not worried, because the Word says we’re to be anxious for nothing. So, call or text soon, so I can continue to stand in faith for you.”
# 3: “Margaret, I still haven’t heard from you. Now I’m really…eh, really NOT worried. Anyway, please let me know something, because I love you…not like THAT, of course. I mean in the phileo, brotherly sense…and maybe in the agape sense, too, although definitely not in the eros sense in any way. So, anyway…I pray you’re alright. Call soon!”
Voicemail from Bruno:
“Alright, are you trying to get back at all of us because of the comments we left about on All About Me? You know we were all joking. Why do all you women have to be so touchy? You’ll be happy to know that not only have I not been able to get through to you, but I’m getting real-time updates from Larry, Ryan, and Shane about their inability to get through to you. If you don’t call or text soon, I’m calling out a search party. Of course, knowing you, it won’t be something as simple as getting lost or getting into an accident. So, I’ll be sure to keep my ears open for any alien abductions or local terrorist sleeper cell membership drives. Who knows? Maybe that dog of yours finally finished you off and buried you in the back yard, which would be tragic, because I’d have liked the honor of doing it myself…okay, in all seriousness, Mags, I’m worried. I hope you’re okay, because you know that I…I…Oh, if you make me say it, Mags, I swear to God I’ll…” Beep!!!!
I felt awful, a level of awfulness I had never experienced before. I had failed making contact with the girls, and I thought for sure the boys would never forgive me for dropping off the radar. Surely the Shulamite would never have been so foolish. I began to pace in front of my couch as I relived everything I said and did in the last seven days. I rehashed every conversation and situation to see what I could’ve done differently. It was a terrible feeling to think everyone but me had been given all the rules to interpersonal interaction, and halfway into my fourth decade of life, I was still trying unsuccessfully to play catch up. While I beat myself internally over and over again, I felt a presence in my living room. When I turned around, I saw Ryan standing in front of me. I was about to scream, but he put his hand over my mouth.
“Sorry,” he said. “I don’t mean any harm. I just knew you were going to scream and decided to save you the embarrassment.”
“How did you get in here?” I asked.
“You left your back door wide open.”
“Why didn’t Bernie bark?”
“He likes me, remember?”
“Yeah, right. How did you get here?”
“Someone at church is letting me use their car while I’m in the program.”
“How did you find my house?”
“MapQuest. Any more questions for me?”
“Eh…ah, what are you doing here?” I asked, afraid of the answer.
With a hint of sarcasm, Ryan answered, “Oh, I’m just looking for a corpse.” My poor brain was going to explode any second.
“Oh. Ah, who died?”
“My friend Margaret.”
“But, but I’m your friend Margaret.”
“Oh no you’re not. See, my friend Margaret would never purposely disappear without telling anyone, or not answer her phone or her text messages, so the only reason I can come up with is she’s dead. And I ain’t talking to you through a Ouija board, so you couldn’t possibly be her.” I held my head down because I couldn’t bring myself to look at him.
“Just be glad it was me and not Bruno or Shane that came by. Now, why don’t you tell me what’s going on?” he asked as he started to walk towards me. Again, I found myself backing away from him as I tried to think of a good answer. It appeared these Irishmen had no concept of personal space.
Think, Margaret, think, I thought to myself. What would Rhonda say? What would the Shulamite say? Propriety, boundaries, don’t get attached, you’re not one of the guys!
“I’m waiting,” he said in a voice that seemed deceptively calm. I stopped backing up, and as he got in my face, I looked straight into his eyes.
“Well, um, you see, I had to go work in my vineyard, because I’m the only daughter of my mother, and my brothers were saying that I was slacking off, but I got really burned because I didn’t wear any sunscreen; and then, when I went back to my tent, all that burn cream put me to sleep, and so I didn’t hear when the shepherd knocked on my door. So, he thought I wasn’t interested, and then I had to chase him through the village, only to find out that not only was he a shepherd, but he was the King of Israel. So, ah, yeah, that’s where I’ve been.” Ryan looked at me, his eyes as big as Frisbees, and tilted his head to one side.
Slick, Mags, real slick. That was monumentally stupid, even for you, I said to myself.
After a minute, Ryan looked at me again and said, “Alright. I know that makes perfect sense to you, but I left my Margaret to English, English to Margaret Dictionary at home. So, could you tell me that again in English, using really tiny words?”
“I…I” I stuttered and stammered.
“I’m waiting.” I tried very hard to think of something to say that would be acceptable to Rhonda or Carole. Don’t say too much. Don’t say too little. Don’t be too accessible. Make the boys wait for answers. Do not act in any way that would even give the slightest inkling that I was mature, attractive, or sane.
I couldn’t take it anymore. I started to bawl uncontrollably and collapsed on to the couch in a big weepy mess. Ryan sat down next to me, then Bernie got on his hind legs and put his front left paw on my left leg and his front right paw on Ryan’s right leg. Bernie kept turning his head back and forth between Ryan and me, wanting desperately to know what was going on.
“What’s going on?” Ryan asked.
“I can’t tell you,” I replied.
“Because, as soon as Genie Jeffries finds out I broke down in front of you, she’ll have a lynch mob on me faster than you can say, ‘Margaret, the church hooker!!!’” I buried my face in my knees. Bernie nuzzled his face into mine and licked the tears off my face as Ryan put his hand on my shoulder.
“Why don’t you just tell me what’s going on? I promise I won’t back you into any more trees, and we’ll have Bernie man stand guard at the door for any insects or lynch mobs.”
I laughed for the first time in a week, so against my better judgement, I told him the whole sordid story about my lunch with Rhonda, the lady breast-feeding her baby, and my weird venture into The Estrogen Zone. When I finished my tale of woe, I looked at him, fully expecting a recap of everything I had said and done wrong. Instead, he looked at me wide-eyed, bit his lower lip, and began to laugh hysterically.
“You’re laughing at me,” I said, then finding it hard not to laugh myself.
“No, no, Love, not at all. I’m laughing at all those scary women! Omeegosh! Edible embryos. Horse wee. I’m just thankful you made it out alive.”
“So, you don’t think I’m crazy?”
“Oh, I didn’t say that, Darlin’,” he answered. He then winked at me, and bust out laughing. At that moment, I was finally able to see the humor in it all and laughed ‘til it hurt.
“I think I met some of the women you described. Ever since I got here, they’ve been trying to fix me up with their daughters,” he said, chuckling.
“Run while you still can!” I urged him. We laughed for a little while longer, and then it was just silence.
Ryan looked at me and said, “I don’t know what to tell ya about the girl friend situation. Just…just don’t ever feel like you can’t be yourself with people. Let me pray for you about it.” Then he took my hand in his, we bowed our heads, and he prayed in such a way that it seemed like God couldn’t in a million years refuse him.
“Well, I better be getting back. Let Bruno, Larry, and Shane know you’re alright, and for God’s sakes, keep your cell phone on and charged, will you?” he said jokingly as he got up from the couch and headed for the back door. I didn’t know why, but I started to cry again.
“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to come unglued on you,” I said penitently as I followed him to the door.
Ryan then got that unreadable look in his eyes again, turned around, and got in my face one last time to say, “Don’t you ever apologize for being real with me. Do you hear me?”
I thought for a moment that I had made him mad, but then he reached his hand up to my face and gently wiped away my tears as they streamed down my cheeks. As he did it, I remembered the part of the Bible that says that God will wipe all the tears from our eyes. No one had done that for me before, but it felt so good, it almost made all the crying seem worthwhile.
“Nice place you got here,” he said as he walked out the door.
“Thanks,” I answered.
“Definitely fit for a queen.” I stared in silence as he walked away.
Fit for a queen? I thought. Oh no, Margaret, you’ve already done too much thinking for one day.