By Ellie Davis
During the winter of 2015, my husband and I were living in a grey, grey suburb of Stockholm, Sweden, in a particularly grey apartment. One Monday morning at 7 a.m., my husband was at work and I was doing laundry in the basement because that was the time I was assigned by the building association, or whatever. Grey.
As I started the first load, the maintenance man came into the locked room. I nodded, gave a slight smile, and said ”good morning” as I would to any human being who came into a room where we were clearly the only people present, then took my attention back to the laundry, which was the only reason I was out of bed, and the only thing keeping me from getting back there. Alone.
The maintenance man had that brown-chicken-brown-cow, gonna-have-some-hot-basement-laundry-room-action vibe as he stood watching me for a moment. I took a deep breath, still with my back to him, and thought, ”If you hit on me, you will walk away in pain.”
He left the room, but came back a moment later. He had mustered up the courage to talk to me. Originally, it may have been the afore mentioned agenda, but now it was a bigger issue: his wife. Specifically, was it wrong for him to seek attention from other women because she wouldn’t give it to him? He had moved to Stockholm from Turkey where it’s common for men to ”go out with girls” and for the women to look away. He had done that a couple of times and it felt terrible.
Being an uppity Western woman, certain that I know what’s right, I asked if his wife was also allowed to look outside the marriage. He rolled his eyes. ”Of course not.” Restraint (not always my strong point) from lecturing him on how wrong and stupid these antiquated, sexist views of women are proved to be an intelligent move.
As it turned out, she wasn’t interested in other men. She wasn’t interested in ”it.” At all. He loved her more than anything, wanted to be with her and make her happy in every way possible, but she wouldn’t let him near her. He was a regular, hard-working guy who wanted the closeness and physical release assumed, promised to married men.
I asked him how she knows he loves her. ”I remodeled the bedroom! I made it very beautiful, exactly how she wanted it.” Ah… Well, how about the rest of your relationship? Kids? How long have you been married? Is she happy? They have three kids, married for fifteen years. Happy? ”Of course!” Ah…
”OK, Azmid, do you talk to your wife about these things? About her happiness or how she really feels about it all? You know, it can be so painful for many, many women. Physically and emotionally.”
”God, for a lot of reasons! For one thing, a lot of men don’t know how to move gently if there is pain. Women carry the pain from abuse currently and from generations back, even if they never had it directly themselves (stopped myself from giving in to the temptation of lecturing about misogyny in cultures, which is good because it’s stupid of me to think that misogyny is limited to Middle Eastern cultures and it would have killed a conversation that was letting light grow for both of us.). Women feel pain, and more than only for themselves! Sometimes that makes it difficult to be close to a man in that way. You have to move in a way that you’re only giving to her, you’re not trying to take anything from her.”
”But not you!” He says, ”You can see, it’s obvious you enjoy it!”
I will probably always remember how this split second felt. It was as if the camera zoomed in, making my view of him tighter, making me know I had a choice to tell the truth or to be a lector from a pulpit. I chose the truth.
”It hasn’t always been that way. When I met my man, it was very painful physically. Still is sometimes. And I was angry. So angry it was hard to be close to me. I’ve always had this smile and I could fool people, so it was confusing to the people around me. He came along and could see past the smile, past what I was pretending to be, past the pain, and was tender and patient with me.
He would move so slowly that we could face whatever was happening in me. He helped me let the anger out with love. He wasn’t afraid of my anger and he knew we could face the pain of my life, together.”
”He is a special man.”
”He is, but the thing is, anybody can do that. Both people can do it for each other. They just need to love each other and make that the most important thing, not what they want from the other person or what they think the other person should be. Both people have to be brave enough to tell the truth about everything. Then you can change everything.
You can do it. You and your wife. If you want nothing from her but for her to be happy and feel good, if she can be honest to say ”yes ”or ”no,”she likes this, doesn’t like that, it will change everything.”
We talked to the end of my laundry, both of us lighter, both of us grateful. It was truly mind blowing, heart growing, unexpected sunshine in a grey time. He told me that in the thirteen years he’d been working in that building, I was the third person who had ever talked to him. How could two strangers forge such a bond, let alone with his bad English and my terrible Swedish? How could we be so open about the most intimate of subjects and never even utter the word?
We moved from that living situation a couple of weeks later. I’ll never see this friend again. For the six months we lived in that building, I was beside myself with hate for the place. In that one exchange, I could understand that, like the song (and Bible) says, ”for everything, there is a reason.”
P.S. I want to make it clear that I don’t believe that the only way a woman can heal is by being with a man; that’s just the way it worked for me. It may be with two women or two men, it may be on a solo journey. The only important thing is that the person healing herself finds love enough for herself and a willingness to become honest — absolutely, myth shatteringly honest — about what she finds inside. Facing with compassion for ourselves the hidden pain, hidden thoughts that keep us bound is what makes more love grow.
Ellie Davis is a performance artist and Chi Nei Tsang practitioner (traditional Chinese healing art, go to bloomingbeing.com if you want to know what that is!) currently biding her time in a small town in Sweden, consistently seeking more ways to go down the rabbit hole.