Clad in red and white striped, flannel pajamas, I stumbled into the kitchen for a bowl of cereal. Gwen sat at the table eating a bowl of some noxious stuff. My stomach churned as the smell of what she ate filled my nostrils. I began breathing through my mouth and reached up to pull my new box of Quaker Crunchy Corn Bran from atop the refrigerator. Another damp box of the same cereal, also mine, sat next to it. Thank You for reminding me to get more cereal, I mutely told my Friend. Abner must have kept the box in his bathroom all weekend.
“Good morning,” Gwen looked up from her bowl with a smile.
“It is morning, isn’t it,” I sleepily responded and added milk to the bowl of cereal I had poured.
“Come sit with me while you eat breakfast,” she invited.
I glanced down at the bowl before her and then raised my eyes from the sight. My lower lip pulled itself down, my eyes widened crinkling my forehead. Gwen laughed at my expression, “I’ll cover the pan.” She quickly got up and placed the cover over the pan of stuff that had filled the kitchen with such a nauseating smell. She cracked the window and crisp Winter air quickly cleared the smell. I glanced down at her bowl eliciting another laugh. Gwen took one of her cookbooks from the shelf and propped it open on the book stand hiding her bowl.
I smiled sleepily, “Thanks.”
“You’re welcome,” she replied returning to her breakfast. “How did Edith like her gift?” she inquired.
I took in a long sighing breath, “She loved it. She even gave me a gift.”
“She did?” Gwen’s eyes widened. “She said she doesn’t give Christmas gifts.”
“She made an exception for me. Goddesses In Every Woman,” my mouth shaped itself into a rueful moue. “That’s what she gave me.”
Gwen gently shook her head. “Because you said that about being submissive…”
“Yep,” I sighed. “That’s what I get for being honest when she’s around.”
“She doesn’t know what you mean, does she?” Gwen’s gentle voice inquired.
“No, she doesn’t,” I shook my head. “And we talked for nearly an hour. When she insisted that you aren’t submissive to Abner, I realized, I was a wasting time. All I could say was that neither of us know the intimate details of your marriage. We only know that Abner doesn’t walk all over you.”
“He certainly doesn’t!” Gwen’s eyes widened with something that might have been anger; her mouth compressed. She took a breath, “He’s never even tried to walk all over me or belittle me or mistreat me. He loves me.”
I shrugged, “Edith’s concern is justice. She always wants to get her due, even in relationships.” Suddenly, my words tumbled out more quickly, “It was like that with Cade. We were always battling for what was due to us. I battled for him to be affectionate and thoughtful and to stop doing things that he knew hurt me. He battled for ll of my time and attention and to make me what he thought I should be.” My voice became a shrill breathiness, “It was hell! During the last two months, I often had an image of myself whacking him in the head while he slept. I’m so glad I left him.”
“So am I,” Gwen smiled gently. Then, with decisiveness, “I don’t like the way he treated you.”
“Neither did I,” I ate a spoon full of corn bran then looked up, “You know, I wish you had told me.”
“I didn’t want to offend you,” Gwen replied.
“I might have been offended at the moment but I would have remembered and left him sooner, before he began showing his sadistic tendencies,” I told her gently. “But I’m away now and the battle for justice is over.” I sighed again and felt a tear smarting in one eye, “Edith just doesn’t get it.”
“Doesn’t get what?” Gwen gently inquired in the stillness that had suddenly filled the room. She waited as I searched within myself for words.
“I used Abner as an example not only because he doesn’t walk all over you but because of the relationship you two do have.” The memory of Gwen rushing out of the bathroom the day before, clad only in her robe, to grab a can of cleanser so that she and Abner could refine their song. “I know about battles for justice. And I know when justice isn’t involved. Most of our clients really need a good therapist or group therapy with the other parties. They’re fighting because they were friends and feel betrayed.”
Gwen laughed. I looked up with a smile and continued. “The asbestos cases, those involved justice. Much of the tobacco litigation — that involves justice.”
“Tobacco?” Gwen asked skeptically.
“Yes. Tobacco companies knew their products were dangerous but kept it hidden,” I confidently told her. “In an odd way, one of the cases I’m working on involves justice. A mortgage lender lied and scammed people into refinancing their homes. Then they discovered the payments were greater than their income. Many have lost their homes and now instead of fighting to help them, companies who bought the fraudulent loans are fighting to avoid responsibility. The homeowners need justice and the companies need to learn what justice is.”
I took a breath, “But that’s not what I want in my personal relationships, I want a relationship like yours,” I looked directly into Gwen’s blue eyes. “You and Abner are always dancing. Everything you do together is a dance. You cook and take unbelievably long showers, which ruin my cereal since Abner never grabs his own box, but you play. And even when I’ve seen you fight, it’s like a tango — you do it together and work things out together.”
“I’ll buy you another box of cereal,” Gwen smiled ruefully.
“That’s okay. I bought cereal. It’s only a big deal when I discover all my cereal is soggy,” I smiled. Gwen laughed. “But the two of you don’t spend much time battling to gain justice from each other. You just love each other. That’s what I want.”
I ate a last bite of corn bran and continued, “I don’t want another relationship where I’m always fighting for my rights, even when I am right. Why bother being in a relationship at all if it’s just one long fight? I want a waltz, a tango.” I stopped for a moment and then, “And I want to dance the female part.”
“Huh?” Gwen asked.
“There were usually only girls in my partner dance classes. And I always had to dance the male part.” Suddenly, my hands gestured, beating the air, “You know, I never learned to follow! Never! I’m dismal when I dance with a man! But I want to learn.” My hands quieted themselves.
“Edith thinks submissive equals doormat. If I wouldn’t let Cade walk all over me, why would she think I’d let any other man do it? He was only my second boyfriend.” I shrugged, “Now I know better. But I don’t want to be en garde all the time for slights and missteps. And I’ll never battle for justice again, not in a relationship. I want to dance. And if I can’t have that, I’d rather not have a boyfriend or get married.”
“You may be more of a feminist than you imagine,” Gwen laughed.
“I don’t think I’m a feminist,” I told her, my head crinkled with puzzlement. Then a smile crossed my face, “Perhaps we need a new name for strong, intelligent women who want to dance with men.”