“What, frightened with false fire?” - Hamlet
A wave of panic washed over me as we rounded the corner.
The D.E.B. and I were heading to Birmingham to collect our wedding rings from a little shop in the old Jewelry Quarter. En route, we had to stop by his former father-in-law’s to drop off a bit of shopping the D.E.B. had done for him. (He is such a darling, Darling English Boy.)
As we approached the house, we noticed another car in the drive. “Thommie’s here,” the D.E.B said flatly. We both fell silent, and the D.E.B. drove on.
The she-devil of my nightmares, the physical embodiment of all my insecurities, my phantom nemisis: Thomasina. The D.E.B.’s Ex.
I was petrified. The D.E.B. sensed my anxiety and drove around the block -- twice. “We’ll just come back later,” he said.
It’s such a funny thing isn’t it, the way we women can sometimes respond and react in these situations. I don’t know why I am so unnerved by the very thought of her. Thomasina and I harbour no strife or conflict between us, directly.
I hate the pain she has caused the D.E.B., though I don’t hate her, per se. I have no idea what she thinks of me. To be clear and frank, I was not ‘the Other Woman’. Her relationship with the D.E.B. had ended long before I entered the frame.
In fact, there was never an “Other Woman” in their story. Thomasina’s own folly and dalliance brought their marriage to an end. Why then did I find myself quaking in my boots at the thought of encountering her?
I recalled a phone conversation I’d had about Thomasina, with a friend when I first moved to England: “You don’t understand,” I tried to explain to my trusted, psychic friend, whom I call ‘The Soothsayer,’ “The D.E.B. loved her. He didn’t want it to end, even though she’d hurt him repeatedly. How can I face that? How can I live up to that?”
The Soothsayer paused, trying to measure the best way of imparting advice she knew I did not want to hear: “You need to face this woman,” she said in a firm voice, adding, “There is something you need to learn from her.” I resisted my natural inclination for sarcasm, and said nothing.
“There is a lesson you need to learn, and you have to learn it from her. I’m not saying you have to become big pals with this gal, but meet her you must.” The Soothsayer said definitively.
And now, the moment had arrived. I felt unkempt and unprepared, not ready for this testy encounter. “We’ll just come back later,” the D.E.B. said again, rounding the corner, again.
“No,” I heard myself say aloud. "Let’s do this.”
I’m not sure what came over me, but I knew unequivocally that scurrying away like a rabbit was not the answer. Beyond the shadow of a doubt, I knew that if I ran from Thomasina today, I would be running from her for the rest of my life.
Besides, I knew that if I didn’t find the courage to face her, and subsequently admitted as much, several friends of mine would have flown here from wherever they were, and totally kicked my butt for chickening out!
I recalled another conversation with my dear friend, Mikala, who now lives in Dubai, another wise woman in my life: “Thomasina has no power over you. The power she holds, the space she occupies in your life and in your mind is power that you have given her.”
I shared with Mikala the advice The Soothsayer had given, to which she responded: “I think she’s right. You need to burst this bubble. You have made Thomasina this gigantic, phantom nemesis in your mind. You actively compete with her, though there is no competition. You fret and worry about her, when there is no need. She lost. You won. If anybody in this situation should be anxious of facing someone else, it should be her being nervous about meeting you!”
Mikala’s words rung round my head as the D.E.B. and I parked ‘the Tank’ near the drive. Thomasina and I knew each other vaguely in the ‘90s, when I was a student in Stratford-upon-Avon. We’d encountered one another occasionally in the same Stratford theatre/pub scene. So I had an idea of what I would be facing.
I’m not sure whether this bit of foreknowledge made the situation better, or worse. Probably worse. Back in those days, our differences were very pronounced: she was more ‘Stevie Nicks,’ while I was more ‘Siouxie Sioux.’
Our paths would sometimes cross at RSC post-production theatre parties where my uber-intellectual friends and I—dressed in black, huddled in corners, sipping red wine, convinced we were the Shakespeare illuminati—would spy her flitting, flirting and flouncing about the room with ease.
There she was, sitting on this ones lap, pinching that ones cheek, or belting out a quick tune as a ready party trick. “She’s got a nice pair of lungs,” an RSC extra snickered, and nudged his chum, on one occasion, as they watched Thommie perform a short ditty for the crowd.
I wondered how pronounced our differences would seem to me now. And, I will confess, after entering her father’s house, my own feminine shallowness rose to the surface: she’s still got bigger boobs (“lungs”) than me, but I’m thinner.
And, I will confess that I was relieved. (Sad, sad, but true.)
However, the greatest sense of relief for me was in the fact that now this meeting had taken place, Thomasina was no longer a bugbear with which my friend (?) Corrina could taunt, frighten or flog me.
A brief, awkward silence passed between us after we said, “Hello.” But it was less like the nasty pause that occurs between two competitors sizing each other up, and more like one that would occur between two people reaching for the same magazine or book off a shelf.
Under normal circumstances, in a situation such as this, a third party would have intervened to facilitate an introduction, to move the conversation on. But, in this case an introduction was wholly unnecessary.
Feeling a psychic nudge, I swiftly and unwittingly seized the power in the dead-lock: “Thommie, it’s a been a while, hasn’t it?” I said with a smile. And then, I hugged her. (I know.) And I don’t really know quite why I did.
A gesture of peace? A gesture of victory? A need to re-assure myself that she was in fact a corporeal entity and not just a figment of my feverish imaginings? Or a moment of grace?
I would like to think it was that latter, a moment of grace, or maybe even a moment of Grace, i.e., ‘What would Grace Kelly Do?’ Whatever it was, it was above all a moment for me.
The moment I released Thomasina from our embrace, I released myself from fear of her. What a valuable lesson to learn.
The other lesson I learned from this encounter was, for lack of a better word, ‘ownership.’ I don’t mean that in the sense of ‘owning the D.E.B.’ or anything like that, I mean it more metaphorically, in the sense of owning ones place, or ones voice.
When Thomasina made polite conversation by quizzing me on wedding details: e.g., “Are you wearing a dress?” I curbed/kerbed my sarcasm, and kept me answers brief. In other words, instead of giving in to the urge to say: “No, I’m wearing a clown suit. Of course, I’m wearing a dress!”
I said simply: “Yes.” “And is it nice?” she inquired. “Oh, yes, very nice.” I replied. What I appreciated most from my new found sense of strength was that I was unapologetic in my discourse with her.
That is what I mean by ownership. I’m in love and I’m happy, I’m over the moon in fact, and I am not going to apologise to Thomasina or anyone else for it.
It may seem I am over-labo(u)ring a point here, but I think not so. Being apologetic and/or self-deprecating seems to me to be a prime feature of British social discourse. This is this sort of exchange one often hears: “Didn’t you do well? Bravo!” “Oh, well, I could have done better…”
If I’m honest, this sort of thing drives me more than a little crazy. When I was growing up, there was a cute little song we used to sing in Sunday School that goes like this:
“If you’re happy and you know it, clap you’re hands!/If you’re happy and you know it, clap your hands!/If you’re happy and you know it, then your face should surely show it, if you’re happy and you know it, clap your hands!”
A wacky example, granted, but an apt one, with a very simple message: Own your happiness.
Even before my English influences, I was routinely self-deprecating. I didn’t want to seem too happy, to somehow take more than my fair share of the ‘happiness pie,’ or potentially hurt someone else’s feelings by relishing my possession of something they lacked or didn’t have, whether that be a higher score on a test, an awesome new outfit, fab job offer, or boyfriend.
But, no more! Instead of being mealy-mouthed around Thomasina when she asked me if I was excited about the forthcoming nuptials, I did not rattled off a laundry list of patheticisms like: “Oh, well, it’ll probably rain, and the dress probably won’t fit right, and my mum’ll be late getting to the church…” and all the other nonsense things we say, and hide behind, I told her the truth plainly: “Yes, I'm thrilled. It’s going to be a super day.”
And I walked away from that encounter feeling stronger, and maybe even a bit taller, than ever before.