"I obeyed him, but I don't always. My newly married daughter said I wasn't being a good example to her when I disobeyed him. I think most women have trouble with obedience."
Stunned into silence I look away from her and into the room of couples. We are sitting in a corner visiting quietly. She is eighty years old and battling leukemia. A bout of chest pain had plagued her the day before so her husband had told her to do nothing today. Still, she struggled to obey him because it was Saturday; the day in her religious culture where floors demanded washing and bathrooms scrubbed. After I told her I'd done nothing that day she told me, as if we were keeping a secret from all the other women in the room, how my day of nothing made her feel better. Had I a litany of tasks completed she would've most likely hidden a sheepish smile behind her hand before confessing to doing absolutely nothing. She saw it as a victory of having obeyed her husband. As I gaze at the other women in the room I notice how angry and sad I feel that she most likely will die before ever owning her own life.
I didn't grow up in her culture but still, I see my own story in hers. During one period of my life, a time which I tell my adult children should have given them spiritual whiplash, I defined being a good wife by not having any thoughts about anything. I became opinionless because I held deferring to dearest one as the ideal. He didn't ask that from me. His observation of women trying to be submissive was that they often were skilled manipulators. I'd decided, after reading many books on being a good wife, that deferring to him was what a Godly woman did. Which is humourous in itself now that I think about it, considering I decided how best to be submissive without consulting him one bit. Oh, the irony.
It became one of the most manipulative, passive aggressive times of my life. One day a friend asked me about something and I told her I'd have to ask dearest one. Exasperated, she questioned, "But what do you think?" Her question startled me. I hadn't even considered what I thought.
But deep down of course I knew what I thought. I'd never lost my opinionated ways. I just stuffed them deep down inside while striving to be sweet and quiet on the outside. That was interspersed by episodes of going absolutely ballistic verbally. Oh, the joy.
One morning I looked in the mirror, weary of the facade, and decided I could either continue to put on my mask or I could shed the outward appearance of submission and begin owning my choices. I was both relieved and scared to step into my life.
I didn't tell this woman last night that I no longer relate to her view of marriage. She assumes because we are both women of faith that I too, wait for permission to have a life. I couldn't tell you exactly how I see it. All I know is that I don't see it how I once did. In the decade since I stepped into my life I continue to shed who I think I should be. There's no straight line between then and now. Just a crooked path with layers of onion skin strewn along the way.
Being in active recovery has shown me that I not only need to own my choices today but also my choice long ago to pretend to have no choices, too.
That doesn't stop me though, from feeling sad about an 80 year old woman feeling the need for permission to skip doing her Saturday work.