Leading Ladies


One night last year, Flash and I were hanging ten off the couch as we did a little channel surfing. I always try to grab the remote first, so we don't have to stop on every channel that's airing a dead-people-on-a-slab show. As I hurried through, a scene flashed on that I know like the back of my channel-flipping hand. The Way We Were. Rips my heart out every time I watch it, but it's Robert Redford and Barbra Streisand. And I love Redford and Streisand. The first time I watched it, on October 3, 1976, was such a monumental occasion, it merited an entry in my eighth grade journal. I had moved our old black and white TV into my room, using a chair as its stand. It was especially wonderful because I watched it alone; no man talked to me during the show.

Last year, I wasn’t so lucky.

"Why do they break up? Because she's a huge pain in the butt?" Flash asked while I tried to tune him out.

“Have you ever watched the entire movie?”

“No,” he admitted. “I’ve only seen parts of it on my way to other channels. That was enough.”

Hmmm. After watching mere glances of a 118-minute film, he decided it was all Katie's fault. Typical, I thought to myself.

"What? Why would you assume it's because the woman is a pain in the butt?" I asked.

"I've seen enough of her movies. She's always a pain in the butt." My clueless husband had uttered blasphemy; he knows how I feel about Babs. The Way We Were, Part 2 was about to commence in our living room.

"Really? Yentl? She portrays an intelligent, independent woman seeking to study the Torah in a male-dominated society, and she's trying to make a better life for herself. That's a pain in the butt to you? An intelligent, independent woman?"

Flash gave me his husband-in-the-interrogation-light look as he tried to screw the lid back on a family-size can of worms.

I turned back to continue watching Katie and Hubble trying to work things out, but I couldn’t concentrate. I had to defend Katie. Soon, I was off and running with a verbal dissertation that spewed forth from the depths of my soul. "Katie’s a woman with her own thoughts and opinions, who’s not willing to compromise her beliefs, and she doesn't fit Hubble's image of what he wants in a wife. He knew what he was getting when he married her. She, on the other hand, feels cheated, especially, I am sure, when he sleeps with that horrible other woman."

I heard Helen Reddy’s “I Am Woman” playing in the background, and thought about burning my bra – a thought that occurs more frequently as my hatred for suffocating elastic grows.

"I stand corrected," he said as he tried to escape the living room. He thought his placating response would stop my questioning; even after almost 24 years of marriage, poor Flash can be quite delusional.

"So would you consider me a pain in the butt, or do you not see me as intelligent and independent?"

Damnation awaited with either response. He was, finally, speechless as he rolled his eyes and did his familiar head-bobble thing. A sure sign he wished he’d never broken my serenity. He made a quick exit, and I was left alone to watch my favorite heart-wrenching film.

But he makes the same kinds of remarks when we watch TV sitcoms involving couples.

“Walk away. Just walk away,” Flash screamed at Ross while we watched Friends last week. “Rachel is trouble; she’s selfish.”

“She’s in love,” I tried to explain.

“She wants what she wants,” Flash replied, not realizing he’d just explained the human condition, regardless of gender.

Whatever. She acts like a woman; I understand her.”

“Ross needs to stay with Julie.”

“Oh please, he loves Rachel,” I replied. “Julie is boring. You don’t even understand love,” I hollered.

“Julie is normal,” he replied.

“So you think he should stay with a boring, normal woman because she is boring and normal? Even though he’s in love with Rachel? What are you saying? Are you with me because I’m boring and normal?”

The look in Flash’s eyes screamed “No.”

“Oh,” I continued, “I get it. You are living vicariously through Ross because you wish you’d married someone boring and normal. That’s right; you think I’m Rachel. You’ve said that before.”

And, apparently, I am Laura Petrie on the Dick Van Dyke Show. Every time she exclaims, “Oh Rob” as she breaks down, or opens his mail, or stomps off in a huff, Flash bores a hole through me with his eyes.

He also says I’m Corie Bratter, portrayed by Jane Fonda in Neil Simon’s Barefoot in the Park.

“I’m not watching that with you,” he said the last time I suggested the movie for a couch date.

“You thought it was funny,” I replied.

“Not so much.”

Seriously? We’ve watched it more than once.”

“Exactly,” Flash explained. “Once was enough. I live it; I don’t want to watch it.”

“What are you talking about? I love Corie, but I don’t act like her.”

His glare bellowed otherwise.

“Well,” I replied, “I like her. She’s fun. And spontaneous. And loves people.”

Still he glared.

“Well, I do see the similarity between you and her husband, Paul (Robert Redford),” I added. “You are kind of a stuffed shirt. So I guess I can see some similarities between them and us, as a couple.”

Whatever, Corie,” he replied as he walked away.

Flash is allergic to dramatic women. We’re running out of shows to watch that have strong leading ladies; all those films seem like home movies to Flash.

My friend Pierre, whom I dated for a short time in college, told me a few years ago, “I’d think about getting serious with someone again, if I could find a woman with less than three personalities.” I couldn’t argue with that; I know what I was like in my 20s. And, in case I forget, much of it is recorded in my diaries.

Recently, I found Mom’s diary among some of her keepsakes. Most of her entries were written in 1938, the year she turned 11 years old. She writes about school, who was absent on certain days, and how she did on tests. She writes about contests she won and about her best friend, Baby Lou. She writes about family and church, and about who died recently. Death and funerals were a part of everyday life then. Reading about her life made me think about my first real diary, the one similar to hers, with a lock on the outside. In it, I wrote about the same kinds of things – school, friends, and family. But not so much about death and illness. One of my entries is about the Great Houston Snow in the early 70s, when I was still in elementary school. The snow was so thick, my friends and I got our old sled out of our attic; my family used it when they lived in Michigan, when I was an infant.

In my eighth grade creative writing class, we had to keep a daily journal. Why we called them “journals” rather than “diaries” is beyond me; I suppose it sounds more grown up. I wrote about my upcoming eye exam at school; I hoped I’d still look attractive if I had to get eyeglasses. I wrote about friends I was mad at and was not speaking to, and, two days later, I wrote about the fact that all was well again with those same friends. Those relationship glitches happened often. But still, overall, life was pretty carefree, and only a tad bit more complicated.

I didn’t keep a journal during high school; those years are recorded in hundred of notes passed to friends during classes. But my journals of college days and young adult years make Gone with the Wind seem like a comedy. Every detail of life oozed with complications. Of course, all entries involving dating were complicated because of the nature of the beast. When I’d contemplated throwing all my journals away a few months ago, Mom cautioned, “You might want to hang onto them; you might have some good story ideas in them.”

“Oh please. Nothing I’d want the world to know,” I objected. But still, I heeded her advice.

So last week, after years of not looking at them, I took all my journals out of my nightstand drawer and proceeded to read about my own life. It will be fun, I told myself as I got cozy on the couch. As I read, much of it I hadn’t remembered. Had I remembered, I never would have opened them again. It was exhausting. Everything was dramatic. Everything was earth-shattering. Not that there weren’t truly traumatic times; of course there were. But my feelings were hurt so often, just reading about it got on my own nerves. Quite frankly, I was a pain in my own butt, if not in others’.

But no other human being will have the opportunity to read all the folly of my youth – after a lengthy hiatus, I’ve returned to censorship. So many pages are blacked out or torn out, eventually I’ll be left with 5 pages out of 1,000 that will be acceptable for others to read after I’m dead. My reason for censoring used to be, “I don’t want my mother reading all that ridiculous stuff I did.” Now, I’m worried about the rest of the human race indulging in my soap opera life.

For hours, I ripped out pages. I crumpled pages. It felt good to watch my whiny soliloquies drop to the floor; Younger Me would never be preserved for others to find trite and monotonous. I was saving my reputation one page at a time, in an attempt to maintain my non-dramatic-woman façade.

“What are you doing?” Flash asked as he walked through the living room, wading through pages on the floor.

“I’m going through my journals,” I replied.

Flash has never asked to read any of my history. According to him, he doesn’t need to. I live it; I don’t want to read about it, I’ve heard him think. But he has no idea how easy he’s got it. He doesn’t appreciate how easygoing and serene I’ve become over the years.

I’m glad I’ve mellowed so much, I thought to myself as I put away my journals for the evening. I’m down to only four personalities. Apparently, their names are Katie, Rachel, Laura, and Corie. They’re fine gals with strong heads on their shoulders and passion in their hearts.

I asked Flash once, “Do you wish you’d married someone easier? Less complicated? A perfect housekeeper? Someone who never argues, doesn’t make you crazy, and doesn’t have such strong opinions?”

“No,” he responded sincerely, with love in his eyes. “I would have been so bored; you’re good for me.”

And vice versa. He’s good for me too. I help him lighten up when he acts like a stuffed shirt, and he continues to glare at me when I get too worked up about life. He’s the perfect reality check for his leading lady - a recovering drama queen.