Seen but not Heard

Jenny loved leggings lined in fleece. Oversized leggings that don’t cut into her well-loved thighs – but instead hug them in a warm embrace. She’s so short that she could probably pull up the waist band passed her boobs and make it a full body suit, but figures that might be taking it too far. Instead, she pulled them up beyond her belly button, hugging her tummy with warmth. Perfectly paired with a long sleeved shirt and socks that could reach her knees, but she rolled mid-way down her shins to cover the scars on her legs she’d rather not remember.

That night she and her husband Finn had plans to go out to meet up with some friends. Feel free to dress in your best. She thought about the word “best” and the subjectivity of that word. Does “best” mean “best fitting and most comfortable? Because if so, she was good to go, but she had a feeling that her optimism was ill-advised and that she was going to have to wear tights and Spanx and that every breath would feel like her rib cage was crying.

Clothes strewn across her bed, Jenny pulled on dress after dress, picking apart what each accentuated imperfectly about things she wanted to work on, when Finn walked into the room wrapped in a towel, still dripping from the shower. He wrapped her in a damp but warm embrace. Her fingers found their way through his dark and sexy locks, and she forgot for a moment about picking apart the fat where her arms meet her chest – in his eyes there was no such thing — she was so much more than just a fleshy bag of meat and bones.

When Jenny wasn’t wishing bad things on the creator of Spanx and underwire, she loved to think about big ideas – conversations about life, love, politics, philosophy, the universe, and more – those, along with Starbucks House Blend with a splash of soy and a packet of raw sugar – were her sources of energy. She didn’t know how to do small talk – and her attempts to do so always sounded awkward and uncomfortable (awkward as in “what’s your favorite kind of cheese?” No, really). But get her started on Neil deGrasse Tyson’s theories of the universe and what William Blake would think of today’s world, and she is off on a roll. This is a woman who doesn’t know how to play small. Finn loved that.

Jenny grew up in a country town where the mountains kiss the sky and the Maples know everyone’s secrets. She spent summer days alone in the woods – it was her re-charging time from playing the role everyone else needed her to play: comedian, confidant, shoulder-to-cry-on. In these moments alone, she listened to the leaves and cried to the creek.

It’s been several years since she visited that spot that probably still echoed her giggles in another time and dimension. In those years, she and Finn spent their time exploring other countries and states, living abroad and never within their comfort zone, growing, and changing.

It took thousands of miles and oodles of time for Jenny to discover that her worth shouldn’t be defined by what others needed from her.

Flashes of these moments in time raced through her mind as she painted her face at the same vanity that she learned how to do her make up at a decade ago – her reflection in the mirror was still that girl aching for adventure, with just a few new lines around her eyes, but she was not the same – everything had changed, but nothing had changed at all.

This complicated woman that he had married enamored Finn. He loved watching her wheels turn as she sat in silence.

They pulled up to the driveway of their hosts – a quick glance in the passenger side mirror to check her lipstick made Finn smile, watching her pucker her lips as to check that her gloss covered her thin but full lips all the way to their brim. She winked at him and they got out of the car.

The house was warm, the women sparkled in their best and she noticed how the men she knew forever graduated from skater shoes and plaid to ALDO’s and vests. Just as she had grown into a woman in her years away, she was still surprised to see the boys of her childhood as men.

They looked like men. They smelled like men. They greeted women like men do.

But she was surprised to find out that she was no longer their equal – their childhood friend – she was a woman now. A woman worthy of the respect of a kiss on the cheek greeting, but not of being included in conversations that women shouldn’t have – you know, about ideas, and business, and masculine things like that.

She nodded along appropriately throughout the conversation, listening to understand instead of waiting for a turn to speak. The discussion was heading in the direction of advertising and marketing – something Jenny knew a thing or two about. She tilted her head out of habit – she knew it didn’t really, but for some reason it helped her concentrate – Steve was talking about radio advertising and the difficulty of measuring it’s effectiveness. At the appropriate chance, Jenny jumped in.

“You know, radio advertising used to be the way to get the word out for small businesses – but advertising is really becoming more streamlined through social media. You can get you more bang for your buck and go directly to the audience you are aiming for. If you start a Facebook page for your company, you can sponsor posts and have it show up directly in the newsfeed of — “

Turning his attention to Finn, her words might as well have been from a ghost. “So yea, I mostly advertise through Clear Channel Communications, and then that way it gets on 103.7, 102.3, and all the local stations.”

Jenny wasn’t sure if that actually just happened. Her brows furrowed and she bit her lower lip. She kind of wanted to cry a little bit but she remained composed. Maybe he just didn’t want to lose his train of thought and had to get it out? Maybe I’m being too sensitive?

She remained quiet for a while, listening attentively but apprehensive to speak – it embarrassed her to be disregarded and she didn’t want to be again.

As the conversation moved along to lighter things, she thought now would be a good time to re-join the conversation – it was just talk of those glory days people seem to hang onto so lovingly. They laughed about old times and she began to tell a story about how they all used to prank call Finn’s grandpa from the hallway before school started just to hear his adorable accent – Finn laughed along with her, only to have the moment of reminiscing cut short as again, she was cut off mid-sentence, this time by Luke – bringing up a totally different topic – not adding onto the story.

Jenny thought about how sometimes people disrupt others to add onto their stories and how that’s a normal part of conversation – but this was different.

Well-intentioned but oblivious, Finn bounced out at the end of the night, fumbling to find his keys in his jacket to hand over to his sweetheart.

“Maybe you can drive? I was okay until the gin came out. I fucking hate gin. I don’t care if it’s aged a trillion years – gin blows. Why did I even drink it?”

Jenny smiled, taking the keys from him.

“Did you have fun?” He asked, unaware.

“Yea. Nice to hear everyone talk about all the fun times from when we were kids.”

“Yea def.”

She wanted to tell him how she felt – but didn’t want his night to end on a bummer. He had fun. She didn’t need to, or want to, ruin that.

The next morning they slept until almost 10, recovering from a night spent well passed their bedtime.

Diners are truth serum for New Jerseyans. Finn sat with a Taylor ham, egg, and cheese on a hard roll, devouring it with his eyes before his mouth even had the pleasure.

Not in any way a morning person, Jenny ordered a black coffee – the waitress asked if she’d like cream and sugar – she winked and said, “Nope, just black – like my soul.”

Looking down at the sandwich in his hands, almost touching his mouth, Finn smiled.

Cupping the coffee right below her nose and breathing it in, she thought back to last night – and couldn’t shake the guilt. Did she talk too much? Did she say something wrong? Was she being too presumptuous, or did she sound arrogant by telling someone the best way (in her opinion) to advertise?

She knew this never ending loop of questions was ridiculous – she knew she wasn’t wrong, that she had as much as a right to partake in that conversation as anyone. She had been the social media manager of several companies and organizations over the years.

So why did she need validation for the knowledge she knew she had?

Why did she need permission – a hall pass — to have a voice?

And who was she looking for that hall pass from? And why was it always a man’s face that she saw when she looked for the pass?

Finn saw her wheels turning in silence. He didn’t know what she was thinking about, but he knew that whatever it was, she was being overly critical of herself – he could always tell when she was internally criticizing herself based on what part of her lip she was biting.

“So what’s going on in there?”

Jenny took a deep breath, visibly filling her chest, exhaling the release of anxiety that would come from talking to him – he was the perfect person for topics like this. A modern man with a classic twist – a well-aged double of Jameson, vanilla, straight up – no frills, take-it-or-leave-it, but smooth on the way down. A new age version of a classic.

She told him what happened straight through; he listened intently.

After she finished, he thought for a second, and then spoke.

“Here’s the thing: they are wrong. When men disregard women in any way, it’s shitty. And you don’t need me to validate you by telling you that – but I will anyway.

…The way that a man treats a woman is result of how fathers build their sons. When they don’t see the men in their lives treating women as equals, sometimes the boys are wise enough, early enough, to know that what they see isn’t right, so they adjust accordingly.

…Other boys see what they see and take it as a universal truth.

…The man in the first scenario will do that in every aspect of his life – observe, question, and adjust accordingly. The man in the second scenario treat women how you were treated last night.

…unfortunately, it’s still more common than it should be in the 21st century – and I’m sure every woman you ever encounter can tell a story of experiencing being disregarded, belittled, objectified, and more. What you need is a game plan on how to handle scenarios like that – because they will continue to happen – and you shouldn’t be speechless when they do.

…As for the friendship aspect of it – all friendships serve different purposes. Some friendships exist out of common values and beliefs. Some from family connections and proximity. Others from shared history. When you know what to expect from people, you don’t have to be disappointed. When you accept people for who they are, their character flaws don’t hurt — and you can still love them.”

Jenny tilted her head throughout and nodded.

She knew he was right – but it saddened her that she needed a “game plan” for such situations.

She was an idealist but not necessarily an optimist – her mind wandered to wondering if she would have daughters some day, and if she would need to help them come up with a game plan.

In a world that says ‘boys will be boys,’ women will always have one common thread among them: at some point, they will feel only seen – but not heard.