Sometimes she is sitting at an outdoor cafe with a beautiful man, clearly in love, laughing. Sometimes she is giving a lecture about the cold war and the space race. Sometimes she is making Terri Gross laugh as she talks about the bizarre ways her life changed when her first book became an unexpected best seller, soon to be a movie. Sometimes she’s awkward and nervous sitting across from Jon Stewart as he flatters the elegant wisdom she brought to the telling of her rather ordinary life. Sometimes she’s giving a TedTalk connecting the development of the Saturn V’s, F1 engine to the creative process and the nature of failure. Sometimes she’s just taking her daily walk, sweaty and gross but smiling because she’s listening to her favorite music and she’s content and happy.
And he is there. He appears. In the fantasy, she doesn’t want to see him but his presence is necessary. It’s a revenge fantasy. Not the kind of revenge you see in bad movies about ex-wives. There’s no pranks or elaborate schemes. No yelling or throwing things. No one gets hurt.
The revenge comes when he sees that she’s ok. That she’s more than ok. That’s she’s happy. She’s thriving. Because he’s still unhappy and he still blames every one else. He still blames her. He’s still empty, looking for the solution. He doesn’t understand why it’s not working for him. He doesn’t understand how she is thriving. I mean, she was so irresponsible, so careless. She had no ambition. She never did anything worthwhile. And now, look at her. She looks great. Look at the way that handsome man with the accent looks at her. I can’t believe I just heard her on NPR. Did someone send me a link of her TedTalk? Did she actually write a book about the space travel history she was so obsessed with? How could she do those things without him? It’s has to be her fault that he’s not where thought he would be. He knows it’s her fault.
In the fantasy, Norah interacts with him briefly. He walks up to her and says congratulations. He says he heard the interview, saw the book. The moment of revenge comes when she politely says, “Thank you. That’s nice of you to say. Take care,” and moves on, ignores him, continues her walk, turns back to her lover, or hits send on a three-sentence reply. He is irrelevant to her. Just an artifact from her previous self. His opinion no longer matters.
Sometimes, when some leftover bitterness finds it way back into her consciousness, the revenge takes a different form. Maybe he pulls her aside to talk to her. Maybe he sits next to her at her favorite bar, maybe he sees her randomly in the street of a foreign city. And he says, “I’m proud of you.” Norah imagines that she is taken aback and looks at him puzzled. Maybe she says, “I’m sorry, what now?” Maybe she awkwardly says, “Um, ok.” But then it sinks in and she gets angry. Then she looks at him, directly in the eyes, places her face close to his and asks, “You’re proud of me?! Why would you be proud of me?” And as the thoughts come to her, her voice becomes stronger and more clear. She speaks with the eloquence of a poet, and the veracity of Julia Sugarbaker. “Everything that I have done, every step I took to get where I am, I would have never done if I had been with you.” The years of anger release themselves in words like daggers hidden in a zen-like, calm presentation. “Do you know how long it took me to write that book? Do you know what a risk it was? I didn’t know if I would be published. I worked on it every night and every weekend while working full time, with no guarantee that it might make me a dime. I did it because I loved it. I traveled to Russia with money I didn’t have. I drove to Huntsville and combed through von Braun’s original documents. I just pretended I was going to be successful and did it. Because it made me happy. You would have resented, demeaned, discouraged and probably even forbidden all of the things I had to do to accomplish what you now tell me you’re proud of me for. You have no right to be proud of me. That’s a sentiment reserved for someone who believed in me, who supported me. You cast me aside. A burden, you called me. Do you remember that? I was a burden to you. Keep your pride. I don’t want it and you don’t deserve it.”
And then Norah calmly turns around and walks away, into a group of friends, maybe. Maybe she takes the arm of her beautiful lover. Maybe she puts her earbuds back in her ear and walks down a path. She takes a deep breath and feels the immense relief she has so often felt, of not being with him anymore.
Sometimes Norah finds her mind wondering in the direction of these fantasies and then she pops back to reality and thinks, “What the fuck I am doing?”
Norah knows that nothing like these scenes will ever happen. She knows that as long as she is hoping that it might happen, she is still clinging to the idea, that one day she might do something that would earn the respect she wanted so badly from him. The respect she hoped to earn for some 20 years. It was when she realized there was nothing she could ever do to earn his respect…….it was when the pain of change was less than the pain of staying the same……..it was when he hurt her more than she was willing to hurt herself, that she left.
And she knows, he will never be proud of her and as long as she still hopes that he will she is not completely free of the wounds his contempt inflicted on her.