hat do I tell a 46-year-old friend who calls me holding back tears to tell me his younger wife has left him for another man?
What do I say after he reads me a terse text message that ends with the words: “Goodbye Cam!” (exclamation point included)?
How do I reply to pleading, anger and hurt that soon gives way to siren-like keening?
I have no idea, so I listen to my friend’s story, which he tells and retells as if rehashing a chess match that always ends in mate, his — and chess is his metaphor, not mine.
“My next move…” he says, advancing the story line. Except he that the match is over.
Here’s a woman, he tells me, whom he adored, lavished with gifts, subsidized, kept in touch with while traveling, and introduced all around. Their meeting and marriage was whirlwind.
Do I tell him they married too quickly, he fresh from a hurtful relationship; she eager to find a partner both handsome and successful, and he is both?
But to say that sounds cynical, as if she, the wife, had vested interests, a plan, a scheme even, and to step on the love-hate toes of a broken relationship seems wrong if not cruel.
Do I sat he was “right” to fall in love, to make his move, to treasure her, but that relationships exist in an infinite and indefinite conditional in which infatuation and unraveling sometimes work at the same time?
Do I tell him, man-to-man, imitating a beer-breath grunt, that women are fickle and poised on the brink of fantastic whoring — “brotherhood” frothing intended as a gesture of gender solidarity, the way scorned women can label some men cheats, louts, losers, or pathetic?
Do I take stock of the woman — I met her only twice — and try to impose calm on an emotionally damaged situation and its lead actor?
Do I tell him to dive into work, insisting he redouble his phone calls and deal-making the way a wounded animal, aware something’s wrong but not sure what, takes to burrowing into the ground, partly to produce distracting adrenalin but also to make a hole that might serve as its own grave?
Since no one truth comes to me I nod on cue. I sit with him around this blazing campfire of events as the kindling slowly turns to embers. Challenged to tell him what I really think (but he doesn’t ask), I’d probably advertise pain as its own remedy. I’m a disciple of fatalism.
Pain itself, the airing out of extremes, is a cure of sorts, so is time (or so the adage goes). Best not to rage too long against what which uses rage for fodder. Hurt knows nothing but its own carburetion, proof of life in the negative. Try then instead to “welcome” this disagreeable but fairly regular guest. Play good host. Offer hurt grub, “thank” it for dropping by, and recommend it get going, which it will, motoring elsewhere only to return at a later date. All that matters is to know it never stays away for long.
Do I say any of this? No. Again, he doesn’t ask. Instead, he pauses, sighs, and says, “She really can’t do this to me. I won’t let her.”
But she has of course, a realization that recharges emotions that again deny the existence of the act he’s working so hard to mourn, returning pain to its central and raging place or origin, part of an ineluctable life cycle.
I am left to issue distracting but useless reassurances my friend knows will last only as long as the conversation, after which he’ll get on with sealing the exit wound, or trying.