The call with Rita didn't go as I expected. She's a former co-worker, a more junior writer that I hired and mentored at my last job. I like to keep the lines of communication open because last time I saw her, when we were toasting our time together, she hugged me and whispered, "You're like the mother I never had." It never occurred to me that she viewed me that way, but I was touched and am eager to honor that. So every couple weeks I reach out: an email, a get well card after her leg surgery, a postcard from the road, etc. Then she calls. Typically she tells me about her kids (a preschool son and two preteen stepdaughters) and her job and she asks me if I'm ready to come out of retirement and work with her at her new job. The calls are usually about 45 minutes.
She was done working for the afternoon, her stepdaughters were doing homework, her son was with (great) grandma* so she she settled herself on the back porch with a beer and a joint and decided it was time for "a real catch up."
We started with work. She excitedly told me about a success she'd had and I told her -- writer to writer -- that her headline was clever and seamless and that I was proud of her. I also told her I wasn't surprised. More than talent, I told her that her passion for her client's business will carry the day. I reminded her of what I always told her when we worked together: put the client's interests first and you'll succeed. "Don't try to be sophisticated or blase. Your clients want to hear how much you care."
Then we pivoted to the kids. She got surprisingly emotional. Not about the children but about the breadth of our conversation.
"I miss this." Said with surprising intensity.
"I'm always here," I replied. She said that wasn't what she meant. Talking to me, bouncing with equal emphasis from the professional to the personal, she realized how lonely she had become.
She told me she and her husband don't communicate. She said things had changed with her best friend. She wanted to talk about it.
"Sure," I said. I didn't expect what came next.
Tears. Lots of tears.
She and Brian no longer share a bed, and she stopped enjoying sex with him three years ago. He had a DUI with their son in the car, and she can't forgive him for that. He lied to her about going to a strip club.
I wasn't aware of any of this. There was more.
She thinks she's in love with her best friend. Girl-on-girl romantic love. Last fall, her friend's husband jokingly suggested a threesome. This emboldened Rita to confess her sexual feelings to her friend, who doesn't reciprocate. They're still friends, their kids still play together, but it's not the same anymore. She misses their easy give-and-take and fears that by confessing her attraction, she "ruined everything."
Rita and Brian have agreed to "co-parent but live separate lives." She doesn't want his daughters to go through another divorce. But she wants love and companionship, and she no longer loves her husband.
Gulp. I'm so over my head here!
She also told me I was the first person she was sharing this with. She has her "work friends," those that she discusses "career stuff" with, but they tend to be childless. She has her sister, also a young mother, but Rita is afraid her sister will "judge" and "blame" her for "blowing up" her family. Her relationship with her best friend is now strained.
Again, I feel honored that Rita trusts me with all this. But, I reminded her, I'm a barren spinster and my advice is coming to her through that prism. Maybe, I ventured carefully, the romantic feelings she has for her best friend aren't born of sexual desire but loneliness. It might make sense for her to expand her circle of friends away from her identity as a career woman or a mommy and base new relationships off something more personal. Something that's hers and hers alone. I told her that I joined my movie group looking for information and appreciation of classic films and came away with Will ... and Joanna ... and Elaine ... and now Karen. These are friendships that have grown organically and comfortably.
"You need to find your tribe," I told her. Then her sexual/romantic confusion will lessen when she finds the companionship she craves. Or not. What do I know? I did tell her, though, that if she goes to gay bars, she will find sex. Liquor does that. She needs to make clear-headed decisions ... for the sake of her family and her fragile, wounded heart.
She told me she likes to draw and would love to pursue that, but ... She already feels guilty being away from her son as much as she is, between her job and P/T. I told her to check that at the door. One night a week away from her little boy is not going to wreck him. Especially if he is in the care of his father! Besides, he'd understand. He goes to school during the day and makes pictures, she will go to school at night and make pictures. And maybe the best gift she can give her son is healthy, happy mother.
After about two hours, she seemed calmer and more peaceful. I hope I helped. Or, to borrow from the Hippocratic Oath, I hope I did no harm.
*Post-surgery Rita can't drive, so on the days she has P/T, her grandmother drives her and then keeps the little guy overnight.