Apparently my hairdresser is now the one thing that stands between me and social humiliation. This is quite ironic given the way in which we met. Cheating Husband had just fled the marital home and had taken up in a flat down the road. On the one occasion I had been into his post-apocolyptic home, Desperate Floozy’s stuff had been neatly packed into one side of his bathroom cabinet (Yes, I looked. Of course I did). And while any of his goings-on with her had firmly become “no longer of any interest to me”, her goings-on with my two children still fell firmly into the ‘Only if you want the She-Bitch in me to Unleash the Wrath of my Very Expensive Lawyer ‘ territory.
It was amidst all of these goings on that my daughter fell ill. I am embarrassed to say (but, like the death of Johnny the Daschund, I feel it better to get these things out of the way right up front) what was a simple ear infection was treated with an obviously ineffective combination of Calpol and a flustered and insistent faith in the universe, until on Old Years Day it had turned into a medical emergency (yes, yes, I know. There is nothing you can say that I havn’t already said to myself and accused Cheating Husband of). And just in case I was not doing sufficient guilt and self-flagellation, the Doctor mentioned several times that this should have been dealt with sooner. He booked her into hospital and promptly fled to the jollity of a New Years Eve party, leaving me and Cheating Husband in an uncomfortable silence.
By Day seven of what transpired was a 14 day hospital stay, Cheating Husband and I had fallen into a comfortable shift system that allowed us to pass fleetingly in the hospital hallways. My daughter was feeling much better and hence was bouncing off the walls of her small, solitary ward. I was on duty, and I took her to play in the open spaces of the reception area, where a doting staff awaited her visits eagerly and entertained her for minutes at a time. A family was sitting solemnly in the stiff waiting room chairs, talking in hushed voices, when my daughter burst noisily out of the lift. Immediately she made towards them , charming them, amusing them, and pulling me into the intimate space of their vigil. We exchanged war stories- theirs a sick father, husband, grandfather. Wife was there with Son and Daughter-in-law, a couple my age, with their two children in tow. We fell into easy conversation. I was Jewish, they were Jewish. My mother arrived and joined in. We started a game of Jewish Geography – “Aren’t you so-and-so’s cousin, that ones friend, his mother? Really?”. My daughter had wondered off, fruitlessly trying to engage a somewhat grumpy man who was not falling for her Shirley Temple charm.
Me: Come to Mommy darling.
Daughter-in-Law: (Sounding Surprised) Are you her mother?
Me: (Sounding Smug): Yes.
Daughter-in Law: (Hitting on something) Then who was the woman she was with this morning?
Me: Woman? No, you must mean man. She was with my husband this morning.
Daughter-in-Law: (Who clearly hadn’t been paying nearly enough attention to sick Father-in-law) Yes, thats right. Tall man, shaved head. They were with her in the coffee shop this morning. Together.
Me: (Feigning recognition). Oh her.
Me: (Giving up and accepting my fate as the entire family now looked on with keen interest). She must be the woman my husband has been having an affair with for the last year.
“Oh”, she said, “I did wonder”. And in that moment she became the first person in this entire mess who had taken my husband’s infidelity in her stride. She held a Social Royal Flush in her hands. She knew that I had nothing – a motley mix of cards that made no sense at all. And not for even one fleeting second did she think of throwing them down, nor did she make me feel that my hand was anything but bad luck of the draw. I fell in love with her. A few weeks later I hauled my cheated on ass down to her salon, and spent a wonderful few hours not feeling humiliated. I told her to cut me a fringe and dye my hair blue. She refused, telling me that nothing screams Forty Year Old Woman Having a Nervous Breakdown more than blue hair.
And that, I have come to see, is the real sisterhood. Not a squawking gaggle of outraged friends, but the women who can stare down a husband’s infidelity without flinching, and protect you from a lemming-like instinct to wear your heartache in ways that would just make everyone uncomfortable. They are the last stand, the real warriors of the feminist movement, as they quietly guard the perimeters of the Casualty Ward, never, never letting Them see the wounded.