Friday, November 02, 2007

Loss Of Sound

I talked with M after years today and got of the phone feeling nostalgic about those long ago days when we spent an entire Saturday chatting as we went about our day in different ends of the country. I was hurting from being away from J, not knowing what the future held for us or when I would be able to see my child again. M would tell me that the waiting would end one day, J and I would be together again. She believed that I would overcome with a certain infectious passion. Her faith would rub off on me and I would feel optimistic once again.

M and I had met about seven years ago on an online message board. After exchanging several emails, we exchanged numbers and started to talk. M is about fifteen years older than me and defines an optimal blend of best friend and big sister. With her no topic is out of bounds or taboo. Until I knew M, I did not know how amazingly liberating that could be. There are things that I have heard myself speak out loud for the first time ever with her. There are things only a woman can fully understand, conversations that I feel blessed to have had with her because I may have never had them otherwise.

She is disabled from a variety of illnesses that date back to medications her mother took when she was pregnant with M. While her body is ravaged by pain and decay, her mind is razor sharp and profoundly intuitive. Her biggest gift is her ability to listen to you and understand what you leave unsaid and why. Yesterday, we were talking about how her growing deafness is making it hard for her to earn a living. She is a phone sex service provider. She got into this line of work around the same time as we first met online.

When she told me of her new profession, I had to suspend disbelief so I could fully understand her rationale. Being bound to a wheelchair, finding gainful employment outside the house was not an option for years. Now alternating between chronic pain and fatigue working at the desk at home was turning just as impossible. Yet there were bills to be paid until body and soul decided to part ways. Being a phone sex service provider allowed her to work whenever she was able to have a phone conversation that involved graphic talk about sexual fantasies.

I asked her how she was able to do it and she said being in this line of work to gave her a great appreciation for women who slid into prostitution . Desperation and lack of options can be powerful forces to contend with. For some women it may be crushing poverty, lack of education on one side and encashable youth of the other. Morality becomes a text book concept far removed from reality when the confronted by fear of hunger and homelessness.

She felt humbled by the choice she had made – it enabled her to descend from a moral high ground and empathize with women who like her were not able to earn an “honest” living. I asked her about a typical day at the job. Apparently calls were routed to her from her agency so her privacy would not be compromised. A man would be on the other end breathing heavily ready to climax within three minutes of having erotic conversation with a nameless faceless woman. Even in the throes of "passion" they made sure not to exceed three minutes of talk time so they did not have to pay extra for their audio sexual gratification.

Then some would become regulars and just want to talk about their fears and fantasies with her. These were the men who put food on her table. Most were intensely lonely, unable to connect with real women emotionally and harbored secrets that were too dark to be shared with a "real" person. Seeking therapy was too unmanly for them.

M had become their confidante and they were willing to pay just for her to listen to them. I suspect her amazing capacity for empathy has a lot to do with it. To her each phone call was a learning experience. Each man had his special demons that were quite unlike anybody else’s. Most of them were trapped in a suffocating real life role but it was the role they would continue to play because preserving appearances was important.

I asked her if she felt any shame or guilt about what she did. M said it troubled her that she found her “clients” repulsive and fascinating by turn. She was grateful for the money that allowed her stay out of the soup kitchen but could not help thinking about the "real" women in their lives and how devastating it would be for them to find out.

Yet in a perverse sort of way, she was keeping their men in check – in her they had found an outlet for destructive energy – like a lightning conductor M carried away the deepest, darkest secrets to where they could never be found again. Did she feel empowered then I asked her ? As empowered as a very rag doll may feel after being tossed into the trash she laughed. She was their treasured comfort object for the duration of the call and the lowest form of vermin right after they hung up. It was an intense love-hate relationship. Sometimes she felt numb.

All this was when we had a last conversation a few years ago. Yesterday, I asked her how she was coping with her loss of livelihood. She said, she was grateful to have her hearing taken away. It would be atonement for what she had never been morally comfortable doing. Maybe, it was God’s way of challenging her to find another way to keep body and soul together or simply let go and allow divine order to take over. She is too proud to ask anyone to help.

Ever the optimist, M said, who knows, if I starve for a few weeks in the middle of winter without money for food, medicines or heating, one morning I will get up and feel no pain in my limbs again. God might grant me another chance at life. In the meanwhile, I think about dying beautifully every day – so I am not caught off-guard when that happens.

With most people such a conversation would be painfully morbid but with M it is not. She lives each day radiating hope so it touches everyone who comes in contact with her. I am sure all those hopeless men who called her for the virtual gratification of phone sex came out of the experience transformed in some fundamental way.

I like to think that she helped them slay their demons so they could learn to love someone. Maybe because of the innumerable ways she has enriched my life, it is impossible for me to think of M in negative light. I want to believe that angels come disguised in the most unlikely, improbable ways to challenge our stereotypes. I pray for silence to bring beautiful things to her life.


Anonymous said...

did you know that marx was believed to have suffered from the debilitating hidradenitis suppurativa? i remember steinbeck too had psoriasis, another socially decrepant disease.

what you describe about your pal seems like DES exposure in utero. hmm.

from the reader who calls your writing pretentious :)

do i get a scathing reply that am missing the point of the story? ah no. it was such an ah thats it moment, i wanted to share it here.

ggop said...

Such friendships where you can bare all without fear of judgement are rare..treasure this one.