I have a friend I’ll call Courage. To those who know her, this name might seem funny or ill-fitting because Courage is actually afraid of many things, not all of which are readily visible or even understandable. She squirms at the thought of invisible germs and screams at tiny spiders. Once, on the verge of tears, she called her boyfriend to drive an hour to kill a spider crouching in the corner of her bathroom.
If I or any other of our friends were to walk down a dark alley by Courage’s side, others would point and say that Courage was a coward. In such places she walks with her shoulders high like a fortress around her ears, cold hands in a tense death grip around your arm. Regardless of whether you are a man or woman, she will make you feel obligated to protect her. Her grip tightens with every step you take, cutting off your blood supply so soon your fingers are turning cold too. Protect me, her hands say. Protect me from bums, from dark places, from vicious animals and from smelly trash bins. And if you are me, you roll your eyes and say, “Okay Courage, don’t worry. I’ll protect you.”
And yet I call her Courage. I call her so because she is one of the bravest women I know. We cannot all fear the same things; at what Courage fears I would not bat an eye (though this depends, surely, on the size of the spider or vicious animal), yet of what she is not afraid terrifies me and nearly every person I know.
Disclosure, let’s call it.
A year and a half ago, Courage went off to law school, which to some is a very brave move – law school can be a scary place where the books are thicker than the skins of those who read them – and while I would argue that Courage actually did not – no, does not – belong in Law School (and depending on the weather, she will nod in fervent agreement), it is sometimes braver to see a bad decision through than to back out, drop out, and look back years later only to say, “Oh what if.” (I know nothing about this sort of regret).
Being first and foremost a writer, Courage found respite from the toils of law school in a small and intimate writing group. Composed of a handful of like-minded writer friends who had also bravely embarked upon law school without really knowing why, the group gathered every Monday at someone’s small, messy house and shared the creative writing they did in between legal writing: essays and short stories, some long, some short; some true, some not. They read them aloud and voiced their thoughts, sometimes too gingerly to be constructive. In this way, Courage grew close to the The Golden Boy, whom she had met in class and who was both an archetype and a very real person. He was tall, blonde, athletic, needlessly handsome and to top it off, impossibly smart. He had once been a swimmer on the cusp of Olympic stardom and had the body to show for it, though not the medals; a fraction of a fraction of a second, he said.
In his own way, the Golden Boy was equally brave, at least at the outset. He admired her writing, and said so. This, I know, is a difficult thing for a writer to say to another writer. Apart from writing, writers (especially ones who have not been published), spend much of their time turning their noses down at other writers. Some will say it is more cutthroat than the legal profession because writers can mask their aggression behind pages and pages of florid prose. But Courage had never shied from singing the praises of my or any of our other friends’ work. Which raises another question, not wholly unrelated: had I done the same for her? Her style is different, the product of a steady childhood diet of Anne of Green Gables and other romantic, slowly unfolding coming of age stories – bildungsroman for young girls.
|Interior, 1925 Edward Hopper, Watercolor
As she grew into a young lady she fell headlong into the folds of Jane Austen’s dresses, into Hemingway’s Parisian feasts and seas, into Steinbeck’s Eden, Tolkien’s shires and into the very heart of C.S. Lewis’s God until one day, she emerged a woman. A woman with very particular literary tastes, though this is not to say she is narrow-minded. When Courage reads, she reads earnestly and adoringly, peppering the margins with her illegible chicken scratch. No matter whom she reads, if the writing speaks to her, she will read wholeheartedly. And it is because she was open in this way that the Golden Boy was able to wander in and find himself at home.
They got along swimmingly. Slowly, the Golden Boy began to shape her days. They saw each other in class, and then studied together afterward. They were, of their writing group, the most serious about the “craft,” and were on occasion, the only two to show up, the others claiming academic exhaustion. Oh well. Between them, suppressed delight ensued. Courage and the Golden Boy would share a bottle of wine, read their work aloud, shyly at first, then talk late into the night.
Slowly, in the universal way that writers do when they fall in love, Courage began to write about him, for him, to him. And we women cannot help but hear the words as well – we learn to speak before we learn to write. To speak something is almost to believe something. One could not engage Courage in a conversation without the Golden Boy creeping his way in, and it was very clear to all her friends and perhaps even to her immigrant parents that their daughter had fallen in love. Who was this young man? What could explain his hold over her? Words love, words.
They exchanged emails, banter, texts, chats, blogs, and long, long essays about their pasts and their hopes for the future. Like a fish who had found a familiar undercurrent in a vast ocean, Courage felt that paradoxical warmth and cool refreshment one feels when they believe they have found “the one.” Emphasis on “believe.”
You see, as an archetype, the Golden Boy and all the other male archetypes that follow (The Young Professor, the Old Professor, the Focused Genius) must always be in a relationship. He is invariably married or about to propose to a wonderful, equally brilliant and beautiful girlfriend who, even if she does not share the same interests, gives the impression that she is perfect for him. And the Golden Boy had such a woman in his life. She was more than just A Golden Girl, she was The Golden Girl: a lithe, blond-haired blue-eyed beauty with beautiful teeth to match her beautiful soul. She was, of all things, a wedding photographer – a complete artiste to the Golden Boy’s divided self. Was he a writer or a lawyer? It didn’t matter. He was the man. He would provide. The lawyer would do that while the writer would love and appreciate his woman’s art. After marriage he would prosecute or defend, depending on what his conscience could reconcile with his financial needs. But at night or perhaps in the early mornings, he would write. She would continue to photograph things people struggled to put into words: the adoring gazes of couples engaged, married, and later, the blank, doe-eyed stares of their round-faced children. Someday, the Golden Boy told Courage, he would meet his wife in the middle and become a full-fledged author.