She always apologised before he ever did. Apology meant safety even when it wasn’t right. Most of the time it was actually right, because most of the time she didn’t do right. But there were some occasions, even in her case, that she did do something right – and, all the same, he clearly demanded – his attitude and behaviour indicating as much – that she say sorry for a non-existent transgression.
The problem with life was the malleable nature of humanity: he wanted black and white; she wanted something gentler. He was supposed to be the gentleman; in fact, she was far gentler than he; in fact, whilst he was a man, gentle wasn’t at all what characterised him.
There came a point in her curious life, however, where she found it impossible to work out whether she herself was a gentle lady or a repressed man in disguise.
The fact of the matter lay in how she kowtowed to the expectations he raised around her: she couldn’t decide if it was the power of his being, his character, his sensibilities or his manliness all round, or instead the ability she manifestly inscribed to place herself exactly in two places at once.
To be man and woman both, it would seem, was both a dream and a nightmare – it depended on what you thought. It also depended on the people around you: how they treated you; whether kindly and with empathy or compassion or, instead, as a threat to the peace of the world. Not exactly, you realise, but that’s how she felt sometimes.
And it showed itself in the rows they had, where she’d almost always give in to him first. And she used to wonder if it was his violence onboard; the dragon he’d become; the aggressor unbound. But lately she’d be considering the fact of her own empathy: was she really a victim to his supposed abuse or did she simply, truly, find it so easy to identify with anyone – not just him, I mean; the whole world and the cat’s mother – and see the world from the eyes of a man like him just as easily as from the eyes of a woman she was meant to be?
What if the reason for her permissiveness in matters of violent acts against her person had more to do with her than the people supposedly committing the violence? What if the solution to her situation lay not in prevention but cure? What if empathy and its accompanying tears had actually been the real cause of her long-term downfall – had led to her obvious inability to get along in life on the back of her own ingenuity, intelligence and innate being?
And if empathy was the problem, and the tears she shed only brought her misery, would it not be better to act out of compassion? Would it not be better to help out both parties?
And that’s when she realised the truth of the matter: in order to live, you need to survive, of course – but surviving doesn’t have to convert you into something brutal beyond measure. The act of survival was a given for all humanity: without survival, procreation was impossible. And without procreation, reproduction’s absence would lead to the death of the whole species.
But survival and its necessity should never be used as an excuse for fomenting the brutality of humanity’s actions. And it was here that she realised that empathy, whilst admirable, was actually a tool for allowing such fomenting.
Much better, then, than weeping buckets of sadness at pictures of broken children and writings of broken nations would be to re-engineer such borderline self-indulgence into the strength of purpose of compassionate activity.
And that’s when she truly realised her purpose on the planet: just as much as her empathy had allowed the violence of her partner, so the empathy of a generation had generated the injustices of a civilisation. And in order to prevent such default[y] positions, it was time – at least for her (for others she could not speak) – to act in a different way: to act in a compassionate way.
She knew as yet not how to start, nor how to promote, nor how to grow.
But at least she knew what she wanted to start on.
At last, she’d found herself a purpose.