A dear friend — my much loved friend — my friend who loves me — once told me that whenever she hears Dylan’s ‘Just Like a Woman’, she is reminded of me. At the time that she said it I felt hurt. I even felt a twinge of anger. At the time that she said it, she was right. It had been three years since my husband passed away and I was in the midst of an untenable and abusive relationship with a man that daily stripped me down to a trembling shadow of the person I was before. I broke ‘like a little girl’ on a weekly basis until little by little, through the years that followed, I no longer felt hurt, sad and broken. Instead I felt nothing at all. Oh, he continued to regularly abuse and humiliate me, but I had so thoroughly vacated my emotions and my body, that I experienced it more like one witnessing the onslaughts from a distance. The spectacle was disturbing, but not as internally devastating as it had been in the initial years. I became stunningly detached from him, from pain, fear, anxiety and grief. I detached from nearly everyone and everything. Then one day, I simply and without fanfare left him.
Numbness. The absence of pain and complicated emotions should not be confused with contentment. My numbness was like being encased in this body that belongs to me, but did not feel like me; this body that felt detached from the air that surrounds me, from the thoughts, feelings and perceptions both inside and outside of me. I find it difficult to describe. It is as though I (dis)engaged with the world around me, people, pets, whatever environment I inhabited at any particular moment in time, as though I was surrounded by protective glass.
Break through. Chisel through. Smash through.
As I was gearing up to leave him I had this assumption that once I was ‘free’ I would simply return to being the woman I was before I met him. I assumed that Numb-Heidi would retire her post and quietly evaporate into the space I left behind. I assumed I’d just pick up the discarded mantle of that other Heidi, who had checked out, who was hiding somewhere in the wings, waiting for me to signal that it was safe to come out now. I’d throw it over my shoulder and Voilà! my former self emerges from the wreckage, hands on hips, like Wonder Woman, roaring my happy return.
That’s not how it works. I’ve got a renovation project on my hands. It’s not a complete demolition/reconstruction job, but there’s some faulty wiring that needs addressing, some rooms that need freshening up. There are some walls that need windows, and some door hinges that want oiling. It’s not a condemned building – far from it. The foundation is strong. It’s not perfect, but so far, I like what I’m doing with the place. I’ve even opened it up to guests now. It’s still a work-site, but a warm one, a welcoming one. Most importantly, it’s not a little girl’s playhouse; it’s becoming a woman’s home.
Oh, and the song? I like it again. It’s not my song anymore, which is the best part. This version by Richie Havens is from Bob Dylan’s 30th Anniversary concert. It’s one of my favourite versions. I hope you like it too.