Do Not Judge Me
by Jennifer Magnuson
I lost a friend last year. The kind of friend who inspired me to reach for goals I didn't think I could attain. The kind of woman who inspired admiration from me, our other friends, and the community.
We met several years ago through volunteering. We were both passionately committed to a vision for our small town, one where college professors didn't have to be living in studio apartments due to an inflated real estate market. The kind where working families could receive discounted healthcare and where women could walk a life path of their own choosing without societal repercussions. We bonded over a utopian ideal through a leadership program from which we both matriculated.
We worked side by side at food banks, raising money for affordable housing, and had many "play dates" at our local bookstore; our children safely tucked in the kids' section, we were two kindred spirits sipping coffees over heady conversations about Things We Wanted to Do. She wanted to start a foundation, small at first, one day big enough to support her children if they decided to make a career of philanthropy.
I confided to her my dream of owning a small bookshop where moms could bring their children—the kids shuttled off to a room staffed by eager college girls majoring in elementary education while the moms read books, drank coffee, and had time to themselves. She didn't tell me it was a cliché to want to do this, that so many have this same "dream" it's comical. She told me I could do it. She even researched office spaces and lots in our downtown area.
We spoke of religion, of her struggle to find herself spiritually and my acceptance of Christianity and our mutual belief of Universal Salvation.
She and her husband became a part of our large supper club, and most barbecues or parties we attended counted my soul sister and her family as guests. When I pushed my son out of my body, in pain so severe I was struck with terror, it was her I wanted by my side, even though my lovely husband held my hand. I wanted someone there who understood.
Then she had an affair.
And I didn't understand.
At first, I listened, but as the affair grew more and more serious, as she revealed that he was married and had two children, I grew silent. The day she detailed a sexual encounter, I didn't giggle with her, or live vicariously, or ask her how she felt, or breathlessly inquire what on earth was she going to do. It didn't feel like high school.
I became the purse-lipped puritan I loathed in theory. I railed against her choice, begging, later demanding, for her to stop.
When her lover introduced her to Wicca, I started wearing my sterling Tiffany cross necklace. She stopped calling me, stopped socializing with our mutual circle. She giddily called this man her "new best girlfriend," and we began to see her husband alone at barbecues and our monthly supper club. With each passing month, we spoke less, and when I saw her husband alone at functions, I was filled with an inner fury.
"I thought you were the kind of friend I could call in the middle of the night from the convenience store I had just robbed and you would help me. That your love for me would transcend your judgment of my actions," she told me once, on one of our last agonizing phone calls.
I wanted to open my mind. Open it the way I demanded people around me do all the time. I'm an educated woman, but I've chosen to stay home and rear four children. Do not judge me! oozes from my pores with everything I do. I demand a culture that accepts my choices, both when I've worked outside the home and now.
I tried to analyze my feelings. I realized that on the one hand, I truly did judge her because I thought it was wrong. I thought she owed her husband and her children more than that. I believed she was acting rashly, through a veil of lust that blurred rational thought and that she needed me to steer her to the right path.
Only she rejected my help. She didn't need me. And then one day a thought persisted in my mind. Was I jealous? Jealous that she could feel this freedom and excitement and sexual longing and map out a new beginning with someone? Was I looking at my own partnership of fourteen years, my own choices in leaving a career behind, with a sourness heretofore repressed?
Yeah, a little.
I wish I could say that I came to terms with my feelings and mended the splintering in our friendship.
Instead, I am left with an ambiguous outcome. And the knowledge that I can pass judgment with the most righteous of them. And for that I remain ashamed.
Jennifer Magnuson is a writer, mother of four, and perpetually overextended volunteer. She lives on a small farm with her family and pines for the lost days of urban dwelling and assistants who used to organize her life. She can be found at her blog Get In The Car! and various other online venues, as well as the occasional magazine.
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