Lookin’ for a Hard Headed Woman
Eddie Deathrage looked at the long wood splinters embedded deep under the palm of
his right hand. He looked at us. He looked at the fractured stud. He looked at us. He looked at
his right hand, curled it into a fist, breaking the splinters into small fragments, and picked up his
hammer. Two days later, Eddie missed work. The doctor lanced his swollen, infected hand and
spent more than an hour digging and picking splinters out of his flesh.
“Eddie, you’re not being tough, you’re being stupid,” one of his workers told him. “You
could have lost your hand!”
Julie and I stood by the side of the pool, brows knit, glaring threat in each faces. “No
way you win this,” I said. She laughed. She rolled her eyes. We both eyed the pool in front of
us, the snow on the banks, and the rim of ice at the water’s edge. Across the pool, perhaps ten
or twelve meters away, a five-meter waterfall poured bone-crushingly cold water into the pool.
We had stripped down as far as decency permitted, while Linda stood ready to issue the
go signal. We planted our feet, leaning forward and ready to leap, and Linda dropped her arm.
The water felt like cold sledge hammers against our skin and took our breath, but we forced our
way through the frigid pool until we passed under the waterfall, slapped the rock behind it, and
completed the agonizing return to shore.
We will never agree upon who won the race.
Half-way back in a line at the Zipper, Linda and our two young boys advanced slowly
toward the gatekeeper. Three teenage boys, impatient with the slow pace, peeled away from
the queue and went straight to the gate, pushing their way in at the front, despite muttered
protests and angry looks.
Linda told the boys to stay put, then walked calmly but confidently to the front of the
line. She caught the attention of the teenage boys and told them, with an irresistible authority,
“Get to the back of the line. Now.”
They stared at her, stunned.
She glared back.
Their mental generators turned slowly, but a small light came on. Squaring their
shoulders, they tipped their heads slightly back, forced a comically confident smile, and
swaggered to the rear.
Andrew’s story follows a common plot line. He did not call his boss a liar, exactly, but
exposed his boss’s lies. Integrity, basic human decency, required that he do so. He had
challenged his boss in private repeatedly, imploring him, pleading with him, and arguing on
behalf of simple honesty. Eventually, the conflict went public.
Truth seeps upward, inevitably, finding seams and pathways out of the dark soil of
corruption, just as water seeps downward, irresistibly, through the most compacted earth.
Andrew lost his job. With nothing in a savings account, two small children, and a wife
giving up her part-time work, he sold his house and headed toward another life.
At the expense of seeming boastful, I will tell this story about myself. At a basketball
game, Chris, a student from the college where I worked, decided to harass the loud,
rambunctious male fans from our rival college. As he walked nonchalantly past them toward
his own crowd, he turned suddenly and struck one of the opposing fans with both fists, an
upward thrust under the ribs, lifting him off the floor and throwing him backward.
The fan landed hard on a woman sitting behind him. She had a brace on her left knee,
crutches resting beside her, and a tortured grimace on her face. Clearly, many people around
me had seen Chris’s assault on another student. I heard muttered protests and a few gasps.
No one moved.
I moved. “This cannot stand,” I said to myself, and immediately made my way down
through the full bleachers, around the playing floor, and over to the tightly packed students
from my college. I forced my way through them, pressing up bleacher by bleacher until I stood
face-to-face with Chris. He had seen me coming and met my eyes nervously.
“You will not leave this gym until you apologize to that student and that woman.”
“Okay, I’ll say I’m sorry, but not because you tell me to.”
Ignoring the absurdity and impertinence of his response, I moved back down out of the
bleachers and planted myself where I could prevent him from leaving. I also alerted the athletic
director to call the police. “Hey, I will,” he said, and then, “Thank you for confronting Chris.” I
did not ask him why he had not.
When the game ended, I made my way immediately across the court and waited for
Chris to descend from the bleachers. I beckoned to him with one finger, and said nothing. He
followed me dutifully toward the gymnasium entrance, where the opposing male fans had
amassed, in order to prevent Chris from escaping. As I approached the crowd of threatening
and cursing young men, I realized that Chris had slowed his pace. I turned, walked several
paces back to him, and tugged the front of his shirt. “You. Will. Apologize. Now walk.” Pale,
sweating, and shaking, Chris followed me into and through the threatening crowd.
My students understand why I say to them, “I work hard to be honest, fair, gentle, and
compassionate. Do not, do not, ever think that I am ‘nice’.”
Yes, I enjoy that story. I do feel some pride there, but carry a conviction, born of success
and failures alike, that the world too much suffers cowards.
Linda saw the boy fall. So did his mother and a few others who stood at the top of the
waterfall. It appeared that the boy attempted to cross the top of the waterfall by jumping from
stone to stone. As he fell, his left boot caught between two crossed logs jutting up out of the
pool below. His position left him hanging inside the waterfall, a five-meter torrent of ice cold
water. Hanging upside down, the boy could not free his head and breathe.
Linda quickly scaled the rocks beside the waterfall, shimmied over to the logs, and
climbed high enough to reach the boy and lift his head out of the rushing water. Every time she
pulled his head from the waterfall, the boy screamed, “Oh god oh god it’s so cold. Am I dying?”
The exertion left Linda exhausted, so until help arrived, she had no choice but to lower
the boy’s head back into the water, rest her left arm, then free his head again, so that he could
breathe. He and she repeated this routine until the rest of us reached the scene.
The next morning . . . well, you can imagine. The physical strength and force of effort
that this brief crisis demanded of Linda left her aching to the bone, with muscle strains from
neck to feet.
I had fallen in love with Linda initially, for a number of reasons, her fearless integrity
being one of them. I fell in love with her again that day.