April Vibber was alone in her room playing with her dolls when all of a sudden she started crying. Not just a little choked up in the throat or a quivering lower lip, but a full- throated waterworks episode. The weird part of it was that she had absolutely no idea why she was bawling like a baby. She had been perfectly happy playing with Barbie and Ken, and all of a sudden Niagara Falls. She went downstairs to ask her mother who blubbered all the time.
“We can’t help it”, her mother said. “We’re girls. It’s something in our…” Here her mother hesitated, knowing that this was an important teaching moment. She quickly rummaged around her kid kit for something appropriate on DNA, hardwiring, XXYY chromosomes, and genetic destiny, but it all was too complicated. As usual her daughter had asked the right question to which there was no easy answer.
“God made men and women differently”, she went on. “Women blubber and men suck it up”.
“Yes, but Bobby Bilkins started howling yesterday when he scraped his knee”
Martha Vibber was ready to blurt, “Yes, but that’s because he’s such a baby”; but that would bias things from the get-go, so she said, “Scraping your knee really hurts”, she said instead, “and boys cry when they’re hurt just like girls. A hurt-cry is different from blubbering, which is what you did in your room”.
April’s mother had plenty of reasons to blubber. Her husband was a wastrel; but "He’s ninety percent a wonderful man”, she told her best friend."
She thought of Hillary Clinton or a thousand other women in the limelight or right here in New Brighton who loved their husbands so much that they put up with a few indiscretions. Wasn’t that the way of the world? Every President since the Founding Fathers had sex on the side; and if we had judged Thomas Jefferson, FDR, Kennedy, or LBJ on the basis of their marital fidelity, where would the country be today? And Martin Luther King, the greatest Lothario the country has ever known, a self-confident black man slipping between the sheets between civil rights speeches…Where would black people be without him?
The only difference between Martha Vibber and Hillary Clinton was that Hillary certainly didn’t blubber when she found out about Gennifer Flowers and all the rest of Bill’s trailer trash; and you can bet your bottom dollar that she didn’t open the waterworks when her husband’s sexual hijinks with Monica Lewinsky came to light. She wanted to, Martha was sure, but she held the blubber in check because she wanted to be President. To be Senator and Leader of the Free World, required to stare down the likes of Putin and the Ayatollah, she had to keep her feminine impulses in check. And maybe, thought Martha, Hillary has an extra Y chromosome. “What a terrible thought”, she said out loud over a sink of dirty dishes.
What mattered most was her New Brighton cohorts. Sally Reynolds, for example, who created a scene at the Country Club the other day, breaking down in tears when she saw her husband smile at the young Irish au pair walking with the Barkley twins; or Muffy Banyon who started crying uncontrollably during Father Brophy’s sermon on Sunday. “Generation of vipers”, the old, demented priest howled. “Can you smell the brimstone of hell? You will if you continue your evil ways.”
Father Brophy was a good one for sin, lechery, and lewdness, and he never disappointed; but Muffy took it all personally. Being a religious person she not only thought that her wayward husband was a prick and moral reprobate, but that he was doomed to Hell; so when she heard the priest’s words about adultery and infidelity, she started blubbering.
The list of wronged women whom Martha Vibber knew was too long to enumerate. Safe it to say that every other house on leafy Adams Road had a husband who played around and a sniffling, blubbering wife who put up with him. Women in New Brighton didn’t get out the pruning shears and go after their husbands, haul them into divorce court, or eviscerate them like her namesake, Martha in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf. They took it lying down.
Lest the feminist reader misunderstand and criticize Martha Vibber unfairly, she was only being realistic. She thought of that treacly aphorism on Cat Huffington’s refrigerator – “Give me the wisdom to change things I can, accept those I cannot…”; or something like that. Martha was only accepting men’s wandering and women’s blubbering as givens; and women simply had to devise ways around both. She was a fan of Shakespeare’s women who gave no quarter; and Goneril, Regan, Tamora, Dionyza, Lady Macbeth, Rosalind, and Beatrice were all her heroes. Yes, they had their crying jags to be sure, but they stuck it to men every chance they could get.
So Martha understood that she had to choose her words carefully and not send the wrong message to her daughter, April. She thought of all kinds of platitudes and nostrums – “Its natural to cry, but just as natural to fight”; or “Men suffer by keeping it all in” – but she hated to admit the best advice of them all, “Cry when it is to your advantage”.
Martha knew that her own blubbering when confronted with her husband’s sexual wanderlust was weakness, pure and simple. But men were emotional babies when the tears came at the right time. Betty Parsons told her once that she cried after she and her husband made love. She put her arms around him, told him she loved him, and started to softly and sweetly cry. “That’s the best way to keep his cock where it belongs”, she told Martha rather crudely. “Men are suckers for that kind of sentimentality.”
April was smart enough to figure all this out for herself. Even as she grew older she had no problem with ‘gender issues’. She was a confident woman who accepted her irrational feminine emotionalism, felt no compunction about using ‘The Parsons Defense’ and could turn on the spigots of the waterworks whenever called for; but could be as tough, brutal, and aggressive as Genghis Khan when the going got rough.
pril knew that no matter how hard they tried – and they didn’t try all that hard, let’s face it – men could never figure women out. She knew that men were incredibly simple. They noticed little, wanted answers not suggestions, followed their cocks instead of their brains, and had a puerile sense of entitlement and right. It was not hard at all to figure men out, but men were flummoxed by April. She was feminine and alluring. She could whimper and cry with the best of them, but could wield a cudgel like a man, and watch out when she did. “Who is the real April Vibber?”, they wondered but could never decipher; and this was April’s real source of power over them.
April’s favorite Shakespearean character was Kate in The Taming of the Shrew.
Feminists hate Kate and hate this passage most of all. Yet more serious critics understand that the relationship between Kate and Petruchio was perhaps the best, most loving, and most equal in all of Shakespeare. Kate needed a confident, virile, and decisive man to take her away from her abusive father and intolerable sister; and Petruchio needed a strong, vital, passionate woman like Kate to excite and challenge him. Her soliloquy is only half the story. Had Shakespeare given Petruchio the opportunity, he would have responded in kind.
Thy husband is thy lord, thy life, thy keeper, Thy head, thy sovereign; one that cares for thee And for thy maintenance; commits his body To painful labor both by sea and land, To watch the night in storms, the day in cold, Whilst thou li'st warm at home, secure and safe; And craves no other tribute at thy hands But love, fair looks, and true obedience-- Too little payment for so great a debt.
April knew that, like Kate, she would find a man who understood her for her complexity not despite it. He would not be afraid of her more ‘masculine’ traits and appreciative of and sensitive to her ‘feminine’ ones.
April loved her mother and her father, blamed neither one for their contributions to a painful marriage, and learned from the experience. April, as one might expect, was never one for victimhood. She was not a ‘survivor’ of a troubled and ‘abusive’ home. She simply lived in a family no different from any other; and felt like Edward Albee that the family was ‘the crucible of maturity’. George and Martha desperately need each other and without the ‘flaying to the marrow’ of their late-night bout, they might never have understood their fundamental and necessary attraction.
I always ask about April Vibber when I go back to New Brighton. “Oh, she’s living in New York”; or “I hear she’s working in LA”; or “Paris, wasn’t it?”. Sightings were always what best described April. Mythic to some, but to me she was simply one of the most intriguing and alluring women I have ever met.