CHARACTER STUDIES: THE COMPANION WIFE
The movie frames are flashing their messages across the screen. A man, older now, his family perhaps in the background of the shot, and there are trees, dense, camouflaging foliage, the whole background out of focus, leaving him - shoulders slightly stooped, gaze looking slightly off camera, the whole frame of him slight and narrowed by his experiences through life - and he is speaking softly of regrets, of the woman who he loved who (left, died, moved on, disappeared, you choose your plot here) and how he will never forget her, how a part of his heart will always reach out to the memory of her, how vulnerable he is to the past and its intrusions into the now: how glorious the wholeheartedness of that one, that truest love, and how deep the human condition to have known it and hold it sacred, forever, in the prism of the self, and
at some point he will stop and look fondly towards the background. Depending on the plot it may stay bokeh, or it may sharpen, briefly, highlighting the woman who is caught up in the middle of events, navigating the scene without being aware that the conversation here, sharply here, is happening. She is probably smiling a little as she goes about this scene. She is not beautiful - at least, not beautiful like that first, most truest love - but she is not plain, she shines with her own light, she makes herself a beacon of sorts on the far shores of having gone through things. Oblivious, she is beautiful for being oblivious that she has briefly entered this conversation, and the man will smile too: she is his wife, his companion, the person who came after and in being there at the right time became both a surrogate for having loved and a salvation through some different, more patient, more ordinary kind of love. She is not the tempest; she is the grounding in the storm, something that either after or much after served and serves the purpose of shelter, a place in the heart that kept the man from blowing away completely. The camera will shift then, either returning to the man in focus and his offscreen confessional, or it may move to some horizon point, a line where the land and sky keep balance with each other. There will be some final line said here, some movie star platitude about loving someone forever and finding oneself anyway. The scene will shift, end, head to the next chapter. It too, like the heart, will move on.
No one asks how she feels.
No one considers who it is to be second-best, or at best, to be separate, crystallized in some other part of the heart, knocking against the glass from time to time and knowing that there exists some facet she will never know, never experience, and does that cause her sadness? Is there a part of her that mourns that she will always have some counterpart who exists only as equal parts fantasy and memory? In movies, the companion wife will have had her own unexplained journey to wholeness and self-fulfillment; she will be selfless in her companion love, to bring cups of tea to the male narrator as he broods and remembers, to rub his shoulders free from the cares and worries of what-ifs and the day-to-day. She does love him, this much is true. She loves him despite the various plot lines of either having seen events firsthand and choosing to stay anyway or perhaps discovering them much later through artifacts and late night conversations with the narrator as they discover the wholeness of being together or perhaps not knowing anything concrete from the past except that there is a distance between them that comes up at times, unnarrated. The script demands that she not bring this distance up; the script will say without telling that she moves through her household day ignoring or accepting the locked room of the heart where, like Bluebeard's wife, she does or dares not go without his express permission and perfect frame of mind.
Maybe she has come to terms with it.
Or maybe she has her own secrets, new ones, ones she writes in the moments offscreen while the narrator is busy recollecting. How else could she be content to exist solely as a supporting character in someone else's show, without being a fully realized protagonist in her own, convoluted, complex narrative, and where, at the end of the credits, did that film go?