In this age of rampant media coverage, we are not immune to the antics of high-powered men, no matter how much we try to avoid the evening news, or avert our eyes from all the seamy tabloids next to the supermarket checkout counter.
There are two rather high-profile cases alive and festering in the Bay Area as I write—the first, involving the newly sworn Sheriff of San Francisco; and the other a prominent politician, who currently holds the office as State Treasurer of California.
Forsaking their legal or ethical issues is simple actually, when you take into consideration another fascinating characteristic these two men share, even if their troubles are as different as night and day. What I find so intriguing are the age disparities between the men and their wives. And the only definition that comes to mind, whether deserved or not, is “trophy wife”.
My humble workhorse, the Mac Dictionary, describes a trophy wife as “a young, attractive wife regarded as a status symbol for an older man.”
And certainly these two individuals do fall into that category. Their wives are attractive, and quite young in comparison to their men.
This also calls to mind the flipside of womanhood, and how far a media figure will go to disparage women, or what some men will do, under the disguise of “religious freedom”, to prohibit a woman’s access to birth control.
All fools aside—including older men who fall ridiculously head over heels in love with younger women—I have to admit that I have been living a paradoxical life myself. As a Catholic woman who supports abortion access and believes in birth control, I treat my husband well, because I know he is God’s gift to me (and he has no idea that he would also be God’s gift to women, a sort of parallel paradox). To complicate matters, we are even registered on opposite sides of the political spectrum—he being a Republican, and me a Democrat.
But my man is no Rick Santorum, spouting scripture and blatantly forgetting there is a document known as the Constitution of the United States. My husband shares the axis willingly, so we experience no clash of cultures, despite the fact that I was raised white-bread WASP, and he a Catholic of Filipino ethnicity. His culture tends to encourage strong women. Even the most diminutive Filipina runs the household, including the disposition of all finances, which is empowerment and humility wrapped up into a conundrum.
Many of the female characters in my novels possess this undercurrent of steel, imbued with a humble reckoning of their own mortality. Which is why the principal female characters in my latest novel, The Curious Number, have been generously cast as contradictions.
There is Marlene Burich, the family matriarch, who raised her three grandchildren after the untimely death of her only son. Marlene lives a life on the far left side of logic, a liberal-leaning granny who owns a working ranch in rural northeastern California, and an arsenal, which she doesn’t hesitate to use if the need arises. At age eighty-five, Marlene has begun to suspect that something has gone haywire in her brain. When she kills two men, and buries the evidence, the crime serves as a landmark of her clinical dementia, and her final days as a free woman.
Her eldest granddaughter, Justine Burich, has sought to both emulate Marlene, and distance herself, by carving her own path in the field of journalism. Justine is confident and self-supporting, not having to depend upon any man for her next meal. She knows what she wants, and is fully capable of getting it. At age thirty-eight, her live-in lover is a much younger man, and Justine has typical human insecurities, one of which is the fear of becoming her grandmother.
Rose McKillop is Justine’s younger sister. Married for seventeen years to a decorated police officer, and raising three children, Rose’s life is governed by her husband’s strong chauvinistic personality, and by the edicts of her church. She lays out her life in a pretty picture for all to see, perfect and fulfilling, upright and pious. But her expectations are unrealistic, and, as it’s said, “pride goes before the fall”. Rose’s downfall takes her to rock bottom, where she discovers the true meaning of frailty, and the strength required to admit to her own imperfection.
The Curious Number originally set out to be a tale of family intrigue and playful debauchery, but evolved into more of a journey of sorts, where living a meaningful life requires self-awareness, and a humble grace. I was astounded how much the characters told me their story, as though I served as a conduit, rather than as the creator. In its poignant telling, and its bittersweet conclusion, The Curious Number exemplifies the strengths and vulnerabilities that all women are capable of.
So, the next time you hear a media-rant that disparages your mother, your sister, or your daughter; when women are used as tools or eye-candy; or to elevate the power-players by the sheer energy gleaned from green envy in a trophy wife, remember the message from The Curious Number: that life is a continual journey of enlightenment, without a beginning, or end.