Despairing of Harry

Posted 5-09-2004

"Women,'' says Harry, "are allowed to bitch, whinge, complain and moan. They can snipe at you and say whatever they like. They know what you want even when you don't, what you need, and what you should do. Men-" sad sigh, "are just wrong."

His anger is caked with despair and hopelessness, and the emotion is so deep it's scary. We're in the dark, at the start of a long wait for the next set of buses.  It doesn't do to miss a bus at night; you wait for ever.

Harry's wife, he tells me, is falling apart. She's been sick and miserable for so long Harry has given up hope she will get better. He's beginning to wear apart himself.

"Sometimes I wonder if I'll last the distance- I don't know how I'm going to keep going. I can't see any way out.''

As we sit in the dark, I hear the story of a woman he loves, who is being crushed by her high stress job but won't leave it, who is ill, and who never seems anything but exhausted.  It's fascinating. This is a bitter man who is desperate for some way forward.  Yet his bitterness is tempered by a great love for her. It's a love based on admiration and high regard.  Where some would have walked out, (and Harry says he's been tempted,) he wants to stay.  He loves this woman.

"Except it's getting to the point where Soph is asking more of me than I can cope with. I honestly don't know how I can keep going, and I can't imagine a future for us."

I've never felt much good at counselling and tonight is no exception. The weight of his despair has been making me tired.  I can only hope my willingness to listen has been some help to him as I'm rescued by his bus arriving at last.  I watch him slump against the window inside.  He half nods to me, and disappears down North Terrace.

It's a small city.  Four days later, I am high up on the 18th floor with a woman who is almost physically tearing out her hair.  The manager of this company has been ignoring her advice and pleas about their computer system for months.  And now I am here, at huge expense, to see what can be rescued. Her name is Sophie.  She's about the right age for Harry.  I explain to Sophie and the manager how we will proceed slowly, taking no short cuts, to make sure we don't further damage any remaining data.  It will most likely take at least half the night to have stuff backed up well enough to begin cleaning up the mess- like too many people we rescue, the last full backup was weeks ago. The manager, wise at last, gives me carte blanche, sends most of the staff home early, and I begin to image the disks to the ones I have brought with me.  Sophie rings someone called Harry.  She tells him she will be here most of the night, maybe all night, and not to worry.

As I expect, the  server is too compromised to repair. When the disk images have been made, we wipe its array clean and begin to rebuild the network.  I nuke the best workstation for me to use to rescue data from the images, and set Sophie wiping clean the other twenty workstations.  By three a.m. we are sitting watching the blue lines crawl across screens, occasionally feeding disks, and beginning to talk.

If this is "Harry's Sophie," she is not falling apart.  She is competent and strong, although obviously stressed and frustrated by her job. The sleeping manager has been asleep at the wheel too.  She has been constantly frustrated in her work of keeping the network going, and over-ruled and given other tasks outside her job description.  Sophie has been one of those people who are game enough to front the boss and ask "what to do, her job, or the new stuff he has just landed her with."  And she's been told to ignore her job. The manager will never know how much he owes her disobedience. If not for Sophie there would be little to restore.

She makes some throwaway comment about her husband, and then asks sourly, why men seem to  be different when you get to know them.  I pause, and then say, "Look, I'd better be straight down the line about this.  This bloke Harry unloaded to me at the bus stop the other night.  He might be your Harry."

It turns out she "knows"  all about me. Harry "let her have it" a couple of days ago.  This man at the bus stop.  "He understood.  How come it's so hard for you?"  It was rammed down her throat in a rage. We come to a sudden and most uncomfortable silence.

Here I am trying to do the right thing- I should have kept my mouth shut, as usual!

"You don't fit the picture he gave me," I say carefully.  "You don't look like someone who is not coping.  In fact, it's pretty awesome how much you've stayed on top of this mess here!"

Tears fill her eyes. "I just need him to listen.  That's all.  And it's too much for him.  He can't cope with not being able to help me.  But I don't want that.  I just need him to listen. That would be enough!"

I confess that my wife feels the same about me sometimes.  And I do a Harry, getting wild at feeling like I can't do the right thing or help her in any way.  We talk on for a little while, and then serious talking stops as we begin the task of adding users, and passwords, and security groups, and dragging back in the data we have been able to save.  The first people come to work, and one goes out and gets us good coffee and some breakfast.  We work on adrenalin until after lunch, guiding a couple of people through installing Office, and helping them find what data they have left.  Then we step out of the building, leaving the beginnings of order, with weariness pulling at us like an extra layer of gravity. 

There will be more tomorrow.  But never the same conversation.  She quickly kisses me on the cheek, whispers thank you, and walks off. I don't really understand what I've done, and wish I could.  It is only a matter of time, and I will be Harry again for my wife.

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