PREFACE: THE NEW-COW THEORY
If someone had asked me a year ago why I thought it was that men leave women and never come back, I would have said this:
New Cow is short for New-Cow theory, which is short for Old-Cow-New-Cow theory, which, of course, is short for the sad, sorry truth that men leave women and never come back because all they really want is New Cow.
The New-Cow theory was not my theory, though I renamed it and refined it for my own purposes. The seed of the New-Cow theory was culled from an article on male behavior that caught my eye, partly because it appeared in a highly reputable newspaper and not in a self-help book with a twenty-three-word title, and partly too, I think, because of the timing, which was about nine months after Ray had left me for no apparent reason and right after I found out that his no apparent reason had had a name all along:
The New-Cow theory was based on several seminal studies cited in the article on the mating preferences of the male cow.
First, a bull was presented with a cow.
When the bull was presented with the same cow, to mate again, the bull wasn't interested. He wanted New Cow and this was Old Cow.
At which point the same cow was brought in again, only this time the researchers disguised her slightly -- with a hat or a little dress. And again the bull refused to mate with her because he could tell that she wasn't New Cow. She was just Old Cow dressed as New Cow.
Finally, realizing the bull couldn't be tricked visually, an ingenious ploy was implemented: The Old Cow was smeared with New-Cow scent. Smelling New Cow, the bull got up and crossed the barn to get a better look.
But he was no fool. This wasn't New Cow.
This was Old Cow incognito.
Old Cow in sheep's clothing.
Mutton dressed as lamb.
If someone had asked me a year after Ray and I first met what I thought about why men leave women and never come back, I would have told them a lot of things to substantiate the New-Cow theory.
Like how some male insects hold out a big wet, gooey ball of food to lure a prospective female, then take the uneaten portion with them after copulation to use to attract another prospective female.
Or how the lag time between rats' erections can be significantly decreased when a new female is thrown into the cage.
And how the males of most species will attempt to copulate with almost anything that even remotely resembles a female: a male turkey with a female turkey head; a male snake with a dead female snake until redirected to a live one; a male bonobo with a cardboard box or a pretty zookeeper's big rubber boots.
Old Cows think they know everything about everything.
But no one asked me then.
If someone asked me now, I would have a different answer.
I would roll my eyes, look toward the ceiling, raise both hands and shake them toward the heavens the way old Italian women do, and say this:
It is not for us to understand.
That's what people who have given up say, and, I suppose, I was one of those people. And maybe I had given up because I came to realize that men didn't leave all women and never come back.
They just left me.
My name is Jane Goodall.
Not the Jane Goodall, but sometimes I think it was my name that led me from men to cows, from cows to monkeys, and then to all my research and theories. Everything has meaning, no matter how seemingly random or insignificant; everything leads us to something else: a blink of an eye, a kiss, a facial expression, a particular combination of words, like I don't love you anymore or I'm in love with someone else now, are all clues to be deciphered, analyzed, interpreted. At least that's what I, Jane Goodall, monkey scientist, once believed.
But I am not a monkey scientist anymore.
I'm a recovering monkey scientist.
You'd think, with all the twelve-step recovery programs out there -- with all the touchy-feely, all-embracing, anti-enabling groups of people meeting five times a day, hugging one another and telling one another their first names and their excessive-eating-smoking-drinking-drugging-fucking stories -- that there would have been one for me. One measly, pathetic group of two or three equally obsessive-compulsive monkey scientists who would have listened to my sapien-simian rantings and understood.
But no. In order to rebuild my life -- or, actually, in order to get a life -- I had to quit my personal version of animal husbandry cold turkey.
I had to come up with my own recovery program.
I share it with you now, in its entirety, in case you might find it useful:
They will never make sense; you will never understand them.
THE OLD-COW STORY
Nothing makes another Old Cow cry more than a good Old-Cow story. Their Old-Cow story.
You start telling someone your tragic little tale -- how Cow met Bull, or Bull met Cow, or Bull met Bull -- and before you can get to the part about the hat and the little dress, they interrupt you and start telling you their story, and before you can say, "Hey, what about me?" they're waving for another drink and repeating what they were told when they were in your condition.
This is how it usually goes.
Broken hearts mend, they say.
Time heals all wounds, they say.
Have another Wild Turkey. Trust me, they say.
Then, when you don't trust them, and you won't, because you trusted before and all it got you was two fifty-minute sessions a week, you play with your straw and lean back from the table. Because here come the human body arguments, the parade of mending limbs, near-invisible incisions, minds learning to rewire themselves -- tangible proof of the body's amazing ability to recover, to heal, to forget.
But you already know about those metaphors. You've watched the same science documentaries, sifted out the same small stones of truth. You know how bones bond stronger in the broken places, like glued dinner plates; how scars spread over split skin and fill in the cracks like soft spackle; how memories die slowly and quietly, taking their light with them like stars. They're the familiar rationalizations you once told others and now refuse to tell yourself.
When all else fails, which it will, because no one can trick you into parting with your pain for even an instant -- it's all you have left now, besides the shrink bills -- they pull out all the stops.
Time wounds all heels, they say.
Maybe he'll come back, they say.
I think I'll have another Wild Turkey, they say.
The things people will say to make themselves stop sobbing.
For me it was the word time.
At the beginning I tried to imagine what it would be like when time had passed and I was over Ray -- at night when I couldn't sleep, I'd close my eyes and try to picture all those days and months, all the passing seasons and the changing light, rushing ahead like some time-lapse film clip.
But there are some leaps the mind can't make.
Those nights with my eyes closed I learned many lessons.
That kissing the perfect washboard stomach is not something you can be expected to forget overnight.
That there is a high-interest layaway payment plan for passion: one year of pain for every month of pleasure spent.
That most of the things men say turn out to be lies, even if they don't mean them to be, and even if they never admit it.
That there is something different in the eyes of lost-boy men -- a certain sadness, a need, a tenderness -- which can make you forgive them almost anything.
There was more.
I learned a lot that year after Ray left me.
Like how to tell my Old-Cow story without sounding too much like Glenn Close.
I can do that now, almost, after two years. And a hundred and ninety-two sessions.
There's not much good you can say about sensory-deprivation weekends and therapy except that they give you time to get your story straight.
I came up with several Old-Cow stories, actually, several different versions of the same truth that I could pick from, like wines, depending on my mood and the nature of my audience.
This was one:
Cow met Bull.
Cow and Bull mated.
Bull dumped Cow.
The veni, vidi, vici version was another:
Bull met Cow.
Bull mated Cow.
Bull dumped Cow.
This one was classified for my own case file:
Cow met Bull.
Cow thought Bull was attractive in a shy, muscular, fineboned, J. Crew sort of way but assumed, since this was New York, that he liked Bulls too. So Cow did a little digging and found out that Bull did indeed like Cows -- in fact, he had a Cow, a difficult and demanding vegetarian Heifer to whom he was engaged.
But while they were away on a business trip together, Bull told Cow how unhappy he was with his Current Cow -- how they didn't really have much in common and how they barely mated anymore. Cow was intrigued, but she didn't get up and charge -- she had heard this line before, and besides, given her last two experiences with emotionally enyoked males, there was her new golden rule: No more Bulls with Cow complications.
However, Cow liked the way Bull looked in his button-down shirts and ties and the way he was always pushing his wire-rimmed glasses back up his nose. She liked that he grew up on Long Island and that he rode his bicycle to work from the Upper West Side and that he wore the same dark-green rubber field coat every day. So a few weeks later, when Bull asked her to meet him for a drink, Cow got up and ambled toward the barn.
Like an idiot.
But I'm getting ahead of myself.
There are few things people distrust more in this world than an Old Cow's Old-Cow story, no matter which version it is, so I just want to say now, before I go any further, that I know you don't believe me.
You may want to; you may, in fact, believe that I believe what I'm saying is true, but inside, to yourself, I know what you're thinking.
That it was me.
That I did something wrong.
That it was my fault.
If by that you mean that I mistook lust for love, that he never loved me, that I was a fool, then perhaps you're right.
Maybe I did.
Maybe he didn't.
Maybe I was.
Sometimes I don't believe myself either.
But if you mean that it was my fault for misreading the situation -- that if you had been me, you would have been able to tell the difference, that you would have been able to distinguish the lies from the truth, that you wouldn't have believed, to the depths of your soul, to the very core of your being, that this was, positively, unmistakably, at long last, love -- then, for you I have a different version of my Old-Cow story, a version I didn't tell you about.
It's the one I almost never tell anyone -- not even myself -- anymore. It isn't glib and bitter and well rehearsed like the others, and, more importantly, it isn't tearproof. Sad, sorry truths almost never are.
Ray and I met.
I fell in love.
And for a brief moment in time, when he was in my life and I was in his, the world became a very different place.
And when he left, and when it was over, and when I realized, finally, that he was never, ever coming back, it broke my heart.