The woman in the picture

Published posthumously March 26, 2021

The list of things to write about:

  1. . . .
  2. . . .
  3. . . .
  4. . . .
  5. the woman in the picture

—–not seen by David

—–pointed out by me

—–the nerve to tell him that I was distressed at his not having seen the woman

—–my feeling lots of tension around the saying of that to him—–

—–and then finally saying that and his saying that he saw another woman in the picture. . .and yes, he hadn’t seen the woman in the picture and he was amazed at my perception and I am amazed that I felt the tension in the picture and could pull it out and voice it—perhaps I have mystical powers.

He mentioned Leakey. I knew the name but that was all, dates and places I didn’t remember. Then, he mentioned guns, the good old days, white men, automobiles, and natives. He was right, they were all in the picture but none of them caught my eye and his description of it was a distraction from what interested me most, the woman in the picture.

I don’t remember looking at him as he spoke. There was already something going on in the room and in the picture and I didn’t want to align myself with him by looking at him. It was his office, his description of the picture, but there was something that I saw that wasn’t included in any of this, and I had to concentrate hard to hold on to it.

Who’s the woman in the picture, I said.

He came and stood near me to look more closely at the picture.

He said, I never noticed her.

He had never seen that there was a woman in the picture.

Quite honestly, I don’t remember what happened after that. I liked this man very much and I didn’t want to think what this might mean. Concentrating, only on his own story of the picture, he had never noticed the woman. So I let it go and tried not to think about it but it crept into the rest of the afternoon.

And then it just became too much. It needed being said. If he hadn’t seen this woman whose picture he had looked long and hard at, maybe he wouldn’t see me either unless I dared him, unless I called him on his myopia.

Experience had taught me that men don’t like to be dared in certain areas. Usually, these are the areas where women have developed strength. Strength that does them well, in whatever other areas they venture into.

But something had to be said—-at the risk of losing his trust—-at the risk of laying my precautions before him and losing my strength. The tension that the picture provoked demanded expression. It look like I—-who only wanted to sit quietly and continuously fall in love with this man, who, except for the momentary scandal of his flawed vision, seemed just right—-was being called onto do it.

The time came to mention it and I did. It was my discomfort that made me speak. But the tension wasn’t all my own.

He had. . .[known]. . .a woman who somehow had worked with Leakey. Whenever he saw that picture he saw also her. Never seeing, he admitted bravely, the woman who was actually there.

It didn’t matter now. The important part of the conversation was over. Dares had been given and accepted, not challenged. We had both been brave and we both survived.

The Combing of History, David William Cohen: University of Chicago Press (1994), pp.119-121

Retyped by David William Cohen, 24 March 2021. DWC saw this document for the first time in early March 2021. It was typewritten, presumably while Gretchen was staying at Lienz, Austria. It was recovered from a sheaf of files that Gretchen had assembled from the 1970s and 1980s, perhaps those that would only be conserved on paper, in the transition from working typewriters into early computers, like an Apple.