My second semester in college, we had a bet as to who could get a higher combined grade in chemistry and biology.
She was always better than me in math; even though I was a math major, I knew better than to bet her on that. I thought I had a shot in science.
I had to pay for dinner and a movie of her choice as a payoff to the bet. She steered me into a little known (at the time) film that had just came out, one called “Raiders of the Lost Ark”.
What a great movie that was (is).
For any who might be wondering, it wasn’t a date. I was honoring a lost bet, one I had tried very hard to win. She was, I had to admit ruefully, just smarter than I was.
My best friend had dated her at one time. I never really looked at her that way, at least, not seriously. We were friendly sorts of rivals, I guess. Although, the rivalry seems rather one-sided, looking back. I was the Washington Generals to her Harlem Globetrotters, for any who might get that reference.
She transferred on full scholarship to a university in Texas, where she majored in nuclear physics. She told me in later years that she had the jarring experience of running into people there who were smarter than she was — something she’d rarely encountered where we grew up. Still, she did well, and graduated into a lucrative profession in which she’s still employed to this day.
I saw her, last year, by a completely freak set of circumstances. She spotted me first, and came up to me.
“Owen? Is that you?”
“Kathy? Oh, my God, what are you doing here?”
“I’m doing some consulting for the power plant down in Baxley. We’re up here for… well, it’s a long story.”
Since they were going to be in town for the weekend, we decided to meet up for lunch the next day and get caught up on each other’s lives.
After some pleasantries, and conversations about marital statuses (both on second marriages), kids (her three, me five), and grandkids (me two at the time, her first one due soon), we started talking about our jobs.
She was surprised to hear I ended up as an actuary. “I always felt like math wasn’t really your thing,” she said. “I mean, not like it was for some of us. You had music, and the arts and all that stuff.”
I told her I still did. I asked her if the profession she was in had a lot of women in it, and if not, was that a particular challenge?
Apparently, I had asked the right question.
“Of the handful of us who did post-graduate work,” [she has a Ph.D] “I was one of two girls. The boys there treated us fine, I mean, it was college, so, raging hormones and all that, but no one was a pig, if you know what I mean.”
I told her I probably did.
“When I started working part-time, it was 1986; since I didn’t finish my degree until late in 1987, I didn’t get a full-time gig until the next year. So that would have been around thirty years ago. My first boss, had, um — ideas about my ideal use that would have shocked me, had I heard them expressed in words; as it happened, he didn’t feel the need to use words. One night, when we were working late and the only other person still there left, he attacked me. I mean, physically assaulted me.”
“What did you do?” I asked, although, having known her growing up, I had an inkling.
“I almost killed him. I bashed his head halfway in with a stapler. I mean, I had learned self-defense growing up, you know my dad, he insisted on it, and I just grabbed the first thing I could reach. But I didn’t just hit him once. I hit a few extra times for good measure.”
“Oh, better than you’d think. I didn’t get in any trouble, and he got fired.”
“Well, that’s surprising. I thought this was headed toward you getting in trouble for him attempting to sexually assault you.”
“No, that didn’t happen, but, here’s the thing: I was lucky. If he had grabbed me from behind, or I didn’t have a weapon right at hand, or, any number of other things, it might have turned out differently, and that thought kept me awake for months, for years.”
I told her I was really sorry to hear that.
“You know, I’d always heard that rape was more about power than sex, but I never really understood before that.”
“Did you have other experiences like that? You’ve been in the business a long time.”
“Oh, yes, and I married two people from the business. I was never assaulted again, thank God, but I went through my share of innuendo and inappropriate jokes and salacious hints, and so on… You know, I thought guys in this business, with a lot of education would be more …”
“… civilized? Enlightened?”
“Did it sour you on the business?”
“No. I love this work. The entire country depends on power, and we produce it. I know how it works, and I’ve been able to make it work better and better over time.”
We went on to talk about her son for a few minutes, before returning to the subject above.
“Some men are pigs, is the way I look at it. And by pigs, I mean, whatever is in front of them, they feel entitled to, and will just take, if they can. Right and wrong don’t enter into the way they look at things.”
“Some women are pigs, by that definition,” I said.
She smiled at me.
“How was lunch?” my wife asked when I got home.
“Interesting. We talked a lot about power.”