I HAVE a friend who has two husbands. Even though she's divorced from one of them, he's still her husband. When she called to see me last week her hair and hands were full of paint.
"What's getting the makeover?"
"His house," she answered.
Her other husband was divorced from her 10 years ago. They signed a maintenance contract which he has stuck to every step of the way. It's the unsigned maintenance agreement that intrigues me. She's always around there with her toolbox, and fixing him doesn't stop at the domestics. A few months ago she took him on holiday with her new husband and their children. She never had children with the first man.
"He wasn't grown up enough to put on his socks," she told me. "There was no way I could allow myself to get pregnant."
Given they were childhood sweethearts she has grown to think of her first husband as her little brother. He's five years older and has his own business, but he doesn't hesitate to phone her for a Big Sis chat when he's down.
"I married him because I thought it was normal for a woman to do everything for a man. My mother did it for my father. But he was in the overalls at least. I don't know how or why, but in my first marriage it became normal for me to be up a ladder clearing the gutters while he watched the match. I think I just noticed things before him."
I'm not so sure about this. I think he had the ability to un-notice while she hadn't the same facility. He was devastated when she broke free of it. And who wouldn't be when they lose a woman who can do everything?
Several times in my company he has said he'll never marry again because he'll never have another one like her.
My friend is a rescuer. She comes equipped with a hosepipe, life raft, buoyancy aid, fire blanket and camping stove. She can breastfeed and build a shed at the same time. I'd marry her if I could.
But I sometimes wonder where all her vulnerability is. Everyone she knows hides under her wing, and she seems to enjoy it -- except when her first marriage went she spoke about how tired she was. It was the nearest she came to slagging him. Someone told me once that strong women need strong support.
I am someone who rescues animals so, of course, I rescued people for a long time, too -- until I noticed that it seemed to mean 10 people asking something of me. I realised that co-dependence was a part of my personality and decided to see what life was like when I was only responsible for myself and my immediate others.
As I fetched the turpentine to rinse off my friend I asked her if she really wanted to paint her ex-husband's house?
"No, but I can see it needs doing."
We talked for a while about her guilt for leaving him more than a decade ago. His inability to move on has put her old sense of responsibility for him even into their divorced relationship.
"I helped him get the Leaving, so I've never known a life where he didn't need me."
She needs to be needed. Her own parents didn't give a flying hen about her. They were both flappers and she cleaned the coop.
Our conversation about providing for others brought something into focus for me, too. Caring when it's controlling is not caring. It's deciding the other person isn't capable of doing things.
It's a skill to stand back and let the proverbial hit the fan. But if we keep rescuing we hit it ourselves.