Everything I know about love

I learned from Billie Holiday


Helen Bang

Everything I know about love I learned from Billie Holiday


Helen Bang

ACT [1]SCENE [1]

BILLIE HOLIDAY sings in a nightclub. Head tilted back, white gardenias in her hair.

Elsewhere WOMEN describe their experiences of domestic abuse to a sceptical CHORUS - a group of men and women, different ages, backgrounds who take it in turns to ask questions.

BILLIE:You don’t know what love is until you’ve learned the meaning of the blues.

Until you’ve loved a love you’d had to lose, you don’t know what love is.

You don’t know how lips hurt until you’ve’ kissed and had to pay the cost, until you’ve flipped your heart and you have lost, you don’t know what love is...

PSYCHOLOGIST:We’re here to discuss why men abuse women in intimate relationships. Let’s have some suggestions.

CHORUS:He was abused as a child.

He grew up in an abusive household.

He wants to control women.

He can’t control his anger.

His friends accept his behaviourViolence in relationships is normal

Men get abused too.

The CHORUS turns on the WOMEN.

CHORUS:Why didn’t you leave him?

JANE:I believed I deserved it.

LISA:I must have triggered him somehow.

CAROL:It wasn’t real abuse. There weren’t any bruises.

MANDY:He said no one else would want me.

JANE:It wasn’t real violence against women that I experienced ... it was self-caused. When I couldn’t get away, I should have had the strength ... but I thought it could be better, I still had hope.

DEIDRE:I felt responsible.

LISA:I felt guilty.

CAROL:I thought there was nothing very wrong with me because I had always been loved at home ... I thought what he says cannot be true ... but anyhow being abused and not discussing it with other people ... it becomes so confusing, because I thought that it was me that was wrong.

MANDY:I was in denial. One minute I felt guilty and a failure, the next that it wasn’t my fault at all.

JANE:I always thought the first slap or push, yes, and then I would go. But when it happens to you, it’s different. When it’s someone you love, when you have a life together, it’s not so easy to just up and leave.

LISA:I couldn’t leave at that moment. I just couldn’t.

WOMEN:That’s why we stayed.

BILLIE:Lord I love my man, tell the world I do

I love my man, tell the world I do

But when he mistreats me

Makes me feel so blue.

My man wouldn't give me no breakfast

Wouldn't give me no dinner

Fought about my supper and put me outdoors

Had the dark clay make black spots on my clothes

I didn't have so many

But I had a long, long way to go

Some men like me talkin' happy

Some calls it snappy

Some call me honey

Others think I got money

Some tell me baby you're built for speed

Now if you put that all together

Makes me everything a good man needs.

DEIDRE:I wanted it to go back to how it was at the beginning.

CHORUS:What was it like at the beginning?

The women relive the first heady dances of romance, their partners arrive with roses, they go dancing.

BILLIE:What a night, what a moon, what a boy!

What a moon, what a night, what a boy!

Those white clouds hang in the air like toy balloons

Say, they just hang in the air that's made for honeymoons

What a hug, what a kiss, what a boy!

What a game!, oh, what bliss, what a boy!

Is it a wonder my heart is full of joy?

What a night, what a moon, what a boy!

JANE:It was heaven.

LISA:We were so in love.

MANDY:He swept me off my feet.

CAROL:I’d never met anyone like him.

DEIDRE:He had these deep blue eyes, it was love at first sight.

BILLIE:I fell in love with you the first time I looked into them there eyes

And you have a certain lil cute way of flirtin' with them there eyes

They make me feel so happy, they make me feel so blueI'm fallin', no stallin' in a great big way for youMy heart is jumpin' you started somethin' with them there eyes

You'd better look out little brown eyes if you're wiseThey sparkle, they bubble, they're gonna get you

In a whole lot of trouble, oh baby, them there eyes.

The Partners hit the women. The women cry.

CHORUS:But when he hit you, why didn’t you leave?

WOMEN:We thought we could change him.

MANDY:I believed that love conquers all.

LISA:I saw the hurt little boy he once was. I wanted to fix him.

BILLIE:Moanin’ low, my sweet man I love him so.

Though he’s mean as can be,

He’s the kind of man needs

The kind of woman like me.

JANE:He had such passion, such drive, such potential.

CAROL:I wanted to help him achieve his dreams.

DEIDRE:I thought I could save him from himself.

WOMEN:We thought it was our job to help him to change.

BILLIE:Maybe he’s not much, just another man

Doing what he can.

But what does she care

When a woman loves a man.

She'll just string along

All through thick and thin

Till his ship comes in

It's always that way

When a woman love a man.

She'll be the first one to praise him

When he's goin' strong

The last one to blame him

When everything's wrong.

It's such a one-sided game that they play

But women are funny that way.

Tell her she's a fool

She'll say yes, I know

But I love him so.

And that's how it goes

When a woman loves a man.

The women are wooed by their partners again. More flowers, more dancing, more mimed promises.

BILLIE:Ooh, ooh, ooh

What a little moonlight can do

Ooh, ooh, ooh

What a little moonlight can do to you

You're in love

Your heart's a flutter and all day long

You only shutter

Cuz your poor tongue

Just won't utter the words

I love you

Ooh, ooh, ooh

What a little moonlight can do

Wait a while

Till a little moonbeam comes peepin' through

You'll get bold

You can't resist him

And all you'll say

When you have kissed him is

Ooh, ooh, ooh

What a little moonlight can do.

Their Partners hit the women again. They exit. The women cry.

CHORUS:But then he hit you. Why didn’t you leave?

LISA:I was afraid.

JANE:He said if I left him he’d track me down.

MANDY:He said he’d kill me.

DEIDRE:I don’t know exactly what I was afraid of. I just know I was afraid.

CAROL:Everything started going wrong. I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t understand why he was behaving like that.

BILLIE:I’m a fool to want you

To want a love that can’t be true

A love that’s there for others too.

I’m a fool to hold you

Such a fool to hold you

To seek a kiss not mine alone

To share a kiss the Devil has known

CHORUS:But why didn’t you leave him?

BILLIE:Time and again I said I’d leave you.

Time and again I went away

But then would come the time when I would need you

And once again these words I had to say.

DEIRDRE:Take me back.

JANE:I love you.

CAROL:I need you

MANDY:I know it’s wrong, it must be wrong.

LISA:But right or wrong I can’t get along

JANE:Without you.

CHORUS:We don’t understand. There must be another reason that you stayed.

WOMEN:We stayed because we were afraid.

CHORUS:But he hit you again. Why didn’t you leave him?

MANDY:I was afraid he’d hurt the children if he wasn’t hurting me.

CAROL:I wanted my son to have a father. There are too many fatherless children on our estate. I’ve seen the trouble they get into. A boy needs his father.

JANE:He promised he’d change. That’s why I stayed.

BILLIE:Just one more chance

To prove it’s you alone I care for

Each night I say a little prayer for

Just one more chance...

Just one more night

To taste the kisses that enchant me

I’d want no others if you’d grant me

Just one more chance.

CHORUS:But when he hit you again. Why didn’t you leave him?

BILLIE:Hush now, don’t explain.

Just say you’ll remain.

I’m glad you’re back, don’t explain.

Quiet, don’t explain

What is there to gain?

Skip that lipstick

Don’t explain.

CHORUS:Why didn’t you leave?

DEIDRE:That’s what I thought love was like.

JANE:Love hurts. All the songs say so.

CAROL:I thought it was supposed to be like this.

CHORUS:You sound crazy.

WOMEN:Perhaps you’ve never been in love.

CHORUS:Why didn’t you leave him?

JANE:He’d just been elected to Parliament. He was tipped for the top. Friends said ‘what about his career?’

LISA:He was a Vicar - he couldn’t get divorced. There would have been such a scandal.

DEIDRE:He was so highly-thought of in the community. Everyone thought I was so lucky being married to Doctor Lucas.

CAROL:I’m from a very religious family. My mother said God would disown me if I left my husband. It was my duty to make our marriage work.

LISA:My Dad used to hit my Mum. I thought that’s what relationships were like.

CHORUS:He hit you again. Why didn’t you leave him?

LISA:I haven’t worked outside the home since I got married. I can’t support myself.

CAROL:He controls the finances. I don’t have any money.

DEIRDRE:Everything’s in his name. He doesn’t let me have money of my own.

BILLIE:What makes me treat you the way that I do
Gee, baby, ain't I good to you
There's nothing in this world
Too good for guy that's good and true
Gee, baby, ain't I good to you

Gave you my money
Diamond ring
Big Cadillac car and everything
It's love that makes me treat you the way that I do
Gee, baby, ain't I good to you

CHORUS:But you were unhappy. Why didn’t you leave him?

CAROL:Being unhappy’s what love is about.

JANE:All the songs say so.

BILLIE:Fools rush in so here I am
Very glad to be unhappy
I can't win but here I am
More than glad to be unhappy

Unrequited love's a bore
And I've got it pretty bad
But for someone you adore
It's a pleasure to be sad

Like a straying baby lamb
With no mammy and no pappy
I'm so unhappy
But oh, so glad

CHORUS:But why didn’t you leave?

MANDY:He said I’d be put in a mental hospital because I was crazy.

LISA:I thought about killing myself but I could not face the thought that I would be spared from something and they would be left.

CAROL:The children have given me strength, helped me to fight. I couldn’t do them such harm

CHORUS:So how did you finally pluck up the courage to leave?

JANE:It got to the point where I dreaded him coming home.

LISA:I was always on tenterhooks, I always had this anxiety ... this tension to never be able to relax.

CAROL:I couldn’t sleep, I didn’t know from moment to moment what the rules were.

MANDY:The Rules.

DEIDRE:His Rules.

JANE:It was like I was balancing on a tightrope.

MANDY:I was not living, I was breathing, eating and going to work, but was not living.  I didn’t know what was going on until one day when I realized that my parents were not allowed to come and visit me.

LISA:I knew that this wasn’t a life ... I had twins ... I never slept at night ... I felt that if he could rape me every night something is wrong, and I had to go..

JANE:I have overcome this because of my friend ... she was there all the time. She never gave up on me, never ever.

MANDY:When my father found out he was so angry, he said, ‘‘Throw him out ... I can help you.’’

CHORUS:How do you feel about that period of your life now?

CAROL:It was the sorrow of a lost life ... nothing else than hell.

JANE:He stole my best years from me.

MANDY:All the dreams I had about having a happy family were not there anymore.

DEIDRE:I had a sorrow within me but I didn’t understand it.

JANE:It took five years after leaving before I could think my own thoughts without thinking what he would say if I did this or that ...

CHORUS:What do you think the problem is?

JANE:It’s become normalised. No one is surprised by it.

LISA:It’s what society expects of us, to be caretakers for men.

CHORUS:Girls were made to take care of boys
To be kind and beautiful

BILLIE:Girls were made to take care of boys
Made to share their sorrows
Made to share their joys
Made to help and guide them
With ever a patient hand
Made to give affection
In the right direction

CHORUS:Always understand.

BILLIE:Now boys may think they take care of girls
Just because they pass on their fashions and their curls
But I've always found
It's just the other way around

CHORUS:Other way around

BILLIE:If you need the girl
And declare you do

CHORUS:Tell her that you need her.

BILLIE:She'll be there
To take care of you

CHORUS:She’ll be there.

BILLIE:Now boys may think they take care of girls,
Just because they're clever
with their fashions and their curls)

But I've always found
It's just the other way around

CHORUS:And if you need the girl

BILLIE:And declare you do
She’ll be there

CHORUS:She’ll be there

BILLIE:To take care of you



    (C) Helen Bang 2021