Silda Spitzer Steps Onto a Well-worn Path

March 14, 2008 at 6:45 PM EDT

ANNE TAYLOR FLEMING, NewsHour Essayist: That face, you couldn’t take your eyes away from it, even though you half wanted to, because it felt almost wrong to look, invasive. You wanted to look at him, not her, the miscreant confessing his misdeeds, not the woman standing beside him, but you couldn’t.

It was her face that told the tale. It didn’t matter what he said. It was, in a sense, redundant. All you needed to do was look at that face.

True, we’ve seen others at similar moments, the faces of the wives of New Jersey Governor James McGreevey, of Idaho Senator Larry Craig, and, of course, of the former president of the United States, Bill Clinton.

Generally what we have seen is a mask of shocked stoicism, which is why the face of Silda Wall Spitzer was so arresting in its pain.

And then, to remember it in easier, happier times, the face of a grown, accomplished woman, a Harvard-educated corporate lawyer, the mother of three girls, the wife of the governor. It is a strong face, and yet, sometimes — at moments with him, at his inauguration, on vacation — a girlish, smiling face, younger than its years, fun in it, loveliness.

Hard to decide right now which face is more haunting: the lovely before one or the new after one.

The blogs and the pundits and the late-night talk show hosts had at it again, poking and winking and opining. It was a week-long news cycle, sustained by more tawdry revelations, more psychobabblers offering up insight into the deviant arrogance of the straying pol, particularly one as morally self-righteous as Eliot Spitzer.

Why, they asked, would such a man do this, risking everything, losing everything? Why, in turn, would a woman put up with it, standing there beside him in a moment, one can only imagine, of utmost humiliation?

On and on it went, answers abounding, none of them coming close to what that face said.

What we needed was a Shakespeare or Sophocles, not a Bill O’Reilly or a Keith Olbermann. Eliot Spitzer is now gone from political life, presumably forever.

What happens to his marriage now, the rage and the reckoning and the tears, will be offstage. None of us know what will happen. The husband and wife probably don’t know, either, at this point. Surprises loom; marriages survive awful injuries.

Best then not to relegate Silda Wall Spitzer to the victim role, either. That would be simple-minded, reductive and patronizing. We don’t know her. We don’t know her resilience, or her strength, or her longings, but she has left us this week with an indelible image of a sorrow beyond words.

I’m Anne Taylor Fleming.