T Minus 3: The Yes, The But and The Yet

Here we are, T minus 3 (note: I had to change this from T minus 6…been that kind of week) until the wedding!  Wait, what??

I’ve received so many lovely and kind notes from friends near and far wishing us Mazel and telling me that Barry and my story “gives them hope” and ours is like a “fairy tale come to life”.  And, in countless ways they are right.  However…I have to keep things real.  It is not always easy.  It is not always fun.  And it is not always romantic.  What it is, though, is perfect for us. We have a rhythm that often moves at breakneck speed (anyone who has had the pleasure of meeting Barry in person will know what I mean…) and a brutal honesty between us. And we, like all couples, have a YES, and BUT and a YET for every occasion.

With the wedding just days away, I can tell you this:

YES: I am excited!  Who doesn’t love a party where there is dancing, good food, drink, company and, perhaps best of all, a staff of seasoned wedding planners at my disposal? BUT: Planning and throwing a wedding takes a lot of mental, physical and financial fortitude.* It can quickly become overwhelming and stressful and expensive and problematic. We have certainly had arguments, and I might have left the house, driven to the beach and had a few mini fits/breakdowns/freak outs once or twice.  Okay, it was three times.  YET: At the end of every day, we kiss, say, “I love you” and mean it.

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YES: I am blessed. I adore my almost husband, I love all four of our kids, my new house and my new community.  I cherish being able to see and feel the ocean every day and have the summer off to establish my new life. BUT: There are times, particularly in the past few weeks, that I have wanted to slug Barry in the face, leave each and every one of the kids by the side of the road in the middle of nowhere, systematically (and by systematically, I mean secretly) remove works of “art” which are, shall we say, not my style and taken personally the fact that it is humid and sticky and hard to breathe. YET: At the end of every day, we kiss and say, “I love you”.

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YES: Our blended family is blending well.  BUT: We have four kids who all saw their parents’ marriages dissolve, had to move from their childhood houses and now travel back and forth between their now divorced parents’ homes.  Harrison, at 21 and a rising college senior has a beautiful apartment at school, but doesn’t have any other place where he can go that has a dresser with his t-shirts and underwear, or the posters he grew up with on the walls, or even a familiar neighborhood.  It’s been hard on him.  It’s been hard of all of us.  It’s a tremendous adjustment that we’ve all had to make.  But most of all, it’s a process and processes can be long, arduous and sometimes painful.  YET: At the end of every day, we kiss, say, “I love you” and mean it.

YES: The second time around is exciting and joyful and energizing. Step-parenting two young kids is easier than with my own because I am older, wiser and have, through 21 years of parenting, picked up a thing or two about how their little minds work.  BUT: Getting married again is overwhelming and scary and a lot less romantic than the first time around.  Along with the joy and excitement comes the business side of marriage: life insurance, wills, estate plans, finances and other sexy stuff that is a necessary evil in the second marriage process.  And my vast knowledge of children and their trickery? Yeah, that’s fantastically effective about 60% of the time.  YET: At the end of every day, we kiss, say, “I love you” and mean it.

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T minus 3 and I really believe (most of the time) (except when I am caught up in the BUT) (which always passes) that the only thing that really matters is the YET.

*Our original plan was to have just our family up at the lighthouse in town and then back to the house for a barbeque.  Yeah, that didn’t happen.

Eric: And Why You Should Never Judge A Book By It’s Cover

It is fair to say that I was in a foul mood.  The combination of a sweltering hot day, an argument with Barry, the pressures of moving, unpacking and putting the finishing touches on our upcoming wedding had bubbled over, forcing me to calmly get into my car, cry a snotty cry and lose my shit just a little.

The trunk of the rental car that I was driving  – all thanks to whomever smashed in the right quarter panel of my car and thought taking off without leaving a note was the right thing to do – was filled with clothing and home goods that I had been driving around with for days, repeatedly forgetting to drop off for donation.  I drove to the closest Savers knowing that the folks there will unload your things, hand you a receipt and a coupon to use in the store: win win.  It was 8:59 p.m. and they didn’t close until 10 p.m. so, I (incorrectly, as it turned out) thought it would be an uneventful interaction.

“Sorry, ma’am, we are no longer taking donations today” they told me as I began to unload.  Don’t cry, don’t cry, and don’t cry I told myself.  Yes, it had been that kind of a day.  “Really?!?!” I inquired, perhaps a bit too aggressively.  As they began to firmly stand their ground, a U-Haul box truck sidled up next to me.  The driver, a burly guy who appeared way more biker-dude than philosopher (and by way more, I mean there was not a single thing about him that bespoke anything other than biker-with-tats-and-maybe-even-a-former-football-career).

“I’ll take it for you and bring it back here tomorrow” he said, with a far gentler tone than I expected.  With tears threatening to erupt at any moment, I asked if he was serious and knew he was as he got out, opened the back of the truck and offered to help with the unload.  Upon seeing this happen, the Savers guys re-thought their earlier refusal and told me that they would, indeed, take my donation. A change of heart or a macho competition, perhaps?

As a team, he and I removed bag after bag after bag of items, my frustration at the day far from exhausted.  And then we started talking.  But I didn’t want to talk; I didn’t want to be friendly.  I was in a bitchy mood and I was going to stay in a bitchy mood, damnit.  But Eric, my truck driver in shining armor, as it turns out, is quite a guy.  He makes a living finding and re-selling stuff.  More precisely: cool stuff.  He has a store within a mall that houses antiques, collectibles and furniture services.  He pulled from his pocket two Pandora bracelets which, he explained,  he had picked up for a few bucks late in the day (when all the good stuff is gone) at a yard sale.  (If you don’t understand how impressive that is, Google “Pandora”.  And, after you pick your chin up off the floor at the prices, you will get it.)  But that was just the beginning.

He spent 12 years as part of a travelling magic show. He told me about the power of guilt and the greater power, and actual ease of learning how to let it go.  He referenced Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.  No, he didn’t reference it; he had studied it to the point of being something of an expert.  His heart, it was clear, was huge, his breadth of knowledge impressive.  Yes, I am still talking about the big guy who looks like he belongs on a Harley heading for a saloon in a honky-tonk town.

I asked him if we could take a selfie as I am a writer and I love to tell the stories of random people I meet.  He asked me who I write for, and I told him I have a blog (aside: my offer still stands…if anyone wants to hire me to write for them…).  I knew what the next question was going to be.  As he asked what my blog is about, I had to make a quick assessment and decision.  “Well,” I began, “it started off as a blog about my daughter…who used to be my son…but has morphed over the years.”  Without skipping a beat, he told me a story.

In his line of work, he often rents trucks.  (One of these days he will go buy his own box truck, he shared.) He noticed that the guy working at the U-Haul that he uses was changing over the course of the past few months: hair was getting longer, nails were manicured, and clothing was more feminine.  Eventually, he initiated a conversation around it and the two began talking regularly about the social transition that was unfolding before his eyes.  After a few months, he told his new friend that he had acquired some nice dresses at yard sales and offered to bring them to her.  She reluctantly agreed.  When Eric brought her the dresses, she nearly wept; they were high quality, beautiful dresses which, it is worth noting, he picked up for a song.  And they were now hers.  Impressed with his patent acceptance, I told him how I often tell Jess that I don’t care if she is a boy, a girl or a Martian, straight, gay or somewhere in between…as long as she isn’t an asshole.  He laughed and told me I am a good mom.

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We stood in the hot, humid night air for a solid 45 minutes.  My frustrations and anger were gone, and the layer of perspiration creating a tacky stickiness on my skin didn’t even bother me.  I got his email and his blessing to share our chance encounter and headed home, amazed at the depth and thoughtfulness of a guy named Eric who was not at all what I thought he would be.

p.s. For you lovely single ladies: he is on Plenty of Fish.  And I happen to have his email.

Oh, The People I Meet

I didn’t catch his name.  Our encounter was as pleasant as it was brief.  With four miles under my belt, a cloudless sky and soaring heat, even at 7:00 a.m., my pace was quick.  None of my walking buddies were able to join me, so I was alone with my iced coffee, iHeart radio and the rhythm of the ocean.  I have a fairly hysterical internal conversation these days, and the banality of morning radio was precisely what I needed.

There was a steady crowd of walkers, from the very old to the brand-new-to-this-world being pushed by the young (to me, anyway) mothers creating an almost crowded sidewalk overlooking the beach.  I uttered and received back innumerable “good mornings” and yes, I saw “my friend, the man whose name I do not know.”  I arrived at a decision spot: keep walking straight or take the loop, adding probably a quarter of a mile to my stroll, when I saw another man whose name I do not know.  It was just the two of us and we caught eyes.  I removed one of my earphones, breaking my stride, making me aware of just how damn hot it was, and asked him about the feature you could not miss…his very long, very white beard.  “How long have you been growing it?” I asked.  Without so much as a beat, he responded, “Oh, this? (now two beats, three strokes of the beard) it’s been three or four days.”  I smiled. He smiled. Clearly, I was not the first person to ask.

We chatted briefly, including my telling him that his beard was a great conversation starter.  His reply: “Gee, most women wouldn’t agree” with a smile and more than a hint of loneliness.  I told him he has great eyes, which he does.  I did not tell him that he would be downright cute if he shaved it off.  Feeling brave, I told him that I am a writer (aside: I kind of feel like a fraud when I say that, if you want the truth) and that I love to write about people I meet along the beach, or, for that matter, anywhere else, and would he mind if we took a selfie.  His eyes and smiled widened as he agreed without hesitation.  As we snapped the photo, he told me that he is actually a really shy guy.  I would amend that: a shy guy with a sweet personality and, um, sweeter eyes.

We parted ways, and that was that.

I continued to walk, managing another three miles, congratulating myself on doing so in the blazing heat and got in my car where I guzzled the water that I had put over ice before I left the house (it was now just water) and checked my phone, having not looked at the picture.  I was not disappointed.

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I pulled away from the beach and asked myself if I wanted to go home and shower, or just head directly to the supermarket.  I opted for the latter and, as I knew would happen, I felt the layer of sweat on my skin turn to a chill as I traveled the aisles of the store, trying like hell to remember if we needed milk, or if I had an ample supply of sea salt Melba Crackers.  (Try them.  You’re welcome.)  Wondering why there were so many damn people there in the middle of the day in the middle of the week, I took my place in what looked to be the least long register line.

As I educated myself on the escalating battle between Angelina and Jennifer, and the surefire way to rock a bikini (yeah, no) I heard the chatter of a toddler and his mom in the line at the register next to mine.  The mom, a pony tailed and adorably gap-toothed woman somewhere between mid 20s and early 30s held in her hand a box of animal crackers which had just been cracked open as, I would imagine, a reward to her son for not knocking over a display or running wild through the aisle or doing any of the myriad things that our children do to horrify, anger and embarrass us.  My mother did it.  I did it.  I highly recommend it.

And then, without warning, the store fills with the earth shattering cries of a certain little boy in a shopping cart.  His mother had done a horrible thing.  What was she thinking?  Yes, she ate one of the cookies.  Oh, wait, to be clear: it wasn’t just any cookie…it was the one, the only one, that he wanted.  And he was ripshit.  No, another cookie, molded into precisely the same animal as the one she had munched would definitely not suffice. Nor, she learned, would a different animal all together.  Or a cheese stick.  It was a rookie mistake that we have all made.  Never mess with a toddler and his snack.  Like never ever.

So, the remarkable part of this encounter was this: the mom, who I have personally deemed mom of the year, never lost her cool.  She was able, even in the throes of a real tantrum with real tears and real stares, appreciate how ridiculous and funny it was.  She didn’t get flustered or frustrated or impatient.  Her laugh was so honest and respectful of his upset.  We caught eyes.  She asked me if it gets better.  I was the old lady now, the one with experience with this kind of thing so I told her what I tell every new parent: the days last for-fucking-ever, but the years fly by.  We shared a smile.

I returned to my order, paid and looked back to see if she was still there.  I saw mom and kid walking out of the store in the direction opposite of the way I should go to pack up my car.  I paused briefly, considered the ice cream which I was sure was already melting,  turned my own cart around and chased (in the least creepy way possible) after her.  I caught up with them in the parking lot, the sun beating down on my sweaty body (remember those seven miles from earlier in the morning?) and said to her what I had said to my bearded buddy: “I am a writer and I love to write about people I meet” (this time the words slid out a little more naturally) and asked, for the second time this morning, if I could take a selfie of us.  She, too, was quick to agree.  We all smiled for the camera and off we went, but not before I got her email address so I could send her the link once I acted like a writer and wrote.

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I finally made it home, assessed my sea glass haul for the day and showered.  I now smell way better, have food in the house and am smiling at today’s chance encounters.  This is fun…

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p.s. In search of a clever artist who can make something out of all this damn sea glass.  I simply cannot stop collecting it.

Badassery, Sand and Sea Glass

It was my “after-walk”.

I’d met up with my friend, a contemporary with a lot on her plate, at 7:15 a.m., where, with iced coffees in hand, we briskly walked back and forth on the sidewalk spanning the length of the beach, a nice six-mile trek. Having burned some decent calories, we then went to the diner near where our cars were parked, and indulged in a King’s breakfast of omelets, toast, hash browns and more coffee.  With nearly two hours of chatting about our children, our parents, our past, current and future partners and even a little sex, drugs and rock, we parted ways with a sweaty hug and kiss.  We’ve done this walk many, many times, making for easy, honest and raw conversation.  Nothing is off limits and we never run out of things to discuss.  (aside: love you, Becky)

As I neared my car, I turned my gaze to the beach below where the tide had just gone out, leaving behind a treasure-trove of rocks, shells and sea glass.  I took the dozen or so stairs down to the sand, an empty coffee cup in hand, and began to walk off some of the calories I had just joyfully ingested. Alone on the beach, my pace was slow, my head was down and I was pushing away that pesky little voice reminding me of the long list of things I needed to accomplish in the day ahead.

“I’m right behind you”, I heard.

Realizing that she might startle me, an 80-year-old woman in brand new walking shoes approached with a tentative smile.  I was still raptly scanning the ground below when she made a comment as to how little sea glass there was this year.  I rattled and extended my cup, now nearly half full, and told her that she wasn’t finding any because I had it all.  Her face softened and she smiled more warmly.

We began to walk side by side, chatting intermittently and lightly, both of us paying attention to the artifacts littering the sand.  As if having been planted for just such an occasion, we each began to spot piece after piece after piece, each one leaving sand under our fingernails and little sparks of joy at having spotted them.

Not far down the beach was a tide pool, long and wide enough to preclude us from crossing over, forcing us to re-walk the ground we’d already covered.  I lost count as to how many times we retraced the same patch of sand, but it was many.  We paced back and forth, conversation never waning as we collected sea glass and sisterhood, despite our thirty-year age difference.

In those nearly 75 minutes of walking, talking and collecting, we learned a lot about one another. We talked about our children, and she, her grandchildren of which she has four.  We shared joys and challenges we’ve faced: marriages, divorces (mine – she’s been married for nearly 60 years), deaths, professional successes and disappointments, life events we’ve cherished and those that broke our hearts.  We laughed with the shared experiences of all mothers and wives and had tears come to our eyes while recounting sadnesses we’d endured.  While certainly a less saucy conversation than earlier in the morning, it was no less raw.

When it came time for me to part ways with this, the second badass woman of the morning, we, too, shared a sweaty hug and kiss, but not before I told her that I am a writer and would love to write about our time together.  Even better…can we take a selfie?  She happily obliged.

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We spoke about a lot of private, personal and even scary things, the details of which are not my story to tell; the beach is kind of like Vegas – what happens there stays there.  However, I was touched by her honesty and honored to have earned her trust..

Thank you, lovely lady.  I know you appreciated my attentiveness.  What you might not know is how much I appreciated yours.  I’ll be looking for you on the beach…and will be sure to leave some sea glass for you.

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The Man Whose Name I Do Not Know

I do not know his name.  Nor do I know his age, ethnicity and the reason for his labored gait.  His English is limited at best, his smile infectious, warm and at the ready.  A small man with a bum leg which he is forced to lift, drag and scuffle with each step, he is pure joy on my early morning walks along the beach.

When we first “met”, each of us was bundled up in parkas, hats and gloves which spared us the dangers of freezing to death while enabling us to enjoy the splendor of the Atlantic. Our respective walks begin on opposite ends of the beach; our rendezvouses always begin from afar when I spot his unique carriage in the distance, heading toward me with a zeal inconsistent with what appears to be each painful step.

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He always walks with great avidity and never has a companion. I walk alone or with girlfriends.  He is untethered to earphones making him privy to the crash of the ocean against the sand, the hum of the cars full of commuters (who are, no doubt, envious of those of us lucky enough to be able to take this walk each morning) and the aromas of the sea mixing with exhaust fumes. I, on the other hand, am either chatting animatedly with the girls or am plugged into early morning radio silliness while ruminating or contemplating or obsessing or overthinking or maybe just zoning out.  He is feeling each physical step while I am hoping that my FitBit is accurately counting mine.

Our schedules overlapped three or four times before I was sure that he recognized me.  He is easy to spot from a distance, but my less conspicuous stride and being bundled up, I assumed that, to him, I looked like all the other middle-aged women who take this walk.  It was during one of those moments, one day last winter, that we seamlessly moved from a gentle nod to a spirited high five as we passed one another.  And now we have them every day.

I love our high fives.  It happens so naturally now: we hold hands while he nods, smiles and mutters “hello, good morning” in his broken yet eager English.  Sometimes, we get to do it twice – once in each direction.  That happened just this morning.  This time, as we were grasping hands in the air, celebrating our meeting up, and the smell of the ocean and the fact that we both hit the ground at 6:30 a.m. (me with coffee in hand) I held up one finger – the international symbol for “hold on” – and took out my phone.  He knew there was a selfie in his future (which made me adore him a little more) and he went on to perform even better than I could have hoped for.

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I still don’t know his name and probably never will.  On the rare occasion that we don’t meet up, my walk feels just a little less wonderful.  If I don’t see him, I wonder if he is okay.   I love his energy and tenacity and drive.  He makes my day a little bit better just by walking in my direction.

Everyone should have a man they do know to high five.

LAW and My Dad

It’s become a lovely routine:  I wake (too) early, brush my teeth, throw on leggings, a tank and a light sweatshirt, brush my teeth, tie my hair up in a knot, head downstairs to put on my sneakers and I’m out the door.  First stop: Dunkin’ Donuts for a medium hot, one milk, one sugar, paid for with my always-loaded app.  And then I head to the ocean.

At that hour, the tide is beginning to go out, so the sand is firm and often teeming with rocks, shells, debris and, most importantly, sea glass.  It is all there just for a temporary visit before the tide comes in again and takes it all away.  Finding a piece is a random act, one which will never play out the same way twice. As I stack the morning coffee into yesterday’s empty and begin my walk/treasure hunt, earphones in, music blaring I open my eyes and heart to whatever may land at my feet.

It is strangely comforting and cathartic to find each and every piece of sea glass.  My expertise at spotting them has allowed me to be selective as to when to slow my pace, bend over and pick something up.  I used to grab every piece, aggressively going for quantity over quality, but am now more interested in the cool shapes and sizes that I happen upon, of which there are many.

Over the past few weeks, I have found almost entire necks of bottles, red pieces (most of which are, in fact, plastic bicycle reflectors which, I note with curiosity, seem to be in abundance at the shoreline) and more shades of green than I can count.  I’ve encountered entire bottoms of bottles, glass in various interesting shapes and even an occasional blue specimen.  My FitBit tells me that I cover four miles of sand, the ocean air clearing my head, as I drop the pieces into the extra cup, sand and all, each discovery and clink as it lands somehow joyful.

Yesterday, despite the fact that there are so many brown pieces that I often forgo them, I picked one up.  Its edges had been softened perfectly by Mother Nature, it’s shape somehow reminding me of a state on the map, although which state I am not sure.  I held it in the palm of my hand, paying it more attention than I normally do a ubiquitous brown piece, pushing the sand away, caressing it gently.  I noticed that it had lettering on it which I always consider a bonus, a bit of a thrill.  This one had just three letters: LAW.  No big deal, right?  Only here’s the thing: most of the brown pieces were former beer bottles, haphazardly discarded by partying beachgoers and there is no beer brand  that has those three letters: Budweiser, Miller, Michelob, Schlitz…yep, none spell LAW.  But, and perhaps you think this a stretch, my father was a lawyer.  To me it was a sign from him, although an ironic one as I don’t think he ever even tasted beer.  I took three more steps, smiling to myself, before I spied a small red, heart-shaped chunk.  No longer wondering, I was now sure that my father was with me on the beach.

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I am getting married in six weeks at my new home by the beach.  I am heartbroken that my father will not be there, so perhaps I am reading more deeply into the softened shard on the sand, but I don’t think so.  I know that he is here.

Happy Father’s Day to the best.

A Judge, A Lady with Pink Toes & Dick Van Dyke Walked Into a Bar

This morning I had a date for coffee at Starbuck’s with a friend of Harrison’s.  Jon had reached out to me a few weeks ago but between the end of the school year, my upcoming move and planning for my wedding, I had been forced to cancel on him more than once.  Or even twice.  I texted him this morning that I had about an hour – could he meet me on such short notice?  Perfect, he said. (Note: I love when people will do things with me on short notice!)

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I arrived about fifteen minutes early so I ordered my grande-cold-brew-in-a-venti-cup-with-extra-ice, doctored it with milk and sugar (no sugar substitute for me) and snagged a table outside on a picture perfect morning.  As I began to busy myself catching up on Facebook and Words with Friends, I couldn’t help but overhear the conversation between the man and woman at the table beside me, likely in their late sixties/early seventies. Based upon the fact that they were sharing information along the lines of where they were from, how many children they had and where they fell in the birth order among their siblings, it was evident that this was a first date.

She’d been divorced for fifteen years.  His wife had passed away more recently.  She: two daughters, 25 and 26.  He: two sons, 29 and 31.  She: just moved back to town from Colorado where she skied every day she possibly could.  He: tries like hell to enjoy golf but has a deep emotional divide between loving it and hating it. She: Googled him.  He: didn’t know that was a “thing” that people did “nowadays.”   She: “refuses” to discuss politics with anyone, yet did mention that she finds Trump a reprehensible swine.  He: Trump all the way.  And so it went.  They continued to chat for well over an hour, the details of which I did not hear as I was now engaged in my own conversation and listening to them would be just plain rude.

When they got up to leave, an older man who had been sitting with a pug puppy at his feet (and had made his desire to enjoy the outdoor patio evident by pulling up one of the unused chairs and plopping down between our two – the only two – tables) began to move himself into their not quite vacated seats.  The couple (who aren’t really a couple at all) really had no choice but to stop to pet the dog and with the cluster of us being on top of one another, we started to chat.  (Okay, maybe I started to chat.)

The older man, it turns out, is a retired judge and the dog, his emotional support.  I did not ask for his story, but I suspect, given his disheveled presentation and dull eyes, that it included a lost love.  The couple, despite their pleasant enough coffee are not, I am going to definitively state, going to have a second date.  Instead of even feigning interest in her date, she glommed onto the fact that my toenails and hers are painted the same shade of pink.* I commented that he looked a bit like Dick Van Dyke. She rolled her eyes.  He, like the judge, had sad eyes suggesting that he still mourns the loss of his wife.  And their politics..yeah, that was most certainly a deal breaker.

My curiosity getting the better of me, I inquired (or, to be more precise, confirmed) that it was a first date.  She: once again rolled her eyes.  He: smiled sweetly.  I then told them the story of my first date with Barry, which, it happens, was three years ago today.  I told her that I, too, Googled him before I met him and that I told him my big scary things before I would even meet him…no sense in having a (potentially) great first date only to discover that he couldn’t/wouldn’t be able to work with the baggage I was bringing along with me.  She offered something between a nod and a shrug as if making a mental note to do some pre-screening before her next date.  These two might have saved the $10 on coffee had they, as part of the vetting process, just said, “Hillary” or “Trump”.

They parted ways in the parking lot with a handshake. She:  I’d venture to guess, called her friend who fixed them up with a “thanks but no thanks”.  He: was missing his wife.

Dating is so tricky.  On the one hand, you put yourself out there and wonderful things can happen.  On the other, it can really suck.  I was lucky that I met Barry fairly soon after agreeing to date.  I went with my gut and gave him an out before he got in and he, in turn, did the same.  We, it is worth noting, have been together since that very first date.

The retired judge, the lady with the pink toenails and the aged Rob Petrie left Starbuck’s feeling alone and disappointed this morning.  And I left feeling grateful and hopeful for them that they will keep on truckin’ because you just never know.

As for my new friend Jon, when I left, he had pulled up a chair and was chatting with the judge. Makes me kinda love him.

 

*OPI Mod About You. You’re welcome.

The Ugly Cry

It has happened to all of us.  Well, perhaps not all of us, but certainly to me.  It sneaks up and renders you powerless over making it stop and humiliated at it happening at all: crying at work.  I do not think I would be exaggerating if I said that I’ve found myself with unstoppable waterworks and the resulting red eyes (and, in my case, nose) at least once at every job I’ve ever held.  There are times it was justified, and others which came from a benign something or other that occurred at just the wrong right time.

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Earlier today, we were at Staples looking for a desk chair to accommodate Barry’s new back issues.  I’d begun to lose interest in hearing about the differences in the chairs and was happily catching up on Words with Friends when I felt the hysteria of a middle-aged female employee, rushing past us, her face contorted and red, hurrying to the backroom, trying desperately, yet unsuccessfully, to keep her tears at bay. Having no idea what had happened –  a terrible phone call, a mean customer, attitude from 20something manager – my instinct was to follow her into the “employees only” area to help comfort her but, given the fact I am not, in fact, a Staples employee, I had no choice but to stay put.

While speeding through the doors which would provide at least a temporary haven and, hopefully, some cold water and tissues, she plowed into a male colleague who gave her a sideways glance and shrugged ever so slightly, no doubt wondering what her problem was. Given his decision to continue along, unfazed, in the direction he was headed, along with a countenance which indicated a profound lack of interest or compassion made it entirely clear that she was on her own.

I returned to my games, keeping a peripheral eye out for her return.  It was probably close to ten minutes before she resurfaced from her unsanctioned break (retail can be brutal that way), her face bearing the tell-tale signs of a woman trying like hell to stop the crying.  Trying so hard, in fact, that it actually made her cry harder.  The dull black smudges from the mascara that had first melted off her lashes and then settled onto her skin where they would remain until she was able to get home and scrub her face clean, mixed with red blotches on her cheeks and a watery coating to her eyes.  Her breathing and step were quick yet deliberate, clearly willing herself to pull it together, dammit.

I know that feeling.  You are a hot mess and hoping like hell that no one notices while, in fact, no one doesn’t notice.  You want to climb into a hole, give into whatever might have set you off and privately and unabashedly lose your shit.  Only you cannot, because you are at work.  Sonofabitch.

As I watched her scramble around the store, seeking solace, a hiding place or even an opportunity to turn back time to before her tears betrayed her, I continued to feel a pull to somehow help.  Barry, having (I think maybe, but cannot be sure) decided upon a chair to buy, signaled to me that he was done and we began to head out of the store.  I peeled myself out of the Tempurpedic chair that I’d been keeping warm (aside: damn, that chair is comfortable) and stepped directly into the woman’s frenetic path.  In as low a register as I could, I told her, girl to girl, that my heart went out to her…did she need a hug?  She declined the offer, thanked me and hustled back to the register bay, tears pushing their way to the surface all over again. We waited on line for her to log herself in and wave us over.  I didn’t say another word knowing all too well how embarrassed she already felt.  We slid our two items onto the counter, each sale priced at $2.00.  I could see how hard she was trying to keep things together, avoiding eye contact, but remaining friendly and professional, her breathing deep and deliberate.  Scan, scan, keyboard, keyboard, “$1.06, please.” I knew it wasn’t right.  She knew it wasn’t right.  It was girl code for, “thank you”.

Ugly crying (and trust me, this was ugly crying) at work (or, for that matter,  in public or at any inopportune moment) stinks.  Neither the crier nor the innocent bystander knows what to do, so most do nothing.  Both the crier and the innocent bystander hope like hell that it will stop and stop soon, but it never does.  It is an all-around Suckfest, right?

I am sure she will never see this.  I am even more sure that if she did, she would be horrified all over again, having moved on from the stranger at Staples who tried to hug her.  I wish I could remind her that it has happened to all of us and that I hope that whatever it was that unleashed the floodgates is firmly in her rearview mirror.  Yeah, we’ve all been there, but that doesn’t make it suck any less.

She’s Got This

Today is “Step Up Day” at Jess’s new high school.  New as in: new town, new community, new kids, new friends, new social expectations, new house, new step-father, brothers and grandparents…new, new, new.

All rising 9th graders, of whom Jess knows exactly no one, will meet in the gym where they will be greeted by their assigned mentors.  Jess’s mentor is Sophie who, upon receiving her assignment, immediately followed Jess on Instagram and has, thus far, at least,  been an excellent text correspondent.  I happened to meet her a week or so ago at a Freshman Parent Night, told her all about Jess and she said, “Cool!  She’ll do great here!”.  (Pause here to thank the good lord above).

Jess is Team Purple and, as of 10 pm last evening, is the proud owner of two different shades of purple shirts, a purple headband and brand new purple sneakers (which I had purchased for myself and may or may not have forgotten about) from which to create her ensemble.   And, just an aside: in all likelihood, she will never wear any of them ever again.

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This morning she slept in until, that is, I shook her awake, pulled back the covers and told her to get dressed, we were going for a walk on the beach. Grumble grumble grumble. To sweeten the pot, I offered that if she got up rightthisminute I would stop at Dunks for a coffee on the way and take her for breakfast when we were done.

She did.  We did.

It was a glorious morning of talking, laughing, opening up (being on the beach is like being in Vegas: what happens there, stays there) and just being together with no agenda, .  The gem of the morning was when she put her arm over my shoulder and told me that I am her best friend.  (Pause here to still my swelling heart).

Always a reluctant and (somewhat) uncooperative subject, Jess knows me well enough to know that putting up a fight when I want to memorialize moments that she considers “whatevers” is a losing battle.  I like to firmly believe that she secretly likes it.  Oh, she talks a big game and loudly protests, but, given the fact that she stopped and, gasp, smiled as I aimed my phone in her direction, I think it is safe to say that I am not entirely wrong.

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As she got out of the car and walked into the high school (and yes, there are layers of purple under that hoodie) she took a deep breath, muttered, “I’ve got this” and walked in without looking back…just like she did that Wednesday morning in 4th grade…

 

The Voice

I thought she was speaking metaphorically.

It was divorce we were discussing, after all, and as anyone who has ever been through one will tell you, even the simple ones are complicated.  Every single one of the power struggles in the marriage, the same ones that likely played a role in the decision to part ways, are only exacerbated during the split.  The power and brutal veracity of words intensifies right alongside anger or bitterness or fear or relief or resignation.  Once the decision to divorce has been made, however, we seem to manage (primarily because there is no other option) to find strength we did not know we had, to have courage to move forward, get out of our own head and, most importantly, to find our voice and use it to assert what is and is not tolerable.

My new friend, I’ll call her “Helen”*, and I were chatting when she told me, with an audible sigh, that her recent divorce had been a messy, ugly one during which she had “lost her voice.” When she said it, her sunny manner dimmed ever so slightly and I assumed she meant that she felt so beaten down and spent that she had lost her mojo, her drive, her energy to advocate for herself.  That was not what she was saying at all. In fact, she was quite deftly tuned into what was and was no longer acceptable in her marriage.  No, that wasn’t it.  She had, in fact, lost her ability to speak.  Her larynx was so tightly squeezed from the stress that it crippled her voice and threatened her spirit.  She was reduced to carrying around a pad and pen if she wanted to communicate with anyone, anywhere. Yes, this is a thing.

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 It took a beat, but once I understood what she meant, I felt tears threaten to pour from my eyes and such a profound sadness; not only for her struggle but for the metaphor which was as absurdly symbolic as anything I can think of.  Her divorce was complicated, bitter and devastating.  The world she had been living in, despite the fact that it was, for her, toxic, was what she knew, what she understood, what her life had been.  And then.

 I know plenty of divorced couples.  Many of the break-ups were of no surprise while others were shocking.  There were as many long, drawn out, savings-draining divorces as there were wow-that-was-quick ones.  There were claims (some proven, some not) of infidelity, thievery and, not surprisingly, irreparably broken trust.  Some break-ups were simply the result of a mutual decision that the partners had grown apart.  However, no matter the grounds of the split, I’ve noticed, just in my own little world, that most come out the other end with their voice louder, clearer and stronger than ever.

 Perhaps the house and nicer-than-you-need cars are gone, and it’s more than likely that the budget has shrunk considerably, but gone, too, are the stresses of being partnered with the wrong person.  The kids have had to adjust to two homes and have undoubtedly been exposed to the traits and behaviors in each of their parents that didn’t work for the other one.  And yes, they are tasked with negotiating a world different from what they knew.  But I am quite certain that most of those kids, who lived in that house, know the 411.  Many remain mute, storing their voice for later dissection or interpretation. Others make it patently clear how they feel every step of the way.  Either way, we take for granted that their voice is there for them when they need it.

 As someone who holds all my stress in my neck and back (Truth: I sometimes pine for the days when I held it in my belly. Sure, I was in near constant pain and became fearful of eating, but damn if I wasn’t thin) I, along with just about every woman I know, married, single, divorced or widowed, appreciate how debilitating stress can be.  I understand the power that our minds have over our bodies.  I ache for the woman who finds her body betraying her, having forgotten that she is not flying solo; there is always someone to hold her hand, be her strength when she is weak and, when necessary, be her voice when hers is stifled.

 I am happy to report that “Helen” is on the other side and is not only better, but thriving.  All of her voices have been reinstated and her sparkly spirit enters the room before she does.  Stay strong, ladies. And may you never lose your voice.

*Listen Up