Scene: Two bathing beauties sunning themselves on Kailua beach, sipping Diet Dr. Peppers and eyeing the Japanese tourists.
“So you think this is the one, huh?”
“Yup, seems like.”
“What about the others?” Here she flicks her hand as if batting sand flies.
“Oh you know, the Mogul, the Boy, the Wolf Man.”
“Jesus, you remember that? I wrote that ages ago.”
“Of course, I remember.” She grins wickedly. “It involved your kitchen counter. And to think I made sandwiches for my children on that kitchen counter.”
“Well, The Boy moved back to L.A. because he couldn't hack it in Albuquerque. The Mogul is still a mogul. And El Lobo is in graduate school. We email now and then.”
“Oh really. Wasn’t he a little bit crazy?” She twirls a finger round her ear.
“Yeah, but in a sweet way. Not really the kind to hold hostages at gunpoint or eat his own poo.”
“Well THAT makes all the difference.”
“I can’t imagine my last months in Albuquerque without those men. They were my handicap ramp.”
“Huh?” She rubs more lotion on her arms.
“You know sometimes you’re so crippled you can’t take real steps so you have to use the ramp. They were my ramp.”
“Hmm. Nice. Love life approved by the ADA.”
Here's what she was talking about...
July 8, 2006
Don't be angry, don't be sad Don't sit cryin' over good times you've had There's a girl right next to you And she's just waiting for something to do If you can’t be with the one you love, honey Love the one you’re with
When my love life is in play, there is no more flexed muscle than the Monday morning quarterbacking of my girlfriends. Dinner, a hike, even a cup of coffee sets the phone tree ringing with demands for the nitty-gritty. “Did he kiss you? Is there spark? Are you going to sleep with him?” But lately, the girls have given up, probably because my answers are often cagey and abbreviated. “Yeah, we had a good time. He seems nice. Might see him again soon.”
Over forty and alone for the first time in 12 years, I’m keenly aware of the pitfalls in revelation and overstatement, of just plain saying too much. My friends, they want so much for me -- real connection, true love. That’s why I don’t tell them that some mornings, near 2 a.m., I creep out of a warm bed and drive home because the embrace of snuggling feels like drowning, because the thought of breakfast sets my stomach churning. I’d hate to wipe the lovely shine of expectation from their faces, but more than that – I’m afraid. Afraid of the dark downward
spiral of busted hope.
Perhaps this cynicism is rooted in recent divorce. Or maybe, at this point in my life – I like to call it the do-over – I’m simply a collector of small, sharply sweet moments that demand little from me but the capacity to enjoy them. After all, in brevity, there is a certain perfection.
Some collected moments are so brief, they have a photographic quality to them -- the light and composition come together to make a sweetly handsome postcard. One of my favorites was shot towards the end of winter, before the last snow melt, when The Mogul and I were flying down the highway through the Pecos Wilderness, the top down on his red Porsche, a Mozart concerto rolling out of the Bose speakers.
His hopeful hand is squeezing my knee, but I have the visor flipped down, focusing on my close-up thinking I look pretty smart in red lipstick, over sized sunglasses and a cobalt blue scarf knotted under my chin. I never imagined myself deserving an Ava Gardner moment, but here it is. It’s enough. In that moment, it’s enough.
Wrapped in a comfortable silence, we admired the piercing blue sky, the looming mountains, the breathiness of spring around the bend. Sometimes it’s nice to pass on the mosquito bites, camp coffee and sandy sleeping bag and just admire the master plan from the deep leather pocket of a six cylinder, 240 horse power sports car.
Up from the bootstraps, The Mogul has made his own wealth and likes to enjoy it with a snappy sort of panache that men in their 50s simply can’t resist. Thus the red Boxster and the portable espresso machine in the trunk. The fact that there’s absolutely no spark when he kisses me, that his pointy tongue in my ear feels like a frantic bat in a cave, well that’s what makes this a snapshot of a car, not a bed.
Nonetheless, I like The Mogul. He can discuss the blueprints for his next multi-million dollar real estate project while whipping up a commendable raspberry crepe for dessert and likes nothing better, at the end of the day, than to sip a carefully crafted martini and rub my feet. He asks my opinion on website design, on massaging the zoning board and who he should endorse for the next mayoral election. He thinks I’m smart, and tells me I’m beautiful. It’s enough.
That easy Sunday was the last day we spent together. I’m not good at goodbye so there were no apologies or sober pronouncements. I disappeared and The Mogul didn’t ask questions; he’s been in enough boardrooms to know when to walk away. From time to time, we bump into each other at cocktail parties of a certain level, and hug with a kind of nostalgic affection. Of course, there’s somebody else in the passenger’s seat because the Universe hates a vacuum and frankly, so does The Mogul.
Other moments are so perfectly pitched, they make my chest ache just thinking about them. El Lobo and I were scheduled to have a conventional date of sushi and a movie when he pulled up on his motorcycle with his guitar strapped to the back. Plans had changed. They often do with El Lobo. The shed he lived in was the picture of transience: liberated office furniture, stapled Mexican blankets for doors, promotional wine glasses. A strong wind could blow it all away, except for the lumpy futon, but this impermanence suits him. And in a strange way, it suits me, too.
We kiss hello and then he says, “Pour us some wine, would you. Supposed to be a great sunset tonight.” I follow instructions then watch as he leans a ladder against the side of my house, tosses a couple sofa cushions onto the roof, then steps on up, with the guitar on his back and both wine glasses in one hand. I kick off my pumps and follow.
Happy clouds streak the low sky and the air, usually so full of dust devils this time of year, is absolutely still. Leaning against the swamp cooler, we wait for that doorway between day and night when the Sandia Mountains burn pink then fade to deep blue moments before the neighborhood lights switch on, turning the foothills into Christmas. He picks up his guitar and begins strumming an expansive piece of flamenco music. Swirling skirts, the arched brick plazas of Madrid, the sharp hand clapping – it’s all there. He closes his eyes and his fingers fly even faster as he adds a thump, thump, thump to the wood. He really is a musician, not a pretender.
I look down at the street, wondering why, in the eight years I lived in this house with my husband, it had never occurred to either of us to climb onto the roof and soak in the best part of Albuquerque. Two young girls in soccer uniforms are toeing a ball back and forth across a lawn; they stop to listen. The couple next door roll bicycles down their driveway, and they stop to listen, too. A stranger in a baseball cap is walking his dog. He looks up and smiles. I wave, as if this were me, everyday.
It wasn’t long, however, before El Lobo needed to drive off into that sunset. I was clearing dinner dishes one night, when he rolled onto the kitchen floor and lay there like a man dropped from an airplane. He was often dramatic in his body: back flips in the living room, waltzing through the produce section.
Clutching my ankle, he gazed up at me, his face scrunched with sadness, and said he was overwhelmed, confused, not really capable of a relationship. Then he used some metaphor involving a motorcycle engine and a fuse which I had to ask him to repeat because I wasn’t sure if we were the fuse or the engine. Either way, of course, we were stalled. I was exasperated. He was, well, floored.
Now, when I run into him at the coffee shop, he opens his arms wide and starts singing a Mexican ranchero tune, creating, as always, a bit of a ruckus. I fold inside him for a swift hug and briefly we’re back on the roof, still in that doorway, looking out for hope.
Surprisingly, some of the best memories are made long after a relationship ends, assuming bitterness is not the final taste. The Boy and I had a solid three-month run. We flirted on a flight back from Vegas and two days later became inseparable mostly because we enjoyed real combustion. In bed, on the kitchen counter, against the door, we were a pretty turnkey operation.
Yet, despite the intensity of our relationship, we never really found solid footing; it was partly the generation gap, partly economics and the rest, sheer laziness. Sometimes worlds collide and greatness happens. Sometimes one person works at an ad agency, the other at a car wash and the space in between is filled with comments like, “Cool, dude. The cheese has its own little knife.” In the end, we just didn’t have the bones.
With so little invested, we had plenty of friendship to spare. Both of us enjoy hiking and bouldering and the fact that we aren’t a couple any more doesn’t keep us out of the wilderness. Every few weeks, we strap on our camel backs and head to the Sandias, a wrinkled water-stained guidebook in hand, ready to break new ground. The conversation is easy because we already know so much.
This last hike was a search for a hidden cut in the granite walls that, according to the book, would reveal a verdant canyon sliced by spring water. The description sounded almost mythical, like a well in the desert, like love after heartbreak. So of course, I had to find it.
The first two miles were familiar desert: sagebrush, cactus husks, drought weary scrub oak. We were grateful for the dark clouds rolling east, towards us, making the light flat and sharp, the landscape ethereal, like a newly discovered moon. At an unmarked crossroads, we took a leap of faith and hung a right, following instinct, smelling water in the air. Huge boulders blocked our path, but like nimble goats we scrambled over sharp edges and nervous gaps, pulling each other up when the footing got tricky.
And then it happened. Suddenly, the ground turned mossy. A thin spring slipped through a cleave so narrow, we had to wedge ourselves against a rock wall to wind our way upstream. Spindly, overhanging trees offered damp shade, bright red water bugs skated across the water’s surface and the ground continued to give softly.
We slowed our pace, stopping often to watch squirrels and birds go about their daily forage. The Boy talked easily about growing up in the woods of eastern Pennsylvania, hunting rabbit with his grandfather, fishing nearby creeks. Watching him navigate the rocks and fallen trees, sniff the air and stop to examine a leaf or bug or pile of scat, I realized he’s happiest outdoors, swinging his long arms and keeping a liquid stride. All this time, and I was just now discovering something so primal, so underlying about a man who used to hang around my kitchen naked.
When we finally reached the top of our secret canyon, we found a wide flat bed of granite tilted just right, egging a single ray of sunlight from behind storm clouds. Legs sore, our stomachs rumbling, we broke out the trail mix and apples and sat cross-legged admiring the lushness below us. After lunch, naps. Actually, he napped and I watched. Like always.
With his arms thrown up over his head, his freckled face quiet and turned towards the dying light, The Boy exhaled completely, till not an ounce of want remained in his measure. So much for so little. I blinked back tears and wondered at the catch in my throat. Never has a man looked more beautiful. Not handsome or striking, but purely, rapturously beautiful. Of course in his body – the strong chest and muscled arms, full lips and curly, brown hair damply clinging to his forehead. But more importantly, beautiful in his ability to completely give himself up to happiness, to just let it enter and lay right down.
Rubbing the grit from my face, I leaned back, closed my eyes, and opened my arms as the first raindrops fell around us, pinning us together, briefly, for this moment, already fleeting. If I carried magic dust, I would have made that day go on and on and on. And then it would have been followed by another day exactly like that.
Certainly there is perfection in brevity. But perfection is a lonely place and after so many artful snapshots I want more. I want a story that doesn’t end, that has layers of complexity which take real effort, real labor to make unfold so that at night, spent and weary, I’d long to curl up in someone’s arms. And in the morning, pancakes.