Haunted

I’m haunted by the face of an old boyfriend. I learned recently that he died. My sister heard through our hometown grapevine. My boyfriend was one of four brothers. My sister knew one and one of our girlfriends married another. In fact, that’s how my boyfriend and I met – walking down the aisle, bridesmaid and groomsman.

It was the summer before we both went off to different colleges. Only 100 miles apart, but far enough so that we only saw each other occasionally and dated others. I remember him as being kind and gentle and being there for me when my father had a heart attack at Christmas and recovered. He was also good-looking.

From the PastToward the end of the school year, he got more serious. But by then I had met the man I would marry. And he – unknown to him for eight and a half months – had gotten a woman pregnant. So we married others. We both had two sons. And lost touch.

I think I remember hearing that he eventually divorced, as did I. To be truthful, I didn’t think of him often. I had good memories of him, but he didn’t feel like the one who got away. It seems unbelievable now, looking back, that our paths never crossed again. He worked for Northrup as an engineer and I worked nearby for Xerox as a technical writer. We knew many of the same people and were circulating in our small community’s singles world – at least until a few years ago when I moved 100 miles south again.

So why does he haunt me now? Because his face came into my life again. He lives beyond death, thanks to the séance stalking of the Internet. I found his obituary and a video posted by his family. He was not old. Apparently had diabetes. He leaves behind two sons, three brothers, and a sister. No mention of wife or girlfriend. I didn’t recognize him at first in his online picture. He had gone bald and his once strong eyebrows were pale and his face puffy. But the video (In Loving Memory Of … ocean scenes, music, What a Wonderful Life, My Way …) included photos of him from birth to almost death. There he was as a cute little boy, a hunky surfer throwing back beers with buddies, in his brother’s wedding party, with his new bride, and then with his sons. His sons looked a lot like mine – blond mops of hair. Sailboats in the background. Near where I used to sail with my father.

Then the slightly heavier middle-aged engineer with thick glasses, an older son with hair gone darker as one of my son’s did. His brothers growing beards and paunches. A daughter-in-law and grandson. An attractive woman in a baseball cap – his sister?

At the end of the video, I was in tears, but his face now seemed familiar. It also seemed sad. Was he sad, or ill, or both? Was he surprised at how his life turned out? I wanted to reach back somehow and offer comfort. Should I have tried to find him 20 years ago? Would we have liked each other? If we had married a long time ago when we met, when our lives were still ahead of us, would we have been happy? Would we have had similar sons?

So, he haunts me – the fact that I’ll never know the answers and that the door is closed forever. Maybe he was the one who got away.

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When Less is More, More or Less

I can’t tell you how annoyed I am at this woman, Debora Spar, for writing yet another advice book, but I am going to try.

Her book is called “Wonder Women: Sex, Power, and the Quest for Perfection.” She is the president of Barnard College and her message is that women can’t have it all and that feminism has led us down the wrong, harried path by telling us we can. I’ve received a double whammy of her message in the past week, an interview on The News Hour and a review and interview in a women’s magazine called “More.”

She admits she is too young to have been a part of the ’70s wave of feminism from which she benefitted. She seems to equate feminism with having it all and persuing perfection. I wish she had been around then to see what most of us wanted – when we first read “The Feminine Mystique” and pulled together in consciousness-raising groups. Most of the women I knew then, including myself, were trying to figure out our lives and what we wanted. We were trying to cut through illusions that defined us, not erect delusions about perfect lives.

We didn’t know anyone who had it all.

Some of us had wonderful husbands but felt trapped at home. Some of us had great jobs but crappy husbands. Some of us had wonderful children, some had troubled children, and some had no children and wanted them.

We Can Do It!Some of us had ended bad marriages and entered the workforce after a few years away. We took jobs that were beneath our abilities and pushed to learn more. We often met with barriers, with closed doors. Women can’t write about technical stuff. Women can’t work safely past the fifth month of pregnancy. Women can’t wear pants to work. Oh wait, you can wear pants to work, but the tops must cover your butts. Mini-skirts are okay. Seriously! It seems hard to believe now, when girls wear shorts and flip-flops to school.

Those of us with close to perfect lives – content alone or with a mate, with or without children, interesting work and activities – knew we were lucky. In life, we never know what will happen.

What we wanted – and still want – is to be treated with respect, by men and women, and to have equal access to opportunities, including the opportunity to choose. We may decide to work full-time, part time or to devote our time to our children or a worthwhile cause. Not all of us can make this choice if we have to support ourselves or children as single parents. If we are working, it helps to be making the same wages for the same work as men do. This is not the same as “having it all.”

Ironically, Spar is a perfectionist who ignores her own advice! She seems driven and even her own daughter tells her she’s setting a bad example. On one particular day, her husband is having shoulder surgery, she has a meeting with her publisher, an interview about her book, and then three – yes, three – parties to attend in different parts of town. She chooses to do them all and not visit her husband. For all we know, he was okay with that and even encouraged her to do her thing, so I’m not necessarily criticizing her. Me, I know there’s no way I could do all that in one day and still be a pleasant person who could converse. If Spar wants to be a super-achiever, that’s okay with me, but why tell other women not to do it – or confuse it with feminism?

And “More” should have less of this claptrap.

The Laundry Room – Part 2

I am not much of a one for airing my dirty laundry in public. You won’t see me writing a dark memoir about ex-husbands and boyfriends, unless I can make it funny, which is possible.

However, I’m considering beating my clothes against the rocks in my garden, maybe even turning on the garden hose. If there were a riverbank nearby, I would carry down my basket on my head.woman at pond

Yes, doing my laundry outside is more appealing than inside my new laundry room. Technically, it’s not a room. More like a shed – or a shack. Obviously an afterthought, an add-on. “Oh yes, I have these rentals, tenants need a place to do their laundry.” Someone has erected two pieces of plywood into a corner of the carport, one with hinges, an ersatz door.

Opening this door isn’t easy, too close to a big SUV. To get in, I have to turn sideways and worse, tip the laundry basket sideways too, spilling my clothes and contorting myself farther to pick them up.

The inside of the shed/shack is barely big enough for a washer and dryer, a hot water heater, and a cupboard. It’s like standing in a closet with little room to turn around or bend down and put clothes in the dryer.

Outside we are backed up to a school playground, with children shrieking. I feel like I’m in a portable toilet at a parade or street fair or picnic, without the smell.

Fortunately, the machines work well and quickly.

There are no surfer posters. Maybe I should hang one? Would the other tenants like it?

The shack at Windansea
The shack at Windansea

There is a community bulletin board on which one tenant has reserved Thursday mornings for his laundry time. He’s also set up a schedule for taking the trash and recycle bins to the curb. He’s drawn a nice little illustration of all four apartments and a corresponding chart of showing which Sunday we each have to move the bins, and take them in on Monday morning.

Yes, if I’m going to be toiling in a shed/shack, then there should be be a picture of paradise inside.