My Hope Chest

I recently started a trousseau. No, I am not about to take a bridal leap with my possessions. But I’d like to fly into a new perch and so I’m preparing.

I don’t love my current home and want to move within the next year. In order to not feel stuck and to find a home that is right for me, it helps me to visualize it. I imagine and focus on location, layout, light. I see the entrance and the rooms – and I furnish them too. Coaster 1Where will my couch and bookcase go? Should I trade in for scaled-down models? Will my new interest in mid-century modern translate into a newer, more streamlined living space? Should I get rid of my seldom-used dining table and bring my office to the forefront? Should I go for a mid-century modern theme in other rooms?

Without realizing it, I already have some of that look and it wouldn’t take much to zap it up. My grandmother, who was ahead of her time, left me a Danish modern teak sideboard and some small tables and my mother someCoaster 2 Metlox pottery pieces, which were made in our hometown of Manhattan Beach and where I worked while going to college.

Now when I’m out browsing, I keep my eyes open for these nostalgic pieces – old but ready for a new home, or new but with a decades-old design. For ideas, I’m visiting San Diego stores like The Atomic Bazaar and Boomerang for Modern. So far, I’ve purchased a set of coasters.

This is what I mean by a trousseau. Possessions for a new home. Visualizing and decorating. My hope chest. A symbol of meeting challenges and changes while still appreciating what I have and where I am.Coaster 3

As a bride, I didn’t have a hope chest. The idea for one occurred to me many years later, when I found myself in an unhappy relationship. I had moved in with a man too quickly and by the time I realized I’d made a mistake, I was stuck, at least for awhile until I could save money to leave. I began to visualize where I wanted to live. One day while out looking for something else, I fell in love with a kettle – bright iridescent red, green and yellow with a wood handle and space-age shape. I bought it and brought it home and tucked it away, gradually adding towels, spatulas, salt and pepper shakers in all the bright colors I imagined my new kitchen would radiate. (My boyfriend preferred black.)Coaster 4

It may seem like a silly thing, but gazing at that non-black kettle got me through some dark days until I moved it into my new home filled with light and ocean air and put the kettle on for a cup of tea.

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.

When a Friendship Dies, Do We?

walkingSomething weird has happened in the last year with a former friend – a yoga and walking buddy and neighbor from down the street. We pass on the street walking. I am usually alone. She is usually with one or two friends, taking up the whole sidewalk. She’s easy to spot because she has a distinctive walk – a sort of lope that’s all over the place and odd for such a small woman. She also wears a distinctive outfit, the same one no matter the weather. An expensive, long-sleeved track suit. And from the neck up, a large flappy, floppy hat with fabric like a veil coming down on either side and in back, some hanging free and some tied under her chin to keep it on her head. The result is that she looks like a beekeeper.

After not seeing her for more than a year (she stopped going to yoga and we couldn’t seem to find convenient times to walk), I recognize the loping beekeeper from a distance and smile as we pass on the sidewalk. She keeps looking at and talking with her friends and ignores me. Maybe she didn’t see me, I thought. But then it happens again, and again. The second time we pass, I look right at her, catch her eye briefly and say hi. No response. Nothing. Nada. It’s as if I wasn’t there. I felt cold and hot and then empty. A shiver of shock, a blast of anger, tepid with sadness.

My god, what are we? Seventh graders?

Since then, it’s happened several more times. I won’t see her for weeks, then I’ll see her two or three times in a few days and she pretends I don’t exist. One day I can’t help myself and yell out, “You are being so childish!” I hear her gasp and then her friends, gasp, gasp. It takes me straight back to that childhood summer when my best friend went off to Lake Ontario to visit her grandmother and the other neighborhood girls decided I was worse than a worm.wrong way

I’ve tried to figure out what I may have said or done to this former friend to warrant this treatment. We enjoyed regular walking and talking for a couple of years when we met in yoga class and realized we lived on the same street. We had several things in common – close in age, both divorced with grown children, both self-supporting. I enjoyed our conversations and appreciated her words of support when my mother died. She even remembered the anniversary of my mother’s death a year later. We didn’t always agree on everything, but who does?

I think it had to do with the handyman. I needed one, asked for her recommendation. My luck so far had not been good with handymen. One young guy I hired at the local hardware store failed to show up two or three times in a row because he “slept in.” Another I found online said he was new to the profession after being laid off. It took him two hours to attach a paper towel holder, which was crooked and kept the cupboard door from closing. A third one I ran into around the corner where he was working in a neighbor’s garage. He was nice-looking, youngish, new to the area and eagerly came over to look at my projects. He mistook my friendliness for something else and the next morning at 6 a.m. was sending me text messages that make me want to laugh, cry and curse. Let’s just say his idea of putting his tools to use didn’t involve the nails and hammer he was using around the corner. After two days of this, I texted back that my son was coming to stay in my place while I was away for a long time far away and that he’d have his pit bull with him.

So, I asked my walking friend for a recommendation and she gave me the name of a man she’d been using for years, said he was great. I called him. He was gruff and uninterested in talking. “You do know it’s Sunday, don’t you? Call me back tomorrow and let me know what you need.”

Why did he answer the phone on Sunday if he didn’t want to talk? Maybe because of my recent experiences, I decided I didn’t have the patience for yet another strange handyman and told my friend this when she asked if I’d called him. She was shocked. “Oh, he has a heart of gold,” she said. “He’s the only person who works on my house I trust with a key. And my friend (one of the gaspers) has used him for more than 25 years. I guess I’m just used to his gruffness.”

So, was it the handyman that was the friendship breaker? I have thought of emailing my former friend, but I doubt she would answer. It is frustrating not to know. Not only is it hurtful, it defies all reason. I suspect she decided we didn’t have enough in common to continue a friendship. Even if the handyman were not an issue, something else would be. But even so, even if we realize we are not friends with someone, does that mean we ignore them, pretend they are dead? Perhaps if I had done something offensive like sleep with her ex-husband …

It is even more frustrating with her because she is a psychologist, very proud of her PhD. She counsels people who want to improve their behavior and their lives.

The Whole Package

I see three cute men around my age within five minutes at the old post office. Not just cute, but interesting-cute: shaggy hair, craggy faces, possible artists or musicians or professors of philosophy or enlightened entrepreneurs. They even smile at me as they juggle briefcases and packages and slide boxes along the marble countertop. I should hang out at this post office more often.

Usually I do not see that many older men, especially all at once, who appeal to me and who are not wearing wedding rings. It is a dwindling parade. Sometimes I sneak a peek online using a code name like Lola. I select Women Seeking Men A Certain Age+ with hope in my heart. The search results are mixed and often disappointing. Appealing men want younger or taller women, or both. Even unappealing men want younger women. Men with whom I might have interests and values in common do not appeal to me physically, not that I’m looking for perfection. Some, I’m sorry to say, look as if they have been drinking beers on the beach for 50 years and not moved a toe or their heads out of the sand.

Of course it’s a numbers game. The more we look or put ourselves out there, the more men we “interview” on dates, the more we increase our chances of meeting one who is right for us. My own forays into online dating have so far not yielded anyone I want to continue dating. I asked one successful realtor how he transitioned into his career from being a CPA. “Oh, I had time to do soul searching when I was in prison for embezzling” was his answer. Another warm and friendly man was a successful artist, but about 300 pounds. He had not posted full-body shots of himself, and as nice as he was, I couldn’t quite picture myself in the bedroom scenario. Well I could, but it was not a pleasant picture.

For many I know, including family members, online dating has worked well and yielded soul mates, so I don’t discourage anyone from trying it. The thing is, I’ve realized I don’t really want to look anymore. I’ve learned to live alone in a contented fashion, to relish the solitary life. I have friends, family, cats, and work I enjoy. I live in a friendly neighborhood in an apartment I love with an ocean view and lots of light. There is room for a man, but I don’t want one enough to be out at night or on my lunch hour interviewing anymore. I’d rather meet someone in the day-to-day living of my life, and if I don’t meet anyone, I am okay with that too.

Like many women my age, I take care of myself, both physically and financially. If I do meet a man, I’d like a companion, a real companion, not someone to take care of me and boss me around, and not someone who needs a lot of care. Not someone with a lot of extra packages, or baggage.Luggage

Whether faded canvas, or beat-up cardboard, or even beautiful designer leather, too much baggage is too much baggage. It bruises my shins and hurts my shoulders to hoist up. It’s disheartening and noisy when a full ensemble tumbles from a man’s closet.

I am leery of those men who carry little, however. A sleek body, a sleek wallet, a sleek cell phone. As if there’s no room for anything extra. Nothing can get in, nothing can stick, nothing gets carried for long. There’s no place to put my hands, to hold onto.

What I can handle is a man with a rumpled duffle bag or a backpack or an old briefcase. It says to me, I have some stuff here I might have to tell you about, but it’s mine to carry and I won’t hurt you with it. I can put it down anytime, maybe next to yours. Let’s have some fun. And I promise, I won’t hog the remote control. (Fat chance, say my coupled friends.)

It goes perfectly with rumpled (or maybe even no) hair, a bit of a pot belly, intelligent eyes, a kind smile, and a kindred spirit.

Maybe it’s time I walked back to our post office before it moves. The old building is being sold. I should get over there and smile at the men with packages before it gets turned into a bar or a Mexican restaurant.

Blue Moon, My Funny Valentine

Blue Moon / You saw me standing alone / Without a song in my heart / Without a love of my own — Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart, 1934

All these romantic songs assume it’s terrible to be alone. That we can’t dream alone and that we must be unhappy and lonely if we live alone.

Well, they’re misleading us down the wrong garden path. The one strewn with rose petals where only romantically linked couples are welcome. Or the one lined with party hats and noisemakers for large groups and families.Blue Moon

For some of us, the shared path does not last, or lead anywhere, or suit our nature, or our lifestyle at a particular point in time. More and more people around the world are choosing to live alone, according to sociologist Eric Klinenberg, author of Going Solo: The Extraordinary Rise and Surprising Appeal of Living Alone. In 1950, 22 percent of American adults were single. Today, more than 50 percent are. People who live alone in the United States (31 million) make up 28 percent of all American households, making them more common than any other domestic unit, including the nuclear family.

It’s hard to believe that all 31 million Americans who live alone are looking up at the moon and feeling empty. According to Klinenberg, those who live alone are more likely than couples to have active social lives, taking the initiative to reach out and get together regularly with friends.

From my own experience, I know it’s possible to be happy alone. In the past, I’ve felt lonelier in the wrong relationships or surrounded by people not on my wavelength. But I believed all the romantic songs that the path alone was too dark and I felt sorry for those who went down it. To end up there would be awful, I feared.

But, guess what? Here I am and it’s not dark at all. It is fun and full of adventure. I’m not saying it’s better than being with someone, but it’s just as good, just as worthwhile a path to take. I wish I’d been able to realize this earlier. I could be a famous novelist or Pulitzer-prize winning journalist by now, instead of spending time caring for unhappy men or trying to make ill-fated relationships work. Just kidding, of course. But I certainly could have saved myself hours of wishing I were on another path, under another moon. Maybe someday I will be, maybe not. Either way, I’ll be okay.

A few months ago I was looking up at the Blue Moon. Astronaut Neil Armstrong, the first man on the moon, had just died and we were encouraged to wink at the moon and remember him on his memorial day.

So by the light of his Blue Moon, with a song in my heart, I go for a walk, I take a photograph, I write, and I am in good company.