Valentine’s Day 2019

Love isn’t a mystery.

Loyalty, resiliency, and kindness are mysteries. And humor. Humor is definitely a mystery. And a gift.

I have been in love with many people who weren’t funny. They were thrilling at first but ultimately gave me a headache.

If two people are in love they will be happy for a while. If one or both of them is funny, they will soldier through the giant snow drift of life like it is fresh popcorn waiting to be eaten.

I know this to be true from laughing with my husband in emergency rooms and other places where people are silent or crying.

We would leave the hospital’s circle drive to have a milkshake, one thinking the other would be cheered by the chocolate, and it reminds us of times in the summer leaning against the car with the big neon sign giving our faces a slight blue hue and how we joked about coming there with all the other people who had no other place they’d rather be.

Does Saying Make It So?

A few days ago a Facebook friend posted that she was “In a Relationship” with another person who is an actual, real life friend of mine and I wondered to myself, what event or decision precipitated that declaration?

Is it a thing that one person asks the other if it’s okay to change one’s status on Facebook from single to “In a Relationship?” It has to be, why wouldn’t it be? There are lots of things that are things now that weren’t before. Just like there are things that were, like going steady and getting pinned, that are no more. My life needs a bookmark.

When I was having relationships, which was a very long time ago because for the past 31 years I have been having a marriage which is like a relationship except with power of attorney documents and disability insurance, I would have been hard put to know when I could publicize their existence.  My relationships were messy, let’s say, they lacked definition and direction, had no predictable trajectory, bounced wildly like a BB fired into a bare room, careened from one wall to the next, and finally spent, dribbled toward the lowest, lonely corner.

My Facebook posts would have to say something like:

“In a Disaster Waiting to Happen”

“In a Pact of Secrecy Until His Wife Recovers from Her Major Illness and He Can Leave Her”

“In Debt Because of the Need to Buy a New Car because the One She Had Was Totaled by Someone Else”

“In the Hardware Store Figuring Out How to Get Her Locks Changed”

“In Limbo”

I envy people who have certitude and confidence. I appear to have those things but I don’t. My life of constant second-guessing would never allow a posting of “In a Relationship” because I wouldn’t ever entirely know that I was, at least not until there was a ceremony, photographs, signatures on a paper, rings, shared debt and decades of meat loaf, each loaf just slightly different than the one before because, of course, there is no recipe.

When I see that people I know are “In a Relationship,” I wish them well, as if they were traveling in France or on a Viking Cruise in the fjords of Scandinavia. It is foreign to me that being in a relationship would have the stability that could be trusted with publicity. I would be looking for the evidence. Who says? Where is the documentation?

My relationship life was rough. Risky. I’m lucky I lived through it and don’t I know it. Marriage saved me from relationships.

Thank God.

College Roommate

It seemed so wrong to tell her that I’d looked up her boyfriend like she’d asked and that somehow more had happened than she’d planned because telling her would make everything different, would tell her she couldn’t trust me anymore, we wouldn’t be smiling or doing each other’s hair, her wings would grow larger and mine would disappear and it would be a bad thing that she’d never forget and neither would I, he being more unforgettable than my promise, all of it too rushed and hot to be drawn in an innocent picture with apologies and small hearts.

#2/100: White Chairs

“Listen, I asked Derek if he would do a recommitment ceremony for us. It’d be nice. We could even do it here.”

We were sitting on a bench at the botanical gardens watching bride after bride hustle by, guests in dresses with odd sashes and strappy sandals stopping at our intersection deciding which way to go to get to the white chairs set up on the lawn ready for the officiant to officiate.

I wish we’d had a wedding like that, I thought, instead of the tiny little ceremony in the judge’s chambers at the local courthouse. Part of me yearned for a fancy wedding in a botanical garden but I knew I couldn’t do strapless, I knew that for sure. Both girls who walked by me had strapless gowns on; it mystified me, how that works, what keeps the front from dropping from the weight unless, of course, you don’t have any weight, which is not my issue. I never got strapless bras. Like I never got window treatments or hors d’oeuvres. Some people have an extra gene, some are missing one. It’s amazing the ricocheting a person’s mind can do sitting quietly on a park bench.

This was fun so I persisted. “He even said he’d do it for free,” referring to the municipal court judge we both knew, a charismatic guy who performed dozens of weddings every year, the ‘Marrying Judge” we called him, he sat on my husband’s organization’s board of directors.

“Oh great, now he’ll bring it up at the next board meeting.” For a minute, I thought my husband of thirty years had bought it, that I’d actually pitched this idea to our friend, the judge.

We’d have a hundred chairs set up in a park. Someone would play the violin. We would walk down the aisle, my having found someone older than me to be my escort and to do the ceremonial ‘giving away.’ I had been given away, as it were, before, reluctantly by my father who murmured to me midway down the aisle at my first wedding “You don’t have to go through with this.” His words were like a gum-stuck nickel in my wallet for the rest of my life. Indeed, I think, I don’t.

The people in the chairs would wonder why we thought it necessary to renew our vows 30 years after the original promise-making but they would be looking forward to food following. So would we. It would be enough to divert us from this core question.

“What planet would I have to be living on for the past 100 years to return here to Earth and think that you would be willing to have a recommitment ceremony?” I asked my husband.

“I think it’s hokey,” he said, as if this was news to me, some secret he was sharing.

I laugh out loud. As if. As if we are so different, as if our opinions are so opposed, as if sacrifice of one’s instincts is required, as if to make one person happy the other has to pretend to be someone they’re not. As if.

We get up and walk down the path. The route I want to take goes behind the rows of white chairs where people in sashed dresses are gathering and a large woman in a turquoise suit is arranging papers on a podium. “I want to take a picture of a white chair,” I tell my husband. “So I can use it in my blog tonight.” But we realize there are too many dressed-up people for me to wander out of the trees with my IPhone to take a picture of a white chair.

So we walk down the alternate path and soon there is a small truck with a stack of chairs in the back. My husband waves at the driver and says, “Hey, could you stop for a minute? My wife needs to take a picture of your chairs.”

Who loves who and why?

My Husband Quit Drinking and I Lost 12 Lbs

I kid you not, a quirky phrase I love so much I wish I could say it every day.

As a 12-year old, sitting in my bedroom doorway in my pajamas, I had a straight shot to the black and white TV in the living room. I could see just a slice of my dad’s right arm resting on the orange flowered chair and in his hand was the glass teacup with his martini, a tiny pearl onion sitting at the bottom. He was watching Jack Paar on the Tonight Show. Before Jimmy Fallon, before Jay Leno, and even before Johnny Carson, there was Jack Paar.

I kid you not. I loved Jack Paar. So classy, debonair. He was sophistication defined, witty and sly, and always smiling. When I got sleepy, I’d crawl on the floor back into my room, pushing the door shut just short of closing so it wouldn’t make any noise. I’d still hear the audience laughter, distant at the end of the hall. If it was winter, it was cozy. In the summer, the curtains would flutter, but always the warmth of the laughter. It was delish. I kid you not.

Anyway, I have been, at various times in my life, quite a drinker but never a drunk. A therapist or a blamer might trace it to my father’s teacup martinis. I leave that to the epidemiologists to figure out. My drinking has fluctuated with the stress in my life as in if I’ve had more stress, it entitled me to drink more. Raising children was a reason to drink and then having the simultaneous hell of three teenagers uncorked another bottle. Then there was my career and work, people who crossed me, and the occasional fabulous victory, all of those had to be commemorated by a nice glass of wine or many.

After a while, I’d given my body a new reflex. Cocktail hour was the rubber hammer on my brain. Time to pop the cork.

So when my husband, pretty much out of the blue and completely without discussion, announced that he was going to quit drinking as his primary strategy to lose weight and get out from under the shadow of incipient diabetes, I was in awe of his decision (and appreciative because I need him to stay alive and healthy). And I was taken aback. Well, more than taken aback, because I wondered then how my own drinking could be accommodated in what would become a 50% non-drinking home.

“I’m not asking you to stop drinking,” he said. “This is just about me.” He bought a 12-pack of ginger ale and put it on the back porch so he could grab one on his way in the door at night after work. This was to be his new ‘system’ for unwinding.

Over 30 years, my husband and I have done a lot of things together but not everything. Still, it was unusual that he would embark on what was really a major cultural shift in our home with such complete determination like he woke up one day and decided to become a marathon runner with the first race scheduled for that afternoon. There was nothing to do, of course, but respect him and his decision but still it left me standing on a very small circle with my cold can of beer.

My affection for alcohol goes way back to the mellow sounds of Jack Paar. There are a lot of things to love about drinking and they’re not all about being inebriated although I have loved the coziness of a slight buzz for a very long time.

First of all, there is the look of alcohol, a foamy pale ale in a tall glass, the perfect glass of white wine, the glow of the ridiculously intense liqueurs in our cabinet, a blood orange one sitting in there right now is so beautiful, I’ve wanted to shed my clothes and swim in it. There is the beauty of alcohol and the forward-thinkingness that it conjures. Ah, I would think. I’m going to sit on my couch under a blanket and drink the tiny glass of blood orange liqueur and be a spot of loveliness. I kid you not. That’s how I think, in tiny little snippets, the big picture of my life having been stowed long ago with marriage licenses, birth certificates, and adoption papers.

I didn’t quit drinking when my husband stopped drinking but I stopped drinking as much. After all, it’s unseemly to be slugging them back while your partner is sipping ginger ale. There’s the pure rudeness of it and then there’s the not unlikely possibility that you will be a drunk idiot in front of someone entirely sober. This is not a risk I want to take. So my drinking, as if my magic, has been drastically reduced.

Here’s what happens when you don’t drink or don’t drink as much. First of all, you lose weight. I lost 12 lbs. in the past 5 months without thinking two seconds about it. It’s from not drinking as much but it’s really from not eating as much. It’s magic. The whole point about drinking, well, one of them, is that it lowers your inhibitions. Sometimes, that’s about sex. More often, it’s about Oreos.

Another great consequence of not drinking so much: sleep. I can’t even count how many people I know complain about insomnia. Quit drinking, my friends, and you’ll sleep all night. Alcohol puts you to sleep and then wakes you up, makes middle of the night evil. I haven’t seen middle of the night in weeks, it goes on without me. It’s astonishing to open my eyes and see daylight instead of searching for the light of my Kindle to keep me company through a wide awake stretch in the evil middle of the night.

I like what not drinking so much has wrought. I think. So much of how I saw myself, the picture I would paint if photographs weren’t possible, involved holding a glass of wine or a tall glass of beer. Who is that person now living with a man who doesn’t drink?

The same, I guess, but drier, classier maybe, a tea drinker, a shadow of my former sodden self, thinner, more well-rested, healthier no doubt, but still yearning for the bottle of blood orange liqueur sitting in the dark of the liquor cabinet waiting for me. I know it’s waiting for me.

I kid you not.

We Get Better with Time

This much is clear to me about being a mother. Age makes us better. Death makes us extraordinary.

My mother, gone now twelve years, has reached near sainthood. When the local paper solicited photos of mothers ‘no longer with us’ along with a short descriptive phrase for a Mother’s Day montage, I sent the editor my favorite picture of my mother, the one taken at Niagara Falls in 1938 on the honeymoon trip memorialized for decades by the little notebook of expenses my father kept tucked in the scrapbook. Gas – 37 cents.

I thought for a minute and wrote the words: beautiful, gentle, an enigma.

When she was alive, my mother was a constant puzzle and source of worry. I wondered every day what was the matter and would often ask her. She never admitted anything being the matter until I was a teenager and it became my job to drive her to see her psychiatrist. I don’t know why she didn’t drive herself, she had a beautiful black Thunderbird. Why was I driving? I don’t remember.

One fact is very telling. I’ve searched my memory time and again, going over every event, recalling our family dinners, remembering my mother working the register at our store, sitting in the front seat on our long road trips, wrapping a nickel in a handkerchief and sending me to the corner store for a popsicle, rolling up her jeans before getting in a rowboat, writing out the list of household chores, putting the last presents under the tree, telling me everything was fine and not to worry.

I never heard my mother laugh.

I don’t think she was unhappy every single day that I knew her. I just think that she kept herself wrapped as tight as a time capsule buried next to the town’s library. No one was ever going to get inside her head.

Well, maybe someone did, but it wasn’t me. I was just a spectator.

I loved my mother but she was a mystery that was exhausting. She could only be available to me so much and it wasn’t very much.

But that’s what it was.

It used to really bother me but now when I think of her, I describe her as beautiful, gentle, and an enigma. Those are the words that come to mind all these many years later after I learned to give up trying to understand her and to just accept her for the beautiful, gentle, enigmatic person that she was.

This is what we do. As they get older, we gradually let our mothers off the hook. When they die, we finally let everything puzzling and sorrow-making go. Their essence is left and it glows.

That’s why I believe that mothers improve with age and then explode with brilliance in death.

I’m banking on it because my turn is next.