The first woman called mid day Friday and left a voice mail. I called back an hour later, after I’d gotten out of the office. She said she had to prepare a story for a forthcoming live performance and felt stuck and needed help and could I… We arranged to meet at a bar that hosts a mid-week poetry slam, a place we both knew well. I sent a couple of texts, one when I was close by, another after I arrived and saw the bar was empty. I walked outside and text again, then began feeling antsy and wanted to leave. But she wrote back: Around the corner. Then: Running. I stood outside the bar, not wanting to be or drink alone and watched as she appeared a couple of blocks away down a tree-lined street, all glowing blood orange from the setting sun. We grabbed a table, and before ordering twin ciders, she plugged in her laptop and started talking.
I’ve known her for several years. Somewhere in the couple of hours we sat together, it came out this was the longest, most involved conversation we’ve ever had and it was a doozy. She laid out for me the extended version of the story she’d like to write. It’s not my story to re-tell, just know its as complex as any story would be involving love, various ideas of marriage including teen marriage, divorce, and the drama of being in a large, matriarchal family. The problem of her story is its a 20 minute life story she has to boil down to a 8 minute narrative, OK for stage and public radio.
We talked about relationships and finally she laid out her vision of an ideal marriage. She said: Don’t laugh. I want to live next door to my husband, live in my own place. Have space to not be judged or have to answer to anybody. And every other week he can take the kids and leave me alone so I can stay free to travel and write.
Perhaps like you, dear reader, I thought: that doesn’t sound like marriage it sounds like divorce. I laughed in response and considering my own empty bed and weekend habits, thought: I’d sign up for that. Realizing how little I knew about relationships and women and how unlikely it seemed I would ever miraculously be married or partnered with anybody. Maybe I missed my only opportunity to have kids because I foolishly realized I didn’t like my former girlfriends that much and maybe liking them wasn’t the point. And how do you Like Someone enough anyway? I mistakenly assumed love would emerge once I met the right person. But there is no right person. There’s getting right with self. Settling with who I am and realizing love isn’t an external force or condition granted you by another, love is your own experience that sometimes seems to be shared. Love is not a gift. Love is not external. Its like a computer program we don’t realize is running in the background. With the way most people use and apply the word Love, Love is mythic and unrealizable.
After a couple of hours, we finished our session and ciders and walked out. I walked with her a couple of blocks before we hugged and I circled back to the bus stop. I got home to a message from the second woman, an old friend from high school. She was in town from Florida and wrote that she was going to sleep in and probably pick me up after noon Saturday. She did.
Hearing from her was unexpected. I hadn’t seen or spoken or exchanged emails with her in more than a decade and now to see her twice in a year. Back in school we behaved as siblings. In many ways, we are. She was in town because of her job and gave her day to me, to us. She discovered and suggested the car show happening in Alameda that afternoon and we drove to the event and walked up and down the street snapping photos of cars, time-travelling interiors, vivid paint jobs and glowing motor blocks. She’d coo at every dog, the little marble one pantomiming peeing on a wheel, and the poodle one woman pushed along in a small wire cart carpeted with blankets, which made the curly white dog look like he was in a mini-pope mobile. I enjoyed being pulled into an antique store. No sarcasm. My mom and me, she said, could get lost in here for hours. She and I tossed out of print paperback books to one another, laughed at 8-Tracks. I picked up a vinyl album and sniffed it, admiring the grooves like some would tattoo work.
We crossed the street, settled on a bar and ordered pizza, talking mostly about work. At one point my phone went off. It was the young woman I’d been talking to the last few weeks, but was bored with. Having ignored her call last week, I felt compelled to answer. It was brief. I hung up frowning. Then my friend and I started talking about relationships, her saying: Don’t get me started. Me wanting to say more, as if she could help, as if I could figure anything out.
She was, in school, sexy. Took dance class and performed. She’s more sexy now as a grown woman in long dreds and an easy illuminating smile. Like me, she’s childless and would probably make an awful parent. Not for lack of love, but rather lifelong struggles with her own mother and a love of her independence. Her mother: A Legendary Piece of Work. She was the reason my friend left New York and came out here to California to live with her aunt and attend high school. Thirty years later, it was still her best move. She said her mom cusses her out for not answering the phone. She said: The phone was way on the other side of the room and I was on the couch and I’d just found My Spot. Do you think? Nuh uh. She said. She shakes off memories of former ex’s, boys and one temporary husband, preferring now to throw herself into her work and career. When she told me she cancelled her cable tv I immediately said: Who are you? and meant it. I know, she said.
To see us in such comfort with one another, wandering the neighborhood around a T–d– J–s, fawning over pastries, haunting the tea selection in a health store then unable to leave the display case at a jewelry store, anyone would have thought we were married very good friends. No one would guess she’d drop me off at home and we’d each return to our single rooms.