Wretched (Part I)

At the end of Western Avenue, near the bridge that seemed to lead to miles of nowhere, a motel named The Swan was perched on top of a hill.   It was an ordinary hill and the motel was just a plain but decent sort of place.  It was on the north end of the town and had running water, clean linens and a hot bath if you wanted one.   But not much else.  There wasn’t even a working soda machine.   Not in 1942 anyway.  We didn’t even have electricity until 1939, if I recall correctly.

My father, Amos Lee Johnson, was the son of two Swedish immigrants.   He had retired from decades of working as an auto mechanic when he bought The Swan for $500.00 in 1937 from a man named Felix Carpenter.  Mr. Carpenter owned the bank in town and he made a little extra from various other properties like The Swan.  

The motel was profitable mainly because it was the first one in town you drove past if you were heading north on Route 51.  But in 1937 Mr. Carpenter retired and decided to sell a few of his rentals along with the motel.

Agatha, my father’s second wife, who he married in 1935, helped manage the motel with my father.  I tried to help them as best I could.  I did a lot of laundry, made the beds and dusted in between going to high school and working as a part time maid for a few of the wealthier families.

Sometimes I heard Agatha whisper under her breath, “Thank God you’re still young and spry.”  She was only fifteen years older than I was, but she was always very maternal.

Matter of fact, when my father met her five years after my own mother died we became close almost right off the bat, and occasionally as I grew older I had to watch myself and not slip and call her mother.   Agatha didn’t like that because she felt it was disrespectful to my real mother, Harriet. And out of a sort of sadness we all kept quiet about almost anything to do with my mother.  I only heard the story of my mother’s death from a concussion she suffered while horseback riding many years after it happened.  When she died I was still a very little girl.

Once I cried on Agatha’s (we called her Aggie) shoulder after Nolan Peterson, a boy two years my senior, hit me at school when I told the teacher he was stealing money from the orphan children’s fund.  He would wait until everyone left the room and steal it.  Aggie told me that she would, “take care of it.”  And the next day he stood in front of the entire class and apologized profusely.

Yes, we were blessed to be at The Swan and the small two story green house nearby where we livedPapa knew it too.

Once Aggie got scared at the beginning, when Papa first bought the motel and she suggested we should move out west, all three of us.  Aggie had a cousin who had recently started working at a Boeing plant and she thought we could make good money if we moved and joined him and his family.  But papa said, “No.  We’ve got it good!  The furthest I’m moving is when they take my body and bury it in the cemetery.”  That was the end of that discussion.

Aggie was always one to plan and dream though.   Occasionally I would find her sitting by the radio in the kitchen listening and she would have a distant, sweet look in her eyes.  One day, it was a Saturday I think, in the spring, and I remember she was sitting there listening to the radio when she suddenly stood up and said, “Clara, you need a proper debut.”  She walked over to the cupboard by the window and pulled out yards of pink chiffon and lace.

“Aggie!  What’s that for?” I asked in awe.

“I’m going to make you a dress.  You need a pretty new dress.”  Then she shuffled to the sewing machine and laid the fabric down gently.

“Aggie!”  I slightly stammered because I just couldn’t believe it.

“Listen, the other day I was walking down the street and out the door of the library came Missy Turner.   I said, ‘Well, hello.  How are you today Missy?’ and we talked a little.  And then she told me that she was going to college in the fall and that her mother and father were so proud and she went on a little bit too much about it, and I thought, ‘This isn’t right.  Our Clara is just as smart as Missy Turner.’  I about cried.”  Agatha then came close to me and took my hands in her hands and with bits of fire escaping from the flames in her intense and large blue eyes she said, “You know your papa and I can’t pay for a college education, but I’ll be damned if I just sit around and let you wither on the vine.”

Three weeks later we had a party.  It was a rainy night.  Mr. Westvold came with their six children.  Mrs.  Westvold was Aggie’s best friend.  They regularly sat, had coffee together and gossiped.  But on that particular night Mrs. Westvold was sick with a cold and Walter Westvold brought his six kids alone.

All the Westvold kids were very well behaved of course, but Aggie was busy anyway fusing over the two youngest because she wanted to help her sick freind, which left most of the hosting up to Papa and me.  Since Papa was a quiet man mostly, I greeted people at the door and went in and out of the living room and kitchen the entire time.   I didn’t get much of chance to talk with our guests.

But, I have to say, I did look glorious in Aggie’s dress.  It was the best looking dress I ever had.   And that is not a lie.  Agatha was a very talented woman and it was really beautiful fabric.

Missy Turner stopped by for a few minutes.  She brought her beau Rex Holland with her.   He gave me a stationary set as a gift and Missy brought some of her mother’s famous berry compote.   Even though Agatha was busy giving a bath to the two youngest Westvolds, Sammy and Martha, she took a moment to watch in pride as Missy admired my dress.

The Stevens family and their Uncle Jake were there too.  The Browns, Bertrands, and Tulefsons made it to the party for a little while.  I think it was kind of a success, except that there weren’t too many boys around my age who showed up.  And of course that was distressing to my Aggie who kept asking Papa, “Where is so and so?”   Or sometimes she would ask mothers why their sons hadn’t decided to accompany them.

I felt bad for Aggie.  She was delighted by how lovely that dress looked, but I knew she felt the night was a big flop.   And so I felt rather sad too actually because she had tried so hard.

After the party was over I asked to take a walk down to the gas station nearby and buy a bottle of pop.  Of course, Aggie and Papa agreed, provided I took a flashlight and was back before 10:30.

I loved taking walks outside in the evening in those days.  When the 40’s started it was like a curtain was opened in the heavens and all the rain that had been stored up for the last decade fell on the earth.  Everything was so green.  The trees grew and grew and the grass was lush like a big blanket covering the ground.

At just the right hour you could hear the meadowlarks and the crickets together.   And when the wind was strong enough the mosquitos and other bugs didn’t bother you at all.  Of course, if we had lived farther out in the country my father would never have let me go for walks so late at night because he would have worried about coyotes or other wild creatures.  But we lived enough in town for him to feel safe letting me.

However, that night, as I approached the gas station I saw a man holding a gun to the attendant’s back.   I was in absolute shock and froze in place in the darkness, still dressed in my pink chiffon.  It occurred to me that I could run home and tell my father but I was just too overwhelmed to move.

Within a few minutes the man got back in his car and drove away, barreling at top speed toward Main Street.  I’m sure he drove past The Swan shortly thereafter.  

“Jimmy!”  I ran to the station and found a shaken Jimmy sitting on the ground by the pump with his head in his hands.  He looked up at me, and while his mouth was permanently ajar and unmoving his eyes registered and communicated the full weight of his horror.

“Jimmy.  Are you alright?!”  I reached down and tried to comfort the teenage Jimmy.  He usually was one of the most cheerful people in town and I had never seen him looking this way.  Actually, people always found out the latest news about their neighbors and relatives from Jimmy.  But at the moment he was beyond terrified.  His hands were literally shaking at the sides of his overalls when he finally stood up.

“He just.”  He gasped for breath after swallowing his words and then continued, “That man came out of nowhere see?  He was friendly at first, just like a regular customer.  But I turned around for a second to put the pump away and said, ‘You gonna want your windows washed too?’ and then he just stuck the gun to my back.   He said, ‘I’m going to drive away and you’re going to pretend you never saw me!  Got it?’  And I said, well, I couldn’t say nothing so I just nodded.   Then he got in his car and was gone.”

I didn’t know what to say.  We stood there speechless.    The crickets and distant setting sun were an eerie backdrop to such a frightening moment.

“Jimmy, can we use the phone?”

“Sure.  Who should we call?”

“How about Sheriff Thompson?”

“Good idea.”

My father was mortified when Sheriff Thompson walked me back home that night.  He wasn’t particularly happy to discover the reason but I knew he was relieved it wasn’t something worse.   Then my Agatha gave the men cookies and milk at the kitchen table.  And there I stood, still wearing my pink dress.  The longer the night went on the more I started to wonder if the dress, despite its beauty was cursed.

“I don’t reckon we’ve ever had a robbery or theft in town for the last ten years.”  Sheriff Thompson shook his head back and forth and the tips of hair on his thick blond and gray mustache caught traces of milk that soon disappeared.  I watched as he meticulously ate the butterscotch cookies and milk.  He was a very well mannered man.  The only conspicuous thing about him was the wild flock of hair above his thin lips.

“What do you think it is then that caused it?”  My father enunciated each and every syllable with a faint Swedish brogue.

“I don’t hava clue, except I seen folks driving through on their way to Minneapolis more often lately.”  He shook his head back and forth and frowned a bit.  “I hate to say it.  I don’t like to assume the worst of people, but at times you kinda have to wonder what this world is coming to.”

“Boy you sure do.  You sure do.”  My papa jerked his head in agreement as his strong chin rested on his chest.  His hands were folded together a few inches down.   A solemn look was etched permanently across his tender but manly face.

Since nobody had acknowledged me for a long while I didn’t see the harm in leaving the room and heading up to bed.  I had reached the middle of the stairs when I heard Aggie interrupt the men and ask, “Did you see our Clara tonight?  Isn’t she something?”  The two men fell extraordinarily silent in response and I could just imagine their faces as they sat there.

“Why, by golly, you betcha.”  Sheriff Thompson quickly recovered and the sounds of more cookies and milk being served could be heard.  I quietly sat down to listen.

“She’s such a nice young lady.  I feel so bad!”  Agatha was about to start on her regularly paraded story about how I was left without a mother at a young age and had been such a miraculous child considering the heartbreak I endured.  Then she went on, among other points of praise, about how lucky she and my father were to have my help at the motel and what a hard worker I was.  I was embarrassed and a little secretly thrilled by her bold and brazen endorsements.

And to be clear, Aggie wasn’t trying to convince Mr. Thompson to court me himself.  Not at all.  But she rightly assumed that what she said at that gingham covered, cozy kitchen table would certainly not stay there.

“Oh.  Well…”  Sheriff Thompson paused for a moment before continuing.  He chuckled a little and then resumed, “I have a favor to ask you come to think of it.  My nephew, Andrew, is coming in town next weekend with his mother, my sister, Bertha.  You remember Bertha, Amos?”

“Why yes.  She almost married my brother.”  My father sounded quite serious.

“By golly!  You’re right.  I had almost forgotten that.”  The two men laughed and you could hear traces of their youth in their voices.

“Oh.  She was the one who married that farmer from Newton?  Right?”  Agatha apparently knew of her too.

“Yes.  She did.  They have three boys.  Andrew is the youngest.”

“Yes!  The two oldest are away in the Army right now.” Agatha added quickly.

“God bless them.”  My father said.

“You betcha!”  Sheriff Thompson concluded.

“Anyway, why, Andrew is going to be visiting with his mother this Tuesday and, why, we just don’t have room for them.   The upstairs rooms are filled with my brother and his family right now.”

“Oh that’s right!  Your Aunt Cornelia just passed away recently didn’t she?”  Agatha sounded as if she had finally sat down at the table.

“She did.  The funeral is on Thursday.”

“I’m sorry.”  I could picture my father shaking his head in sympathy.

“Thank you.”

“She was the best pianist we’ve ever had at St. Mark’s.”  Aggie said sweetly about Mrs. Cornelia Briggs.

“Thank you.  She loved that piano.” Sheriff Thompson recollected fondly.

The room was silent for a moment before the sheriff continued.  “So if you and the Missus don’t mind, it’d be awfully nice if you’d save a spot for my sister and her son at your place here.”

“You bet.”  My father answered matter-of-factly.

I walked up the steps finally and sitting down on my bed I peered out the window at the street below.  The light from the porch was the only light outside for as far as I could see.  I looked at the faint lines of roads in the distance and considered the robber.   I wondered if he would return, although that seemed highly unlikely.  I imagined him driving past our motel as he arrived in town and it frightened me.  As I laid down and stared up at the ceiling, observing the shadows around my room I silently prayed he would never return.


The next day I woke up to hear the sound of Aggie cooking downstairs.  In my room, by the foot of my bed was a vent in the floor to the kitchen covered by carpet.  I could hear almost everything below me.  Aggie and I would have entire conversations between floors there occasionally.

The sun was shining and dust particles danced in the light above the dresser near the window.   I felt the coolness of my pillow for a moment longer before finally forcing myself to get up and find my way into the day.  The wooden floor at my feet felt chilled by the briskness of the morning air.   After making my bed and getting dressed I walked downstairs for breakfast.

At the table was a glass of orange juice, boiled eggs and toasted bread with butter.  Papa sat reading the morning paper and sipping his black coffee.    The steam from his cup softly drifted from the white milk glass cup and saucer.   Fuzzy, our calico cat, crawled around the kitchen and finally found comfort at the foot of the cast iron pipe stove.  He curled up and licked his paws in ease.

Aggie sat in the rocking chair near the pipe stove and rested her eyes for a moment before Papa cleared his throat to announce that he wanted our total attention.   We both glanced at him in anticipation.

“Now young ladies,”  he said as he lowered his paper.  “Tomorrow is when Andrew and his mother are going to be here.  We need to make sure their room is made up special.”

“I think it’s clean already, but I’ll make sure and dust it too.”  I quickly responded before yawning.

“I’ll go get some flowers to put in a vase in the room.”  Agatha added as she tilted her head back like something had suddenly occurred to her. “I bet there are some roses in Tilly Westvold’s garden she’d be willing to part with.”

“Grand.”  Papa said brightly as he lifted the paper back up to finish reading.

They were simple chores really, but for some reason Aggie seemed particularly anxious.  “They need to feel welcome.”  she kept saying.

I was aware that my Agatha was hoping something would come of meeting Sheriff Thompson’s nephew.  She seemed to know the family well and thought highly of them.

“They’re such nice people.”  she repeated several times with coyly raised brows, as if to subtly prod me in their general direction.

By two o’clock when I had returned from my last class of the day I found my way into the front door only to hear Aggie cooking something in the kitchen with a fury.  The loud clicking sound of her whisk beating wildly against the ceramic bowl in her other hand combined with her fretfulness about every little thing that day had set me a bit on edge.  But then I saw her standing there, her entire being shook with the ferocious movement of her wrist.

She was working incredibly hard just so I could give this relatively unknown woman and her son a good impression.  And, I felt very loved by my Aggie.   Guilt crept over me as I scolded myself for feeling anything but entirely and completely grateful.

“Agatha how can I help?”  I questioned her sheepishly.

She paused and turned around for a moment, wiping her forehead with her arm and finally her hands on her worn blue apron.  Then she sighed loudly.

“I know!”  She snapped her fingers and half smiled.  “You should go to Tilly’s garden.  I think she has some roses ready now.”

“Have you already been there today?”  I asked surprised.  We didn’t have a phone in the house and Papa made Aggie keep the phone in the motel for business only.

“Yes. Twice.”  She was nearly breathless.  “Once to ask her for the roses and then I realized I needed to borrow her recipe for crepes.”

“Crepes?” I was puzzled and intrigued.

“Yes.  I’m making this cake for the club meeting tonight and then tomorrow morning I’ll make crepes.”

“Do they like crepes?”  I asked.

“Oh, I’m sure they will.  I had crepes once at a neighbor’s house when I was little.  They were a French family.  Crepes are delicious.”

“Oh gee, that’s wonderful.  Thank you.”  I felt unnerved and excited at the same time.  “Well, I’ll go get the flowers then.”  I turned to leave.

“Make sure to thank her and invite her over for coffee in an hour.”  Then she added almost giddy, “Oh, and tell Tilly I’m making crepes for certain!”  She chuckled with excitement.

“I will!”  I yelled from the living room as I opened the door leading to the yard.  I walked outside then and found my way to the back fence and garage in the back where the car was parked.  Once inside the car I slowly backed out of the driveway and then headed southeast toward Tilly’s.

Their house was located just outside of town on a farm nestled in a grove of trees.  The hip roof red barn in the back was next to the windmill and the chicken coop.   A tire swing danced in the breeze just beyond.  Their garden laid just behind the last weeping willow to the right.

But, before reaching the Westvold farm you had to cross over a bridge and then drive up a steep hill.  And I always hated driving there alone.   Our car often felt like it would tip backwards even though I knew it wouldn’t.  It wasn’t that steep, but it still scared me, especially at night.

Anyhow, on that day I felt the tires roll over something peculiar on the bridge and then right as I was speeding up the hill I started to notice that the car was becoming almost impossible to steer.  I felt the car sink slightly on the right and then there was the sound of two flat tires on gravel.  By that time I had slowed almost entirely so I just turned off the car.  I wasn’t sure what to do next.

It occurred to me that it was unlikely I wouldn’t be seen if another car approached me so it didn’t seem unsafe to stay in the car long enough to really think this through.  After sitting for a moment longer I believed the best idea was to walk down the road to the Westvold farm and ask them for help.

I got out of the car, and sure enough, almost on cue it started raining.  I debated about whether or not to leave my shoes on or walk barefoot and it seemed after further contemplation that going barefoot, despite the very uncomfortable gravel was best.

As the rain poured and the sky grew increasingly dark and foreboding I noticed suddenly how desolate and dark the Westvold farm looked.  No lights were on.  The car wasn’t parked anywhere.   There weren’t any clothes hung on the line.   And I started to wonder: what if they aren’t even home?

I walked a bit further, the rain having almost drenched me entirely by this point.  Then I stood and stared.  They weren’t home.   I was almost positive.

I turned around and looked back at my car.  My muddy toes sunk in deeper as I realized just how far I had already walked.  It seemed very silly to go back to the car now.  So I kept walking.  I figured I could at least use their phone to call someone and wait for help in the warmth of their dry indoors.

Any other time I’m sure the door would have been unlocked, but Mrs. Westvold had heard about the robbery the night before and decided to lock all her doors and windows.  So there I stood locked outdoors in a deluge.

I thought about going and picking the roses out of the garden anyway but given the shape of our car it seemed unlikely to be a wise choice.  I didn’t want them to wilt.

After thinking it through for a few minutes longer I made for the road and attempted to walk back to the car.  I kept walking.  My feet covered in slimy, cold mud.

My hair fell about my shoulders and my dress felt increasingly cold and heavy.  If I had jumped in a lake with my clothes on and swam for five minutes it would have had the same effect.

Right before I could reach my car I saw the lights of another car driving closer.  And it was then that it hit me how beautiful this moment was in a very earthy sort of way.

The air was so burdened and enveloping with the mist and fog overcoming me more each second.  I was in melancholy bliss.  Green and blue danced with each other on all horizons and the headlights of the oncoming car were almost magical.   They were like torches flying gallantly over the ground.

A man sat behind the wheel.  I had never seen him before.  The car was unfamiliar too.

He pulled over to the side of the road next to me.  Our glances met quickly before he opened his door without turning off the car or halting the windshield wipers.  The lights from the car blinded me a little for a moment before I put my hand to my face.  Then he got back in the car and shut his door.  He moved across the front seat, rolled down the passenger seat window and our faces met through the rain.

A look of surprise must have been present for us both.  His handsome gaze quickly became lightened by a warm smile.  

“You’re not a Westvold.” He observed dryly.

“No.  I’m not.   I came here to visit Mrs. Westvold but it doesn’t seem like anybody is home.”

Our eyes locked for a second and I wasn’t sure of almost anything in that moment.  I felt like I was getting lost.  Quickly.  With the “click click” of the wipers and the hum of the motor in the background we observed each other.

Then he broke the moment by turning to face the road ahead.  Placing his hands on the wheel he appeared to be analyzing something.  Then he smiled carefully and declared, “Your car is completely useless.”  His grin grew again and then he paused and partially frowned.  He drew his hand to his chin and  thoughtfully patted his cheek.

“Tell you what.”  He turned his face and focused quietly but intently on mine.  “I’ll give you a ride into town.  That is, if you’ll let me introduce myself first, of course.”

“That would be very nice.  Thank you.”  I leaned over just enough to see further into the car.

“I’m Adam Westvold.  My mother is Tilly’s older sister.  We live two towns over.”  He reached his hand out into the rain from the open front seat passenger window.  I shook his hand in the rain and then when he opened the door slightly, I slid inside.

“How do you do?  I’m Clara Johnson.  I live in town with my parents.”

The light from his eyes reached mine.  I could feel myself becoming quietly amazed and my gaze lingered for a bit longer than was all together acceptable.

“You must be cold.”  He reached into the back seat and grabbed a blanket before adding, “I’m sorry I can’t help you with your car.   Both of the tires on the right side look like they need to be replaced.”  Then he started the car engine and moved it slowly forward down the treacherous path.  “I’ll bring you to the gas station in town or to your home, if you prefer.”

“Why don’t you bring me home.  I’m not sure what my father will want to do with the car.”

“Fine.  I’ll bring you home.”  He pulled the car into the Westvold yard, turning it around.  Drops fell on the windshield, pelting down one after another non-stop.  But the “click click swish” of the wipers kept time with the pace of the rain and we drove onward.

He asked, “So why were you visiting my aunt?”

“Oh,”  I felt rain water falling from my head down to my neck, “I was going to pick a few roses from her garden.  My parent’s own a motel and my mother is good friends with Tilly.  We have guests my mother wants to impress coming tomorrow.”   I felt silly.  “The roses were for the guests, you see.”

He nodded his head and turned and studied my overall appearance for a second.  It was only a moment but I caught him paying particular attention to my hair.  He said, “You must be freezing.  You’re drenched.  It’s been a downpour for the last hour by now.”

“I am cold.”  I couldn’t think of anything else to say.

He reached over and grabbed the edge of the blanket and brought it up over my shoulder closest to him without ever removing his eyes from the road.  

“Well, you’ll be home soon.  Town is just over there.” He pointed. 

I looked at him now, his face cut an honest profile and he finally took his eyes away from driving and met mine.  I felt shy and glanced away quickly but his gaze lingered.

“Thank you for stopping to help.” I said.

“I’m glad I happened to find you.” Then he turned to face the road again.

We fell silent.  There was nothing to be said.  Absolutely nothing.

The car reached the entrance to the motel and he asked where to park.  I motioned that he should park near the fence in the yard, under the cover of the large Elm trees.

The shade provided by the soaked tree limbs and leaves left us in a sort of lovely green and gray dim light.  I turned to him and started to say goodbye and thank him again when I realized that he was being particularly still.  He just kept staring straight ahead at almost nothing at all.  Then he turned to me and I knew there was an unspoken longing between us, as if we had tumbled into place in each other’s hearts in a matter of moments.    Even though we had just met, there was an unusual and soothing sort of peace.

“I’ll have to come visit you sometime.” He finally uttered.  Then he added awkwardly, “No, I’m sorry.  I mean-”

“You should pay us a visit with your aunt.”  I interrupted.  Then I glanced down in a fit of shameful shyness.

“I will.” He looked half embarrassed by the offer even though he had seemingly been the first to suggest it.  Then, just as soon as I felt a chill from his icy response he said, “Let me help you inside.”  He got out of the car and I watched as his flaxen hair blew against the darkened sky like flickers of brightness shimmering.  I became almost scared of this power he seemed to posses over me.  

When he opened the door and I emerged under an opened umbrella.  For most of the walk to the house we walked side by side without a word, but when we were near the door he reached over and placed his hand on my back.  

I could tell that oddly enough, nobody was home here either.  It baffled me but before I could reason through it he leaned over and kissed me.   I had never been kissed before and it startled me.  I backed away.

We stood in silence under the protection of the porch roof.  He looked at me and smiled sheepishly.  “Can I still come visit you sometime?”  He tentatively asked.

“Yes.  I guess.  I drew a deep breath.  “Yes.”  I bit my lip.  “I’m sorry.”

“No.  I am.”

We stared at each other awkwardly for a moment and then he furrowed his brow, “Well,  I’m not really sorry.  I-”

“I understand.”  I quickly stammered.  I walked towards the front door and opened it but before walking inside I turned and decidedly said, with my heart brimming, “I really hope you do visit again.”

And in response he quickly walked over and stood beside me, grabbed me and then kissed me again.   This time it lasted a bit longer, until he moved away and said, “I’d like that.”   With his head down he left, then looked up suddenly before he entered his car and yelled back at me confidently yet with a sort of gentle whimsy, “It really was lovely meeting you.”

“You too!”  I yelled in return.  Then we stared at each other for a while before we waved our goodbyes and he entered his car.  And there I stood wrapped in his blanket, drenched, with muddy shoes on my front porch.

On A Quiet Day

I started writing this short story a while ago now but never finished it.  And, frankly, I think considering how rough the start was that that’s probably not entirely a bad thing…  So, I’m starting “over again.”  Sort of.   It’s basically the same story but with a lot of corrections.

______

I sit here in a chair by the window, staring out at the passing cars and wonder where they are going.  One car in particular passes and catches my attention.  It’s a red sedan with a little rust around the bottom of the doors near the tires.  It goes through the water on the street and makes a splash.  The driver looks very intent on getting somewhere.  I can tell.  I can see it even though I can’t see his face.

He has intention.  It’s something about the way he drives.  He knows exactly what he’s doing.  And perhaps this attitude of purpose could extend beyond into the meanderings of his everyday life.

I’m an old man, and when you get to be my age, especially if you’ve always been a sensitive sort, you know things about people just by watching them for a while…   It’s a nice consolation to aging.

“How has your evening been Mr. Rooney?” A tall nurse with dark, pretty features approaches me, grabs my chair and wheels me off toward my room in the back section of the Mt. Pleasant Nursing Home.

I hate leaving my spot by the window.  It’s the best place to just sit and think.  Nobody bothers you there.  Nobody assumes you’re just a lonely old man with no one to talk to.  They see you staring out the window and mind their own business.  They think you’re trying to be alone…

“It’s been a nice evening, Melanie.  Thank you dear.”

“Well, just to remind you, Mr. Rooney, tomorrow is our picnic in the park.  Volunteers will be here from 9 am to 4 pm with food and games.  I know you like to sit in your spot in the morning but it might not work so well tomorrow.  I’m going to have to bring you your breakfast earlier too.  Just to warn you.”

Despite the fact that I cannot use my legs now and my hands often shake a bit, I’m not without a mind that still works quite well.   Sometimes when some of the nurses here speak to me I wonder if someone will use the same tone of voice with them someday when they are old and if they’ll recognize it as being reminiscent of their own patronizing timbre.  But, to be fair, I know that they partially just use this voice as way to sound “professional” and not to become attached to any of us.  We don’t even “stick around” as long as a common household pet I suppose.

After Melanie pushes me back to my suite I find myself struck by a feeling of sadness.  It hits when I sit down on my bed with the lights off and look around my empty room.

I ask myself, “Why are you so sad?”  I even ask this out loud.  Why not?

Then the answer comes.  It comes in the form of a memory.  Today is Georgette’s birthday.  Or, it was…   She would have been eighty-four years old.  Or is

Nobody but me knows about Georgette now.  I’m the only one.  Well, to be clear, about us.  Georgette and me…

I remember her hair.  It was soft about her shoulders, begging to be touched.  I touched it that day in December, by the Christmas display on Lake Street, when she was just 17 years old.  We walked around and sang carols for hours.  And I touched her hair for the first time that day.   I kissed her for the first time then too…

I touch my face and realize that I’m smiling.  Then I recognize ironically just how much this smile hurts.

She told me she washed her hair in beer and I laughed in response.  “Beer is for drinking,” I said emphatically.  Then I poked her in the ribs and she giggled.  She giggled that enchanting little giggle she had.

“I don’t even like beer, but it makes my hair so soft.  Does my hair smell like beer?” She sounded worried.  I leaned over, and put my nose in her red locks of shiny tresses.  Beautiful.

I was so much stronger and more sound back then.  My body felt light as a feather compared to now.  I could lift myself up by my hands and stand upside down and move backwards and forwards.  I remember.

“No!  It doesn’t smell like beer at all…”  Her hair smelled like her and she was perfect.  Nobody is supposed to be perfect but she was.  Boy was she…

I know I never told her.  I stupidly couldn’t bring myself to say such a thing.  Being vulnerable was never my strength.  I suppose that means that really, after all is said, I was lacking.  Weakened.  Although nobody would ever have called me weak.  They still wouldn’t.  But I lived with the knowledge that I was in that real, deep and truly meaningful sort of way.   Often if I said too much at the wrong moment I would break into tears, especially when I was a little boy.  My mother always half scolded and coddled me saying, “Chin up.  No tears.”

I can still hear Ray, my friend of twenty years saying to me, “Melvin, you’ve got some.”   And he’d say it with a sort of chuckle.  His cigarette and old leather jacket would shake with his laugh.

Ray and I went through a lot together.  There was the death of his first wife, Martha and my own subsequent years as a widower that never abated.

He still had my copy of On the Water Front when he died of liver cancer twelve years ago.  Cheryl, his second wife and then widow, gave it back to me eventually.  She said she didn’t think he’d ever watched it.  “He always meant to,” she said fervently.  I believe it too.

_____________________________________________________________

I kissed Georgette many times after and before this, of course.  But on one night, after a picnic in June, I remember thinking that nothing had ever been that exhilarating or almost supernatural before.  I remember being drunk and kissing her in a way that scared me.  That night I was more honest with her than I had ever been or would ever be again with anyone.  It probably proved to be too much for me.

Marguerite, my wife, once asked me about her.  “Who was she, Melvin?”  She found me laying on a bed alone, just like I am now, holding her photo.  And, I didn’t try to hide the truth about her.  It would have seemed disrespectful and wrong for many reasons.

With a furrowed brow I said, “She was the first woman I ever truly loved.”

“You know I had a first love too.”  My wife snapped her chewing gum and laid her small frame next to mine.  “His name was Robert.  He played on the football team with my brother and I met him when they came to dinner after practice once.”

“Should I be jealous of this Robert?”  I turned towards her and she laughed and smiled pleasantly.

No.  He was very clever but I could never have married him.”

I was silent.

I pull myself up from the bed now and it’s not easy, I find.  I usually have help these days for this.  I’ve forgotten how heavy I feel.   Or maybe I just forgot for a moment…

Finally pulling myself over to the drawer by the bathroom I find one of my favorite pictures of Georgette.  I hold it to my lips and kiss it like a teenager kissing a poster of some heartthrob on their wall and it hits me that I don’t care if I was caught doing this anymore.  Years ago I would have been embarrassed by such a display on my part.  In those days I sent her kisses alone in parked cars, dark rooms, and anywhere where nobody would see me being so sweet.  So sentimental.

“I love you, now, always, always have, and always will.  I love you.”  Then I try to fall asleep, thinking of her.

———————————————————————-

I spent my childhood in northern Minnesota.  My mother was a seamstress and occasionally took in people’s wash and my father was a miner.

Nobody in my family ever forgot my birthday my entire childhood.  Birthdays were special.  Mama would bake an angel food cake with swirls of blue and green food coloring and make ice cream and we’d eat it outside on the front porch.

In the spring the ground would thaw and the smell of wet earth would permeate the air.   After walking home from school I would take my shoes off at the door, so as to not get the hardwood floor dirty.

I remember having a blue tin lunchbox.  And, I always left my lunchbox by my shoes at the door.  Sometimes I’d forget to take out my leftover lunch until late at night.  I was in trouble for that often.

Those are the memories that come to mind the most when I think back to those days.  I’m not sure why.  Those aren’t necessarily the most important moments of my childhood.   But that’s what I remember most.

Georgette wasn’t from my neck of the woods.  I met her by chance one very lucky night in October.  It was during the harvest of 1948 when I had a ride into the city with one of my friends, Tommy Burnside.

Our plan was to go into Minneapolis for the night and see the new Western and stay at the the YMCA.  Then the next day we would attend the harvest dance.

It was too late to see a movie when we got there, but the dance was something else.  Back then they made things special.

Anyway why, that night I felt a little important, if only by association.  Tommy’s dad, Frank, was an important man in our town.  He had the largest farm in the county, you see.  I thought I was carousing around with something close to royalty.

I heard this faint but wholly unique giggle right behind me and I thought, “Who is that laughing?”  And I turned around and saw her.  Just the prettiest.  It was Georgette.

But those days are gone now.

Anyway, because I felt so extraordinary and superior I had an extra amount of confidence to add to the minuscule amount I naturally possessed.  I looked Georgette right in her stunning eyes and introduced myself calmly, but with an unusual graciousness, for me that is.  I even reached out, shook her hand and then with charming insouciance proceeded to guide her to the wall on the side of the dance floor by the small of her back.  Normally, I would have said hello, but been too shy to say much else…

Oh.  Are you a farmer?”  She asked simply when she heard where I was from.

I looked into her eyes and saw a look I was acquainted with from my days working as a stock boy at Leivens’ Drug on main street.  It was a look that some well off customers in town would give me when I bagged their goods for them.

It was half pity, and half respect.  Perhaps the pity was because I was beneath them somehow in their mind and the respect was because I was still young and they hoped I’d do better for myself somehow.  Or maybe it was because my father and mother were such decent people and everyone knew each other’s business where I lived.   Either way, I knew if I wanted to keep her attention I couldn’t be a farmer.  That would not do at all.

“No.  I’m not a farmer.  My parents are missionaries, or they were actually.  They’ve retired now.”   I couldn’t believe the lies coming from my lips, but now that they were out I thought I could either keep going forward with it all or call the whole thing off.   I continued terrified but exhilarated.  “I spent my first seven years living in a jungle.”

“Oh!?”  Her eyes widened.  I had her full attention now and it felt tremendous.

“Why, sure.”  I half convinced myself in that moment that any lies I told in this specific conversation would either work out to be true somehow, or if that was impossible then they wouldn’t count.

“Which one?”  She was genuinely interested.

“Which jungle?”

“Yes.”

I didn’t know too many jungles, but I needed to pick one I knew something about…   Sadly, all those hours I had spent reading National Geographic at the doctor’s office over the years were pointless because it seemed I hadn’t retained a single piece of useful information.  I fumbled with my tie and then lifted my chin high and with as much authority as I could muster, “We don’t like to talk about it.”  I followed that by bowing my head low and trying to appear as solemn as possible without seeming melodramatic.

“Goodness.  Why ever not?!”  She looked alarmed.

“Well, my mother’s sister died of malaria.  For one thing.”

“Oh sakes alive…  My aunt died young too.  In childbirth.  I’m so sorry.”  She looked grieved and sympathetic and I felt a peculiar combination of empathy, guilt and amazement in return.  I even considered reaching out and offering my hand in a gentle touch to her arm but that seemed a little sinister given my deceit.

The music stopped and everyone clapped.  Then the lights all went black and one single spotlight hit the center of the dance floor.   A couple who were clearly professional dancers flew about the floor as we all paused to watch them.  They were very talented.

“I’m sorry if I shouldn’t have asked about your years in the jungle.” She humbly whispered in my left ear at the end of the song, pulling slightly on my sleeve to reach it.  “I can see it’s upset you.  I guess I’m just curious is all.  You seem to have the air of a man who has read a lot, and traveled and seen so many fascinating things…”  Her face looked off into the crowd and then she tilted it slightly and sighed rather loudly.  I swallowed hard and shoved my hands my in pockets.

“You don’t need to apologize.  I was so young.  I barely remember much of it, I suppose.”

“Where did you move after living the jungle?”

“My father became an itinerant preacher.  Here in America.”

“Oh, and where do you live now?”

“I live with my family up in northern Minnesota.” I pointed my finger northward for emphasis.

“And your father is in the clergy there? ”

“Yes.  He has a modest but respectable congregation.”

“Oh how fascinating.  I was raised a Lutheran.  Our pastor and his wife never had any children though.  I can only imagine what that life must be like.”

______________________________________________________________

I can’t remember how I pulled it off.  But I did.  Every other weekend for the next year I would take the train or hitchhike my way down to Minneapolis, stay at the Y and then put on my best suit, shine my shoes and meet Georgette at the front entrance of the Dayton’s store downtown.   We wrote letters too.  Often.  And once and a while I called her on the phone at the drugstore.  But she never even once came to visit me in all that time and thank goodness because that was the best year of my life, I think.

Of course, when I was home I worked at the mine.  But I had other plans too.  I had graduated from high school that June.  June of 1949.  And I hoped to go to college within the next few years once I saved enough.

One winter night though, as it was most certainly fated to do, it all fell to pieces.   I was taking Georgette home from a concert in the winter she grabbed my cold fingers and brought them to her face.  Then she kissed my them with her crimson lips.  Crystals from our breath mixed and after she rubbed the redness away, she began staring at my nails under the street light.

“Why are your nails so dirty sometimes?  I’ve noticed before but I’ve never asked why.”  Her lovely, large and trusting eyes met mine.  My breath quickened producing a denser mistiness around us by the moment.  Then I remembered not cleaning and filing them the way I usually did before making my trek down the day before.

“Oh well, it’s just some work I’ve been doing lately for my mother.”

“What sort of work?”

“I’m helping her stain the pews at the church.”

Now, Georgette was by no means raised in a family that believed in the sort class snobbery you read about in books or see in the movies belonging to people who own mansions.   Her house was a pleasant but simple one.  But, her father had been educated at Cornell just like her grandfather and her great grandfather.  They were scholars.  Two of her four brothers were also scholars and one of them, the eldest, was a professor at the local university where her father also taught in the chemistry department.   To me they were infinitely intimidating.  Of course, it didn’t make me feel any more secure that she was also intelligent.

I looked into her face.  Her eyes were fire filled and brimming.  But, I couldn’t place why.  We had had a wonderful evening.  We always did.  Always

“You’re lying to me.”

My face froze in a suspended state of hopefulness.  It wasn’t that I didn’t want to tell her the truth.  I wanted to.  I almost had.  Often.

In June, when we almost made love, I was actually shocked I didn’t confess…  But I just couldn’t bring myself to it.  I wanted to.  I really did.  But I was too weak.

In moments when I fully recognized it, it left me feeling literally sickened.  Yet, to my credit, I was honest about just about everything else.  Still, I just couldn’t….    I just couldn’t.

“You’re just poor aren’t you.  You work in the mines up north.  I know you do.  And so does your father.”  Her face fell and she began to cry gently.

“Yes.”  Then, I grabbed her hands in mine and caught the tears with my finger tips. “Look, I have been lying to you about that.  Sure.  That’s terrible for certain.  I know.   I’m sorry.  But it was just because I didn’t think you would look at me twice if you knew.”  I did my best to sound cheerful.  I didn’t know what else to do and I figured that if it didn’t seem like a serious problem to me it wouldn’t be to her either.  “Someday I’m going to be just as respectable and accomplished and…”   Her distant silence emboldened me to believe that she was being swayed, and I started to convince myself that it would all be fine soon.  We had had arguments before.

“But you lied to me.”  She refused to look at me but just kept staring down at the pavement under our feet.

My arms dropped as I felt her body inch away from me.  I was getting scared now.

Bending over and holding my knees I laughed out loud at the awkwardness of the situation.  But that was a horrible response.  When she finally looked up at me it was with an expression of horror and pain.

“You have so many other suitors just waiting to take my place.  And they’re all from such nice local families.  You’re beautiful.  So very beautiful.  What was I supposed to do?  Hmm?  Should I have told the truth and risked never seeing you again?  Please be fair!”  I recovered myself long enough to spout out these words.

“You think I’m shallow?”  She looked even more hurt.

“You want to know the truth?  I think you’re human.”

Her mouth opened and she looked aghast.  “That’s a terrible thing to say.  But I suppose I am just human and so are you.”  A coldness crept over her features and I felt a distance expanding between us even though our bodies remained in place.

“I sincerely hope you aren’t about to blame me for wanting to see you so badly that I would literally do almost anything.”

“Oh sure.  And what about the other lies I’ll bet you’ve told me too?   For instance, is there another girl?”

“No.  Of course not.”

“But how can I trust you?  You lied to me about something serious.”

“Right.  But, there is no one else.  The only thing I’ve ever been dishonest about is now in the light of day.  There isn’t anything you don’t know now.”

“Maybe that’s true.  But it can’t stay that way forever.  Can it?  There will always be something you’ll be afraid of and then there will be more lies.  If you’re willing to lie about this then what else will you be willing to deceive me about next?”

I was stunned.  I was losing her.  Second by miserable second.

“No.  I’m not for you.”  She backed away and crossed her arms over her chest.

“But you have to be.  I love you.  I love you more than…  the truth itself.  I guess.”

“That’s a misplaced priority if I ever heard one.”  She shook her head back and forth now like she was trying to rid her mind of something painful and annoying.  “You’re in love with some idea in your head.  None of this has been real because you haven’t been honest.   You lied to me.  It’s that simple.”

She turned to walk away now towards her house two blocks away.  The smoke from her chimney was visible over the frozen tree limbs.  I had been inside there, where that warmth was.  I had seen it and now worried I never would again.   I felt cold, ugly and strange.

“You’re making a mistake!”  I yelled as loud as I could.  I had to say something.

Then much to my surprise, she stopped and turned around.  Her face was wet and wretched.  “You’re a liar!”  she yelled back before turning again and breaking into a leaping run.

Her speeding frame disappeared around the corner and past a yellow stucco house and a wooden fence by a maple tree, but I stopped and listened to hear the last traces of her footsteps.  I could and should have gone after her, but I didn’t think there was anything more to say and I didn’t want to face her family.   I was weak.

I also knew I had lied because I honestly believed that she would reject me otherwise.  I wasn’t sure what to think in that moment.  How had she even discovered the truth?

Was she lying?   Would she have accepted me like she claimed?   I tried to close my eyes and picture that moment at the dance again.  It came back to me and I saw her face.  She really did look almost… condescending.  I wasn’t imagining anything…

I wrote her everyday for three months until she told me that I needed to leave her alone.  I saved that letter anyway.  I still have it somewhere.  She told me that she had loved me once but that we should both find new people to love now.

A year later I visited her house and left a bouquet on her birthday at her doorstep.  I never heard anything in response.

Ten years later I did learn that she was married to someone else.  He was from Kentucky, I think.  And, he took her half way across the country to that state because all of his family lived there.  That was the last I knew of her.  All I was left with were photos and letters from that year we spent together.


 

“Listen!”  Mary Winsett, a nurse orderly whispered loudly to another nurse, David.  The night shift was generally the most boring of all the shifts at the home.  Most of the current residents slept well through the night and hours could go by without almost anything happening anywhere.

Typically, Mary ate two small bags of Cheetos and drank two bottles of Diet Coke a night.  Sometimes there were scary emergencies but mostly it was a matter of staying awake.   However, in this moment heavy thuds could be heard coming from down the hall.   “What the hell is that!?”

“I’ll go see what it is.” David volunteered.

He wandered down the hall, and heard two more thuds before locating the exact room where the noise originated.  It sounded like someone was being thrown repeatedly against a wall.

“How’s it going, Mr. Rooney?”  David opened the door and peeked inside carefully.  “Mr.  Rooney?”  David was confused because Melvin Rooney was nowhere to be found in the entire room.

Racing down the hallway David reached the front desk, breathless.  “We may have a runaway.  I’ll check around but I’d definitely call security just to be careful.  This is too weird.”

It took about a half an hour before it was discovered that Melvin Rooney had somehow managed to leave his room during the middle of the night through a broken screen on his window.  Everyone concluded that noise must have been him pushing the screen out as it was found in grass by the wall outside his room.

And there wasn’t anything mysterious about how he got away, really.  The entire nursing home was on the first floor.

The real conundrum was why.  Why had the gentle Mr. Rooney, known for his clever jokes, and the way he could recite literature like he was reading it directly from the page running away from the home?  He had friends here, or so everyone thought.  He loved mashed potato Wednesdays and the garlic toast on the weekends.  It didn’t add up.

On Thursday, a day after the escape there was news from Melvin’s daughter Louise.  He had made it to her home in a taxi and told her that he never wanted to go back.  She said she would have to figure something out.  Perhaps she could talk her father into going back but it seemed unlikely.  And if he couldn’t be persuaded she would send for his things soon.

“That’s so sad.  I’m going to miss him.  He was such a sweet man.”  Said at least two nurses.

______________________________________________________________

On Friday Mrs. Rose of Waterview, Kentucky visited the home with her daughter Elizabeth, often called Bethie.  Mrs. Rose was a stately woman.  She was a tall beauty and still lovely with traces of red in her neatly coiffed chignon.

“Emily.  No, I mean Elizabeth…  Bethie, darling, let’s just walk down this hall a bit further and look in these rooms before I make my decision.”  Georgette Rose stopped for a second to take in the name written on the door of a room that was being cleared out.  It was a familiar name:  Melvin Rooney and the man in the accompanying photo bore a striking resemblance.  “No way!” Georgette said to no one in particular.

“Mother?!”  Bethie walked quickly down the hallway towards her mother.

“I think I knew this man!”  Georgette’s face contorted.  Raising her hands towards a nurse down the hall she slowly made her way forward.  “Excuse me sir, but could you tell me something about the man who used to have that room?”

“Oh Melvin?”  A man holding a mop stood for a moment while he seemed to be contemplating whether or not he should say anything or not.  “Why do you ask?”

“Well, he was an old boyfriend of mine way back in the 40’s.”  Georgette’s face dropped, she swallowed, bracing herself for what followed.  “Did he just die?”

“Yes, ma’am.  He died today.  He was at his daughter’s house and had a heart attack last night.  He actually – totally weird – he escaped from the home just a few days ago through a broken window and today his daughter called us and said he died last night in his sleep.  It’s pretty upsetting to be honest.  He was nice man, although he kept to himself.”

Georgette inhaled deeply and then began to shake as she let out a slow, labored breath.  Walking ever so slowly towards the empty room, Georgette started to cry.  “Mother!” Elizabeth rushed to her side.

“Oh it’s just my Parkinson’s.  It’s nothing.”

“Mom!  That is not true at all.  You look like you’ve just seen a ghost.”

Rendered speechless, Georgette glanced inside the nearly empty room.  It was empty except for a few pieces of old luggage sitting by the door and an elderly woman standing on top of Melvin Rooney’s old bed.

There she stood.  She was a rather petite woman with a cane.  And it was quite clear she was not meant to be here, but no one had noticed and she seemed harmless enough.

“Hello!”  She greeted the two women standing at the door.  “I’m trying to crack through the surface.”

“What surface is that love?”  Asked Georgette.

“The one between us and God.  The one that divides the living and the dead.”

Then, in the dim lighting of that dreary room with it’s chemical lemon scented ugliness, all three women in a moment of curiosity that overwhelmed them looked up at that taupe tiled ceiling in silence.

“It’s up there! I can hear them at night.  The dead ones.  Crawling around on the roof.  I just want them to be quiet.”  She peered down and stared Georgette straight in the eyes with inspiration.  “But you want them to be loud.  Don’t you?  You like the noise.”

Georgette’s tears fell profusely.  “You think God lives beyond this ceiling?”

“Not in one sense, but in another?  Yes.  There’s a hole here.  I can feel it.”  She sits down on the bed now and looks almost saddened.  “I just want a little peace and quiet.  Is that too much to ask?”

“No.  Of course not.”  Then after considering, and quickly regaining her composure Georgette continues.  “You know, they never say a word to me.  I don’t let them, I bet.  Why don’t I ask them to be quiet for you?”

“That’d be splendid.  Would you please?”

Teetering over to the bed Georgette glanced up at the ceiling and said in a rather stern voice, “Could you please be quiet?”  Then all women exchanged glances.

“You shut them up!  I know it.”  The woman, then sitting peacefully, seemed convinced.

“I’m sure I did.”

“I’m sorry your life is too quiet.”

“Thank you.  That’s very kind.”  Georgette then tried to sit down on the bed too but her hip hurt too much and so she decided to keep standing instead.

“I love you.  There’s no time to waste becoming friends.” The woman suddenly announced.

“What?”

You heard me.”

“I’m sorry?”

“You’re only human you know?”

Then the two older, long life hued women met each other’s view as if they had traversed time and space and back again, holding some secret understanding between them.  Some common grief perhaps.  Or, some other unknown commonalty.

“I was in love with him once.”  Georgette blurted out into the silence.

“I know.  You still are.  I can tell.”  Then nodding her head, “Relax.  Will you?”

“I can’t relax I guess.”

“I know.  And that’s why I love you.  I couldn’t either.”

“Well, I’m sure I love you too.”

“I know.”

Chills ran up Georgette’s spine and before she turned to leave she glanced back at the woman on the bed.  “Thank you, again!  It was nice meeting you.  What was your name?”

“Sylvia.”  She said sweetly.   Then with an earnest sadness, “He loved you.  But you killed him inside a little his whole life.  And now, nobody will shut up.”  She glanced up at the ceiling again and pointed.  “But at least we can smile about it.  We both know you meant well.”

Georgette looked ahead.  “I’m sorry?”

“You’re in trouble aren’t you?  Oh, you’re in big trouble.  Poor thing.”

A chill filled the air and an uneasy feeling made Georgette almost dizzy, throwing her slightly off balance.  She grabbed the door frame to steady herself.

“I should go.  It was lovely talking with you.”

“You’re only wise to a point.  Just a point.  Remember that.  Don’t assume so damn much.”  Then the woman closed her eyes, laid back and seemed to be going to sleep on the bed.

__________________________________________________________

On the way to the parking lot Georgette and Elizabeth, decided that living in the home would be something they’d have to think about a lot more before coming to a final conclusion on the matter.  But in the mean time Georgette was in shock enough to be moving so slowly as to see one of the nurses smoking a cigarette outside the door of the home.

“Bethie, I’m going to stop and chat with this man for just a moment.  Go ahead. I’ll meet you in the car.”

“Ok mom.  I’ll be waiting.”

Approaching the nurse she read the name tag he was wearing to be David.  He seemed intrigued by her too now as she approached him slowly.  He studied her face carefully.

“Hello.  You work here?”

“Yes, actually.  And you look familiar.  I’m not sure why.”  He laid down his newspaper and cup of gas station coffee on the bench by the wheel chair ramp.

“Hmm.”  Georgette shook her head in curiosity.

“Do you mind if I smoke?” He asked.

“No.  Not at all.  I used to smoke myself but I quit years and years ago.”

“You know, you really do look familiar.  Wait!  My god.  It’s you.  My god!” David’s mouth hung open slightly in a frozen state.  His eyes narrowed together and his brow creased.  A look of ironic recognition spread across his face.

“I’m sorry.  I’m confused.”  Georgette rubbed both of her arms, appearing to be a bit chilled.

“You’re Georgette.  You must be.  Why are you here?”

“I am Georgette.  But, I’m afraid I’m still confused.  I’m here because I was considering living in this home actually.”

No way!  You’re kidding.  Right!?”

“I’m not kidding.  I came to tour the facility today with my daughter.  She’s waiting in the car for me right now.”

Ok?”   He looked like he was fighting back a combination of laughter and some sort of existential exasperation.  “Sure.  Why not?”  He said mostly to himself, then more calmly and professionally he continued,  “So what can I do for you?”

“Have I upset you?”

Do you even know who you are!?”

“Apparently not.”

“You’re Melvin Rooney’s long lost love!  I know because I’ve seen photos of you from when you were young.  You look amazingly similar.  It’s uncanny.  But yeah.” David stopped and scratched his head for a second before taking a drag from his cigarette.  “So, I’m sorry to have to tell you this, but you just missed him.  And I mean that in an incredibly, cosmically weird and tragic way.  He basically, like literally, just died.  But, yeah, he lived here.  Did you know that?!”  Then before she could respond,  “I mean, I really hope you didn’t come here looking for him because he’s…  umm…   He’s not coming back?”

“You know it’s funny.  I actually didn’t know anything about it at all, but then another one of your employees shared it with me.  It is an odd coincidence.  Isn’t it?  It almost makes you wonder about a lot of things.  At least, that’s how I’m feeling about it right now.”

I don’t blame you.”

“What do you suppose it the point of all of this?”

“What do you mean?”

“You know.  What’s the point of all of it?”

“Well, I suppose that depends on who you ask.”  He took another long drag.

Georgette grabbed her pearl necklace and played with it for a moment.  “Fine.  Fine!  But what do you think?”

David threw back his head and laughed slightly.  Then after holding his chin and contemplating it for at least a good minute or two, he responded.  “Love.”  He turned his head to face her and smiled.  “I think life is mostly about love actually.”

“Have you ever been deeply in love?”

In a sort of amused nod he shifted about.  “Yeah.  Ok.  I’ll answer that.”  He smiled again before answering, “Yes.  Once.”

“And you were happy?”

“Yes.  Very happy.  We loved each other very much.”  Then he looked quickly away.

“That’s really marvelous.”

“What about you!?”

“What about me?”

“Have you ever been in love?”

“Yes, but it never amounted to anything.”

“Unrequited love?”

“No.  He was just beneath me.  That’s all.”  A look of self disgust filled her face.

“Georgette, you’re terrible snob.”

“Maybe.  But more like just terrible I think.”  The sky was turning dark and the barking of a dog and the sound of a motorcycle interrupted the quiet for a moment.

“Do you have regrets Georgette?”

“My whole life is mostly comprised of regrets, I’m afraid.”

I’m sorry.”

“I’ll die soon enough.  Don’t worry.”

“That’s an awful thing to say.  You can always make every moment count, even until the end.”  Then, just to prove that he wasn’t being flippant he glanced with a melancholy expression long enough to gain her attention.

“No, that’s only partially true though.  Sometimes death-”

Holding up his hand in protest, David interrupted, “You’re a lovely woman.  For as long as Melvin was here he couldn’t do anything but talk you to me and at least a few others.  I am fairly sure I can say without too much doubt that you really are a truly lovely person.”

“No, the sad truth is that what I am, is an absolute fool.  I never loved anyone the way I loved Melvin Rooney.  My ex husband and I divorced years ago.  I’ve been a bachelorette all these years.  But, I just kept telling myself back then that I was making the right decision by ignoring him, even though I knew somewhere inside myself that I wasn’t.  I knew I wasn’t.”

“But God loves fools.  I’m certain.  Because, we all are fools in one form or another.”  Nodding his head slowly, solemnly he reached over and patted Georgette on the back.

“I just missed him…  By less than a week.”

“It could have much worse.  You could have never known anything.  Think of that.  You’re fortunate.  Very, very fortunate actually.” And David finally finished his cigarette with that.

“Here.”  He reached in his front pocket and pulled out an aged photo.  “Melvin kept this and others in his front pocket all the time, but the night he “escaped” he left in his pajamas and bathrobe and didn’t take them all.  I think he knew he was going to die soon and was desperate not to let it happen here, which is sensible I guess.  This is the one photo he left behind that we found.”

Thank you.”

It was a photo of Georgette, surely.  And as she sat there holding it, slight creases on the edges, she realized what she had lost her whole damn life.

I shouldn’t keep this.”

“You have to.  It’s the only right thing to do.”  Then pushing her hand away he looked intently and pleadingly into her eyes.  “You have to.

“Oh and I know it.

“You should come to the funeral too.”

“Yes.”

“Next Thursday at 4:00 pm at Trinity Lutheran Church.”

“I’ll be there.  I promise.”

The drive home was a quiet one.  It was a quiet day now and with the rain, it oddly felt even more quiet.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sud Magnolia

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It opens with a bright, slightly sweet, citrus fruitiness (Atelier Cologne 2015) that is refreshing, and uplifting, but in a way that is almost otherworldly.  It reminds me of the way the air smells in the winter, on a truly cold morning – frozen and fresh but with an added glamour and dazzle.  Then, into the drydown, Magnolia Sud warms and softens.  It reminds me a great deal of a few scents from Tocca actually.  It has that floral, watery, elegance the speaks of youtfulness and joy.  Magnolia Sud is irrepressible.

Top notes: bitter orange, pomelo, and black currant.  Middle notes: saffron, rose, and magnolia.  Base notes:  Atlas cedar, musk and sandalwood.  

Lil’ and Lex:  Part IV of IV

I woke up Saturday morning after having the oddest dream.  I dreamed I was on a large boat with my Grandma Dorothy and we were looking out over the ocean together.  Only she was young again…  And yet she seemed old at the same time.  It was nearly indescribable actually…  She all at once seemed to have the maturity of someone her age or more so, and yet this certain vitality and beauty that comes more easily with youth.

We talked about something…  It was a wonderful, warm conversation.  But I couldn’t remember it when I woke up.  The details were lost.  All I had was a general impression and a deep, close feeling that was impossible to ignore.

My last glance at her face gave me the idea that she was incredibly happy. I couldn’t believe how happy she seemed actually.

Then, I was awake, in my dark room, sitting in silence.  I looked around and I thought about those stories you hear about people having dreams about their loved ones when they die.  It seemed unlikely to me, because I’m naturally given to thinking most things of that sort are unlikely, but I still wondered.  Who wouldn’t at least a little?

Anyway, later that day, my mom called me as I was sitting down to eat lunch.  And, the moment she started, I knew…

“Your Grandma Dorothy has gone home to be with the Lord.”

“Really?”

“Yes, she died last night of a heart attack while she was asleep.  She’s gone now…”

My mom sounded in shock.

“You know, I had a dream about her last night…”

“Yeah, I did too…”  My mom’s voice broke into tears.  “I’m sorry…”  she apologized for crying.

“No, mom.  Please cry if you need to.”

She awoke in a quiet place.  It was quieter than anywhere she had ever been, aside from maybe her nursery as a young child.  She felt a lightness, and yet firmness she had never felt before, even in her youth, and as her eyes took in the brightness around her, pouring it seemed from windows that were more open, more clear than she could ever remember,  she finally saw her mother’s face on a beautiful woman in the corner siting on a dark blue velvet chaise.  

“Mom?!”

“So, what do you think?  You know where you are don’t you love?”  

She didn’t need to respond.  Words weren’t necessary here.  This place, often called heaven seemed better than that word could begin to indicate, mostly because there was no doubt for one second that it was real.

“I can’t go back can I?”  

Her mother laughed with a smirk, as if it was almost funny but in a beautiful sort of way.  The sort of way that would scare anyone still “alive.”

“Where is…”

And at once she was on a boat…  sailing…  Sunny skies.   Then his lips…  He was there.  And she smiled.  

“Are you ready to go meet Him?”  

Can I? ”  

“Yes.  But…”

Their eyes locked and she could see into him as he saw into her.   Then his eyes looked towards someone behind them and there stood her granddaughter sleepy and confused in her pajamas.  

“Oh, darling girl.”  She rushed up to her and grabbed her hands…  “Have I got news to tell you!”  Then without words, she spoke, “You won’t remember a word of this when you wake up, but…  I just have to tell you… ”  

Her granddaughter smiled and nodded in understanding.  

Aquarius

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Aquarius (Max Factor 1970) begins with a shout of green notes, and leads into a dirty, indolic jasmine. Eventually it’s warm (sandalwood, vanilla and patchouli), embracing and yet quite sharp.  It seems to be the epitome of most 1970’s green scents in fact…

Top notes: bergamot.  Middle notes: floral notes.  Base notes: amber, sandalwood, vanilla, labdanum, patchouli, and vetiver. 

Lil’ and Lex: Part I of IV

When my Grandma Dorothy was seventeen years old she won a beauty contest in Sydney, California.  A man at the contest walked up to her afterwards and said in southern sugary, smooth, long drawn-out sort of way, “My but my.  You sure do have the prettiest smile I evah have seen.”  Then he showed a toothy grin and threw his toothpick in all directions among his front teeth.  With a pat on the top of his hat he turned sharply and then added, “You are going to marry a prince someday young lady.  And by gum, I wish that pince was me.”

Ulysees Maxwell Jackson III, called Lex by his friends, was a sort of prince I suppose.  His father was an extremely wealthy man and nobody messed with the Jacksons.  Nobody in those days at least.  They were the sort of family that had both an exorbitant amount of money to spend and enormous collective intelligence, charm, and influence to spend their money well.  Lex, the oldest son, was his father’s favorite.

Lex had handsome hazel eyes and a ruddy complexion that brightened a structured, manly visage.  He wasn’t the sort of man to wear his heart on his sleeve, despite his often optimistic and almost bubbly demeanor, but he was a gentleman.  My Grandma told me that he that he once invited her to the Founder’s Day Dance and when she was too sick to attend with him he went and sat at her bedside the entire night and read her David Copperfield.  Of course, if he had gone he surely would have been the most popular boy at the dance according to Grandma.  He swept her off her feet, I guess.

He was sturdy too.  As, Grandma said, “…he didn’t have to raise his voice.  All you had to do was look into his eyes and it was enough to stop you in your tracks a mile away.”

For Grandma Dorothy, with her pretty blond hair, blue eyes and freckles lacing the space between her button nose and her pretty pink pout, he was the sun, moon and stars all rolled into one gorgeous creature.  And, of course, she was his darling. Dory, as she was called, was an incredibly cheerful, light-hearted young woman back then.  Her only vice was smoking. Otherwise, just like her hair, she was seemingly golden perfection.

Dory was smart.  Her entire family was.  Her older brother, my Great Uncle Clarence, became a prominent surgeon in California in the 1950’s and 60’s.  And she was sweet, and sincere, if a bit too daring at times.

No, they were a great match.  Everyone said so.

~

Dear Diary,                                                                   June 24, 1938

Today was so nice.  Lex drove us down to the coast in his new convertible.  We drove with the top down the whole way there – the wind blowing in our hair.  By the time we reached the beach we looked less than our ideal selves. Ha!

It was nobody but us the entire day and I’ve never felt so grand in my life.  Lex asked me to marry him when he returns from Standford next spring.  I said yes, of course.  

I cannot imagine waiting an entire year to marry the man of my dreams…  I think I’m going to have to distract myself, which shouldn’t be too difficult.  Once mother finds out about our engagement I’m sure she’ll have ten million things for us to do.  

Oh I hope Lex doesn’t mind marrying into such a silly family…  They’re intensely lovable, but oh so fantastic sometimes.  

Lil’ ol’ me

~

June 26th, 1938

…”…and you, the fairest of them all, will be my queen, concubine and closest counsel…”  Oh I love how he talks to me.  He often tells me of the great things he plans to do with his life, and yet sometimes when he’s really quiet he worries about the future. In those moments I look into his eyes and see why I love him so.  I love him from the bottom to the top and back again.  I love him from every piece of me.  

He tells me, “Promise me that you won’t ever let anyone love you the way I do.”  Of course, I reassure him that I never will, but he always seems so scared by something and I asked him why once.  He told me that when he was eleven he was at a county fair with his younger brother and they visited the fortune-teller’s booth and she read their fortunes.  She said that one of them would be famous before he turned 30 and the other would be dead.  Lex said that he has always had the sense that she was only telling the truth no matter what anyone told him.  There’s not much I can say that will change his mind.  “Just promise me that you’ll never belong to anyone else.  Promise me that I’m the only one who will ever truly know you.”  Of course I agree, but sometimes I can’t help but feel spooked out by the whole thing…

SpellBound

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The opening of SpellBound (Estée Lauder 1991) is bright followed by sugary fruit and an unbelievably delectable spiciness, with hauntingly beautiful floral notes following the initial shout of cardamom.  On Frangrantica the note of narcissus isn’t listed as a dominant one, but on my skin it’s quite strong.  Carnation is also a strong note in SpellBound.  The drydown is a gentle bouquet with a bit less spice but a pleasant vetiver, muskiness emerges.  SpellBound is another well named fragrance…  It is a bit spellbinding actually…

Top notes: lemon, lily-of-the-valley, rose, apricot, fruity notes, and Brazilian rosewood.  Middle notes: carnation, tuberose, lily, orange blossom, jasmine, narcissus, heliotrope, and cardamom.  Base notes: cedar, vetiver, vanilla, civet, opoponax, musk, amber, benzoin and sandalwood.

Summer Breezes:  Part III of IV

That night I wear a strapless dress that accentuates my shoulders and neck and Meghan wears jeans and a t-shirt.  On the way out the door to the car, Chris, Meghan’s neighbor looks up at us from across the street as he’s doing some gardening and based on the look on his face I am quite sure we both look attractive.

When we arrive at the bar I stand up on my high-heeled feet and follow Meghan in quietly, observing as much as I can.  We find a booth and sit down.  It’s amazing how dark the place is inside, especially considering how light it still is outside.

I look around at the photos on the walls and the people sitting about.  A woman, close to our age, comes up to the table and asks if we want anything to eat.  We order two cosmopolitans and a plate of french fries.

In about five minutes two young men walk over to our table and ask if they can join us.  They’re both at least somewhat good-looking.  We decide to let them sit down.

“So where are you ladies from?”  The guy sitting next to Meghan asks this and I notice that while he’s posing the question to both of us Meghan’s immediate response is much more pleasing to him.  She answers with a sort of controlled glee, half wildly flashing her big blue eyes and thick lashes as she looks in his direction.  I’m silent, but I smile.

He shifts his body almost entirely toward Meghan.  They begin talking between themselves as the guy sitting next to me and I stare, silently watching their conversation.  At first, of course, we try to engage with them, but at some point it becomes totally futile.

I feel trapped and can’t stand it any longer.  I refuse to sit here for over ten minutes and just watch dispassionately as two people flirt with each other.  I glance over at the guy sitting next to me but he’s just staring blankly at Meghan with his mouth hanging slightly open.  I give up.

I announce rather suddenly but as politely as possible, “I need to use the restroom.”  Everyone seems slightly startled, as if I had just broken something valuable.  I turn my face and stare into the head of the guy sitting next to me, waiting for him to feel uncomfortable and realize he needs to get up so I can get out of our booth.  He eventually notices and very slowly, and awkwardly gets up and out-of-the-way.  I smile and announce, “Ok.  I’ll be back.”  As I walk away I can sense that nobody behind me is watching.  I turn around and confirm my suspicions, then find my way into the ladies room.

Ahh, the ladies room.  It’s strangely cool, smells amazingly clean and I notice that I’m the only one in there so I take a moment to check out my makeup.  Everything looks as I think it should so I check my clothes, wash my hands (why not) and then walk out the door toward the booth.  When I get closer I notice that only one person is sitting there and that it’s the guy I was sitting next to.  I take in his face and notice that it looks quite calm and complacent.  I sit down and successfully try to make eye-contact with him.

“Hey,”  I say after we exchange pleasant smiles.  He nods in response.  “So, umm, where did my friend go?”

“She left with my friend.”

“Got it.”

I feel uncool for feeling a bit hurt, but I do.   I don’t have a ride home now and it seems less than thoughtful to just leave without telling me. I look at my mostly unfinished cocktail in front of me and drink it down rather quickly.  Not much seems to happen. I’m intrigued.  “Hey, I have a question.” I get the guy’s attention.

“Shoot.”

It hits me that this guy is actually kind of nice to still be sitting here.  I mean, even if he’s staying for some purely selfish reasons, I’d like to think that he’s at least trying to be polite by still sitting here at this table and by doing so saving me some shred of dignity.  Maybe we’re saving each other’s dignity actually…

“If I ask you to buy me another drink will you expect me to have sex with you?”  Hearing the directness in my own tone leads me to wonder if that drink is affecting me more than I realize.

He smiles and laughs quietly to himself.  I’m pleased and relieved.  He seems slightly entertained.

“No.  I mean, no.  Why?  Do you want another drink?”

“Yes, actually.  This one barely did anything.”

“Ok.”  He summons the waitress over to our table and orders me a gin and tonic.

“What’s in a gin and tonic?” I ask.

He looks at me very confused for a moment before answering in a guarded manner that suggests he thinks I’m making fun of him, “Gin and tonic.  Just like the name says.”

“Right.  That was a stupid question.”

He nods for a split second before stopping himself and staring straight ahead.  He shrugs.

“You know I wasn’t making fun of you just now and I really am actually somewhat intelligent.  My IQ has been tested and it’s somewhere in the 130’s.  Well, with a margin of error one test said it was in the 120’s, and then another one said I was in the 130’s.  I like to think it’s actually in the 130’s.”  His eyes are glazed over.  He looks totally disinterested.  I don’t blame him.  I stop.

After almost finishing my drink without any strings attached, I ask him about himself and we talk about that for a while.  He seems to be a nice person.  He’s studying to be a teacher at a nearby school and he likes indie music.  Apparently he ordered me a gin and tonic because he thought it seemed like the right drink for me.  We almost seem like friendly acquaintances.  I say, “So, I have a question for you.”

“Sure.”

“You know, it seemed like you really liked my friend from the way you were looking at her.  I’m sorry if that’s true…  And I’m sorry if that’s not true too because I’m not trying to pry.”    He nods in affirmation and smiles a little before answering.

“Yeah, she was pretty hot.”

“She is really pretty.”  I try to figure out how to carefully word my next thoughts to get the right feeling across.  “You know, this is going to sound like I’m jealous or something, and I’m not.  I promise.  I’m just honestly confused.”  He smiles with a look of some intrigue crossing his bold features.

“So, I’m not trying to be weird, but I have to ask, why is it that you guys didn’t hit on me much at all?  Was it because I didn’t seem interested?  Was it because she’s just that much hotter than me?  And again, I’m not jealous.  I’m just trying to find out the truth.  Seriously.”  He seems slightly less surprised by this than I would have imagined.  He scratches his head for a second while blinking in contemplation.

“No.  I mean, you’re hot too actually.”  He says this in a ojective way and it makes me feel a bit better but I can tell he also has some sort of distant respect for me, almost as if I am separate somehow.  Untouchable.

“Some girls just flirt more,” he says in a casual, but pleasant way.  He continues, “See, guys think that there’s two kinds of girls. There’s the girls you want to fuck but not necessarily have a relationship with. The hotter the better in that case.  Then there’s the girls you might consider dating or marrying someday.  You’re clearly one of those girls.  And I’m not saying that guys wouldn’t want to sleep with you,”  he looks off and seems slightly taken by the thought for a quick second but collects himself before adding, “but you’re just not like that.  You’re smart too.  Anyone can see that.”

“Ok,” I said.  I thought about arguing the whole “madonna/whore” feminist critique of society but I didn’t want to embarrass him if he had no idea what I was talking about and if he did know that discussion I worried it could turn into an unpleasant debate I wasn’t particularly in the mood for so I just stayed silent, except I couldn’t stay completely silent so I added, “You know that’s incredibly limiting.  But thank you for being honest.”   His response was to shrug.

It all felt so utterly dull, but I wanted to both cry and punch something at the same time.  How could it be so stupid?  How could this be all there was?  Even if this was all there was just tonight, well, that was bad too… I looked at his face.  I studied his eyes and his body.  He wasn’t unattractive, but what was I supposed to do?  Throw myself at him?  The thought seemed pretty unappealing for countless reasons and furthermore, even if I did it and he was interested what exactly would happen?  An awkward nothing.  A totally big nothing because, regardless of my other scruples, I would be bored with the entire concept of “throwing myself at him” in seconds and I didn’t believe in boring myself.   I lived by that at my core for better or worse. Maybe he was right and I wasn’t “that kind of girl,” but I wasn’t the other either…  Anyway, whatever it truly meant to be “that sort of girl” and however much more fun they seemed to possibly be having I didn’t want to compromise my principles.  Everything would be so much more sad and lifeless without them.  They were there when no one else was.  But, really all of it, everything seemed off the mark.  And this place was ugly, and I was drunk and I just wanted to go home.

“Ok.  Well, I’m going to go now, I think.”

“Cool.  I’m going to go hang out with my friends standing over there by the dart board.”  I turn around to see where he’s pointing and find a group of people milling around a dart board near the bartender.  They all look like they’re having a pleasant time.

I stand up and realize that I feel a little shaky in my heels.  I steady myself on the back of my chair.  He stands up too and straightens out his shirt, glancing off towards his friends.  I pull out my cell phone for some reason.  It’s my security blanket, I suppose.  He smiles for a brief second in my direction and says, “Nice meeting you,” then he pauses before asking, “What was your name?”

“Ingrid.”

“Nice name.  I’m Pete.”  He shakes my hand.

I smile in response and then he’s off with a quick smile in response too, and a, “Have a nice rest of your night.”

I look around the bar.  I summon my strength and manage to walk towards the door without so much as a tiny stumble, grab the handle and open it enough to walk out.  As I’m walking out I realize how much the conversation I just had is still stinging me and when I’m outside I also realize it’s gotten late.  It’s totally dark, but the air feels delicious.  There’s a slight breeze and a gentle dampness in the air.

I walk towards the exit of the parking lot, and look around me.  It’s unclear to me which direction to walk in but for better or worse I’m intoxicated and slightly angry.  So, I pick the left way because it just feels like the way I’m supposed to be going.  I walk down the road for almost a block, trying to be on the correct side, stay as far off towards the trees as possible and yet avoid traffic.  Then it hits me that I’m all alone walking down a dark and unfamiliar road at night drunk and I start to cry, but I can’t.    A pain is within me and it feels truthful and haunting, but then I notice that I’m going off in the wrong direction, further away from town because I see a barn in the distance.  I consider calling someone on my phone but there’s no one to call.  I feel that pain again and then I run across the road after looking both ways and head back in the other direction.

I walk about half a mile before my feet start to really hurt.  I’m developing blisters.  I look down at the pavement and consider taking off my shoes.  I take off one shoe and test the ground with my foot.  It’s cool and surprisingly comfortable compared to my shoes.  I take off both shoes.  I start walking.  Not terrible.  I mean, there’s twigs and rocks everywhere that sort of hurt, but it’s not bad and it’s better than walking in heels with blisters.

After another half a mile I am starting to enjoy myself.  I stare up at the sky and see stars everywhere. They’re stunning and combined with the moon I can see almost everything around me.  It’s a big, warm, gentle moon.  I keep walking, noticing that the breeze has kept any insects away, although the sound of crickets is loud and merry.

When I finally reach my neighborhood after about 45 minutes I feel a mixture relief and sadness because it occurs to me that this night air, the moon and the stars are the best part of my day and I don’t want to go inside.  I want to stay with them.

I find my front lawn and the grass feels cool, wet and fantastic on my bare feet.  I look up into the sky, feel a bit dizzy, and can almost imagine that I feel the Earth spinning under it all but I’m also still tipsy.  It feels lovely.  I throw myself back against the ground and lay looking upwards at the stars and smile. I feel almost happy for the first time in weeks.

It’s been interesting walking around St. Paul (where we’ve lived) without a wedding ring with my son.  I did that yesterday for a few blocks (I actually can’t find my ring) and it was painful and weird.

I love where I’ve lived, but people really do treat you differently when you’re wearing a ring here apparently. Growing up here I never fit in and could hardly wait to leave, but I recently I had felt less awkward living here with my husband and I thought it was just a change of perspective on my part, but maybe not…   At one point a random guy on a bicycle seemed to be checking me out but then he seemed to gather that I had a son and when he got closer (and presumably saw that I wasn’t wearing a ring) he seemed to suddenly look very stuffy and almost disdainful.  Yes, I can almost guess what you’re thinking – it’s all in my head.  No!!  I’m telling you, it’s not…  When I wear my ring men look at me with a certain detachment but strangely seem more comfortable “checking me out” than otherwise and I find that repulsive frankly (sorry if you’re a guy reading this who does that – not trying to judge you).  I mean, seriously, is it “safe” to look if I belong to someone else?  Are people being really sleazy/stupid and it makes me seem more desirable?  Does it make me seem more valuable if I have a metaphorical “stamp” of another man on my hand?  Grr!  Sadly, it’s enough to make me want to wear a ring even if I’m divorced someday just to avoid the emotional nonsense (not to attract people though of course)…  Yet, if a potential positive suitor in that scenario saw the ring and viewed it as a deterrent then that could be a problem…  And, I mean, sure, I should be strong in that case and not wear one I suppose.  Right now I can wear one still technically, but if I was divorced it would just be totally lying essentially I think.

People can so snobby in their own unique way here.  I guess that’s something I won’t miss about this area. For as long as I can remember the culture here is such that it’s very “liberal” in many ways, but some traditions are still very important.  People have a mix of many perspectives that could seem contradictory to some but here in Minnesota aren’t.  For example, people wouldn’t reject a couple for being gay in any way based on their sexual orientation but that couple would need to be in a serious committed relationship, have “nice” jobs, live in the suburbs with at least one “nice” car (preferably two), wear “nice” clothes, be members of some “nice” protestant church, send their kids (they would be expected to have kids if they were married) to the best local schools and smile brightly in all their family photos, which should ideally be sent out every winter around Christmas, although the cards should only be labeled “Seasons Greetings” regardless of the fact that they identify as Christians and only have one or two friends who are of another religion or are atheists. But we’re not the stereotypical American “liberal elitists” either, just to clarify.  Oh no…  No, no, no!  People here aren’t supposed to be anything that diverges from perfectly “nice” (too “nice” is bad too).  It’s important to be in the middle (ok, middle left politically), to be friendly, but not too friendly and of course be well off, but not really wealthy (despite how very impressed people here might be, for the majority of Minnesotans you are automatically suspect and very potentially not “down to earth enough”).  That being said, it’s a very pleasant place to live in many ways, but walking around yesterday reminded me of how little I fit in on my own. Maybe that was a good thing to be reminded of (and no I’m not just playing games in my head to feel better about leaving).

Anyway…

🙂

Le De

J

Le De is fresh, elegant and strong but unassuming (Givenchy 1957).  The ethereal beauty of an assertive tarragon, a slightly quieter but still present coriander, mandarin orange, brazilian rosewood and orris root feels formal but down to earth.  Floral notes lace about and bring a clear beauty, while warm base notes keep the scent mellow and gentle.  This is one of those rare fragrances that I think most people would agree is appropriate for almost any occasion.  And the drydown is surprisingly complex and poignant.  Le De is an unusual beauty…

Top notes: coriander, mandarin orange, tarragon, bergamot and brazilian rosewood.  Middle notes: carnation, lilac, orris root, jasmine, ylang-ylang, lily-of-the-valley and rose.  Base notes: sandalwood, amber, musk, oakmoss and guaiac wood.
Summer Breezes: Part II of IV

Sarah and I walk around the neighborhood at lunch.  We talk about what she is going to do.

“You need to tell your parents.”

“I’m scared to.”

I knew that Sarah had experienced serious, life-threatening medical problems due to her drug use, even at 19…  I didn’t want her to die.  And, she had confided in me.

“If you don’t tell your parents I will,” I announced matter of factly.

She burst out laughing.  At first I thought she was angry, but then I realized that she was genuinely amused.

“I’m sorry, but I will.  I really think they should know.” I tried to remain calm, but resolute.

She drew her face back into a sort of genuine seriousness.  “I will.  I’m just scared. But,” and her gaze drifted off into some far off place where she kept her heart, “I’m just amazed that someone would care enough to threaten to tell them.”  Then she refocused back into the present and looked a slight bit agitated as she said, “I’m also a bit scared of you now.”  She laughed and then settled into a smile.

I didn’t drop the conversation until Sarah promised she would tell her parents.  I hoped she actually would.  I didn’t really know them.

The afternoon is slow.  Our new supervisor is mostly keeping to himself after his rather dramatic introduction earlier that day.  Sarah and Meghan are painting in a bedroom listening to a music station on Pandora.  Justin is by himself in the living room painting. Trevor is in the hallway sanding and I’m in a bathroom spackling.

The door to the bathroom opens.  I look in the mirror to see who it is and discover that it’s Trevor.  His frame fills the half-open door.

“Hey, Trevor.”  I try to sound friendly.

“Hey.”  He walks through the door and closes it behind him.  Then he sits down on the bathroom floor, stretches out his legs, rests his head against the wall, shuts his eyes and breathes deeply.  “How’s it going in here?’

“Ok.”  Again, I try to sound friendly.  “I’m almost finished spackling this entire bathroom.”

He opens his eyes and looks around. “Yeah, this looks pretty good.  You missed one hole above the sink though.”  He raises his hand and points toward the hole.  I move toward the sink with my bucket of spackle.  He rises and stands quite close to me, resting against a wall next to the sink.

“So, do you have a boyfriend?”

“No. You have a girlfriend.  Right?”

“Yes.  I do.”  His posture shifts and he stares blankly in the direction of the shower.  “Emily.”

“How is that going?”

“Good. Good…”  He sounds quite disingenuously nonchalant.  He moves over to the wall on the other side of the bathroom, near the window.  “We met at a party.  I walked up to her and told her that she looked like she was full of light but that she was hiding inside of herself.”

“What a beautiful thing to say.”

He looks pensive for moment before responding.  “I don’t know though.”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, to me, life is all about knowing other people as much as you can.  And that’s the problem.  When you’re with someone you can’t really get to know other people.”  His voice trails off as he finds my eyes with his and proceeds to give me a smouldering glare.

I find his rich, sensuous eyes rather penetrating, but I am also repulsed by it.  How dare he flirt with me when he has a girlfriend.  If she only knew.  I find myself experiencing an odd combination of longing and righteous anger.  I turn away from him entirely, and quite coldly.

“That must be really difficult for you.  You poor thing,” I say in a mocking tone.

I can feel his eyes as they stare at me and I’m quite sure he senses my anger.  I suspect he knows from where it derives.

“Well, it is, but at the same time,”  he closes in on me, standing behind me as he continues, “I feel like kind of a slut sometimes.”

“Oh really?  How so?”  Taken aback by his candor, I turn to face him briefly, looking up at his face as I wait for a response.

“Well, when you’ve been with as many people as I have you sort of start to feel like a slut.”  He looks me in the eyes confrontationally with a mixture of self-loathing and genuine angst.  Then, he looks down and it seems as though he might start to cry.  I’m a bit shocked. I falter for a moment.

“But isn’t it different for a guy?  Don’t you feel cool or something?” I try to find words to make him feel better.  I wasn’t trying to make him cry.

Trevor’s body seems to go into a half collapse as he rests languidly against the door frame, “No, it’s actually not…  Not for me anyway.   I know people say that it’s good for a man to be experienced, but really, you just feel kind of…  cheap and dirty.”  His beautifully self-aware eyes are covered with an ironic sadness.

“I’m sorry Trevor.”  He looks down at his feet for almost a minute silently.

“Yeah,” he suddenly says, never looking up, and with a sigh as he opens the door to leave.  “I’m going to go check on Justin.”

Later that day I walk down the street toward home after the day is over when Trevor starts trailing behind me.  He comes up next to me and as we’re walking together he peels off his paint covered shirt.  I wonder if it’s just me or if he’s trying to start something again.  I’m confused.

We talk casually and walk for about five minutes before Meghan runs up behind us and joins our conversation.  It’s decided that Meghan and I are going to go out for drinks at a local bar that evening.   Both of us have never tried vodka and we decide to go have cocktails and discuss our lives in imitation of the popular show at the time, “Sex and The City.”

“Just be careful,” says Trevor.

“What do you mean?”

“If a guy tries to give you a drink don’t accept it and think that he won’t expect something.”  He looks at me and with a look that seems to resemble lust and takes in my entire face, before adding, “Have fun, but just be careful.”

“Good advice,”  I say as dryly as possible, refusing to finally meet his glances.

Trevor walks away from us in the direction of his house two blocks away and Meghan and I head toward my house where we’ll get dressed for our night out.  “You know, our new boss Brian did the weirdest thing today.”  Meghan sounds a little disturbed.

“What happened?”

“He told me that his ex-wife, who hates him apparently, haunts him in his sleep.”

“What?”

“Yeah, he said that she’ll sometimes wake up the dog in the middle of the night and he barks for hours.  And then sometimes she tickles his face until he wakes up too.”

“Wait.  She’s dead?”

“Well, I think so.”

“So is she dead or not?”

“Yes. She’s dead…”  Meghan is filled with a sort of compassion.

“And he was being serious?”

“Yes, I think so.”

“Huh.  That’s…  interesting.”

“Yes.”

“I hope he’s ok.”

“I hope so too.”

“Hey, not to change the subject, but should we order a pizza before we go out?”

“That sounds like a marvelous idea.”

Sand and Sable

2015-06-12 17.45.28Thick, bold jasmine, tuberose and gardenia rip off the skin and come at you with Sand and Sable (Coty 1981).  However, despite its inherent demonstrative quality, Sand and Sable is far from shrill.  In fact, although the typically warm notes of sandalwood or the like aren’t listed it’s incredibly cozy.

Sillage of this scent of the 80’s is moderate.  Longevity is moderate as well.

Notes: tuberose, gardenia, jasmine, rose, green notes and peach.

Summer Breezes: Part I of IV

A bright summer sun filled the cerulean sky with an almost crass cheerfulness.  I felt very awkward.  First of all, sunny mornings always seemed strange to me.   They held the promise of something I doubted I would ever fully be a part of. Mornings were for people who had schedules for everything.  People who loved mornings were the same people who followed rules prodigiously with the intention of arriving at some sort of greatness.  They got faithfully out of bed at about the same time everyday, drank their coffee, took their showers and got on with it all.  I admired those people.  I was not, however, one of them.

That summer I had to get up early every morning whether it came naturally or not.  I was working on a paint crew with six other people including one supervisor and never having painted before I was nervous.  I also wondered if I would fit in with the other workers.  I was generally what many would describe as a “girly girl” and the thought of doing physical labor struck me as being potentially outside of my comfort zone.  I suspected my co-workers might wonder why I was doing the job instead of something more “typical” for someone like me and make fun of me.  I wouldn’t fit in, I suspected.  But then again, I didn’t exactly fit in with most “crowds.”

The paint crew was, surprisingly, made up of three females and two guys.  We all said hello to each other and after a quick instructional demonstration by another painter, we put on gloves and masks and started the process of sanding the walls to prepare for the next step in the process – spackling.  And after spackling was primer.  After primer came paint.  The first day would just consist of sanding.

Among the girls there was an almost instant camaraderie.  Sarah, two years younger than me (I was 22), really seemed an automatic friend and Meghan, my age, was also very easy to get a long with.  I wasn’t uncomfortable at all.

Then there were Trevor and Justin.  Trevor and Justin were both 21.  Justin had dark brown hair and green eyes.  He seemed nice enough.  Trevor was an artist.  He did drawings.  Trevor was rugged with naturally tan skin, deep brown eyes and thick dark hair.

Like I was saying, Sarah and I were almost instant friends.  We talked almost constantly the first three days and Meghan joined in occasionally.  Meghan and I discovered that we lived near each other and after the third day we decided to hang out and order a pizza after work.

“I don’t know.  I’m very quiet.”  Meghan spoke those last words carefully, as if she was trying to hint at something she didn’t quite have the courage to admit just yet.

“I am too,” I replied, trying to show empathy.

“What do you suppose it’s like to be a really outgoing person?”  Meghan leaned back and laid on the floor of my living room, staring up at the ceiling with a quizzical look on her pretty face.  Her arms were held behind her resting head.

“I don’t know.  I wish I was more like Sarah.  She seems so confident.”

“Really?  She doesn’t actually seem that confident to me.  She seems like she’s just trying to act confident.”  Meghan and I are both quiet for a second before she continues. “I mean, I really like Sarah.  I’m just not sure she’s exactly the most confident person I’ve ever met.”

I stared at the box of warm, cheesy pizza on the floor nearby and suddenly felt sick to my stomach. I had clearly eaten too much already.  I grabbed one more piece.

The next day at work Sarah and I started talking about our childhoods as we painted together on the same wall and I discovered that she was a recovering drug addict.  Her freckles and sensitive, bright blue eyes were filled with emotion and love as she talked about her father, a brilliant author of some critical acclaim and how his cancer scare had given way to her fears about the meaning of life.  I remembered her father from a speech he had given once at our high school about creative writing.  He was also on the local news and in the paper from time to time for his upcoming book releases.  Just as Sarah started telling me more about her life in junior high, when she started drinking heavily, Trevor walked in the room.

“Hey ladies!”  He sounded a bit cavalier as he lifted up a brush and started painting our wall with us.

“Hey sweet baby!”  Sarah laughed, glanced quickly at me, and was clearly joking, but it caught everyone off guard.  I loved it.  Trevor, however, was a little deflated.

“Nice.  Very nice mademoiselle.”  Trevor bowed to Sarah and then quickly shot back an air of confidence in our direction.

We turned on the radio and worked for about an hour before going on break.  During break it was decided that we would all get in the back of a pick-up truck and ride the mile down the street from our job to the local convenience store to buy various beverages and snacks.  We all lined up behind the truck. Sarah and Meghan got in the back of the truck first. Their friendly laughs filled the air and I suddenly wished I could be up there talking with them.  It had been a year or two since I had close female friends and it seemed possible that this summer I might have good friends again.

“Hey!’  Trevor reached down his hand to lift me into the back of the truck.  He had helped Sarah and Meghan get in and I watched him do it, but with me it felt different.  I couldn’t exactly explain why.

I grabbed his hand and he wrapped his arm around me, pulling me into the truck and I suddenly felt an odd sexual tension between us.  It left me slightly surprised.  He noticed.  I made my way back towards Sarah and Meghan.  He watched.

After Justin and Trevor sat down the truck started to move slowly.  The wind blew in our faces and the sun hit us in between the trees.

“So what do you guys think about painting so far?”  Justin broke out of the silence.  I wondered what prompted his sudden desire to talk.  We had all been so relaxed and quiet, but I sensed he meant well.  I sensed he was the type of person who generally always meant well.

“I’m getting the hang of it I think.”  Trevor answered with a sweetness that surprised me.  I could tell that he wanted to try to be friendly to Justin in a sincere sort of way.

“Yeah, me too,”  Sarah chimed in.  Then she glanced over at me and smiled knowingly.  “What about you?”  I wondered if I was the only one who was as disturbed as I thought we all had been by the break in the peaceful quiet.

“Ummm.  I guess I’m figuring it out too I guess.”  Everyone looked at me intently and then away.  I felt a bit stupid.

Justin suddenly laughed a very loud, hearty laugh and then said, “Man, I wish my fiance was here to see this.  She would be so proud of me for riding in the back of a truck.”

“Oh yeah?  Why is that?”  Trevor asked.

Justin shook his head, “I’m super safety conscious.  I always wear a seatbelt.”  We hit a large bump and all flew around the bed of the truck just as Justin finished his sentence.  Even though it was nearly impossible, I thought it almost seemed as if he had timed it on purpose and perhaps we all thought that because everyone stopped and looked a bit existential.

“My girlfriend is always teasing me about things too.”  Trevor laughed.

“Oh yeah?  How long have you guys been dating?”  asked Justin.

“About two years.  We met at a party in my hometown.”

“Oh yeah?  Where are you from?”

“I’m from just outside of Baltimore.”

“Oh!  Oh!  I have family just outside of Baltimore!”  Meghan spoke in a bright, energetic tone that startled everyone.

“Wow!”  Trevor smiled teasingly.  “You really have a lot of enthusiasm about the area outside of Baltimore, Meghan.”

She giggled loudly in response before saying,  “Oh, I love that area.”

We all sat in awkward silence now.  Trevor pulled out a sketch pad from his pocket and a pencil.  He looked over at me straight in the eyes and gave me a look I couldn’t decipher.  Then he started sketching something.  I wondered why he was drawing me, if he was.  He met my eyes again and gave me a flirtatious gaze before looking back down at his drawing.

The rest of the day seemed generally uneventful, but the next morning I walked to our regular location and found Sarah sitting on the curb with a hood pulled up tightly around her face.  It was the summer, but there she sat wearing a sweatshirt. It was pulled so tightly that all I could see was her nose.

“Hey, Sarah,” I said cautiously.

She opened her hood slightly and glanced up for a second before throwing her forhead on my shoulder and saying, “I’m in trouble.”

“What do you mean?”  I asked.

“Umm..” She laughed as if she had a funny secret.  Then she lifted her head and began bouncing her legs up and down and staring at the pavement ahead.  “I went to a party last night.  And… I used…”

“You did drugs?”

She nodded.  “I haven’t told anyone else yet.  I’m too scared.  Well, except everyone who was at the party last night of course.”

I didn’t know what to say.  I had never been friends with a drug addict before.  I worried I would handle the moment poorly, but decidedly responded by saying, “It’ll be ok.  We’ll talk about it and I’m sure you’ll figure something out.”  She nodded again and then said, “Ok.  I’m just so scared.”  I gave her a hug. Then we made our way inside.

All of the painters stood silently as a man with a baseball hat standing next to Mike, the owner of the painting company, waved in our direction.  He was likely the supervisor we had been promised at the start of the summer three weeks ago. He was short, in his fifties, and plump and he seemed unusually jovial for such a moment.

“Ok, guys,”  said Mike. “This is Brian. He’s going to be your supervisor for the rest of the summer.”  Brian did a little dance and shook his behind in our direction before saying, “Hey, party crew!”  Mike didn’t seem surprised by this behavior but all of us were taken aback.  But Brian didn’t stop there.  “I’m Brian, a.k.a your supervisor, a.k.a your royal hotness.”

Sarah took her hood up from her shoulders and pulled it tightly so that, once more, only her nose was visible.

—-

I had a good conversation with a friend last night.  I realized that my selfies are tricky in part because my face, and my eyes in particular, often betray a lot of emotion.  People don’t want to see that much of you perhaps…   Although I’m quite complex, a bit hard to get to know and even private, I’m quite honest and it’s written on my face.

Then we talked about sex and I came to realize how unusual my views maybe are…

Among the many opinions about sex out there, there is the notion that it’s possible to have sex without it “meaning” anything…  And while some people of religious persuasion might argue that it is wrong to have “meaningless” sex outside of marriage or even “meaningless” sex at all (non pro-creative etc.) they would still believe that “meaningless” sex is possible.

I cheerfully disagree…

I think that sex is inherently meaningful and that the phrase “having sex” itself is an awkward way to describe an act that is a lot more profound than that rather crass phrase allows…  Do I sound like a prude?  I’m actually not…  I think there’s likely even sex in heaven – a belief many Christians (my faith) do not have.

Where does this “meaning” come from?  Well, it’s simple and complicated at the same time I think.  First, I believe our bodies and souls aren’t separated (and that we have souls).  And when people are “having sex” it’s inherently going to incorporate all aspects of our being.  And, even without the given existence of souls, we are emotional creatures.  How could we do anything without some emotion being involved?  Emotions have “meaning”  attached to them of some sort… Even if the emotion wasn’t that great or powerful, or deep, or profound, or even pleasant it still meant something.

And here’s where I’m likely to make the most enemies…  I think lust in the way we perceive it doesn’t even exist.  Yes. Exist.

Now wait, before you call me an idiot or crazy, hear me out.  Lust is emotional in a human (we’re emotional).   Again, all of us, men included (although they seem to often be stupidly taught to believe otherwise and encouraged to be) have emotions.  And before you say, oh it’s just an “animal” instinct, well…  umm…  yeah.  So?  Animals have feelings.

But wait some people might say, “I’ve had meaningless sex.”  They sometimes will cite a passionate encounter between to bodies without anyone feeling “in love.”  But, I contend that even when people have lusty, passionate sex it still “means” something.  Those people are connecting with their bodies, and a.  if our entire beings are to be taken as a whole our body links to our entire person (emotions, spirit, etc)…  and b.  a physical connection is not just some small thing.  It’s often said that men are more visual in their sexuality and women are more emotional.  Whether or not that’s even true lets just assume it is for the sake of argument. An emotional attachment is often considered part and parcel with love…   Why not the physical?  Why are men allowed out of the “love trap” with the loophole of it “just being physical?”  What if lust and love aren’t actually different?  I know plenty of women who find a particular man emotionally attractive enough to sleep with him but not physically all that great.  I know plenty of men who find a woman physically attractive but not emotionally all that great…  Why aren’t those two sides of the same thing?  Women need to find a man physically attractive just as much as men need to find a woman emotionally attractive to feel truly “in love.”  But, it’s all part of the same thing.  So, lusty sex is no less meaningful than emotionally driven sex without a lot of “heat,”  And, I would argue, the best “sex” has both…  Plus, I’ve met many women who have “fallen in love” with a man’s body because of the emotional side of the relationship and men who have seemingly “fallen in love” with a woman because they couldn’t get past her beauty.

So even if it was “just physical” it still meant something…   I think it meant you were physically in love or falling in love even if just for a time, or otherwise known as being in lust.  Still meaningful.  Not necessarily deep or fulfilling…

Now how does this affect my views of how one should have or not have sex ideally… well… that’s a different rant.  Ha!

Anyway…  just my scattered, random thoughts.

Until tomorrow. 🙂

Angel

2015-03-21 14.52.26 (2)

(Thierry Mugler 1992)

2015-03-21 14.52.15 (2)

Angel by Thierry Mugler starts with a sweet, sharp burst (Thierry Mugler 1992).  It’s a gourmand.  Well, it’s the gourmand actually…  But it’s not a sugary sweet fagrance without depth by any stretch of the imagination.

Notes of honey, peach, red berries, tonka bean, dark chocolate and caramel are bold and yet not cloying or obvious. There’s something almost melancholy about Angel actually…  As if it’s a sweet memory and not the present.

At any rate, Angel is a lovely scent…   Sillage and longevity are both moderate.

Top notes: melon, coconut, mandarin orange, cassia, jasmine, bergamot and cotton candy.  Middle notes: honey, apricot, blackberry, plum, orchid, peach, jasmine, lily-of-the-valley, red berries and rose.  Base notes: tonka bean, amber, patchouli, musk, vanilla, dark chocolate and caramel.

2015-03-21 14.52.01 (2)

Coquette: Part IV of IV

Not knowing what to make of the sudden gush of emotions I felt I called my mother.  Or, I tried to call my mother.  I reached my father instead.

“What!?  That young man I met at the train station?  What does he even do for a living?”

“Yes.  He says he owns his own record company.”

Silence.

“Oh don’t believe him.  I highly doubt he does.  Boys will just say stuff like that to get what they want.  They’ll make up anything.”  To my father Tony was beneath me and I couldn’t figure out why.  I liked him, even if he was a bit scary in a wonderful sort of way.

“Dad, I don’t think you’re right.”

“Oh, I know I am.”  He paused.  “They’ll say anything.  I bet he’s not a record producer, or whatever it was you said, at all. He probably works at McDonalds.  He saw that you had a nice father, came from a nice family and that you’re cute.  He saw a good opportunity and decided to take it.”

I trusted my father.  I felt crushed, but I trusted my father.

“Listen, what is it that you want, Becky?”  I was quiet as I thought about it.

“I just want to experience life, dad.   I just want to be kissed and fall in love and…”

“Then if that’s what you want, you should just go out with Patrick.  You should just go make-out with him if you have to.  Or are you afraid it would go too far?”

“No.  I’m certainly not afraid of that at all, dad…”  I rolled my eyes.

“Ok.  Well, then you should do that.”

The crass nature of my father’s words struck me as hurtful and humiliating.  For the rest of the morning I felt sick…

However, Tony was too close for comfort.  I had to be myself with him and for once I knew what all those questions felt like – the ones I asked that made other people squirm.  I felt scared of something I couldn’t control.  I was overwhelmed with emotion and that was a very uncommon experience for me because despite the vastness of my emotional terrain I always maintained a firm hand.  I always kept it all neat.  Nobody had ever challenged my supremacy over my own mind or had ever struck me as unpredictable as Tony seemed, and we had only just met.  It was lovely but disorienting.

And then my father told me he was a liar.  A liar.  I was possibly falling in love with a liar..  I hated being lied to.  I wasn’t going to get desperately hurt and be a fool for an ordinary, common liar.

“Hello, Tony.”  His voice sounded shaky and sensitive in response.  I immediately felt guilty.  It seemed I was getting it all wrong in some way.  I grew even more scared as I continued, “I just need to tell you that it was nice to meet you last night and I really enjoyed talking with you but I don’t think I can ever talk to you again.  I’m sorry.  And please don’t contact me ever again either.”

But-

“I know.  I’m sorry.  It probably seems weird.  I just feel like I over-expressed myself with you the last night and I’m not used to that sort of thing.  It was a little too much for me.  I’m sorry.”

He sighed before saying, “Ok.  I can’t even email you?”

“No. Nothing.” I answered coldly because I had made up my mind.

“Fine.   Have it as you wish.”  He spat the words and then continued with a much more sincere tone, “But before I leave you alone I want you to know that I was so excited to have had the chance to meet you.  I’m sorry you’ve made the decision you have.”  Then with more anger,  “I’m even more sorry to say that I know you’re going to live to regret it.”  I felt indignant but I knew he was likely right.   He changed his tone to one of resignation.  “Ok.  I won’t talk to you again. Bye.”

I’d made a mistake, but without any experience to turn to for answers, and with a terrible fear of something I couldn’t put words to but knew was, in fact, a character flaw on my part, I couldn’t turn back.  It was all so strange and I honestly couldn’t sort it out.  That never happened to me.

A month later I got a call on my cell phone in the middle of the night.  I answered and heard a bunch of people screaming expletives at me.  They were clearly drunk and I knew what it was about the moment I hung up the phone.  I hated myself a bit and I generally never hate anyone.

Later that same day I had a violin lesson.  Dr. Richely was quieter than usual, except for one comment he made about the richness of my tone.  He said my playing had a lot of added depth.

On the way back to my dorm room Del found me.  She ran up to me, bubbly and cheerful. “So are you going to go to the Honor’s dance next weekend?  I’m going!  Chris finally broke up with his girlfriend over the weekend!”  She paused, looked at me with energy in her eyes and smiled brightly.  “I’m so excited,” she said, jumping up and down and pronouncing every word with emphasis.

“Oh my gosh!  You guys are going to have so much fun.”  I tried to sound enthusiastic.

“I know!”

“So.”  She made a cute face, still beaming, “Did you know that Lenny broke up with Jackie too?”

“No, I didn’t actually.”  A sinking, unpleasant feeling was gnawing at me.

“Yeah.  You need to go.  You should ask Lenny.”  It almost sounded like a command.

“We’ll see…”  I try to smile to be friendly.

“Ok…” She looks slightly bored with my response before announcing, “Well, I’m going to go to lunch.”

I wanted to be alone and I wanted to scream.  I wanted to cry.  But I knew I would likely just find myself sitting quietly, listening to music doing nothing but staring.

“I’m just going to go back to my room and sit and maybe read for a while.”

“Ok!  Have fun with that.”  Then she was off with a skip.

We parted.  The ground beneath me felt as if it was moving in a funny way.  An empty ache filled me.  I saw a tiny bird walk across my path and I suddenly felt terrible for that bird.  Who was taking care of that bird?  How had it made it through the winter?   I cried a bit, looked around and realized that nobody, thankfully, had seen me.   I started walking and tried to reason through my feelings as I headed back to my room.

When I reached my dorm I heard music playing from someone’s car radio.  I saw a couple happily throwing around a frisbee.  I saw the lights on in the hallway through the windows and everything that had almost been articulated in my mind on my walk back, everything that had almost made my mind less foggy suddenly left me.  I wanted to retrieve it, but it was gone.  A vague, numb sadness was there instead.

“Oh, Becky!” Sam found me just as she was walking out the front door.  “Do you want to come with us to lunch?”  She was smiling warmly and I needed warmth.

“Sure.  That sounds great.”  I said flatly with a forced smile.   It honestly did sound nice though.  So, I went to lunch.

Magie Noire

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According to Fragrantica, Magie Noire (Lancôme 1978) is a “figure eight” fragrance that ends where it begins, not conforming to the regular pattern scents make with their respective top, middle and base notes.  On my skin, Magie Noire “opens” with a wild, green, sensual, galbanum, bergamot, cedar, sandalwood, spicy, amber, patchouli, musk, incense, oakmoss and civet dance.  So, I yes, this is definitely a “figure eight” wonder….  Honestly, other than Rochas Femme, I’ve never smelled something so “naughty” and nice.  And, this oriental is almost unreal in the way it plays out on the skin…  Linear is certainly not  a word that would ever be within a thousand miles of Magie Noire.

Besides being one the most beautiful scents I’ve ever smelled, to my estimation, Magie Noire is a study in the art of the oriental fragrance – the mood it creates – the way it uses skin chemistry to give off just the right sort of zing.  If you are ever fortunate enough to find some vintage Magie Noire please sieze the opportunity.

Top notes: Cassia, cassis, galbanum, raspberry, hyacinth, Bulgarian rose, and bergamot.  Middle notes: orris root, honey, tuberose, jasmine, ylang ylang, narcissus, lily-of-the-valley, and cedar.  Base notes: sandalwood, spices, amber, patchouli, musk, incense, myrrh, vetiver, oakmoss and civet.  

Coquette : Part I of IV

I started playing the violin when I was ten years old and I took lessons until I was in college.  Sometimes in high school orchestra I fancied becoming a professional violinist.  It was a lovely thought and that was about it.

My first roommate in college was a violist.  Her name was Samantha.   We often confided in each other about life and even though we were both in the college orchestra there wasn’t any competition between us because we were in different sections.   It was perfect.

My freshman year I had one other close friend named Delilah, Del for short.   She was an English major and she decided we should be best friends during a fire drill one night in early September.  All the students in our dorm were supposed to report to the front of the building by the bike path and that’s when Del started a conversation.

Del was a daredevil in a way and not at all at the same time.  Sometimes she would say or do things that seemed a little dangerous, like breaking into the library to return a book and avoid getting a late fee, but other times she seemed afraid to let people get too close to her.  She stopped short in sentences and held back pieces of personal information so there was always something missing – something to keep people just far enough away.

Del told me she was in love with a guy named Chris who we both knew was dating someone else, but Del and Chris were seeing each other behind his girlfriend’s back.  I asked Del why she thought that was a good idea.  She told me that they were in love but that he didn’t want to break up with his girlfriend, Lisa, because her grandmother had just died.  Then she quickly changed the topic.

“Have you ever had sex?”  she asked me.

“No.  I haven’t.  I’ve never even been kissed,”  I admitted.  Although at 18 years old it was a little embarrassing to admit to never having been kissed I decided it was more depressing than embarrassing and somehow in that mirth my potential embarrassment seemed dwarfed.

“Haven’t you ever had a boyfriend?”

“No.”

“You’re a really pretty girl.  I mean seriously.  You are…”  I could tell she was searching me for what was wrong by the combination of her squinted face and big eyes.

“Do you ever think about sex?”

“Yes. I do…”

Her pretty pale face lit up with an expression of sudden insight, as if she had just found “it,” “Wait, so are you straight, bi or a lesbian?”

“I’m straight,”  I answered with some irritation, fully knowing where she was headed with her question.

Her face zeroed in on mine and then she said, “You’re one of those crazy Christian chicks aren’t you?!  You must be really sexually frustrated.”

“Yeah, I am a Christian.  I’m not sure I’m crazy…  But…”

I didn’t have the will to really explain without further provocation and she seemingly didn’t have the genuine interest.   I was in fact a Christian and I doubted we would ever fully understand each other and I wasn’t in the mood to try.

“I suppose I could teach you how to kiss, but that would just be too ‘Cruel Intentions,'”  She said, now appearing to feel awkward.   I had been feeling awkward for a while in our conversation.   I wondered what finally tipped the scale for her. Then she asked, “So, do you have a crush on anyone?”

“I do actually,” I said.  “I have a crush on a guy I met through my friends in the orchestra.”

“Oh, what’s his name?”  She smiled brightly.

“Lenny.”

“Lenny?!  Nice!”  She looks away, then adds, “You know, I’ve heard some weird crap about the orchestra conductor.  Isn’t he, like, really awkward?”

I was perplexed but as a perpetual teacher’s pet it didn’t surprise me one bit.  I was often completely blind to the shortcomings of all my teachers and they returned the favor often enough.  Thoughts of my orchestra conductor, Dr. Stewart Richely, smiling with a bizarre grin and freakishly big, bulging eyes formed in my mind.  This was the best approximation of an awkward Dr. Richely image I could concoct in my head to test her impression against mine.

“He’s not that weird actually” I responded.

She smirked.  “Well, I’ve heard rumors that he found his wife while he was vacationing in Venezuela and that she’s, like, oddly pretty.”

“Well, that’s good, I guess…”

“Yeah, I guess.  I dunno, he just seems so awkward.”

He was what one might consider a “dorky” sort of man, I suppose, but that very “dorkiness” easily segued into real sophistication and an unflinching intelligence on many occasions.  He wasn’t exactly tall, or muscular, or conventionally handsome, but he was very much a man and a sensitive looking one at that.  While I didn’t find myself attracted to him, his ability to capture his wife wasn’t a mystery in my estimation.  And, in fact, I wondered with suspicion why Del brought Dr. Stewart Richely up in the first place.

Our conversation ended much the way it started – suddenly.   We parted ways after exchanging a hug in the hallway to seal our new friendship.  But, our talk left me wondering.  Why had I never had a boyfriend?   The answer, unbeknownst to me at that time, was the same reason I didn’t and wouldn’t have a boyfriend my freshman, sophomore or junior year of college either…

Well, there were two reasons actually.  The first was reason was because I had one particular, special sort of man in mind for any potential romance and the second reason being that I didn’t realize I had one, particular, special sort of man in mind. I thought there were likely to be many men who fit the ideal I had.   I didn’t even realize it was an ideal.  I thought it was just a sort of man and that there were likely to be many of them walking around, living, etc. I set myself up for failure right from the start.

I was the sort of female who fell for deep soulful gazes and the kind of things most guys I knew found utterly boring, annoying, or just missed entirely.   However, as I said before, I didn’t know that.   So, I waited, and waited for something to happen to no avail except on one occasion when I was angry, bored and a little curious.

We were all sitting around at the dinner table in the dining hall.  Sam, Andy, Andy M., Megan, Jack, Emily, Jack’s girlfriend (I could never remember her name), and I were sitting there.  Andy M. was sitting across from me.

“I really love dessert the most.  I mean the rest of the meal is just leading up to it,”  Andy M. mused to the rest of the group. And even though I wasn’t in on the conversation directly I found myself saying coyly, heavy with suggestion, “You must really have a sweet tooth.”

“Yeah, I do actually.”  he said looking surprised – his face looked curiously intrigued by my coquettish manner.  I was taken aback but, out of intense curiosity I continued flirting in the most stupid, obvious ways I could think of.  It felt fake.  It felt degrading to his intelligence.  It was awful, but strangely he seemed happy.  He seemed even at ease.   I felt distant but at intervals excited, because for the first time I felt noticed for being a girl.  Our flirting continued until he started talking about us like we were an actual couple even though we’d never even been on one date and that’s about the time when I got scared and when he finally made his move.

“So, umm…  Since we’re all going to the dance on friday, I was wondering if you would like to go with me?”  He stood there brimming with a certain fiery anticipation.  His eyes were soft with genuine kindness.  I had never felt so wanted by a guy ever but I felt horrible because it was at that moment that I realized what a terrible thing I had done.  Even if the sort of flirting I was doing would work well to attract the opposite sex and was perfectly suitable for others, there was no way I would ever fall for someone who liked the sort of absurd subterfuge I had been pulling.  Ever.  I could never respect someone who couldn’t see it.

“Oh.  That’s so thoughtful, but I think I’m not going to go to the dance on Friday anyway.  Thanks though.  That’s really nice of you.  Really.  Thank you.”  I spoke these words directly, with what I hoped was warmth and a genuine appreciation for his sweetness.  And, in that moment of authenticity, even though he seemed somewhat disappointed he also seemed slightly repelled.  I was relieved.  I didn’t want to hurt him.   But it was also incredibly depressing.

After that I made a decision to never be “fake” again despite how effective it had been and there were no dates, although I did have one admirer who tried to convince me to come to his room in the middle of the night to see his teddy bear collection.  He was a Norwegian exchange student named Bjorn.  He claimed his name meant bear in Norwegian – hence his furry collection.   And there was another who tried to get me to come to his fraternity house in the middle of the night to “talk.”   But, of course, there was no Lenny.  He started dating Jackie.

I liked Jackie enough and after looking at her through an entire hour of cultural anthropology, I spent the rest of the day scheming up ways to change my face with makeup or wear just the right fitting clothes of the right color to attract guys, namely guys like Lenny.  I decided if I looked like Jackie I could find someone like Lenny.

During one private violin lesson with Dr. Richely I stood in front of the music stand, holding my violin, waiting for Dr. Richely to correct my posture or my grasp of the bow when I felt his eyes on me.  Then came the words, slowly, “Ok.  I’ve got to stop you for a second, Becky.  What I’m about to tell you, well, it’s the most important thing I’ll ever say.  If it’s the only thing you remember from all of our lessons then I’ll be content.”    I made a mental note to potentially remember this piece of information depending on how truly useful it seemed.  Albeit a dramatic opening he didn’t seem theatrical but instead very sincere.

“I dated a lot of women in my day and I could have married a lot of them.”  He raises his hand and continues as if he is swearing under oath, “Now, don’t get me wrong, they were all very nice women.  They were great people,”  he pauses quietly, bending his head down for a second perhaps to reflect on hearts he left broken in his path, possibly with some regret, “But I didn’t really love them.”  He lifts his head and with a look of reverence and intensity says, “When you find the real thing there’s nothing like it.  My wife is the love of my life and I’m very lucky that I waited for her.  Very lucky. You’re a very beautiful girl and I’m sure you’ll have a lot of chances to marry people too, but the moral of the story, the one thing I hope you never forget I’ve said is that it’s always best to wait.  Don’t marry someone unless it’s the real thing.”

Given the fact that I had been nodding the entire time he spoke at the end of his words I didn’t have to say very much, so instead I just uttered quietly, “Ok.  I will.”  I doubted I would have all of these opportunities he spoke of, but the intensity of emotion in his words seemed urgent.

“It’s the most important thing I can tell you.  More important than any of this stuff,”  he says this as he moves his hand in a gesture towards my violin, my music stand and probably the entirety of music history in general, as if it was all nothing compared to true love – his great love for his wife.   And then we continue our violin lesson as usual.

On one Thursday night in January, after winter break, Del came by my room with Chris.  They didn’t know where to go because everything was closed around town – it was really late.  Chris’ girlfriend was staying in his room for some reason, and Del’s roommate’s sister was staying in her room.  And, as it happened, Sam, my roommate was away for the weekend.

“Sure.  Ok.  You guys can hang out here,” I said as I stood by my door.  I paused for a second.  “So, you guys aren’t going to like make-out or something while I’m here though.  Right?”

“Oh.  No.”  Del seemed certain so I let them in.

We all sat around and ate microwave popcorn and talked until Del decided she had to go to the bathroom.

“So do you have a boyfriend?”  Chris asked, while searching the room as if he might find a man hidden away on a bookshelf or behind a desk or lamp.

“No.  I don’t.”

“Why not?  You should.”

“It’s complicated.”

“Ok?”

In a moment of epiphany it came out of me, “No.  It really is.  See men don’t like me at all if I act like myself. I’m too deep.  I ask questions nobody wants answers to.  I’m too painful to be around. But if I act like somebody else, men fall all over me. I can get anything I want out of them.  Anything.  But that’s meaningless and dehumanizing.  So basically, I’m just screwed. I suppose literally, if I wanted.”

“You really think you’re that deep?”  He looks skeptical.

“Yes. I am.  I could devour a lot of guys with my depth if I wanted.”

“No thanks.”

“Exactly.”

“But nobody wants to be devoured.  That’s just…”

“Unromantic?”

“No.  It’s weird.”

“Right.  And that’s the problem.  I’m not trying to devour anyone.  My mind just doesn’t stop wondering things, and often they end up being things people would rather not think about.  So when I try to get close to guys they just get scared away because it’s not attractive to think that deeply.”  I pause for a second and collect myself. “I mean, I completely understand. I probably wouldn’t like myself either in that way.”

“Ok. So let me get this straight.  Let’s see, ok, so if you were a guy you wouldn’t like yourself in that way, and yet you choose to be like that?”

“I’m not trying to be anything.  It’s just the way I am and I’m not going to lie to people, guys or not, and pretend to be otherwise if I’m trying to get close to them.”   I look at him.  His eyes shift to the side, as if he understands, and yet there’s hesitation in his gaze, indicating a reluctance to affirm that I am indeed not abnormal and warranting rejection.  Sensing this and quickly attempting to analyze what his qualms could be, I add, “See, I’m not thinking about crazy, weird disturbing things necessarily.  Just stuff that’s painful to think about.  I ask people questions like, ‘Why did your mom leave your dad when you were twelve,’ or ‘Why do you hate yourself?’ when I get close to them.  You, know?  Stuff like that.  I ask too many painful questions.”

There is silence for a moment while he considers my words.  And then looking up he says while nodding thoughtfully, “Ok.  I think I get it.  Yeah, people probably don’t like that.”  His attention fades entirely just as Del returns.  Sensing a serious tone in the room she asks brightly, “What have you guys been talking about since I went to the bathroom?”

🙂

Until tomorrow.

Sortilège

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Some people compare Sortilège to Chanel No.5 or Coty L’Aimant (Le Galion 1937), but in my estimation, while there are certainly some striking resemblances, it’s a very different scent.  Sortilege is more bitter, a bit deeper and more citrusy than L’Aimant.  Where L’Aimant is powder to the extreme, Sortilege is only a bit powdery and its sweetness is more rich and warm and less saccharine.  Chanel No. 5 is almost an entirely different scent to my nose.  Simply put, No. 5 is Chanelesque, Sortilège is certainly not a Chanel but shares more of a burning, sweet styrax glow of other vintage 1930’s scents.

Sortilège is dewy, a little green, spicy and in the drydown it transforms into a mellow, sunny embrace.  It’s a bit wild too. The styrax and opoponax mix with amber to create a little mischief…  Sortilège is a scent unto itself.

Top notes: bergamot, peach, aldehydes, orange blossom. Heart: lily of the valley, jasmine, ylang-ylang, rose, violet, lilac, and orris root. Base: musk, oak moss, sandalwood, vetiver, tonka, vanilla, oppoponaks, styrax and amber.

Summer Memories: Part IV of IV 

It all happens rather suddenly.  Mother arranges to send me to Minneapolis to be with her sister.  I’ll live there a year.

I don’t see George at all, until the day I leave.  Gracie, who is now nearly engaged to Pat, must have told George the time I was leaving.  George shows up at the train depot with a bouquet of flowers.

“Beth,”  he says, when we’re alone for the first time.  “I love you.  I’ll always love you.”

I shake my head back and forth and fight back tears, but it doesn’t work.  He stands there and watches me cry for a second before he grabs me.  When he holds me it feels forced and yet I’ve been missing him terribly so mind rumbles into an internal battle.  I keep telling myself that he doesn’t care and that I can feel it, but his arms sing lies so sweet and convincing.   He grabs my head in his hands, then he kisses me.

“I love you too,” I say when we stop and then immediately wish I hadn’t.

We stare silently at each other, then our gazes look off in differing directions.  “Why did you hurt me so much?”  I ask, trying to bring myself square with reality.

“Beth, my family is in trouble.  I don’t know what to do.  I love you more than anything or anyone, but I can’t leave my family in trouble.  I simply can’t.”  He strangely sits down on the ground now and places his face in his hands and begans to cry.  I stand there unsure of what to do next.  Just then my father comes along and announces, “The train will be here any minute, Beth. Get ready.”

“I have to go now.  I have to go now, George.”  He doesn’t seem to hear me. Then suddenly he rises and brushes himself off, and stands in front of me with a pitful look on his handsome face.

“I know,” he says as he grabs me and fills my mouth with kisses  This time my sister Louisa sees us as she’s coming around the corner to fetch me.  The sky is drifting into a hazy blue and red toned twilight.

“Beth!  Your train is here,” she announces before she can fully absorb the scene before her, then her voice trails off.

“Beth.”  George pushes me an arm’s length away and then grabs my hands for a second while he locks into my eyes with a weepy desperation.   I walk away, backwards, slipping away from his grasp.  He stands there still frozen in a state of pleaading sadness.

I quickly say goodbye to my family before boarding the train and then  I find my seat.  It’s conveniently next to a window, and as I look out I see my family waving, and in the background I see George. Our eyes meet. He mouths the words, “Don’t leave.” I feel a pull at my heart to stay, but the train has started taking off and the love I felt for him has been replaced with indifference and some anger.  I cried until it died.  The door is shut. I can’t get off the train and I don’t want to, so I just stare in numb silence until I can’t see him anymore.    It gets darker by the minute as we pass small towns that light up and then fade quickly.

It’s been another difficult week…  GRR!  Enough already.

But…  we’re blessed.  We really are.  Sigh.

I hope you’re having a pleasant week though, dear reader.  Are you?

🙂

Hopefully the rest of the week and the weekend will end nicely for everyone.