“I’m going to marry him,” I told my girlfriends. He smelled like home. When he hugged me I’d almost fainted from the sheer intensity of his scent. He smelled like the kind of love that inspires poets and songwriters. But God is a trickster. He created smell to mess with us. “She thinks she’s going to marry him because he smells like home!” God said laughing. “I’m just fucking with you, get it together girl, he’s not your future husband!” God tossed a handful of popcorn in his mouth and continued watching his reality show.
The following is a true story. It’s part of a new series I’m doing of 100 word real life stories.
My secret crush was standing in front of me at the toy store where I worked. He handed me a fortune cookie and left. Inside was his number. It was 1987, so I had to wait until I got home to call him; we spoke for hours. I told my parents that the boy I loved wanted me, so I would not be going away to The University of Toronto; they refused to comply. Thus began weeks of me listening to Bryan Ferry’s “Slave To Love” while sobbing. At school I dated, ate pizza with magic mushrooms and dreamed of him.
“Did you have a nice time with your father? I like your hair that way, you look pretty.”
“You’re not supposed to give me compliments about my looks, remember? That’s old-school parenting.”
For the love of God.
“Dad took me to that vintage store I’ve been wanting to check out and bought me some rad stuff. Then we went out to lunch with Marie, I like her, she’s cool.”
Who the fuck is Marie?
“Wash those clothes, you never know what could be on them.”
“You’re kidding, right? They’re already clean mom. Anyway, Marie is getting me a pair of jeans from the denim company she works for. Their jeans are made in a really nice, eco-friendly factory right here in LA, not like a sweatshop in Bangladesh.”
“I bet they are. I bet their workers have health insurance and paid sick days and proper lunch breaks and good air conditioning in their work rooms.”
“Mom, chill. Marie is cool. Be happy Dad is not dating a 21 year old actress hyphenate, because he totally could be. All my friends say he’s a silver fox.”
A silver fucking fox.
“We’re having vegetarian lasagna tonight. Does that meet your current eating standards?”
“I actually started eating meat again this weekend.”
“Marie said I don’t have the right blood type to be vegetarian. She said that to maximize my health and well-being I should be eating free range chicken, grass-fed beef and non-farmed salmon five times a week. But lasagna is fine too.”
“Okay then, well I’m going to maximize my health by drinking a glass of wine right now. Go do your homework.”
“I’m not ten. You don’t need to tell me to do my homework. And by the way, I’m getting like almost straight A’s, so maybe just take it down a notch Laurie.”
She did not just call me Laurie. Breathe in, breathe out. Breathe in, breathe out.
Jessie went to her bedroom, grabbing a bag of caramel popcorn off the kitchen counter on her way.
Laurie popped the lasagna in the oven then poured herself a glass of Chardonnay. In the livingroom she watched an old episode of Scandal for the tenth time. There was something soothing about watching the show over and over again. Olivia Pope wouldn’t be dealing with a ridiculous teenager and someone named Marie. Olivia Pope would “handle it,” and then go have sex with Jake, or the President, or both.
Maximize her health and well-being. Go fuck yourself Marie. How is it that Mike is introducing Jessie to the woman he’s dating? Does that mean he’s in a serious relationship?”
Laurie texted him: “Hi. Jessie had a nice time with you and Marie. R u two in a serious relationship? Pls keep me in the loop. Thx.”
Jessie came to dinner wearing a black Joy Division t-shirt.
“So that’s one of the vintage pieces your dad bought you? Do you know the lead singer committed suicide? There’s a documentary about the band if you’re interested. He suffered from horrible depression.”
“Good lasagna mom,” said Jessie, ignoring her mom’s comments.
“Thanks, I’m glad you approve.”
“Mom, I don’t want you to freak out or anything, but I got the feeling that dad and Marie are really a thing. Like really together. I’m just giving you a head’s up.”
“That’s sweet of you, but don’t worry about me, I’m fine. I want your father to be happy – I’m glad he’s met someone.”
Wow. That was fast Mike. We’ve been divorced for less than nine months and you’re already in a serious relationship.
Later that evening Mike texted back:
“Hi. Yes, Marie and I are together, we’ve been dating exclusively for five months, I was going to tell you. She wants us all to get together for dinner. Can you do Friday night? I’ll have my assistant book us a table. Thx.”
Five months? Dinner together?
After throwing in a load of laundry Laurie went out by the pool to smoke a cigarette from her secret stash.
“Sounds great. Looking forward to it!” she texted back to him.
“Why did you say sounds great and looking forward to it?! You cannot go to that dinner alone, we need to find you a date,” said her oldest friend Molly the next day.
“No, that would make it worse. It would make me seem desperate and sad and I’m not desperate and sad, I just wasn’t prepared for a ‘Marie’ yet” answered Laurie, checking on the non-farmed salmon.
“Gotta go. Jessie just got home and tonight she’s bringing a friend with her. This morning she actually told me what to wear and asked me to “act normal,” at dinner. Love you.”
“Oh Lordy. Love you too girl.”
Laurie had followed her daughter’s instructions and worn her high-waisted jeans with her hippie blouse tucked in and her large gold hoops. She had even put on mascara and lip gloss. Last time Jessie had a friend over she had been more than just a friend, so she was expecting the same this time.
“Hi mom, we’re home and I brought an extra guest!” yelled Jessie from the hallway.
“All good!” Laurie answered as she set another place and added more salad to the bowl.
As she put out an assortment of drinks for the kids to choose from, she poured herself a glass of wine.
“I’ll take one of those too if you don’t mind,” said a deep voice.
Who. The. Fuck. Is. That?
The most handsome, swoon-worthy man was standing in her kitchen doorway. What was her daughter up to? She wanted to strangle her, kind of.
“I’m Daniel, Emily’s father. Sorry the girls sprung this on you. They’re such operators.”
Laurie handed him a glass of wine, glad that she had put on mascara and lip gloss.
“Not a problem. I should have known something was up when Jessie told me what to wear for dinner,” she said laughing.”
“Can I do anything to help?” Daniel asked.
“Thanks but everything’s done. Let’s go outside for a few minutes and relax.”
From the cupboard Laurie grabbed a bag of Salt N’ Vinegar chips:
“These go really well with wine.”
“I like the unicorn pool floatie,” Daniel said.
“Me too. Jessie is mortified by it, but she’s mortified by most of what I do and say, so you know…” said Laurie crunching on a chip.
“God these chips are good,” said Daniel with salt stuck to his upper lip.
Those lips. Wow. Stop staring Laurie, you freak.
“Is it wrong to say I hate teenagers? I just want to fast forward to the college years or whatever this generation is going to do instead of college. I can’t take it.”
“I know, it’s brutal. Jessie has started referring to me as Laurie.”
Daniel laughed hard, almost spitting out his wine.
The laughter and chatter continued until the oven alarm went off and they went inside for dinner.
“So girls, how was school today?” asked Laurie.
“The usual,” answered Jessie.
“I love the usual,” said Daniel, digging into his salad.
Jessie took a selfie of Emily and her.
“No phones at the table,” Laurie said. “Also, are you two a couple?” She could feel Daniel hiding his smile.
“No. We’re trying to make Emily’s ex-girlfriend, Sarah, jealous” said Jessie.
“Got it. Well hope it works.”
“Are you guys ready for your science test tomorrow?”
“Of course we are Dad,” answered Emily, rolling her eyes.
“Just two more years,” whispered Laurie to Daniel. He tilted his head and smiled at her.
Laurie caught Jessie sneaking a photo of her and Daniel.
“What are you doing? I told you, no phones at the dinner table. Stop it already.”
After dinner Daniel and Laurie cleaned up and continued chatting:
“Thanks again for dinner, it was delicious. And sorry about the ambush…”
“It was my pleasure. I had a lovely time.”
“I would love to bring you out to dinner, no teenagers, just us. Are you free Saturday?”
I’m free right now. Kiss me. Please kiss me.
“I would love that.”
Later that evening as Laurie was finishing some editing work, Jessie stopped by her office. Leaning against her mother’s desk with a popsicle in her mouth, she said:
“Did you like Emily’s dad? Isn’t he cute? I thought he was your type.”
“You are quite the little trickster,” said Laurie, grabbing Jessie into a playful bear hug.
“I knew you would like him,” Jessie said, giggling like a little girl. “I just knew it!”
“You are an amazing young woman, you know that? Don’t ever forget it” said Laurie, kissing the top of her head.
Friday night, at Fia in Santa Monica, Laurie and Jessie met Mike and Marie for dinner. Marie had that effortlessly slouchy-chic look: a satin slip dress under a belter cardigan and vaguely western ankle-boots.
“It’s a pleasure to finally meet you,” Marie said as she extended her hand.
“Likewise,” answered Laurie smiling.
“I ordered you a Chardonnay,” Mike said kissing her cheek.
A tray of drinks and appetizers arrived and they all raised their glasses.
“To getting to know each other,” Marie exclaimed.
They clinked glasses and Laurie took a long sip.
“Dad, I wanna show you something,” Jessie leaned into him so he could better see her phone screen.
“So, I hear you work for an eco-friendly denim company, that sounds really interesting.”
“It is. It kind of combines my two passions: fashion and the environment.”
“Who’s this?” Mike asked Laurie as he was looking at Jessie’s photos.
Laurie looked as Jessie flipped the screen to show her.
“Oh that’s Daniel, Emily’s father. They were over for dinner the other night.”
“Mom is going on a date with him tomorrow night,” said Jessie proudly.
Marie looked at the photo:
“Wow, he’s handsome. He looks like Mark Ruffalo.”
Laurie sipped her wine and smiled.
Yes he does.
The first day Emily slept until 3:00, walked to Sunset and bought an ice cream cone from Icy Rush. Back home, with caramel still glossing her lips, she flopped on her bed, not waking until 10:00 pm. After microwaving a frozen burrito, Emily watched reruns of “Keeping Up With The Kardashians,” the episodes where they still looked human.
Day Two Emily woke at 1:00, threw on old Levis cut-offs, a white tank, Birkenstocks and a vintage kimono. She Ubered over to Figaro Bistrot, (she didn’t trust herself to drive yet, the exhaustion was only just now beginning to seep out from her body). Sitting on the sidewalk patio, Emily ordered a glass of Sauvignon Blanc, a Croque Monsieur with frites and then settled in to people watch from behind her scratched Ray Bans.
“That’s an insane kimono. LOVE.” said the woman sitting next to her.
“Thanks, I love it too. It was a gift from a Costume Designer I worked for,” answered Emily as she stabbed frites with her fork.
The woman was on her way out and they waved goodbye.
“Thank God,” thought Emily, “I don’t have the energy for an actual conversation.” Before leaving the bistrot she bought several desserts to go, then got into a yellow Uber sedan.
“Hideous,” thought Emily. She despised yellow cars. Only vintage Volkswagen Bugs like the one Goldie Hawn drove in Foul Play should be yellow.
Once home Emily answered a bunch of texts and emails then grabbed the desserts and headed over to her neighbor Jim’s house. She actually had five neighbors: the six of them each lived in tiny one-bedroom casitas, sharing a main courtyard filled with aloe vera and jade succulents. Jim was a writer who had recently – finally – sold his first screenplay. Emily had been on location when she heard the exciting news, so she hadn’t been able to properly congratulate him and celebrate.
“Jim, you there? I come bearing sweets and a rad vintage Metallica t-shirt that I scored for you.”
Jim opened the door,
“Holy shit balls, you’re back!”
He grabbed forks for them and they settled on lounge chairs in the courtyard, passing the box of desserts back and forth.
“Jesus, these are delicious, thx Em. And I love my t-shirt, I think it might actually be a collectors item. Where did u find it?”
“Toronto. I was there shooting the new Lily Collins movie. It’s a cool city, but I barely made it through filming. I was so exhausted that my whole system went out of whack: I felt really depressed, no energy and I started getting anxiety attacks when eating. It was actually really scary.”
“Oh God Em, I’m sorry. You’ve been going from project to project, working ludicrous hours – it’s not sustainable. I’ve been worried about you.”
“Thanks, I appreciate that, I really do. My Doctor says I’m suffering from burn-out. She wants me to take a few months off, she’s writing me some kind of note. It’s ridiculous though, what am I going to do, give a doctor’s note to my wardrobe union? Plus, I’m due to start working on a new series in two weeks, it’s filming in LA thank God. But enough about my stupid health drama, I want to hear all about your screenplay selling, tell me everything!”
After her visit with Jim, Emily slept until 8:30. She had just enough time to grab a ride-share and bike over to the Vista Theatre where they were playing “The Maltese Falcon,” a classic which she’d never seen. Emily settled into a back row seat and ripped open her Red Vines, jamming a whole piece in her mouth.
It was an especially beautiful evening, so Emily decided to walk home even though she was tired. As she made her way east on Sunset towards Echo Park, she spied the cutest couple holding hands. They were dressed in a very i-D Magazine mash-up of 80’s preppy/70’s punk. She was tempted to speed up so she could eavesdrop on their conversation, but she was distracted by a well-dressed elderly couple drinking expresso at a rickety cafe table. She stopped for a moment to take a few sips from her water bottle, leaning against a mural-ed wall. On the street in front of her were two young blond women kissing. It felt as if their kisses were sending off little rays of love into the universe.
She was about to start walking again when she felt wobbly. Was it anxiety? Maybe she needed to call an Uber. She sat down beneath the Mi Familia mural and took a few deep breaths. But it didn’t feel like the anxiety she had recently experienced. What was it then? Why was she sitting on the dirty street like a homeless waif feeling wobbly?
Suddenly she felt like a character in a scene from a movie she might have worked on. As a wardrobe shopper Emily would have shopped her character’s whole look, from her floral underwear to the vintage kimono. It had always been Emily’s dream to work in the film industry. She loved storytelling and the role that clothing played in it. But when did Emily get to write her own story? When was there even time for her to live her own story?
Seeing the three couples – the hand-holders, the smartly-dressed seniors and the two blondes – had penetrated something within Emily. Something very fragile that she had been keeping buried within her, without even knowing she was, without even knowing what it was, had been punctured. She felt like she was bleeding out. Bleeding out invisibly on Sunset Boulevard – now there’s a screenplay idea for Jim.
She looked down on the grimy pavement, smeared with God knows what and realized she was not having an anxiety attack – she was having a loneliness attack. “But is that even a thing?” asked the rational side of Emily’s brain. “Can a person be so deeply lonely that their body manifests a physical reaction?” “Yes,” she said out loud, “Yes it can.”
Emily wondered if her Doctor would write her a second note:
Dear Wardrobe Union: Your highly esteemed member & wardrobe shopper Emily Jenkins, is suffering from a life threatening case of loneliness. As you probably know, but perhaps you don’t think about, as a wardrobe shopper Emily works primarily on her own. She spends her days in malls, boutiques and costume houses, with almost no opportunities to meet available straight men. I have written Emily a prescription which requires you to provide her with one hour a day of exposure to at least three men. These men must be emotionally mature, ready for a relationship and politically left-leaning. Thank You. Sincerely, Doctor Govindarajan.
Emily laughed at the idea of the letter, got up and continued walking home. She’d forgotten how long a walk it was, but she needed – as Taylor Swift said – to shake it off. So she walked and walked and walked. Tears started falling and she let them do their thing, not wiping them away. Soon she started sniffling and within a few minutes she was full on sobbing, the ugly variety, with snot and tears mixing together, forming a kind of sadness facial.
“Senorita, estas bien?” asked an older woman.
“Si, yo soy bien, gracias,” answered Emily in her best Spanish.
“God, I must look like a woman having a nervous breakdown,” she thought.
Emily broke out into a slow jog, not ideal in Birkenstocks, until she made it home. Inside she quickly locked the door, as if she could keep additional loneliness from entering if she locked it fast enough.
She considered taking a shower since she was sweaty, snotty and tear-stained, but then decided against it. “Fuck it,” she thought, “let’s see if this snotty, tear-stained sadness facial makes my skin all glow-y in the morning. You never know.” She took off her clothes, letting them drop on the floor, got under her favorite linen sheets and was asleep within a minute.
And in the morning Emily’s skin was glow-y. She was lonely, but radiant as hell.
When Jen needed a good cry she listened to the Grey’s Anatomy soundtrack, particularly the first few seasons. There were so many songs that helped Jen excavate her tears, which were always buried deep underneath layers of smiles and loveliness. Of course she didn’t admit this to anyone because what kind of a freak needs to listen to Grey’s Anatomy songs in order to cry?
Recently Jen had been going to a nearby park where she would sit on a bench, preferably one under a tree and listen to one of three Cry Playlists on her phone. She would sob for a few minutes or longer depending on how she felt. One day a pimply-faced teenage boy asked her if she was okay and she answered:
“Ya, I’m good, just letting out some toxic shit you know? Thx for asking.” Though Jen didn’t normally swear, saying “toxic shit” was her way of showing respect to the young man who cared enough to check on her.
Jen wondered why she had such a difficult time crying. She asked her therapist about it and Dr. Kesselman told her maybe it had something to do with Jen feeling like she always had to keep it all together. Or, that Jen was sub-consciously worried that if she started crying she might never stop. But Dr. Kesselman approved of Jen’s Grey’s Anatomy technique, telling her it was a creative solution.
This morning, under a pink tree – crab apple? cherry? – Jen listened to the most recognizable Grey’s Anatomy song, “Chasing Cars” by Snow Patrol. It had played during the scene when Denny Duquette died and Izzie Stevens, who was dressed in a prom dress, wouldn’t let him be taken to the morgue. She was lying with him on the hospital bed until Alex lifted her up and took her away.
Oh God what a scene.
Izzie loved Denny so much, they were soulmates. Jen wanted that kind of love. And she didn’t care if most people with Bachelor Degrees thought the idea of soulmates was like believing in crystal healing. Jen had a Bachelor’s Degree in Education and she knew soulmates existed.
Though Jen did not currently have a soulmate, she did have a mate. Jen likened the difference between soulmates and regular mates to the difference between a good lasagna and a poorly made one. A well-made lasagna was hearty, sometimes even a little bit heavy. But, if the lasagna was too light and the tomato sauce seeped out in huge puddles on your plate, well, that was a regular mate.
Jen’s regular mate was Jim. He taught political theory at a local college and he was an avid long-distance bike rider. Every Wednesday night Jim made dinner, each time focusing on a different cuisine and always writing the dish on the kitchen chalkboard. Last week’s dinner had been Authentic New Orleans Creole Gumbo. Jim was a decent enough cook, but no matter how tasty the dishes were the dinners were inevitably ruined by Jim pontificating about the history of the dish he’d prepared, the city or country it originated from and their people.
Last month, when Jim cooked a lamb dish from Western Africa and started talking about the incredible beauty of its local markets, Jen had seriously thought about leaving him on the spot. Like just getting up from the table, taking her phone, laptop and charger and leaving the house forever. What the hell did Jim know about beautiful markets in Western Africa? Pontification should be added to the List of Seven Deadly Sins, Jen would need to write the Pope.
Today’s crying session lasted 7.5 minutes. When Jen arrived home she applied a warm washcloth to her eyes to help them de-puff, then ate cinnamon raisin toast for breakfast. She always took out the raisins first, tossing them in the backyard for the squirrels and birds to eat.
A brief stint of makeup applying and Jen was off to the children’s non-profit where she worked. It was only a ten minute bus ride and she usually spent it reading while secretly checking out the men who boarded. Maybe her soulmate rode the same bus as her and they just hadn’t met yet.
But instead of her soulmate she got Gina Trochanter, one of her work mates, who out of nowhere was suddenly standing next to her. Wearing a lavender raincoat and matching rain boots, Gina was inexplicably dressed for a storm, though there was not a cloud in the sky. Gina spoke in a loud, bold voice except when she was gossiping. When gossiping she whispered sideways into your ear, so that half the words just swooshed by.
Gina had a long list of bad, ineffective ideas which she planned on bringing up at their Back To School project meeting. Today they were brainstorming strategies to get school supplies and clothing donated. The families in the community they served could barely pay their bills, let alone buy new backpacks and sneakers for their children.
When the meetings were particularly suffocating, with everyone jockeying for their boss’s attention, Jen’s work friend Beatrice would pour a little Bailey’s in Jen’s coffee to take the edge off. Beatrice was one of those super cool girls who could pull off paper-bag waist pants, cowboy mules and a mullet and look like she just walked off a Paris runway. Jen was nowhere near as cool, but over the years she had developed a style that suited her: one part something floral and one part something plain black – so as not to look like a walking garden. Today she wore a black pencil skirt with a floral blouse she had found in a thrift store for $5. Jim was vehemently against Jen buying anything secondhand, he worried she would bring bugs into the house. Jen thought he was insane, so she lied whenever she bought something used.
After work Jen usually went straight home so she could have a little time to herself before Jim arrived. Tonight they were having pizza. Every Tuesday night they ordered pizza and every Tuesday morning Jim wrote it on the kitchen chalkboard: “take-out Pizza night.” But tonight Jen wanted something different, she just didn’t know what. She felt this weird tingling, almost tickling sensation all around the edges of her body. As if someone had traced the outline of her with one of those feather cat toys. Though she liked the feeling, she also wondered if it was perhaps some weird form of neuropathy.
Jen decided to try a local bar that she had walked by a million times. It looked straight out of the 1940’s and appropriately enough was called Bogart’s. Usually she would feel self-conscious going to a bar alone, but today she didn’t. She sat at the bar instead of a table and when the 60-something year old bartender asked her what she wanted she found herself saying:
“A Whisky Sour please.” Jen had never had a Whiskey Sour before and had no idea what the sour part was. Lemon? Lime? But it sounded like the right kind of drink to order in a bar like this, on a night like this, when her body was electrified.
“Thank you,” said Jen to the bartender. “It’s my first time here, I wanted to try something different.”
“Here’s looking at you kid,” he said as he clinked his glass with hers. Jen smiled at the Bogart reference.
The drink was delicious and for an instant she felt cool, like Beatrice. Beatrice would order a Whiskey Sour. Beatrice would never order a Pinot Grigio which is what Jen usually drank when she was out. Jen swore to never ever order another Pinot Grigio. There was no way she would find her soulmate and the life she craved if she was drinking Pinot Grigio.
Finding a soulmate would involve taking chances and living boldly, or at least boldly-ish and tonight was Jen’s first step: instead of being home reading the new Sue Grafton novel and eating goldfish, she was at a bar by herself, with her electrified, possibly neuropathy-laden body. Ready. Ready for it all.
Growing up, I was always the girl who dreamt of getting a dog, not of getting married. In the end I did get married and it didn’t work out. The highlight of my marriage was meeting my first real love – a low-rider Corgi with a spirit like no other – I named her Quinny.
Everyone who met Quinny loved her. It was impossible for anyone – even the grumpiest, most miserable souls – not to smile when she strutted by on her two inch stubby legs with her sassy wiggle bum. She was pure Joy! I remember gangbangers driving by in their vintage car and calling out “Hey Low-Rider!” The same thing happened with tough mortorcyle riding men – they got such a kick out of her! And the hipsters at Figaro Bistrot loved her too. The one time she ran away – escaped from the backyard – she went around the corner to Figaro for croissant and Cafe au Lait!
I think of her often and I’m so grateful to her for sharing her spunky spirit with me.