In honour of February 14th fast approaching, I thought I would share a few of the gifts that men have given me over the years:
1) Cocaine and tickets to see B.B. King play at a famous, but dive-y Toronto bar. I had never done cocaine before and never did it again. I thought I would die. We did lines on a rusty toilet paper holder in a sketchy bathroom – only the best for me. But, the concert was excellent.
2) A stuffed crocodile in honour of the Lacoste shirts I wore during an extremely brief preppy stage in Grade Ten. My boyfriend’s favorite sport was fencing, which I thought was quite fancy and exciting.
3) Super hideous white sneakers. We later divorced.
4) A beautiful carved wooden box that I accidentally gave away to The Goodwill. Sorry.
5) Classic diamond stud earrings. I lost one of them within the first year. Again, sorry. I now have a vintage pair that my mom gave me and I never take them off.
6) A love poem – yay! But the same night my boyfriend ended up in a fist fight with someone, so that kind of dampened the spirit.
7) Kama Sutra book. Smart man.
8) Vintage lady head salt and pepper shakers with pearl earrings – fabulous! (see photo at top of my blog page)
9) Flowers. You can never go wrong with flowers, though I’m not a big fan of red roses. I think carnations are highly underrated. I especially love buying myself mini-carnations in fuchsia, orange and burgundy – so gorgeous together and they last longer than a fling!
10) Being serenaded with Guns N’ Roses songs and an acoustic guitar. I mean, it was the eighties people!
Happy Valentine’s Day Everyone! And for the Love Of God, you don’t need a partner to celebrate! Buy yourself a lil’ something – we all deserve a treat after these last two years.
When I was a child I used to make snow angels in our backyard with my youngest brother. Dressed in our bulky snowsuits, we would lie under the beautiful star-filled sky and move our arms and legs in rhythm. We would remain lying down and then just talk. I remember telling him all about the planets one time because I was obsessed with Saturn’s rings. Eventually we would get too cold, or our mom would call us inside, but before leaving we would admire our angels.
Now, this same brother thinks he is an angel, an actual angel. And not just any angel, but Archangel Michael, the only angel who is mentioned by name in the Bible, the Quran and the Torah. My brother told me this about two months ago when we were sitting outside on a patio on an unseasonably warm day. I was drinking wine and he was having a beer. I asked him what it meant to be Archangel Michael and he replied that he could create miracles.
I’ve been dealing with my brother’s mental illness for many years now and I sometimes use humor to cope. So in my mind I thought:
“Fabulous! If you can create miracles then can you please start by eradicating Covid, (or as he calls it, “the plague”) and then next can you please cure me of Peritoneal Mesothelioma?“
Instead I listened to him, nodding my head and I ordered a second glasss of wine.
In some ways my brother is lucky. He lives in a nice apartment on a nice street and he has enough money to live comfortably. My parents supplement his disability – disability payments put you living at the poverty line by the way. And my mom buys him new winter coats and boots and running shoes when he needs them. He needs new running shoes fairly often because he self-medicates by exercising obsessively. Dangerously long jogs and bike rides in the middle of the night. He keeps vampire hours staying up late, then waking at dinnertime.
He will not see a doctor, let alone a psychiatrist. Based on years of spending time with him and research, I’m guessing he’s on the schizophrenia spectrum, the autism spectrum and has OCD. Of course I could easily be 100% wrong.
Had he been born into a different kind of family, he could easily be homeless. One time I saw him walking down the street having a very animated conversation with himself and I thanked God for bringing him to our family where he is protected.
This holiday season, like so many others, I am burnt out. I have nothing left to give or say. I just want to take a Xanax, curl up under a blanket and listen to old Kate Bush songs. I don’t want to decorate or bake or cook or make conversation. But oh what I would give to make snow angels with my brother again. To have him back for just one night.
“It seemed like you needed a little pick me up. Last night you were saying the pandemic was making you feel hopeless. I thought this would help.”
The box was the color of brown craft paper and it was tied with natural twine ribbon. It smelled like patchouli.
Marissa hated the scent of patchouli. It reminded her of a faux hippie girl named Star who had stolen her boyfriend during sophomore year of college.
She opened the box and there lay a gray stone with the word HOPE inscribed on it.
“The salesgirl said you just hold the rock in your hand, focusing your mind on things that bring you joy while massaging it.”
“Wow, well…this is pretty cool. Thank you.”
“You’re welcome. I’m going on a run now, wanna Netflix at 9?”
Henry kissed Marissa on the tip of her nose.
When he left the house in his olive Lulu Lemon running shorts, Marissa called her best friend Nica.
“Henry gave me a rock that says HOPE.”
“Oh my god, those gray ones right? The ones that say things like LOVE and GRATITUDE. Are they even real rocks? I’m sorry, that gift couldn’t be less you.”
“I know. And I feel like a horrible person because I don’t feel grateful. Whenever Henry buys me a gift I feel like it shows that he doesn’t really know me, like he doesn’t pay attention to who I truly am and that feels so shitty.”
“I totally get it. Like last Christmas when he bought you plaid, flannel pajamas – I wanted to strangle him.”
“Oh I forgot about those. I ended up wearing them all winter because what am I going to do? I didn’t want to hurt his feelings.”
“Marissa, maybe you need to hurt his feelings. Maybe you need to scream ‘this is who I am! I need you to really see me.’ Feeling seen is all most of us want anyways.”
“You’re right. Why are you so damn wise? What are you and Jen up to tonight?”
“It’s date night, so we’re trying out that new Mexican restaurant downtown. Hopefully the tables will be spaced out. I’m not comfortable eating inside restaurants yet, but Jen really wants to go and we’re vaccinated, so…”
“You’ll be fine. Have fun and give my love to Jen.”
“Will do. Enjoy your rock tonight.”
Marissa put the HOPE rock on her desk in her office, then took a shower and applied a charcoal mask.
“What happened to your face?” asked Henry dripping sweat on their bedroom floor.
“It’s a charcoal face mask, it helps to clear out the pores.”
“You know that’s all bullshit right? None of that stuff actually works. It’s just skincare companies taking advantage of womens’ insecurities,” Henry said as he peeled off his drenched running gear.
Please stop talking.
“Do you mind not taking off your sweaty running clothes in the bedroom? It smells up the whole space,” Marissa said from her side of the bed where she was relaxing.
“You’re in a mood tonight.”
Marissa couldn’t stand the smell so she went downstairs, grabbing a washcloth and towel from the linen closet on her way. When it was time she wiped off the mask with the warm cloth, then followed with a splash of cold water. She dried her skin and inspected herself in the hallway mirror. Her pores looked smaller and clearer and she felt good. What the hell does Henry know about charcoal face masks anyway?
She poured herself a glass of Pinot Noir and settled on the couch with her new book, “H is for Henrietta.”
“Are you going to read that whole series about witches?”
“I don’t understand what you like about those books.”
“I don’t understand what you like about the war books you read.”
“Where’s your HOPE rock? Aren’t you keeping it with you?”
“Um no, it’s on my desk.”
“Well you can always grab it if you need it.”
“I will, thanks.”
“Do you want to watch that new documentary about the opioid crisis?”
“Not really, life is upsetting enough right now.”
Who is this man? What is wrong with him? Why did I marry him?
Henry poured himself a glass of wine and sat downon the couch.
“What about Justin Theroux’s new show on Apple TV?”
A quarter of the way through the first episode, Marissa asked:
“Why didn’t we try harder to have children? I feel like we gave up too soon.”
“Can we just watch the show and discuss this later. Not that there’s anything to discuss, we’re better off not having kids – the world is a disaster.”
Marissa got up and opened another bottle of wine, even though the first one was still half full.
“That’s a really expensive bottle, why are you opening it?” Henry asked, his voice tinged with irritation.
“Because we’re living in a fucking pandemic that’s never going to end so why not drink the good stuff?!”
“You’re spiralling. You need your HOPE rock.”
“I hate that rock! You should know that I would hate that rock, you’ve been with me for ten years. I feel like a cardboard cut-out wife that you just project things onto. Like you think your wife should like HOPE rocks and plaid pajamas and rock climbing and Patagonia and cheap wine and fake diamond stud earrings and being childless and being pet-less. But I’m not that person. Why don’t you see me? Why don’t you want to see me?”
“Just because it’s a pandemic doesn’t give you the right to lose your shit. Get it together. And if you don’t like something, speak the hell up. How am I supposed to know that you don’t like Patagonia jackets?”
“Because I read British, French and American Vogue magazine every month. Because I’ve dressed beautifully every day of the pandemic instead of wearing sweatpants. That’s why you should know.”
“I can’t talk with you when you’re this emotional. If you want to calm down and have a rational discussion after the show is over that’s fine, otherwise I’m putting the headphones on.”
“Put them on then. I’ll read my witch novel and maybe I’ll find a spell that I can cast to turn YOU into a freaking HOPE rock.”
And hour later Marissa was in bed, still reading “H is for Henrietta” and still fuming.
Henry came into the bedroom and lay down.
“I had a vasectomy when I was 28. I’m sorry. I never wanted children.”
Marissa felt her face morph into “The Scream” by Edvard Munch.
“When we were first dating you told me you wanted two kids.”
“I lied; I was in love with you.”
Marissa opened her bedside table drawer and took half a sedative.
“You shouldn’t take a pill, you’ve had wine, you – “
Marissa shot Henry a death stare.
“Okay let’s just go to sleep. We’ll talk in the morning when we’re fresh. We can’t let this pandemic tear us apart. I just read an article about how Covid stress is causing the divorce rate to skyrocket.”
Marissa didn’t answer. Applying her favorite Dr. Haushka lip balm in the dark, she was thinking about the time she told Henry that she liked the names Olive and Ryder for their children and how he had agreed enthusiastically.
“I know I just told you something shocking and you have every right to hate me right now. But just know that I lied because I was scared of losing you. I love you Marissa. I’m just as in love with you now as I was ten years ago. And I’m sorry about the HOPE rock.”
Marissa applied more lip balm.
“I know we’re childless, but we don’t have to be pet-less.”
Marissa was starting to dose off, her mind tranquil like it had been glazed with marshmallow fluff.
“Beautiful girl, I love you so much. Give me a kiss.”
“Why do you only talk like that to our dog?”
“You never call me beautiful. You never tell me you love me and I can’t remember the last time we kissed.”
“You’re being ridiculous. And you’re making Roxie anxious with your weird energy. See how her ears are pointed back? That means she’s worried.”
“Oh Sweet Jesus.”
“It’s okay Roxie, come here. There you go, belly rubs solve everything.”
“And tonight, like every other night, she’ll lie between us – horizontally – separating us so we can’t cuddle.”
“Since when do you like cuddling? You always say that you can’t sleep in my arms, that you need space.”
“I can’t sleep in your arms because I get too hot. But it would be nice to cuddle before going to sleep. You know, like a normal couple.”
“We are a normal couple. Roxie’s eyes are bulging out, the tone of this conversation is upsetting her.”
“Holy fuckety fuck. She’s a dog. I love her, you know I do. But why can’t she sleep in her dog bed? The one in the corner that cost a bazillion dollars.”
“She’s a rescue dog and rescue dogs need extra affection.”
“Do you want out of this marriage?”
“What? No, of course not. Don’t be so dramatic. And don’t raise your voice, you’re scaring Roxie.
“She has you wrapped around her little paws.”
“Roxie, come here, it’s okay. Let’s all just calm down and I’ll turn off the light.”
“I can’t take this.”
“You can’t take what?”
“Your primary relationship is with our dog, not me. You love our dog more than you love me. You engage with our dog more than with me. You show affection to our dog more than with me. Our dog has a better wardrobe than me for God’s sake.”
“I think you’re having one of those hormonal imbalance meltdowns. Why don’t you take a Xanax and we’ll go to sleep. Roxie are you warm enough? Let me just pull this blanket up over you.”
“I just can’t…”
“What are you doing?”
“I’m getting dressed.”
“It’s eleven thirty, why are you getting dressed?”
“Because I don’t want to drive over to Sheila’s house wearing a nightgown.”
“You’re acting crazy.”
“Actually I’m fully rational and I’m – what’s that saying? – ‘leaning into my power.’ Maybe tomorrow you can take your four-legged wife to her favorite dog park, the one across town. That will give me time to pack my bags.”
“What? Don’t joke about things like that, it’s not funny. We would both be devastated if you left.”
“Actually you might not even notice I’m gone. And Roxie will be ecstatic to have you all to yourself.”
“What if I buy you the wardrobe of your dreams? Will that help?”
“You said earlier that Roxie had a better wardrobe than you. So what if I gave you my credit card and you could buy all that Net-A-Porter stuff that I see you coveting on Instagram. Like those black boots with the weird chunky soles.”
“So let me get this straight: your takeaway from everything I just said is, that you think I would be happier in our relationship if I had a wardrobe as nice as Roxie’s?”
“Well, yes. It would be a tangible symbol of my love for you.”
“Just like an all-around wow.”
“What do you mean how much?”
“How much would I get to put on your credit card for my new wardrobe?”
“Three thousand dollars.”
“You’re negotiating with me?”
“You’re a lawyer, you would negotiate too. Plus, you make a ton of money.”
“Fine. It’s a deal. Five thousand dollars to prove that I love you as much as I love Roxie.”
“Thank God. Roxie has calmed down, she can tell that things are better between us.”
“I bet she can, she’s an Empath that Roxie.”
“Actually you’re right, she is an Empath. My sweet little girl.”
(Photo: iStock, NY Times article by Jen A. Miller, March 13th, 2018)
“I told her that shaming was not allowed in our home and that I could wear whatever I wanted.”
“Do you even look good in those jeans? Because I’m guessing not.”
“I mean they are not my best look ever. I was in Urban Outfitters buying Lizzie a few things and I needed a pair of jeans; the salesperson said I looked amazing in them.”
Michelle was laughing hysterically now.
“Oh my God, stop it Michelle,” said Laura starting to laugh. “Changing the subject now. How’s Joshua?”
“Joshua is driving me nuts. He just asked me for a hundred dollars to buy some new limited edition sweatshirt. A sweatshirt. I can’t believe we have kids.”
“Me either. Remember in high school when we promised each other that we would never marry, never have kids and just travel the world together?”
“I know, such cuties we were. Ok, gotta go. Love you girl.”
Laura put the lasagna in the oven then went into Lizzie’s room to gather the detritus of teenage life: 5 dirty glasses
3 towels stained Manic Panic Electric Pink Pussycat
4 empty chip bags
2 cereal bowls but no spoons
clothing everywhere – like an H & M store on a Saturday. Her bedroom was a tableau of teenage life that you might stumble upon at a cool downtown gallery.
The one thing that Lizzie kept clean and organized was the makeup area in her bathroom: lipglosses, brushes and eyeliners all standing tall and proud in their clear plastic containers.
“I can’t believe my fourteen year old daughter has her own bathroom,” Laura thought to herself.
Growing up she had shared a cramped, second floor bathroom with two younger brothers. Every morning her mother would yell:
“For the Love of God Laura, let your brothers in the bathroom! You can put your makeup on downstairs.”
Laura’s mother would drive them to school wearing curlers in her hair. Though it was mortifying at the time, Laura now appreciated it as a practical mom thing to do.
After tidying up and doing laundry, Laura poured herself a glass of Cab Sauvignon which she sipped while making a salad.
Lizzie slothed into the house with a deflated look on her face. She had dyed her hair pink to impress Violet, her latest crush. Violet was a very tall, very skinny girl who had long straight aquamarine hair. She wore all-black and spoke with a British accent from her years living in London. In typical high school fashion, where getting one’s heart broken was as common as bad cafeteria food, it turned out that Violet was not interested in Lizzie. Violet only had eyes for Brian.
“How could she like Brian?! He’s like – what’s that word you love using mom?”
“Ya! He’s smarmy! And he wears these eighties style polo shirts with the collar up – like ‘ironic-preppy.’ He’s repulsive.”
“He sounds vile. Listen, I am so, so sorry about Violet, but honey on the positive side – your hair looks amazing!” Laura said while kissing her sweet, freckled, fourteen year old forehead.
“Dinner is fifteen minutes out so don’t eat too much crap.”
Lizzie backward-waved at her from the hallway on her way to her bedroom.
“Smells delicious babe,” her husband kissed her neck as he passed through the kitchen.
“I just need to call Tom Finklestein, be right back,” he said tossing his blazer on the couch.
“Fifteen minutes or I’m never making dinner again.”
The lasagna was a big hit and Lizzie told her dad all about Violet and Smarmy Brian.
“Oh Lizzie, I’m sorry, what an upsetting day. But let me tell you something: anyone who chooses ironic preppy over you has a major problem. As your grandma used to say – For The Love Of God.”
They all laughed. David was very good at making Lizzie laugh when she was upset, it was one of the things Laura loved most about him.
Lizzie’s fuchsia hair had inspired Laura, so in the middle of the night she went into her studio and started working on a new canvas. It would be the final painting in her series entitled “Shirley’s Cakes,” due to showcase at The Topanga Canyon Gallery, where rich Bohemians bought Laura’s artwork.
Her mother, Shirley, had been the love of her life and though she had died over two years ago, Laura still felt raw with grief. Shirley had been an amazing baker and had been especially fond of baking – and eating – cakes. Laura started painting her mother with fuchsia hair and curlers, stirring an oversized bowl of cake batter. The bowl was cauldron-like, as if she was stirring up a magic potion.
As she worked on creating the desired shade of pink, Laura remembered a pink cake Shirley had once baked for her: when Laura first got her period, Shirley had surprised her with a two-layer red velvet cake with pink colored cream cheese icing. It read “Congratulations!” in red cursive and her brothers had been jealous:
“Why does she get a special cake? It’s not fair!’
Shirley had yelled:
“Because she’s a woman today – she got her period! Women deserve period cakes every month.”
Her dad had simply said:
“Stop being knuckleheads so we can eat the cake.”
While painting, Laura often spoke to her mother – out loud. One time David had walked in on her and asked:
“Are you on speakerphone?”
“No, I’m chatting with my mother.”
Laura told her mother about Violet and Smarmy Brian and about how she and Michelle were planning a girl’s trip to NYC in October.
Shirley always had opinions:
“That Violet is faking her accent, she only lived in London for two years. And For The Love Of God Laura, please buy a proper fall coat. Every time you travel to the east coast you’re freezing – you’re such an LA girl! By the way, I love Lizzie’s her new hair color, what a spectacular young woman she is.”
“I know. Sometimes I just look at her and I want to cry because she’s so precious to me.”
“That’s how I was with you. When you were young I would just stand at your bedroom door with tears streaming down my face; I was overwhelmed by my love for you.
“I miss you mom. I’m going to make coffee now because I need to be awake when I drive Lizzie to school.”
“Before you go: make sure the gallery prices these painting high. Soon half of Hollywood is going to have Laura Keating paintings in their fancy homes. I’m so proud of you.”
Laura made a pot of coffee, then had one of her madcap ideas: she would bake Lizzie a Betty Crocker cake for breakfast. Lizzie loved their yellow cake with the canned chocolate frosting. Laura checked the pantry to make sure she had everything and then, since David was still asleep, she took an army shower and threw on her school drop-off uniform:
skinny jeans, tank top and long, kimono-style robe.
She grabbed some healthy snacks for Lizzie and threw them on top of her black Converse so she wouldn’t forget to take them to school.
At 7:00 am Laura woke her up by standing at her door and blasting The Go-Go’s “Our Lips are Sealed” on her iphone.
“OMG mom seriously?! Stop it with the 80’s music wake-ups!”
“But they’re so fun! Get ready, I have a special breakfast for you.”
“I’m not going to school. I don’t want to see Violet and Smarmy Brian googly-eyeing each other.”
“Wear something fabulous – maybe that new asymmetrical top thing-y, and do one of your dramatic cat eyes. Then just walk down those hallways letting your light shine bright.”
“Mom, you sound kind of lit, have you been up all night painting?”
“Yes I have darlin! Breakfast in 20 minutes.”
Laura gulped down coffee and finished frosting the cake. She poured Lizzie a glass of orange juice and set a place for her at the kitchen table with the cake placed in front of her.
David zoomed through and said:
“I’m late, I’ll grab a Starbucks on the road. Cake for breakfast? You’re nuts. Have a good day babe!” He kissed her on the cheek as he flew out.
“You baked me Betty Crocker for breakfast?!”
Lizzie sat down and Laura cut them both big pieces.
“Lizzie, this cake is to celebrate how fucking spectacular you are. Please don’t ever forget it. Got it?
“Got it,” said Lizzie taking a massive bite. “This is sooo yummy!”
“And another thing: between the cake and the orange juice your blood sugar level is going to crash in an hour or less, so make sure to have one of those protein bars on you, otherwise you’re likely to go off.”
“Will do. Becks just texted me. She wants me to come over for dinner tonight, her mom will pick us up. Can I go?”
“Her mom is that super conservative woman right?”
“Okay, but just promise me you won’t listen to a word she says.”
“I’m going to tell her you made me cake for breakfast.”
“Oh I love that, please do – she will be horrified.”
“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.
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.