Where Do We Go From Here?

With over 1000 emails in her inbox, Jessica felt completely defeated. She began deleting, realizing – to her embarrassment – that she subscribed to some very dubious self-help newsletters. Within twenty minutes she was down to 400 emails, flagging them all with different colors just for fun.

Color-coded flagged emails. What a ridiculous world we live in.

Scrolling to the bottom, she found a bunch of old photos. Most of them were of Jessica and her now deceased three dogs.

“Three Dead Dogs, a memoir by Jessica Sholmes,” she said out loud, as if she was the book reviewer for The New York Times.

Her first dog, Lexie, had been a chunky low-rider who ate anything and everything. Once, unbeknownst to Jessica, she had scarfed the tiny end of a smoked joint from underneath a park bench. At home, she sat on the couch dazed and unresponsive.

“She’s dying! She must have eaten something poisonous!”

At the emergency vet hospital the Doctor said:

“Don’t worry. She’s just high. She’ll make a full recovery.”

For the love of god.

Their second dog Leroy, who overlapped with Lexie, had been a 100 pound Boxer mix who thought he was Jessica’s husband. He barely tolerated her actual husband, Jim, always giving him side-eye:

“I’m her real man and don’t you forget it.”

Every night Leroy tried sleeping between them; they’d eventually given up trying to get him off the bed. He slept horizontally between their two bodies, creating a “no touch” zone, forcing Jessica and Jim to wave goodnight to each other from across the king bed. Lexie insisted on sleeping with her head on Jessica’s pillow. If Jessica so much as coughed, Lexie nosed her face, staring at her as if she was watching over her puppy.

Oh my god our dogs are crazy. We are crazy.

Lexie and Leroy died a couple years apart. Her husband insisted they take a dog break so they could visit Portugal and Spain. But they never traveled. Well, unless you count that one trip to the country where they stayed at the crazy Bed & Breakfast. The owners, two pointy looking sisters who wore matching denim smocks, forced Jessica and Jim to eat their gluten free heart-shaped pancakes for breakfast. Sitting with them for the entire meal, they spoke non-stop about their beloved long-deceased parents.

“Oh My God these ladies are complete freaks. I bet we don’t make it out of here alive,” Jessica had whispered to Jim.

Eventually she convinced Jim to adopt another dog, this time an elderly American Staffordshire named Jerry. Jerry loved UPS trucks and regularly jumped in the open passenger side when they were parked on their street. One beloved driver had even taken him for a spin around the block.

When Jerry died, Jim had declared:
“No. More. Dogs.”

Jessica was crying now. Jim called out:

“You okay in there? What’s going on?”

“I’m fine. Everything is fine. I’m just going down memory lane looking at dog photos.”

“You know what we decided: no more dogs. From now on it’s just you and me babe,” he said from the living room.

“Yep, I remember. No more dogs. Just quality time together,” she answered, her voice quivering.

“Should we order pizza tonight? I have a hankering for pepperoni pizza,” he said.

“I’ve never heard you use the word hankering. But sure, why not. As long as we order a salad too so I don’t feel like a completely failure.”

“Perfecto.”

Jim loved using the word perfecto and it drove Jessica fucking nuts.

Leaving her dead dog photos, Jessica went to the kitchen and poured herself a glass of wine. Not 5 ounces. I mean really, who the hell drinks a 5 ounce glass of wine? She poured a real person glass of wine, which was probably closer to 10 ounces. Sitting down at their kitchen table she flipped through Parenting Magazine.

“Jim? Why is Parenting Magazine on our kitchen table?”

“I have no idea. It just came with the mail. I ordered the food, it’ll be here in 30 minutes.”

“K.”

Jessica looked at photographs of happy looking couples with their children.

She wondered if she had any good eggs left. She was forty-four. They were probably crappy eggs. Underdog eggs. Eggs that you didn’t really want hatched. But they could adopt. I mean they were fortunate enough to have plenty of money. They had a nice house with a backyard and there was a good elementary school within walking distance of them.

Jessica sipped her wine. If they adopted a baby she would have to become a 5 ounce glass kind of woman. Or maybe it was the opposite: maybe once the kid was asleep you drank a stiff scotch, watching Netflix with the baby monitor next to you.

Over pizza and salad they discussed which new Apple TV series to watch that evening.

“What about adopting a child? Not necessarily a baby, but a young child. Or, even an older child. I mean why should we discriminate? It’s so much harder for older children to get adopted.”

“Did I miss something? We were just deciding which show to watch tonight and now we’re talking about adopting a fucking kid? How many glasses of wine have you had?”

Jim looked angry. Like scary angry.

“Is this because you were reading that stupid Parenting Magazine? What the hell is wrong with you Jessica? Adoption is a serious issue, you just don’t bring it up casually over pizza on a Saturday night. And last I remember we decided years ago not to have children. For fuck’s sake.”

Getting up abruptly from the table, Jim took his plate to the living room where he turned the TV back on.

Jesus. That anger was intense. True, she had not properly segued to the topic, she had just sprung it on him. But still, his reaction frightened her.

After cleaning up Jessica went upstairs to her office. She googled “adopting a child in Seattle” and started pouring over websites. She discovered a highly respected Adoption Coordinator who acted as a kind of personal assistant to help navigate the complicated system. Jessica set up a meeting with her. First consultations were one hour and cost $200, non-refundable. Fine. Done and done. She would meet with the coordinator and get a feel for the whole process. Of course she wouldn’t mention that her husband had gone off the rails at the mere mention of adopting, that would tarnish their file forever.

The next morning Jessica awoke to a note on the bed that read, “Gone Fishing. Back Tonight. Jim.”

Wow. He was mad.

Of course Jim didn’t fish, so he’d probably gone off on a day trip somewhere where he could sulk and rage, maybe to a small town pub.

The Sunday farmer’s market was on and Jessica hurried to get there in time to score one of their delicious strawberry scones. Everyone else went for the fresh organic produce, but Jessica went for the baked goods. Of course she piled her basket high with leafy green things too, but tucked underneath were scones, cookies and croissants.

Back at home Jessica made herself coffee, then sat outside with her plate of carbs. As she finished the scone her memory flash-backed to ten years ago:

She and Jim had met and married in their mid-thirties, the last in their circle to wed. A blind date had led to a year of intense dating, leading to a six month engagement, culminating in a beautiful outdoor wedding.

Holding her coffee mug, Jessica froze:

She had fallen in love with Jim on their very first date. He smelled like ivory soap and made her feel like the most dazzling woman on planet earth. After sleeping together on their fourth date, while lying in a tangle of grey striped sheets, Jim had revealed that he did not want kids. In that moment all Jessica wanted was Jim, so she had answered:

“Me either. But I would love to have dogs.”

Fucking Ivory Soap Smell. Go Fuck Yourself.

She started crying.

Jessica had always wanted a child. Ever since she could remember she had wanted one child, not two, not three, but one. One had always seemed civilized, like you could still have a life and not be run completely ragged. She had never not wanted a child. She had never not wanted a child until the night she told Jim she did not want a child.

Fuckety Fuck Fuck Fuck.

Still crying, Jessica picked up her cell, calling her mom:

“Darling, are you okay?”

“Ya, I’m fine, it’s just-”

“Ok good because our mimosas have arrived, I’m out for brunch with the girls. Can I call you later?”

“Should I adopt a child?”

“Oh My God, girls – they’re adopting a child! Congratulations! Finally I’ll be a grandmother!”

Jessica could hear her mother’s friends in the background clinking glasses.

“Delilah said she wants to throw you a baby shower-”

“Mom, I just asked if you think I should adopt a child. I didn’t say we were adopting one. I’m actually having kind of a meltdown right now, I-”

“Sweetie, just do it. What are you waiting for? I’ve practically got one foot in the grave. I’ll call you later and of course you can count on your father and I to babysit once a week. Well, maybe once every two weeks. Love you. Byeeeee!”

Jesus Christ.

“FUUUUUUUCK!” Jessica yelled a little too loudly.

Her neighbour, Dorothy, poked her head out her back door.

“Jessica, what’s all the ruckus about?”

“I just realized that I want a child even though ten years ago I told Jim that I didn’t. Now I don’t know what to do.”

“Can you accidentally get pregnant?” Dorothy suggested, taking a puff of her menthol.

“Not really. I use an IUD and they rarely fail. Plus, I think my eggs are past their due date.”

“Adopt then. Adoption is a wonderful thing.”

“I know right? That’s what I want to do, but Jim-”

“Oh never mind Jim, he’ll come around. Remember when he didn’t want you planting those rose bushes because he hated thorns? But he ended up loving them. It’ll be the same with having a child.”

Dorothy took another puff then waved good-bye.

Okay, but I can’t take advice from anyone who still smokes Menthols.

Jessica texted her best friend Michelle, asking her to call when she had time. She knew Michelle was currently overwhelmed with her in-laws visiting, a new puppy and two kids under eight.

“Love u. Will call asap. Freak scene here. My in-laws r insufferable. Hope u r ok. Xoxo.”

Jessica finished her coffee while further researching adoption and found several helpful blogs and websites.

Trying not to fret about Jim, she spent the day keeping busy. Catching up on some work, vacuuming, planting daisies in the front yard, dropping off some cookies to Dorothy and then later making Jim’s favorite meal: spaghetti and meat balls.

Jessica’s eyes were puffy from crying on and off throughout the afternoon. At seven o’clock, when Jim still wasn’t home, she lay down with a warm flaxseed eye pillow.

Michelle called back:

“What happened?”

“I think I want a child.”

“Well of course you want a child. You’ve always wanted a child – one child – since we were like twelve years old. But in your haze of mad love you told Jim you didn’t want kids and you’ve kept up the lie for ten years.”

“When you put it like that it sounds awful, I sound awful.”

“You’re not awful, you were just wildly in love and scared of losing him. And over the years you buried your desire for a child so deeply that you kinda convinced yourself you never wanted one in the first place. But it sounds like you’ve just had some sort of amazing emotional breakthrough – what happened?”

“Well, I know this sounds insane, but I think the breakthrough was triggered by reading Parenting Magazine-“

“You bought Parenting Magazine?”

“No no, it randomly appeared in our mailbox. So I started flipping through it and it just brought it all up for me.”

“Like a sign from the universe. Not that I believe in that crap, but-”

“I know, it does kind of feel like a sign from the universe, even though I don’t really believe in that stuff either. And so I started thinking about my eggs which are, you know kinda old-timers and then it just came to me: we should adopt – maybe even a child because they get overlooked. So I brought it up over dinner.”

“Nice timing, out of nowhere.”

“I know, I know. Jim is furious. He left early this morning and hasn’t returned yet.”

“Well, that is Jim’s MO – he just disappears – he’s passive aggressive. He’ll come back tonight, don’t worry.”

“Hopefully. But the thing is I’m really serious. I’ve already booked a consultation with an Adoption Coordinator.”

“That sounds like a made up job title.”

“No, it’s a real thing. She comes highly recommended. The adoption paperwork is insane, she helps facilitate things.”

“Can she convince your husband to adopt? Cause that would be a real thing.”

“Very funny.”

“Sorry. Listen, you’ve been watching Sandra and I raise our kids so you’ve seen the challenges up close. You know that raising a child is fucking hard. But it’s also the best thing ever and you would be an incredible mother. Not gonna lie though, I’m a lil’ worried that your emotional breakthrough might blow up your marriage. I don’t think Jim will change his mind.”

“Let’s see. I’m so drained. Thanks for talking love. Good luck with the in-laws.”

“Good luck with Jim. Keep me posted. Love you.”

Watching a few episodes of the old Charlie’s Angels, her go-to comfort show, Jessica kept her ear tuned to the door. Surely Jim would come home, if not for Jessica then for his Monday morning zoom meeting.

Later, showered and in bed wearing Jim’s vintage New Order tee-shirt, Jessica prayed to God:

Dear God,
I know it’s been awhile and I apologize for my delinquency. But I’m in a bit of a situation here and I’m wondering if you can help me out. Can you please bring Jim home safely? I’m starting to worry that something happened to him. Like maybe he went to the country and did that thing he likes to do where he pretends he’s an outdoorsy Patagonia guy even though he’s totally not. And maybe he walked in a dangerous part of the forest and was attacked by a bear or a pack of wild dogs. I just need him to come home.
Oh and also – sorry to ask for help with two things – I need him to have had a complete change of heart and be 100% into adopting a child with me. That’s all, just those two things. Thank you so much. I hope you are well and that all your angel friends are well too.
I love you. Good night.

Jessica turned off her bedside table lamp and closed her eyes. She didn’t think she would be able to sleep, but the moment her head hit her Blissy satin pillowcase she was out cold.

At 2:00 AM, after eating left over spaghetti and meat balls and taking a shower in the basement bathroom so as not to wake Jessica, Jim slid into bed.

“You’re home, thank God. I was so worried.”

“I know, I’m sorry babe. I should have texted you back. I just needed some space to – as you always say – process my feelings. I love you, you’re everything to me. I know that sounds corny as fuck, but it’s true. And I just want us to enjoy this beautiful life together. So I booked us a trip to San Francisco at the end of the month, 4 days at a super swank hotel. Just us being happy, silly tourists together. We’ll ride the cable cars, check out the Victorian architecture that you love – it’s gonna be perfect.”

“Wow, I can’t believe you did that, thank you. I can hardly wait.”

They kissed.

After the kiss the silence was not soft and lovely, it was heavy and sad, at least it felt that way to Jessica. All the words left un-said and the emotions that went with the words, were swept under their Crate and Barrel shag rug.

Jessica was now wide awake. The elephant in the room had jammed its long trunk into her heart and as she lay on the satin pillow case, the one that was supposed to prevent wrinkles, she thought:

I asked for a child and he gave me a trip to California.
Where the hell do we go from here?

Photo Credit: “sophsoph” on Pinterest

Spaghetti Can Flowers

Receiving wild flowers in a spaghetti can is not something a girl forgets, especially when they arrive with bacon, wrapped old-school style by the butcher.

“Mary Ellen?”

I was staying at a B & B in small-town Quebec when I heard the door knock. Checking that I was presentable, I put on my mask and opened it.

A thin, sun-hardened arm reached out and passed me the flowers. They had clearly been arranged with care, not simply tossed in the can.

“These are so beautiful, thank you, I-“

The other thin, sun-hardened arm reached out and passed me a package wrapped in brown paper.

“It’s for your breakfast with your friend. You’re going to visit her today, right? It’s bacon.”

Wearing a black kaftan, hair up in a bun, mask on, I stood holding the flowers and bacon. The moment felt surreal and for a second I felt like an actress in a scene from a quirky indie film.

Standing in front of me was the man I had dated when I was just twenty-one years old. Now, thirty years later, he stood before me with these sweet offerings.

I had traveled to rural Quebec for a late summer visit with one of my dearest girlfriends. Realizing my old boyfriend lived nearby, I had reached out to him thinking it would be nice to have a coffee and catch up. But that’s not quite what happened…

I ended up sitting on a lawn chair, in a field behind a workshop, drinking wine from a dirty mason jar. An alarming-looking fire in a metal barrel and a giant pirate’s flag were the only decor. Joining us were his ex brother-in-law and a fast-talking man wearing a straw fedora.

At various points in the evening the guys took turns urinating outside.

“If you need to go pee you can just do it out here, don’t worry, we won’t look and you’ll be safe. I’ll protect you,” said my ex.

Wait what? Peeing outside? What is happening?

On the walk over to his artist meets Hells’ Angels living quarters, I had struggled to connect with the man I once knew. He had a hard time making eye contact, was fidgety and clearly drunk.

I learned he had a grown daughter whom he deeply loved. That he knew how to survive in the wilderness (yikes, why?) and had spent time in Ireland. He’d also worked for years on large ships and loved to write poetry. That’s what I got, just a broad outline. But there were details. The details were in the scent he gave off: a blend of grief and complete despair.

“You know me. I’ve been trying to kill myself for years,” he said casually, just like someone might say, “you know me, I love ice cream.”

His pain completely overwhelmed me. I felt like any second it might swallow me up whole. Part of me wanted to run – fast – away from the field. But I also knew that his pain deserved to be seen, his pain deserved to be acknowledged. And so I sat in the field, drinking wine from a dirty mason jar and bore witness to it.

Later that night, alone at my B & B, I was overcome with sorrow. It shattered my twenty-one year old’s heart to see him so broken. I remembered him being wild and troubled when we dated, but also kind and romantic. One time he surprised me at the bus station:
I was returning from visiting a friend and there he was, hands in his pockets, staring at the windows trying to locate me, his eyes lighting up when he saw me. I distinctly remember thinking: “I can’t believe he’s here!” There were no cell phones or emojis back then, but if there were I would have texted my girlfriends:
“OMG he’s waiting at the station for me!💖😍🤸‍♀️👏💕”

Being presented with flowers and bacon the morning after such a crushing evening was not something I was prepared for. But, the moment was tender and real and awkward and despite the sadness I felt it was also beautiful.

#trauma #oldboyfriends #lifestories #quebec

Just Breathe

“I can’t breathe.”

“You’re breathing.”

“No, I’m not. Call 911.”

“You’re having a panic attack.”

“I know I’m having a panic attack, don’t you think I know I’m having a panic attack?”

“Well if you know you’re having a panic attack then you know that it’ll be over soon.”

“That’s not helpful. Being rational is useless during a panic attack.

“You’re right, I’m sorry.”

“It’s okay. I can’t stop shaking and my teeth are chattering.”

Marissa took three Xanax.

“Jesus! Don’t gobble those up they’re not candies!”

“Don’t yell at me! I can’t breathe. And these pills are only .5 milligrams each – one pill does nothing.”

Mark sighed.

“I have to change out of my nightgown, when the paramedics arrive I need to be properly dressed.”

“The paramedics are not coming, you’re breathing. You’re going to be fine. Come here.”

Mark grabbed Marissa and held her from behind, wrapping his arms across her chest.

“You’re choking me.”

He lowered his arms.

“Ok that feels better, thanks. But my teeth are chattering, I’m scared.”

“Open your mouth wide.”

“Why?”

“If you open your mouth wide your teeth won’t be able to chatter.”

“Oh good idea, thanks,” said Marissa.

With her mouth open and Mark holding her, Marissa moved her body slowly side to side. The repetitive motion helped to soothe her.

“I’m getting aroused.”

“What?!” cried Marissa.

“You’re moving back and forth against my crotch, what did you expect?”

“Oh My God – sorry!”

They both started laughing.

“I can’t laugh, it’ll make the attack worse.”

Marissa adjusted her body so that she was moving back and forth along Mark’s thigh instead.

“FYI: I won’t have the energy to do anything about your arousal. After my panic attacks I’m always completely drained.”

“I didn’t expect you to, I’m not a complete ogre.”

“I’m freezing.”

“You’re actually not cold, it’s just your psyche fucking with you.”

“Alright. I’m going to pace around the kitchen for awhile. The movement calms me.”

“Okay but where’s your cell phone? I don’t want you calling the paramedics.”

“I won’t,” said Marissa with her mouth wide open.

“Remember that Yakity Yak clattering teeth toy? Do they still sell those? I want one.”

“I’ll look online now,” said Mark, sitting down with his laptop.

Marissa continued pacing back and forth while wringing her hands like they’d just been stung by bees.

“This is a good look, isn’t it? I’ve never felt more unattractive in my life.”

“You’re beautiful. Even when you’re panic-attacking you’re breathtakingly beautiful.”

“That’s the sweetest thing you’ve ever said to me. Did you find the Yakity Yak teeth?”

“I did, I’m ordering them now.”

“Thanks. I think the drugs are kicking in, I feel like I can breathe again.”

“Yakity Yak Yay!” cried Mark.

Like Vines

When the weather turns warm the park transforms into a runway for young lovers. Teenagers lie on the grass, entwined like colorful vines.

Sitting under a pink flowering tree I put on my headphones and hide behind my sunglasses. Hiding so that I can spy.
I spy with my little eye:
Two girls, both wearing checkered Vans and paint splattered jeans. They giggle and kiss, then curl up together, the long unicorn-hair girl lying with her head on the other’s chest. They’re so beautiful I want to paint them. Of course I have no painting supplies with me and I also can’t paint to save my life. So I try to photograph them with my eyes, each time I blink I imagine I’m taking a Polaroid. I just want, I just need, to remember all the details of this sweet sweet tableau.

I spy with my little eye:
Two teens, each wearing a black mask. They’re walking hand in hand until the shaved head kid takes the bleached blonde kid into their arms. They pull down their masks and kiss.

Wow. It’s a kiss for the poets.

But, I also remember this kiss. Though this kiss belongs to these two cuties, it’s also our kiss. Like the Universal Kiss of Our Youth. My body is flooded with feeling, my body, heart and psyche still remember this kiss.

Loneliness – or is it longing? – washes over me making it hard to breathe. I take a sip of water and shed a few tears. The tears feel good and necessary, like when you see a Monet painting in person for the first time.

In my own marriage it’s as if two people are living together, but apart. “Together But Apart.” It could be a book title or the name of a new Netflix series. We don’t really kiss anymore. Or do we? Do we kiss and I just don’t notice? Are the kisses like a beige room that have no impact?

Now I’m angry. I want to kiss, I deserve to kiss. What’s happening to my life? What have I allowed to happen to my life, to me? Because the thing is, when your body, psyche and heart remember what it feels like to kiss like the two masked teens, then the grief you experience when you no longer kiss like that – the grief I’m experiencing right now in this park – the grief is intense. What the hell is wrong with God? What kind of a fucking sadist would make us remember?

Yet…
I spy with my little eye:
Joy. There is still joy, despite God being a sadist. Because these precious young people are growing up in such crazy times and yet here they are still having crushes, still making out, still having googley eyes for each other. They are everything that is right in this world and I love them for it. And I want to sit in this park forever and soak up their rainbow-hued energy.

Photo Source: Pinterest, Sydney Jade

JLo Glow

“You know when you cut open an orange only to realize it’s one of those dried out ones with no flavour?”

“Ya,”

“That’s what I feel like. All my juicy-juice goodness has dried up. I hate being middle-age,” Donna said.

Becky sighed:

“You’ve always been like this. Remember your 25th birthday? You had a meltdown and claimed your life was over and that you had nothing to show for it.”

They laughed.

“Ok, but back to my orange analogy. I could get fillers or Botox, but really I’m looking for ways to get my inside juicy self back.”

“Why don’t you go on a wellness retreat and have an affair.”

“Umm, because I’m married. That’s the worse advice ever, you’re nuts.”

“Affairs at wellness retreats don’t count – just like Vegas, but with green juice. Plus, I read that affairs can actually rejuvenate women better than Juverderm.”

“Very funny. I’ll never have an affair and not because I’m a perfect upstanding citizen. But because I have terrible taste in men. I would end up sleeping with someone completely deranged: the kind of guy who drives a mini-van even though he doesn’t have a family.”

“Oh those guys are creepy. And what about the guys who keep freezers in their garage? Never trust a man with a freezer in his garage.”

“Totally.”

“It’s true that you used to have bad taste in men, but then you married Jack and he’s a decent guy – you could have done a lot worse. Remember Melissa James from college? She just found out her husband has a whole other family. Can you believe that?”

“How do people have the time and energy to keep secret families? Jack and I can barely handle one teenager and two cats. Honestly, I don’t think either of us could pull off an affair, we’re too tired. Even before the pandemic we were burned out. Now it’s a miracle if we’re able to stay up late enough to watch an episode of The Crown.”

“That’s sad,” Becky said laughing.

Donna continued,

“I just watched JLo’s Instagram reels and she is the juiciest fifty-two year old. She literally glows from within. She has this light, happy, sparkly vibe. I bought her entire skincare collection.”

Becky started laughing harder:

“Stop it, I’m gonna pee my pants.”

Donna stretched out on their blanket:

“I forgot to put on sunscreen today,” she said, surveying the park.

“Oh who cares – so you get a few more age spots. If you get enough age spots they’ll blend together and you’ll looked nicely tanned,” Becky said.

“I’m so glad you find me amusing.”

Becky passed a peach scented gum drop to Donna.

“Is this candy or an edible?”

“It’s an artisanal CBD edible. You should see the packaging – so chic. I read about them in Vogue.”

Donna popped it in her mouth.

“Delicious, thanks.”

“Okay, now back to your problem: You need to start putting yourself first. You still make breakfast every morning for your husband and teenage son – like a freaking 1950’s housewife.”

“It’s just this little ritual we have, it’s sweet.”

“It’s not sweet, it’s pathetic. Take that morning time and spend it doing something you like. You love reading those alphabet thrillers. So start your mornings with coffee and a book, the guys will survive without bacon and waffles.”

“I don’t know, it’s like this family bonding time—”

“Is it really though? Aren’t they both usually on their phones?”

“Well, kind of, but—”

“I think that you not feeling your juiciest is partly because you let people take advantage of you, including those who love you. Start making yourself a priority or you’ll become resentful. And nothing ages a woman more than resentment.”

“Wow, you’re fired up this morning. I feel like I have a bitchy life coach. Ok I’m doing it. Starting tomorrow the boys are on their own for breakfast.”

They lay in silence for awhile, enjoying the sunshine and light breeze.

“And a yearly girls trip. We should start doing a yearly girls trip. No partners, no kids, no pets.”

“Jack wouldn’t like that, he doesn’t like me travelling without him.”

“Too bad. You deserve a yearly getaway without any mothering or wife-y duties, that’s not a big ask. You’ve really given away a lot of your power, it’s upsetting. If you want JLo’s juicy vibe you’re gonna have to reclaim your damn power – that’s her secret, not her skincare line.”

A few minutes passed and Donna kicked off her Birkenstocks.

“You’re right, I have given away a lot of my power and it’s a sickening feeling. But because I’ve given away so much of it, it sort of feels impossible to get it back. Like I don’t have enough power to get my power back, if that makes sense.”

“It makes total sense. But I know you can do it. And unless you want to feel like a dried out piece of orange for the rest of your life, you have to do it.”

Becky reached out for Donna’s hand:

“I hope I’m not being too harsh, I just love you so much.”

“I love you too babe. And isn’t my hand soft? It’s JLo’s body moisturizer.”

Photo: Jlobeauty.com

The Edit

“What happened to our bookcase in the living room?” Jodie asked.

“I organized the books by color,” answered Lily.

“Well obviously, but why?”

“I watched this show on Netflix about organizing your home to create a calm and happy environment. I’m doing our bedroom closet next. Actually – this weekend I need you to go through your clothes and shoes and put stuff you don’t wear anymore into a bag for The Goodwill.”

Jodie debated whether it was worth arguing over this insane new obsession of Lily’s and decided against it. They had been navigating multiple rough patches lately and were long overdue for a smooth patch.

“Okay no problem,” she said, taking a sip of Cabernet.

The next day Jodie went through her side of the closet.

“You have thirty-three printed tunics,” Lily yelled from the living room. “You can probably get rid of a few of the older ones.”

Jodie didn’t say anything. Even though she was working from home because of the pandemic, a tunic over slim black pants was still her work uniform of choice and she didn’t want to part with any of them.

Resignedly she picked out her three least favorite and threw them in a giant blue recycling bag.

Lily was at the bedroom door now:

“Thanks babe, I really appreciate you doing this. Don’t forget you have a million maxi dresses at the back of the closet.”

Lord Give Me Strength.

The maxi dress section proved to be a landmine, each dress tagged with its own memory:

Jodie had worn the black floral one on their first date to a gallery opening. After flirting over art, they had shared a bottle of wine with oysters and frites at Bistro Figaro.

On their trip to Cape Cod, where they had kissed ice cream off each other’s lips, she had worn the flaxseed linen dress almost every day.

The olive tiered maxi she had bought for their two year anniversary dinner. Though her high heels had pinched her toes, the night had still been blissful.

Suddenly Jodie was sobbing. Sitting on the carpet she was struck by how old these joyful memories were. There were no recent joyful memories. It would be easy to blame the pandemic, but it wasn’t the virus’s fault. Prior to Covid Jodie had sensed a shift in their relationship, they had become more like roommates; the romance had disappeared.

When they first started dating Jodie had made it clear that romance was important to her. She loved getting flowers, walking hand in hand and any and all sweet gestures. Obviously the pandemic was stressful, but it wasn’t an excuse to ignore your partner’s needs. Plus, they didn’t have kids – not even a cat – so they had it much easier than others.

They had time for romance.

Jodie blew her nose then took half a Xanax from her bedside table. Back at her pile she chose three dresses for The Goodwill.

“I’m finished,” she yelled, leaving the bedroom to pour herself a glass of wine.

“Oh great thanks, now I can get to work. I bought all new hangers, clear bins and labels. And of course I will color-code the closet too.”

Jodie took a large sip of wine:

“Do you color code the black? Like lightest black to darkest black?” Jodie asked.

“Are you making fun of me?”

“No, just curious.”

“I don’t color code the black. Why are you drinking wine at three o’clock in the afternoon?”

“I’m self-medicating.”

“What’s wrong? Anything I can do to help?”

Jodie stared at her.

You can stop trying to fix our broken relationship by organizing our house.

“It’s just…a lot of beautiful memories came up when I went through the closet. I feel like I just gave away some of our happiest times to The Goodwill. And I’m worried that we’re not making any new happy memories.”

“You can’t put that kind of pressure on us, I mean we’re in the middle of a god damn pandemic. You’re too much of a romantic. Not everything is champagne and chocolate, sometimes it’s just peanut butter sandwiches.”

“Peanut butter sandwiches are fine, but not everyday. When was the last time we had sex? Do you even remember? Because I don’t.”

“Again with the pressure. We’re both working from home and we haven’t killed each other yet or died from COVID, so I’m scoring that as a win. We can have tons of sex once things calm down,” Lily said exasperated, walking to the bedroom to work on the closet.

Jodie took the bottle of wine and a bag of Ruffles to the living room couch. She grabbed a handful of chips and looked at them:

How do some of the chips stay perfectly intact while others get broken?

It turns out that Cabernet and Sour Cream and Onion potato chips were a thing. Like if she owned a restaurant every glass of red wine would be served with a small bowl of these chips.

Lily didn’t eat junk food of any kind. Instead she had her own shelf in their tiny pantry full of protein powders and vitamin mixes for her daily smoothies.

Jodie leaned back and tossed a few more chips in her mouth. If only her therapist hadn’t retired. What kind of a therapist retires during a pandemic?

“Come see what I’m doing,” shouted Lily from the bedroom.

Jodie sighed:

“Be there in a sec.”

She found Lily in a tweaked frenzy:

“See first you have to edit and purge – getting rid of stuff. Then it’s about containing. You can’t just have stuff loose in the closet, everything needs its own place and a label. Like your winter sweaters: they were in a messy pile on the shelf, but now they’re in this clear labeled bin, color-coded and contained.”

Leaning against the wall and sipping her wine, Jodie said:

“You know what else are messy? Feelings are messy. And feelings aren’t meant to be contained in a color-coded, labeled bin. Feelings are meant to be expressed and talked about.”

“What is your problem? I’m working hard to create a calm and happy environment for us by organizing our home and you’re not the least bit grateful.”

“No, I’m not. Because I didn’t ask you to do this. Because this doesn’t need doing. Because this is just another example of you trying to control everything, instead of allowing yourself to be vulnerable. Can we talk about our fucking relationship instead of color-coding the closet please?!”

“What is there to talk about? We share a lovely home, we both have successful careers, we’re healthy…”

“That’s what you have to say about our relationship? Are you kidding me?! What about the fact that you know romantic gestures are important to me, yet you haven’t bought me flowers in over a year. We don’t hold hands anymore, we don’t make love anymore…”

“Honestly, you are so immature. The new variant is kicking our ass, Russia invaded Ukraine and Putin might blow up the world. Meanwhile you’re talking about us not holding hands? You’re acting like a spoiled teenager instead of a forty-two year old woman.”

Lily turned her back on Jodie and continued organizing their closet. Jodie watched as she used a sharpie to make a label:

“Sweatshirts.”

Back in the kitchen Jodie rinsed out her wine glass. Then she took one of their insulated food bags and filled it with cheese, bread, wine, chocolate, berries and coffee.

Taking a black sharpie from Lily’s bag of supplies in the hallway and a large-sized pad of paper from their office, she started printing words in giant block letters:

I LOVE YOU
BUT THIS RELATIONSHIP
IS NOT MEETING MY NEEDS.
IF PUTIN IS
GOING TO BLOW
US ALL UP
THEN I NEED
SOME ROMANCE
& JOY BEFORE
I DIE.

She put the papers in order and attached a paper clip. Grabbing a clear bin off the floor, she put the papers inside, then labeled the bin:

CHAMPAGNE & CHOCOLATES

Jodie gathered up two cloth masks, her charger, phone, laptop and purse, then ordered an Uber to drive her to the train station.

Two and a half hours later Jodie was at her grandmother’s country house. It was a shabby-chic oasis which her grandmother had left to her in her will – and it was Jodie’s favorite place on earth.

If Lily decided that their relationship was more important than color-coding t-shirts, then she would know where Jodie was.

If not, Jodie would be sad, but she would be okay. And she would live bin-free in the country. Maybe she would even get a cat.

Art by Hiroki_takeda1223 on Instagram

A Simple Life

“Why do you have to bring such chaos into our lives? I feel like everything you do is complicated and noisy.”

“First of all, thank you so much. What a lovely thing to say – that I bring chaos into our lives. Second of all, I bring color into our lives, not chaos, there’s a big difference.”

“Well then you need to tone down the color, maybe add a little beige to it. I just want to live a simple, quiet life.”

“A simple, quiet life? What does that even mean?”

“It means the fire alarm always goes off when you cook. It means when you have your girlfriends over for wine and cheese it turns into an insane eighties dance party and you get mad at me for not joining in. It means you make super random decisions like you’re suddenly going to bake pot brownies, but then you don’t measure properly and the marijuana sends you into a paranoia spiral. A simple, quiet life is the opposite of all that.”

“Wow, okay, well…. The pot brownies were an innocent mistake – you know I’m partially dyslexic, I messed up the numbers. The fire alarm is because I like to try new recipes and sometimes they don’t go exactly as planned. What are we gonna do, eat baked salmon every night? And you should have joined our dance party, we were having fun. Remember fun?”

“You exhaust me.”

“Well you bore me!”

Amy put on her big chunky heeled boots and stomped loudly out of the house. Half an hour later she was back with three bags of groceries. She turned on her Spotify 80’s Hits Mix and started cooking.

“Guess what,” she yelled,

“I’m cooking without a recipe, so get ready for more chaos!”

She took a sip of Pinot Noir and twirled around the kitchen, using the spatula as a microphone to sing along with The Go Go’s:

Can you hear them
They talk about us
Telling lies
Well, that’s no surprise

An hour later:

“Dinner is served – even though I’m still pissed.”

Dave joined her at the table. The kitchen looked like a gang of toddlers had trashed it, but he didn’t say anything. At least the fire alarm hadn’t gone off.

“Tonight’s menu features Thai chicken and coconut rice.”

“Smells good. Thanks for making dinner.”

“You’re welcome.”

“This is actually really really good.”

“Take out actually and I’ll happily accept the compliment.”

“This is really really good.”

“Thanks. It love it,” Amy said, taking a giant bite.

“I didn’t mean what I said earlier, or maybe I meant some of it, I don’t know. But I love you. It’s just this fucking pandemic. We’re with each other 24/7, it’s not normal.”

“Preach!” said Amy, raising her glass in the air. “The other day you were so irritating that I was about to hop a plane – Covid be damned – to somewhere sunny where there are cabana boys and umbrella drinks.”

They continued eating in silence.

“Maybe we should take a mini-break,” said Amy.

“But where would we go? The U.S. border is closed. And anyways, I don’t feel safe flying yet.”

“No, I meant take a break from each other.”

“What?”

“Don’t get upset, just listen for a second. Relationships are suffering in the pandemic and divorce rates are skyrocketing. We don’t have kids, we don’t even have a cat. So why don’t we take advantage of that flexibility and try living ‘together but apart’ for a few months. It’s actually a very popular trend, it started way before the pandemic. Even The New York Times wrote an article on the phenomenon – lots of couples are living separately and they’re really happy.”

Dave wiped his mouth with his napkin.

“No. No way. That sounds like a one-way ticket to divorce.”

“Why don’t you read up on it first before you say no. It has nothing to do with divorcing. You could have more of the simple quiet life that you like and I could be…me.”

“This is just your pandemic stress talking. Let’s keep things as they are, I don’t want to rock the boat.”

“Well maybe the boat needs to be rocked. Maybe the boat needs to be fucking flipped over!” cried Amy.

“This is what I was talking about earlier – everything is always chaotic with you. You’re suggesting a major life change in the middle of a global pandemic. It’s complete insanity.”

“Fine. Do you mind cleaning up?”

“No problem.”

“Thanks.”

Amy went to the living room, took her laptop and googled “Caribbean destinations that Canadians are allowed to visit” and scrolled through the covid rules and regulations. Then she booked a hotel and flight, leaving in one week and staying for two weeks.

Yes, I’ll be on a plane, probably a crowded one. So yes, I’m taking a chance. But our boat needs to be rocked. And I need a cabana boy and an umbrella drink like yesterday.

Roxie

“Beautiful girl, I love you so much. Give me a kiss.”

“Why do you only talk like that to our dog?”

“What?”

“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?”

“What?”

“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.”

“Wow.”

“Wow what?”

“Just like an all-around wow.”

“Well…”

“How much?”

“What do you mean how much?”

“How much would I get to put on your credit card for my new wardrobe?”

“Three thousand dollars.”

“Five thousand.”

“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.”

“Okay then.”

“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)

Erica

“Your eyes look different.”

“What do you mean different?”

“I don’t know. Something has changed.”

“Maybe my eyes look happy because my best friend is coming to visit this week.”

“No, it’s not that, they don’t look happy.”

“What then?”

“I don’t know exactly.”

“Are you trying to say I look older?”

“I mean…your eyes just don’t look like they used to.”

“We’re lying in bed, in the dark, about to go to sleep and from what I understand you’re telling me I look older? Why in God’s name would you say that? I don’t think I’ve ever had a man say something so hurtful to me.”

“Well I mean we all change over time.”

“I feel sick with sadness, like I could vomit tears.”

The next morning Erica stared at her eyes in the bathroom mirror. She did look older, she’d noticed it a little while ago. It was partly hereditary – everyone on her mom’s side of the family got droopy upper eye lids. But for Paul to say something…

Paul regularly said things that left her feeling small. Little things that in the moment felt like nothing, but minutes later left Erica feeling deflated. And she had become so used to feeling this way that it felt normal. Though he said he loved her sparkly, colorful spirit, he was actually snuffing it out one day at a time. And since words left no physical marks, no one could see that she was being hurt over and over again.

Erica was so upset that she ate six Bear Claw cookies for breakfast and gave herself a stomach ache. Lying on the couch for half an hour she tried crying, but nothing happened. Where were her tears?

Her tears were gone. Her tears were gone because her sadness had, unbeknownst to her, turned into anger. And her anger had, within seconds, turned into action. And action took Erica from the couch to Staples, where she bought six boxes, bubble wrap, tape and large sheets of paper.

Erica circled their condo, taking her favorite possessions. Packing quickly, she drank coffee with spoonfuls of sugar. From their bedroom closet she chose only her most loved clothing, folding it in a small suitcase.

Logging onto airbnb she found an artsy, furnished cottage on the opposite side of the city. It was just a few blocks from the water and had a beautiful rose garden. She paid for three months rent and the owner offered to help carry her boxes inside, where she could store them in the den.

She cleaned the coffee pot and put her dirty cup in the dishwasher. On a leftover piece of packing paper she wrote a note to Paul:

You did not break my spirit. You temporarily took the air out of my spirit. You temporarily crushed my spirit. But my spirit is more powerful than you will ever be. My spirit has come roaring back with her drooping eyelids and my spirit has this to say:
“You were lucky to have me, but I’m gone now.”