Unless you’ve lived in a four seasons city, you just can’t understand how transformational and redivivus the vernal expectation of spring. My mind feels like someone has loosened the screws, and a willowy feeling fills the body so when I walk my steps waver, without any alcohol. This spring is like a substance prescription after one of the gloomiest winters of my life.
I’ve never been a woman who dated. There is too much pretense and preparation. My preference is to just meet him by circumstance, become friends for at least a few weeks, and then either we are inseparable or separate. Dates are like the holidays, a whoosh of expectation. Had my attitude been more flexible and my social presence more waggish, I could have met more men. They don’t have to be long-term commitments, or marriage, just friends.
The freedom of traveling solo was the prong of my selfishness in my thirties, not anymore. As the curtain drops on romanticism of solo adventure, it’s really second place to romancing with a partner.
Singleness after several years is feeling the chill , envy of couples embracing in laughter, staring into a wedding party as if it was a fairytale, dining alone with the TV, laptop, or music as my audience, but worse of all is wearing the wicked blue robe! The one that feels like a blanket and looks like it should be thrown out.
The actuality of my detachment from a relationship, is posted everywhere and it is neon bright in my head. When this singleness sinks my spirit, I take a bath. Women you know, if you drop down and eliminate, the room that may not be as you please, or a phone call, text, beep, and soak out everything, it is bliss.
Freedom is the bait and a rolling drum beat. I can do, go, think, act, without argument or alarm. I have always been more observer than joiner. Even in High School, in a gang of ten gals and guys I continually turned down invitations, or bowed out at the last-minute.
If you are a dreamer like me; youth doesn’t end, people don’t end, ambitions and passions still erupt and the blood in my veins boils to reinvent, and relocate. All of those choices are upon me.
It was a day like today, just after the rain soaked every blade of grass, and the world looked squeaky clean as if it had been mopped with God’s soap. I was sleeping in an unfamiliar bed in an unfamiliar berth on a ferryboat that swayed like a rubber raft. I was awakened by a knock at the door. “Ma’am. We’re here.” I looked at the young man questionably.“Ireland,” he added and shut the door. “We’re here?” I twisted myself round in the blanket and raised my chin to the porthole.Oh my God– It exists. Look at that tiny little village and the little harbor and the colors.
I landed at the Port of Rosshaven from London where I’d spent two nights in a room the size of a cigarette holder. I loved London as much as I could in two short days; carrying thirty-five pounds of clothes. Part of one day I spent packaging up half my wardrobe to ship back. The plan was to spend one month in Ireland. Other than that, my itinerary was unplanned. In those days, I leveraged myself to the outskirts of foolery.I gathered my Northface garment duffle, shoulder bag, and departed the ferry. It was Sept. 5, 1987, and I was thirty-something, recently separated from a career in commercial real estate and my pad in the Bankers Hill neighborhood of San Diego. Everything went into storage so I would be free to conquer whatever it was I thought I was conquering.
That first day I made my way to the picturesque village of Kinsale. The tourist office made the reservation for me and suggested that I rent a car. No need, I thought. I’d get around on my own for a while. She slapped a map of Ireland on the desk and pointed to several towns and then counted the miles between each town. “The buses stop running in September because all the tourists have gone home. You be wee on your own.” “ Well, I’ll look into it tomorrow. I’ll just get a cab to the Bed and Breakfast tonight.”
That night ended faster than any in my life. I woke up and decided to stay another. I could not part with the warmth of the Innkeeper’s country kitchen and the canary yellow bedroom, or the county road, the red barn and the miles and miles of rollercoaster hills cushioned in that indescribable Irish green. Her house was a quintessential B & B, blushing with the right bedding, Irish linen, French and English antiques and contemporary restaurant-grade kitchen.
I remember the Innkeeper drove a BMW, and her house sparkled as if it had been photographed earlier. That first day I walked into dreamland, and I did not come out until I left Ireland. This was my first solo trip to Europe. I began with Ireland because my friend, Kenny, insisted I go find the Casey in me. That’s my mother’s maiden name. Everyone thought I should be institutionalized for taking off like I did; mid-career on the rise and all of that.
That first evening I walked into town and ate at the restaurant the Innkeeper recommended. I wish I could remember the name of the place. It’s written in my journal, but the journal is in Taos, NM. Anyway, that dinner still rates in the top ten of all dinners, including all those four-star French Michelin Chateau feasts I found my way to later on in the trip. I hit a dozen villages between Clare, Kerry and Limerick. I took a seaweed bath at the seashore of Ballybunion, stayed in a folk singers
luxury hotel for a week because he wanted me to bring his tape back to America, attended an Irish wedding and the racetrack in Dublin. I watched the Farmers Matchmaking Festival in Lisdoonvarna and climbed the hill to the Cliffs of Mohr. On my hike up to the cliffs, I passed a man gardening in his front yard. He stopped and began to chat. His house was so beautifully Irish, handcrafted in brick and stone with acres of fertile land as his back yard. I told him it was the most beautiful home I had ever seen. He turned around in his rubber boots, leaned against his pitchfork, and said, “America, that’s where I want to go.” He said he would give me his house if I would take him with me. We talked for a long time about what matters, and as we parted I remember what he said, “Send me a postcard from America.”
ONE MONTH LATER ON THIS DAY she closed the shutters to his wanting eyes, and alchemized from a butterfly to a cocoon, beneath a circle of friends in tune. She removed the photos, gifts, and letters, put them in a box to reminisce later. Talking out loud, “She takes just like a woman but” she will not break like a little girl. No more hours fanning the past, on this day my view is spanning.” Into the night she sat peacefully by the fire and let her broken wing sing as she watched the wood turn to gold.
By darkness, she ushers in a memory, a solo sojourn in Old San Juan.
Lounging in the dawn by a hotel pool, he appeared at her side, talking as if they met on another day. “ You’re from the US .. let me see if I can guess, by the bathing suit I would say, Los Angeles. Am I right? His smile opened wide enough to place an apple inside, and his darkened arms were on his hips, his hair clipped his neck, he dressed in a floral shirt and jeans. He wasn’t fat or thin, a body well-fed, a spirit too combustible to restrain, so she let him continue on his strain. When she answered Los Angeles, he flung his arms wide open and immersed himself into a storyteller about when he lived in Los Angeles. The commonality swept him into a chair next to her and several hours later, they were paired in Old San Juan.
She finds breaking off pieces of her love life is like a tasting of sugary cupcakes, some better than others. The ones she is sure she will never see again are the sweetest.
Winter in the northeast is a door to the interior, not just physically living indoors, it’s a mental withdrawal from your outdoor activity. Yes, some have adapted, I’ve seen men in shorts on a snowy day, and women runners passing by my window on icy sidewalks. For many of us, I believe the winter is time to ski in your head. Take a word puzzle section of all your experiences and ski down your mistakes, your misjudgments, your behavior in all its rights and wrongs. A sort of sabbatical for the soul.
When I stop into our local Gas station food to go market, I see such suffering; mentally disturbed, physically handicapped, homeless, and the ones that can’t even get to a real grocery store. That reminds me of how fortunate I’ve been in life. Who decides how you will materialize in this world, the unknown unsolvable equation? Today, another slushy snow and rain downpour pulled me out to shovel the messy combination so my tenants don’t slip and fall. That exercise is not good for the back, and even though I exercise and stretch, that particular position of bending and lifting snow doesn’t feel right. I do it because I have to, and later a marvelous lavender bath with oils and salts relieves the pain. What I’ve learned living here the last two years is that following the inescapable elements of winter is good for a gal that grew up in Los Angeles. I have to think that otherwise, I’d be whimpering and whining.
Life seems to remind me every day of my mistakes and my strength.
Without a partner, lover, or relative nearby during our feared and festive flights of life, our ribs cave. You just cannot eat cake alone on your birthday, attend a funeral without a shoulder next to you, or celebrate a finished project without your best friend. During these times of divisiveness, a pandemic, our favorite restaurants and shops out of business, and vigilante violence, it takes courage to be alone. It is you I am thinking of and I know you are out there, isolated. I listen to a lot of music, from Opera to Salsa, shout myself out of bed, attend to mediocre mindless tasks and think about all of us singles, without children, or family and friends out of my reach in Los Angeles, Santa Fe, Scottsdale, Sedona, and Florida. Each one holds a podium on the telephone, as I listen to their feelings, they are variations of a Chopin or Bach recording. The sadness and fear each one is holding at bay, reveal their authentic character. Isn’t it an extreme tragedy that holds a spotlight on our soul and spirit? One friend reminds me to refrain from judging myself too harshly, another advises how fortunate I am to be in a safe small village, with very few deaths, and another says simply, I’m falling apart.
We are now forced to learn our supreme strength, our survival methods, and how to structure a new lifestyle. When was the last time you were tested? Remember that and you will forge ahead.
In the Time of Covid-19
Continued from Friends for All Seasons 1.
THE CLASSMATE THAT wrote is named Andrew. I imagine he’s married; a man with his looks and gregarious personality living in Los Angeles all these years. Maybe he married one of our high school classmates. We exchanged a few emails in two thousand eight, he’d just returned from a trip to Poland and I was managing the gallery. Then the crash came and I think my correspondence dropped. Why was he thinking of me? I don’t have any photographs from high school, I suppose I could look him up in the yearbook. I’ll wait till he writes again.
The sky is crystal blue, and the temperature a mild fifty degrees. From my window, the leaves dropping makes me think the trauma and suffering the last four years has dropped from my life. What the trauma was about is irrelevant and too lengthy to write. We all get sent to the chopping block of heartache and this was mine. This is as liberating as taking off a tight bra after a long day!
September has traditionally been my month of transition. It’s a sort of pattern that began years ago and so making decisions is as if I’m on a time clock. What is most essential now is finding a new place to call home. I began looking at Santa Barbara. I loved visiting the city by the sea, those beautiful mountains, and quaint craftsman architecture. So what if I don’t know anyone, I’ll be alone regardless of where I move. Easily accomplished in my fifties, not so improvisational at sixty-seven.
Rapturous Autumn day; this year the transformation of nature, outdoor activities, cider doughnuts, smoking fireplaces, and a crispness that reminds me of breaking open a head of lettuce. What really happens to us in the East is fall descends like a new stage and the props from summer are removed. The mums come out on the porches, and the bright yellow and gold plants dot every porch. The conventional lifestyle and customary activities placate our sense of belonging. Christmas, wow, it’s only a short time till winter. In the dressing room unpacking more sweaters, socks, warm-ups, I get an alert, another email. Andrew added another compliment so my response was crush-worthy. Why not? Maybe fantasy is what is needed. Remerging silhouettes, all of us on the front lawn at lunch time, and boys are pairing up with girls and Andrew is laughing, making clownish faces and gestures, yes he was crush-worthy. He walked in long strides, visible energy and every step seemed to have a purpose. The boy I was in love with graduated, and I did not have a boyfriend. My shyness and restrained conversational skills excluded me from invitations to date. Maybe that’s why he didn’t take notice of me observing him, a lot of classmates had crushes on him.
The reality of COVID-19 is now the centerfold story because it is affecting everyone; the excruciating financial loss, death, sickness, and loneliness. It’s more like acceptance that this is our job now to tolerate COVID-19. Restrictions, circumstances of failed businesses we all loved, fear, and more fear call for an imaginary friend who I haven’t seen in fifty years. He replied with a formal note of response that he was on Facebook and could we be friends. I wrote back, yes. I am listening to the soundtrack from the film A Man and A Woman while chopping vegetables for soup. This music has formed a flame of optimism for the day I’m in love and let go of singleness.
On Facebook Andrew’s feature photos reveal the teenager I remember. He is a photographer, a Neuro Technician, and in his twenties an actor and model … hum, sounds like my resume, professional career changer. His photos sent a quiver through my veins, a call to read everything on his page, and view videos of his European travels: beautifully crafted images of architecture, monuments, art, culture, and locals. It deepened my understanding of his life just by his photos and posts. The other side, his appearance; the facial features, keen brown eyes, uncensored or rehearsed self-photos, group photos with our high school mates at the reunions, his long wavy hair, and his defined lips and cheekbones tingled curiosity.
The photos of Andrew at the class reunions next to my best friend and other classmates I remembered brought a snowstorm of memories. How I loved my friends back then. About six of us went everywhere together; bought our first bras, learned to drive, went to Westwood Village to look for cute boys, sat in the booths at Mario’s Pizza, Hamburger Hamlet, and The Apple Pan and all of it on ten or twenty dollars a week allowance. I have not been to a reunion since the tenth. Andrew posted photos from several. He stayed connected. Fifty years have passed, and he’s on my mind. To be continued.
WHY I LOVE MEN
Once again after lengthy and torrential nourishment of his body and mind, I return to myself, alone.
The insomnia of separation from a man’s thunder. When his shoulder hooks my head and tweaks my worries like soft bread, the mind that directs me when I am driving directionless and maps my journey. To walk beside me, a guardian of my fragility, and the voice that encourages and applauds my success, rather than let it drip from jealously or preoccupation. How the laughter erupts in a moment of spontaneous passion. My observation of his secret revealed, unknowingly.
The gestures of him shaving, and the modest vanity after I re-wardrobe him. Feeling his eyes in a crowd, undressing or admiring me, for some folly or expression.
The humor he finds in my misguided attempts to open bottles, and packages with a dull spoon, and figure out electronics.
How he will pardon and pamper my unwarranted fears of stalkers, nightmares, misplacing my progressive glasses, and falling down the slippery wooden stairs.
The man whose balance evens my wrinkles.
Let’s the light into my eyes.
Opens my shell with wonder and tenderness.
Millicent Rogers home Taos, NM
The throw of the dice this week falls on the silhouette of a Taos night out in 2006. It begins with the sunset — a bubble-gum pink sash that swirls like taffy just above the distant hillside. The transcending forms and colors in the sky distract me; it silences me, it keeps me from turning on the television or answering the phone.
The sunset has settled into my routine. It’s something I watch every night. In the midst of dressing to attend an art auction at the Millicent Rogers Museum the sun has vanished. The sky turns Taos blue; a luminous oil pigment canvas blue that appears like an endless tunnel you can walk through. As I descend the staircase, and cross over the ménage of piles shoved in a corner to allow SC to paint, I think, “This is going to be my home. I’m still here” Adventures in Livingness
In the courtyard where new flagstone has been laid, and the exit is blocked by a mud ditch, Rudy hitches me on his back and carry’s me out the side entrance through Tony Abeyta’s yard. Tony’s yard is piled with sand from our flagstone project, and my high-heeled black suede shoes are not at all practical for crossing New Mexican sand dunes. This is how the evening begins.
Out in the parking lot, we circle around once and stop in Robert’s gallery. He has offered me his turquoise squash seed necklace to wear at the auction. The necklace is from Turkey, and sells for $1,800. Millicent Rogers events always attract women with extravagant jewelry, and Robert knows I have no such possessions. He hands me the necklace, and says, have fun.
At times like this, I am able to forget the faces and routines I lived in Solana Beach, and feel swept into a labyrinth of unfamiliar vignettes. There are two police cars in the rear of the parking lot, the church looms like a fortress of wet mud, and SC is listening to The Band CD we picked up in Santa Fe. I slide into the car making sure my shoes don’t fill with gravel.
Parking for the Plaza where we lived. San Francisco de Asís Mission Church.
Along the desert road, there is very little street light and cars approach you at disarming speeds. For newcomers, the pale yellow line that separates oncoming traffic, roaming animals, hitchhikers, leather clad bikers, and abandoned pets, is of no comfort or value. Boundaries are vague, so are civilities between people, and sometimes conversations elope into poetry.
At the Millicent Rogers Museum the director Jill, who is there to welcome each guest, greets us at the carved wooden doors. This museum was once a home, like most museums in Taos.
Each room is an envelope of Native American jewelry, ceramics, painting, weaving, textiles, and metal work, sealed with an ethereal presence of Millicent Rogers. She set global trends in fashion, art, and living, by coming to Taos and bridging her New York chic with southwestern sensibility.
The museum collection includes some of her own designs that evolved from her residency in the desert. She moved here in 1947 and died here in 1953. She could have chosen anywhere in the world to live, and she settled in the unaltered, surreal lunar beauty of Taos.
I wandered through the tightly packed rooms, alternately viewing the guest’s attire and jewelry. The woven wraps, belts, and hats worn by men and woman form a collage of individual expression. Almost everyone seems to attract attention by the texture and color of his or her attire. It is festive traditional look, southwestern accessories paired with jeans or silk dresses. If you come to Taos, look for a belt buckle, one piece of Native American jewelry and one piece of art.
When the auction was announced, I found myself admiring the same etching as a woman next to me. She remarked that the artist was also the teacher of one of her children. I came to learn that Ellen had six children and 11 grandchildren. She was petite with curly blonde hair, and I liked her instantly. I told her I was a writer.
“So am I,” she answered.
Rather than talk about her work, she began talking about her daughter, also a writer.
“I’m so lucky,–all my children and grandchildren are creative and artistic.”
It was obvious that her life was a garden of earthly delights, and that she had raised many roses. When the auction began, she vanished, and I made a very swift viewing of the art before returning to the two etchings. They were both sold.
As I was walking out, I bumped into Ellen. She was clutching the etchings.
“So, you bought them,” I said.
“Oh, yes, I had to have them.”
She left me with a beaming smile and a closing remark that I hear very often: “Welcome to Taos.”
I love hearing that so much I don’t want to stop saying, I just moved here. After the auction we decided to stop in Marco’s Downtown Bistro, where we joined an improvisational party. It started when Marco introduced us to his friends, Pablo and Joan, visiting from Santa Fe.
The dim glowing melon adobe walls of the bistro, Marco hugging everyone, Joan’s melodious high-pitched laughter, Pablo telling jokes, Rudy laughing, and then Philip arriving to tell stories crossed over from strangers in a bistro to a fast rolling film. The conversation, and laughter surfed breathlessly from one person to another.
Joan remarked, “My 15 minutes. This is the best for me. The first time you meet someone, your both talking without any effort. It’s so perfect.”
We closed the bistro past midnight. Marco had gone home. Joan decided to stay at a friend’s house. Philip agreed to drive down to Santa Fe the next day, and we took Tylenol before going to bed.
Not every night out in Taos is like Joan’s 15 minutes, but chances are you will have something to write home about. Photos of Gallery LouLou Taos, NM
Maurice did things for us that no one had. It started with small gestures, like inviting us inside every time we passed by his house. Even if he was on his way to deliver furniture he’d scuttle to the kitchen and give us homegrown tomatoes, and oranges, or hand me a bouquet from his flower garden. These were the early years of my story submission rejections. I was so consumed with rejection that the only person in the world that made me feel human was Maurice. He didn’t understand what my torment was about, but he knew how to make it go away. Sometimes all it took was a big hug and a kiss. Maurice always met me with a hug and kiss, though I didn’t realize at the time how much he knew what I needed.
That Christmas I felt the spirit because of Maurice. I went to Sav-On and collected a basket of decorations, and though we had no room for a tree, I did what I could. Instead of wishing I could dash into Nordstroms and shop like a madwoman, I dug a little deeper and searched for appreciation gifts for friends.
By the time the season had ended, I was fixated on Maurice. It is strange to write about him now. The story I wanted to write was about Del Mar, and Solana Beach, California during the thirties and forties. I searched the indexes of the Del Mar Library and the local bookstores and shared the antiquities with Maurice.
We were sitting on his cushy pillowed sofa one evening in 1994, sipping chilled southern comfort, and snacking on saltine crackers and cheese. There is always a subject of interest with Maurice. He is seventy-five years old, lean and tough as a stalk of corn, with blue eyes that twinkle even if he’s not in the light. His wealth came from the uniqueness of how he lived.
“Tell me what you remember about Del Mar.”
Old Del Mar.
“Oh so many good times, not like it is today. I knew just about everybody, we were like a family.” Sometimes Maurice shared memories while driving around Del Mar and Solana Beach. Suddenly he would start talking, and I’d would listen with childlike curiosity. I recall one evening at the old Cilantro Restaurant while having dinner with Maurice. We sat at a table facing the Rancho Santa Fe Polo field. Maurice began to tell me how it used to be. Rancho Santa Fe
“I used to plow those fields there, all the way up to where the hills begin. I worked out there all day, and I loved it. That land belonged to the Conleys’. I remember that the whole field was underwater for one year. Hard to believe–but it was.”
“Sure I did! I was a farmer, a dairy farmer, and I delivered milk to Bing Crosby and Dixie Lee. I remember Christmas she comes out and gives me some extra money.–I always loved going there at Christmas. They was always so nice to me, you know. The Conley’s had a hog ranch, they were the ones I worked for. The year it flooded from El Camino Real to the racetrack we lost a bunch of pigs and a cow under the bridge. It only happened twice that I know of.”
“ What was Rancho Santa Fe like back then, when you were a farmer?”
“Well, it was different than today, then it was rich people, I mean really rich. I don’t know where they got their money but they had everything–you know expensive cars, cooks, and maids.” Maurice chuckled, “ I couldn’t understand what the cook did all day. The man my wife worked for, Ronald McDonald, he had a butler, maid, cook, and a big house, a really nice house. But today, anyone can live there, people who just inherited a lot of money. There was just a few families back then– everyone knew who they was. One time a young girl who lived up there was stuck on the road–her car broke down, so I drove her home. You did things like that. There were two really well-known families there, the Clotfelters were one, they had a son, Tom. He stopped by my house at Christmas and brought me a fish, he liked to fish. The other big family was Avery, he had everything. He used to get jobs for the Mexicans in the Ranch. Everyone knew him, he kind of ran the whole town, was really active in the community. Another fellow, Joe White, went around to the homes and put in the meters for the water district. We used to play cards with him and his wife, Marilyn– have a few drinks and have a such a good time. ” Maurice stopped and shaking his head remarked that there were so many wonderful people in his life, and how lucky he was to live in Solana Beach.
Downtown Rancho Santa Fe.
The Rancho Santa Fe I knew began when I moved there in nineteen-eighty-three. It was a place you heard of right away, and so I drove up to take a look around. Like thousands of others before me, I dreamt of living in the Ranch under a canopy of Eucalyptus trees with a horse stable and a grove of oranges. It was a blissful place to drive on a Sunday afternoon, very few cars on the road and the homes bathed in sunlight. But when I walked down Paseo Delicias, the main road in the village, I felt like an outsider. I did not feel that detachment in Del Mar, or Solana Beach, or even La Jolla. But the Ranch has eyes, it seemed to single you out and therefore no one on the inside made contact with you. You could dine at the charming Mille Fleurs and drop a few hundred dollars but you would not be invited to mingle. I asked Maurice if he wanted to live in the Ranch. His expression was curious as if I was pulling his leg.
“No, I never wanted to live there.”
” I’m just a regular guy.” To be continued.