Recent Splats according to Miz Yank

Introducing a boyfriend to Mom is a piece of cake, especially when it’s not your boyfriend…or your mom

My dear friend Philippa invited me to lunch at the Eden Center in Falls Church yesterday. The restaurants there generate some of the best Vietnamese food outside of Vietnam, so we go there somewhat regularly. Yesterday’s trip was not, however, one of our routine pho runs. Philippa’s mom had come to town for Thanksgiving, presenting an opportunity for her to meet my pal’s boyfriend. Philippa and I talk about “Fella” on our podcast all the time, but having him meet her mom was taking the relationship to a whole new level.

I adore Fella. He is smart, funny, thoughtful, engaging, humble, and exceptionally kind. I have yet to have a conversation with him that I didn’t enjoy, and I look forward to opportunities to spend time with him. Oh, and he’s tall, which is important because that’s how my friend rolls.

I feel just as warmly towards Philippa’s mother, whom I jokingly call “Mom.” The two of us bonded deeply in October of 2013, when Philippa was recovering from a double mastectomy. Mom, who’s Vietnamese, is one of the most resourceful, resilient, determined people I’ve ever met. She managed to get her family out of war-torn Vietnam in the 1970’s, but Philippa’s cancer diagnosis left Mom feeling terrified and helpless. I could relate. While Philippa rested, Mom and I talked candidly about our fears, she in heavily accented English that broke from time to time and I with the fluency of someone who knows the language and my friend very well. I knew Mom wasn’t given to emotional outpourings, so the fact that she talked to me about it told me just how scared she was and also that she trusted me. In the two years that have passed, we see each other mainly at family celebrations and other happy occasions. We now delight in chatting about lighthearted things, like my love life, but even when our conversation stays on the surface, that deep bond remains.

So when Philippa handed me an opportunity arose to experience Mom, Fella and outstanding Vietnamese food all at once, I couldn’t pass it up. Because there’s no such thing as a free lunch, however, I understood I was also there as a buffer. Philippa, Fella and Mom all knew that, if need be, I could help avert conversational disaster by swooping in with a well-timed dating story. (We all have our skills.)

At first the conversation lurched forward like a stick shift car in the hands of a novice. Then it took a comical turn as the waiter and Mom tried to get through to each other in broken English even though both speak Vietnamese. But after that, it found the right gear and started humming along. I was glad because, even when you’re just along for the ride, you don’t want the proverbial car to go careening into a utility pole.

Deep down, I had known it would go well because Philippa, Mom and Fella wanted it to, and sometimes that’s all that matters. I was honored to be there, watching Mom and Fella making huge efforts to connect because they both love my friend.

And just so my talents as a buffer wouldn’t be entirely wasted, I decided to give Mom a tour of the two dating apps I’m currently using. After a brief demo, I let her take a swipe at Hinge. Within moments iet became clear to me she’s just as discerning about my potential suitors as she is Philippa’s. In fact, had I not plucked the phone out of her hands, she might still be sitting at that table at the Eden Center, swiping left with abandon.

Watching her cracked me up but it also moved me, because I know my heart’s always in good hands with Mom.

Mom, on the verge of becoming un-Hinged.

Mom, on the verge of becoming un-Hinged.

You’ve Got Mail. Way too much mail.

I have a confession to make: I’m an e-mail hoarder.

Though I have little trouble unloading possessions I don’t use or need, I can’t bring myself to delete the hundreds of thousands of words I’ve exchanged in cyberspace with my loved ones. Those messages mean as much to me as actual letters, even if they take less effort to send and travel in an ethereal medium. I’ve been hanging on to them since 1996. Like a box of old photos, these e-mails capture all sorts of moments in my life, and it reassures me to know I can pull them up when I want to take a nostalgia trip.

Some of these personal exchanges live in my work e-mail in-box. It does not have unlimited storage capacity, so every now and then I get an automated love note informing me that, if I don’t start getting rid of things, I won’t be able to get anything new. (Too bad my parents didn’t think to use that logic on me and my siblings when it came to storage space in their basement.)

I got one of those automated love notes today, so I began picking through the digital pile in search of messages to dump or at least file. As I moved several messages to a folder I’ve labeled “Personal,” I couldn’t resist taking a few minutes to peruse the contents of the folder.

If “Personal” were a tangible folder whose items I’d organized chronologically, it would have a gigantic bulge right around July 30, 2011, when I left the Lawnmower. I rolled out that news slowly and usually by e-mail because the emotions associated with it –sadness, embarrassment, anxiety, shock—put me in constant jeopardy of bursting into tears. Every email I sent at that time prompted an incredible response that I saved, and as I read those notes today, they moved me again.

Most of my friends wrote to express shock and dismay and made immediate offers to show up. These two messages are a representative sample, one from a law school pal and another from one of my oldest friends:

Well please let me know the first instance you are available and I promise to be there…no matter where. Keep that chin up.  You are one of the most beautiful, intelligent, talented women I have ever known.  Just remember that.

My dear Karen, I am at a complete loss for anything approaching adequate to say.  Just know that I am so, so sorry and that I am here for you at any time and for anything you need.  I would love to see you soon.  For one thing, I’ll rest easier once I can see you in person and give you a huge hug, not that that will change a damned thing, but I really, really want you to know that I am here for you.  You name whenever is good for you, and also name what you’d like to do.  And in the meantime, call me ANYTIME you need a friendly ear.

Then I came across a note from my friend J, whom I’ve written about before. In typical J fashion, his note started from the same foundation as many of my friends, but then he made it his own. Because one of the Lawnmower’s first acts as my new husband was to ex-communicate J, one of my first acts as the Lawnmower’s soon-to-be-ex-wife was to re-communicate my pal. Fortunately for me, J was happy to pick up right where we’d left off without uttering a word of blame. J’s version of showing up for me over the course of our friendship usually meant plying me with food and booze at his condo or at a nearby restaurant. I had learned long ago to pack an overnight bag in case of overindulgence, and that preparation paid off in this case. Though the details of the evening mentioned in the note below have been lost to the ravages of time and/or Pinot Grigio, some of the constants of our friendship came through loud and clear, including a shared hatred of Tuesdays, mutual affection for the movie Airplane!, and a healthy dose of mocking.

YO-I just wanted to say, “Good Luck, we are all counting on you.”  …OK, Airplane references aside (though really, is there a better theme for a Tuesday?), it was great to see you on Saturday.  I am looking forward to getting back on a regular schedule and hopefully cooking together when schedules and inspiration allow.  BTW, I wanted to let you know that you left your rings, earrings and CD here.  I have copied the CD, am wearing the rings, and have an appointment scheduled to get my ears pierced.  …thought you should know.

Joseph and I have drifted apart over the past three years, but that note proved the truth of Victor Borge’s famous observation that “Laughter is the shortest distance between two people.” As I read the message, I laughed, and for at least a few minutes, I didn’t feel quite so far away.

 

Moving on after losing true love: maybe it’s like riding a bike, because it sure isn’t like driving a car.

Last June I wrote a piece about how hard it is to let go of true love, especially when the relationship hasn’t gone sour.  Compounding the agony of what feels like a needless parting is the knowledge that what you’ve lost really can’t be replaced. You move on because you have to, but you’re pretty much just going through the motions and it’s hard to get excited about it.

And that’s exactly how I felt last June when I gave my wonderful 16 year-old nephew my 2004 Acura RSX. (Type S, six-speed, in case you’re wondering. A moment of silence, please.)

My friend Mary Ellen had read about my beloved car in my book and called to tell me she could relate only too well. She had owned a slightly earlier version of my car –she’s a stick-shift junkie like I am – and had also fallen in love with it. Offering fun, reliability and style, it was the total package and it kept her happy for years. Though Mary Ellen and her love had parted company quite some time ago, it sounded like her grief was still fresh.

“Have you moved on?” she wanted to know.

“I pretty much had to,” I told her. I can walk to the things that are vital to my existence, such as the beer garden; however, beer doesn’t buy itself, so I need a car to get to work. I explained to Mary Ellen that, because I had some time to plan for the loss of my car, I’d gone test driving months before the hand-off to my nephew and knew what I wanted. Sure, it felt a bit heartless to have a replacement lined up before the driveway had even gotten cold, but I forced pragmatism to override emotion.

When she asked, “So what’d ya get?” I knew she was really asking if I’d found anything that could possibly compare to the love I once had.

“I joined the Old Farts Club and bought a grey sedan,” I said with a sigh.

“Four doors,” she said, her tone appropriately funereal. “Do you like it?”

“It’s nice,” I said, my enthusiasm a little forced. Then I started pointing out its many great qualities, as I would if I were trying to defend choosing a banal boyfriend. “It’s still six speeds, but it makes so much more sense. The kids don’t have to cram into the backseat, it’s nice and comfortable on the road, and…”

“But do you love it?” Mary Ellen is a litigator, so she knows how to cut to the chase. She also knows you can’t talk yourself into romance. As I thought about how my new car, while roomier, didn’t have a front seat the Roommates could launch themselves forward with or a hatchback that accommodated my Christmas tree perfectly, I knew it didn’t stand a chance. We could never hope to make the same kind of memories my old love and I had, and it would be pointless even to try.

“I’m not in love,” I said, “but maybe it will grow on me.” I thought that sounded good, because plenty of old women had told me similar things happened with them and their husbands. But I know better. Numerous failed attempts have me convinced that love doesn’t slow-grow on me like a fungus, it hits me like a tsunami.

“Oh who am I kidding, Mary Ellen,” I said. “I settled.”

 

 

At least it's not a minivan.

At least it’s not a minivan.

At long last, the follow-up to “Date Expectations”

Several attentive readers pointed out that nearly a month passed and I still hadn’t written a follow-up to my post about a much-anticipated first date with “T2.” My love life skews so heavily towards comedy that I thought you might find a cliffhanger a nice change of pace, but apparently not, so here goes.

A lot of people wanted to know if I was nervous. No, I wasn’t. I don’t really get nervous about these things, though I have ample reason to, based on my behavior on one particular date two summers ago. I was just looking forward to it, the best possible mindset to have before a date.

T2 had made a reservation at Georgia Brown’s, a downtown restaurant that serves upscale southern fare. He offered to pick me up and I accepted. I don’t usually do that, but I had a good feeling about T2, and my gut is rarely wrong, whether or not I listen to it.

Moments before T2 pulled up in front of my house, a torrential rain let loose. He came to the door with an umbrella big enough to shelter a family of 6, which meant there might even be room for my hair. We arrived at the restaurant and were shown to our table, one of a series of two-tops with chairs on one side and a long, cushioned banquette on the other.

T2 asked, “Where would you like to sit?”

It looked to me like the person who sat in the chair might be more in traffic, so I said, “I’ll take the chair.” The hostess pulled out the chair for me and I sat down. I should note that T2 and I are pretty much the same height, or at least we were until he took a seat on the banquette and immediately lost four inches.

I tried to keep a straight face but couldn’t, and neither could T2.

“Could I get a booster seat over here?” he said, just one of dozens of lines that kept me laughing all night.

By the time we finished dinner, the rain had abated so we walked around the monuments. DC is a picturesque city under any circumstances, but like most of us, it looks just a little better in the moonlight. Our conversation wandered happily, too.

I could hardly have imagined an evening going any better, which is why I went ahead and told T2 I thought we should move in together.

Oh, relax, people, I did no such thing. I didn’t even invite him to Thanksgiving. But things had gone well enough to make a second date a very good idea. This was fortunate because, in a slight breach of sequencing protocol, T2 had actually invited me on a second date –a Sunday spent admiring the foliage on Skyline Drive –before the first occurred. He had acknowledged the departure from convention but, based on how much time we’d spent texting, he figured he was standing on pretty solid ground. I agreed.

T2 again kept me in stitches that day. He’s one of the wittiest, funniest people I’ve met in ages, and he continued to impress me with his thoughtfulness.

After that date I went off to Texas for the TWA Conference and we had plans to get together once I returned. T2 had known I was a bit nervous about giving my workshop, so he checked in to send encouraging (and hilarious) thoughts.

Safety note: Before I continue with my story, I must ask that you first back away slowly from your cast iron skillet, hammer and any other blunt object within easy reach. In fact, now may be a good time to encase yourself in a protective layer of Nerf.

So I got back from Plano and texted T2. But instead of making plans to get together, I told him I had some misgivings and didn’t think we were a fit romantically.

See? Aren’t you glad you put on the Nerf? I’m the one you want to hit over the head, anyway.

Here’s the thing: I like T2 very, very much. He has qualities that I prize–kindness, thoughtfulness, curiosity, intelligence—and he cares about his family the way I do mine. He’s funny and doesn’t take himself too seriously. But we lacked combustibility, an essential ingredient for me. Some of you will think I rushed to judgment, that friendship offers the best possible base upon which to build a relationship. You may have a point, but it’s never worked that way for me, and I thought too highly of T2 to go on if I couldn’t be All There.

We had a long text exchange and I did my best to explain my inexplicable nature. T2 accepted it with incredible grace and thanked me for my honesty. Then I did something I’ve not done since I started dating again after my divorce: I asked if he would want to be friends. Though I struggle to find time to nurture the friendships I have, T2s don’t come along every day, and I didn’t want to lose him. He politely declined, and I could hardly blame him.

A week later he made my day when he said he’d thought about it and wanted to try to be friends.

We went to a Halloween party together last weekend. He dressed up in disco garb, including a spectacular wig, and it would have been perfect if only we didn’t discover the theme of this particular costume party was sci-fi and superheroes. Oopsie. Then again, I’m pretty sure he could have survived nuclear war in that polyester suit he was wearing, so maybe he had some superpowers after all.

Anyway, maybe, just maybe, I didn’t entirely screw this one up. Whether or not T2 and I had chemistry, we have plenty of warmth, and I’m glad we decided not to let the whole thing go up in smoke.

A true friend is one who’s still your fan even after you’ve gone all fan-girl

Everyone has a concert buddy, and mine is my friend “Tom.”

We met as awkward seventh graders at Lake Braddock Secondary School and bonded over music and writing. Both of us were words nerds who wrote for the school paper (though I skewed far more heavily in the nerd direction than Tom ever did) and played instruments in our spare time. Tom played the bass in a rock band, whereas I played piano someplace slightly less hip: the pit orchestra for school musicals.

After we graduated in 1989, we stayed in touch through reunions and Facebook. The latter helped us reconnect in person last December.

We caught up on all the life we hadn’t posted about on Facebook. Our old bond was not only intact but stronger, and it still included music. Neither of us plays our instruments as regularly as we once did, but we still know how to appreciate music. And though we listen carefully and critically, Tom and I can find something to enjoy in just about any live performance. This makes us natural partners for shows that might not interest other people.

Last winter, Tom invited me to see Stanley Clarke, a renowned bassist, at the Birchmere in Alexandria. I had never thought of bassists as headliners, but I have such faith in Tom’s taste in music that his proclamation that Stanley was a musical god among men was all it took for me to want to hear the gospel. Two hours with Stanley and his incredible trio proved that he’s a gifted bassist in the way that Shakespeare knew a few things about iambic pentameter. I was converted and ready to evangelize.

In April, I bought tickets to see Phil Vassar, one of my favorite performers, at the Hylton Arts Center in Manassas. I invited Tom and he accepted immediately, though he didn’t know who Phil was. A few days before the show, I won passes for a meet-and-greet. I asked Tom if he was up for it and got an enthusiastic, “Hell yes!” He knew it would make me happy, so of course he was happy to do it.

A few days before the concert, I emailed Tom with the crazy idea of giving Phil a copy of my book. Never before had I considered doing anything so utterly fan-girl, but Phil had played a brief, yet important, role in my life at a crucial time and I wanted him to know. I waited for Tom to tell me it was a terrible idea. My friend is a straight-shooter, plus his background in security put him in a good position to assess how Phil might react to my gift. Tom liked my plan and thought I could pull it off without seeming like a stalker.

A few hours before the concert, I typed up a letter to include with the book:

Dear Phil,

I’m sure fans give you strange things all the time, so I hope you’ll bear with me while I give you some backstory.

Your music won me over the moment I first heard “That’s When I Love You” on WMZQ in 2001. Not a fan of country music at the time, I was listening to that station only because my then-boyfriend –possibly the least likely person on Planet Earth to belt out those lyrics—kept his car radio perpetually tuned to it. That song led me to buy your debut album, whose piano-heavy tracks planted the seeds of my long-term addiction to your particular brand of country.

When I started going to your shows, I was blown away not just by the way you would tear up the piano, but also by the amount of humor and personality you brought to the stage. I came away impressed with your musicality and moved by what your performance seems to say about your approach to life: respond with resilience and humor.

When I turned 40 in June of 2011, my marriage was heaving its last gasps, so I didn’t have much of a celebration. By September, I had moved out and initiated divorce proceedings, leading my entire family to conspire and stage a surprise 40th birthday do-over at the Ram’s Head Tavern. Your show was the centerpiece, and it couldn’t have been more perfect. My family members strolled in one at a time, the arrival of each person putting a smile on my face and sending a tear of joy down my cheek. I spent a glorious night with the people I love, doing something I love, and I cherish that memory.

As my way of saying thank you for the gift of your music, I hope you enjoy this collection of humor essays. If I got them right, they embody the same spirit I hear in your music.

Thanks again for being a consistent bright spot.

I stuck the letter and book in a gift bag and drove off to meet Tom. When I picked him up, I learned he’d studied up on Phil’s music before the concert. Some people do that to enhance their enjoyment of the show, but knowing Tom, he did it to enhance my enjoyment of the show. He didn’t want to stand there just bobbing his head, he wanted to sing along with me, because if something matters to one of Tom’s friends, it matters to him.

As we stood in line for the post-show meet-and-greet, we learned it would include a photo op.

“I’ll hold your purse and take the picture,” Tom said.

When handed a purse, your average man will react as if you’ve asked him to hold a norovirus. But Tom volunteered to throw himself on the purse grenade so I would have clear path to executing my plan.

When the moment came, I handed my purse and phone to Tom. I gave the gift bag to Phil, who opened it as I explained what it was. He received it politely, meaning he did not discard it as I stood there, nor did he seek a restraining order.

Such was my state of shock that I nearly allowed Tom to take the photo, which would have meant he wasn’t in it. Fortunately, Phil was paying attention and got one of his bandmates to snap the shot. That photo of me, Phil and Tom is one of my all-time favorites.

What stands out in my memory about that night wasn’t the music or the meet-and-greet, though. More than anything I remember how hard my friend worked, in ways great and small, not only to share in my happiness but to grow it.

Tom’s generosity of spirit is especially remarkable considering he has long struggled with depression (one of the things I learned when we got together last December). He has sought help in every form imaginable, but his brain chemistry continues to do its damnedest to rob him of hope and purpose. He battles the crushing pain of his illness daily, and always with courage and grace.

He sometimes posts on Facebook when the pain becomes intolerable, as it has in recent weeks. He reaches out when all he wants to do is crawl inward, which shows astounding bravery, strength, and selflessness. By sharing his story, Tom gives the people who love him a chance to remind him, and he lets others in the grip of depression know they’re not alone.

Tom wrote a Facebook post yesterday about feeling hopeless. It drew an immediate, heartfelt outpouring of support from the many people who know Tom’s presence in our world changes it for the better. We know he brings incredible joy to the people in his life. We know he matters.

We can’t change the wiring of his brain or fight this horrible battle for him, but we can stand with him, and we can thank him for letting us.

So thank you, Tom, for giving us a chance to show up for you, as you do for all of us.

Love,

Your Fan Club

Date Expectations

Regular listeners of Women of Uncertain Age know that I recently joined Tinder, the swipe-right-for-yes dating app. I wanted to be more open to meeting eligible dudes, and it seemed worth a try since my normal activities –playing tennis with the Smash Hits, swimming with married people, participating in a critique circle comprised entirely of women –rarely aid that pursuit.

My co-host, Philippa, had endorsed the idea, saying it would be “for the good of the podcast.” She really meant, “Pretty pretty please? I need the entertainment!” but she didn’t want to sound mercenary. I freely admit the potential for comedy runs high, considering that Tinder is regarded as an app for young people and/or people wanting to hook up, and I don’t fit either category.

So why did I join? I decided to try it with the hope that: 1) we old farts could add Tinder to the long list of sites and apps we’ve ruined for the kids; and 2) maybe the older crowd is on there not for hookups but for efficiency: instead of going through the whole process of writing a profile, volleying messages, and then being disappointed to find no connection on meeting in person, they want to skip the profile/message prelude and go straight to the disappointment.

With those twin hopes resting at sea level, I set my expectations at the same height. The only thing I expected Tinder to do was offer an avenue for meeting allegedly single, age-appropriate men. Note that I did not say only single, age-appropriate men, because I knew Tinder couldn’t handle that and I’d have to do that filtering myself.

After a month, I don’t know whether I’ve made any progress on Hope #1 but I have found some support for Hope #2. I’ve met exactly two Tinderers in person, whom I’ll call T1 and T2. It took some time and effort to coordinate each meeting, but that didn’t bother T1 or T2. I found T1 to be kind, smart, interesting, thoughtful and respectful. We didn’t have a romantic connection, but I was glad to have met him. The same adjectives describe how I perceived T2 when I met him, and I would add “hilarious” to the list. That addition makes a gigantic difference to me. After meeting in-person, a text exchange began and T2 and I agreed that we should go out again (or possibly for the first time, since I don’t view the first in-person encounter as a real date). That exchange, which could have involved nothing more than calendar coordination, grew into a long, funny, substantive conversation. As soon as we found a night when we were both free, T2 came up with a plan involving good food at a place where we won’t have to shout to be heard. I gave it an enthusiastic thumbs-up and he executed by making an actual reservation. Whoa. In short, he’s made it clear that this is a Real Date. Call me old-school, old-fashioned or just plain old, but I find this rare and refreshing.

When the text exchanged touched on music and the importance of having the right company at certain concerts, I mentioned the Lyle Lovett experience I wrote about here. T2 wanted to read it and when he promised to read only that post, I agreed to send the link.

A few minutes later he texted, “You deserve enthusiasm.” And you know what? He’s right: I do. He does, too, and I feel enthusiastic about the outing. When I texted something about looking forward to it, he sent a link to a hilarious piece from the Onion with the headline “Horrified Man Looks On Powerlessly As He Ruins Date,” and said he hoped that wouldn’t be him.

I doubt it will, but first dates have earned such a bad rap that the prospect of a good one can cause hopes to rise unrealistically. It’s not hard to envision writing a companion piece:

First Date Collapses Under Crushing Weight of Expectations

A 44 year-old man willing to be identified only as “T2″ confirmed that his first date with a woman of the same age collapsed under the pressure of the woman’s expectations in front of dozens of patrons at a popular Italian restaurant in D.C.

“It was so weird,” said a 29 year-old man who witnessed the devastation. “The guy was on fire. Every time he said the right thing, I heard a ‘ding,’ like he was on a game show or something. He was racking up points so fast, maybe she mistook all that dinging for wedding bells.”

Whether prompted by sound effects or the sheer force of desperation, the woman apparently suggested bringing T2 home to meet her family for the holidays.

A 32 year-old woman dining two tables away with her boyfriend overheard the comment and recalled being aghast.

“Everyone knows that’s tenth date material, ninth date at the earliest,” she said. “A first date can’t have that kind of pressure heaped on it and live to tell about it. The minute she mentioned Thanksgiving, it started sagging. Then I heard the word ‘kids,’ and, well, I just had to look away.”

Religion and politics do not appear to have contributed to the implosion.

The 44 year-old woman was being treated on the scene for shock.

“All I did was say I bet he’d love Thanksgiving with my family and all the kids,” she said. “It’s not like I suggested we do a couples Halloween costume. Let’s be honest: it’s already October 9, so there’s no way I could pull together bacon-and-eggs outfits in time, even if I spend all day on Pinterest. Thanksgiving had seemed like a safer bet. I had everything riding on this, it’s beyond devastating.”

Here’s to an evening that manages to carry its own weight.

 

 

Ninety percent of friendship is just showing up

[Posting the Aug. 29 entry a day late because I wound up without wi-fi…]

I try to live by the principle that ninety percent of friendship is just showing up. But I come up short sometimes, and that’s been particularly true with respect to a friend I’ll call Dave.

We met in the late 1990s at a birthday party for my dear friend LC and we’ve been pals ever since. We did typical friend stuff—grab dinner, go to the occasional concert, catch a ballgame –but he also showed up for me and all of his friends in ways that weren’t typical.

For example, when an on-and-off boyfriend broke up with me for the umpteenth time in 1999 and then left the area, Dave arrived bearing hugs and adult beverages. Instead of being praised for his kindness (something he certainly deserved but never expected), the only recognition he got on that occasion came from my cat, who left a hairball of gratitude on Dave’s shoes.

A few months later, when I’d been exiled to Wright-Patterson Air Force Base for a three-week course, Dave again came to my rescue. He gave me frequent flyer miles so I could meet him in Chicago and pal around for a weekend. (Dave is a big baseball fan, so we found it necessary to sneak in to Wrigley Field during that trip.)

In September of 2002, Dave was among the crew who helped me load up the contents of my one-bedroom apartment into a U-Haul and move it to my parents’ basement and my friend LC’s house. Few acts will land you in my friendship Hall of Fame faster than volunteering to assist with a move. You earn extra points if you make me laugh while you’re at it, which Dave did by taking a recliner we were moving, plopping it in my parents’ front yard and taking a load off.

A couple of years later, Dave met Ann, a warm, kind, caring and hilarious person who made my friend happier than I’d ever seen him. I adored her, too, as much for her epic personality as the way she embraced his circle of friends.

Dave and Ann gave me a chance to show up for them in 2006 by asking me to do a reading at their wedding. I was so honored that I straightened my hair for the occasion. A few years later they became parents to a beautiful daughter and I took huge delight in their joy.

They took equally huge delight in mine in October of 2010, beaming at me as I spoke my wedding vows. When I left my husband less than a year later, they felt my heartbreak and were among the first to offer support, consolation, and wine.

Just as I was trying to piece my life back together, theirs began to disintegrate.

First, a blood disorder Dave had wrestled with his entire life claimed his sight, one eye at a time. Then came the pulmonary lymphoma, which my friend battled and beat, with Ann at his side the whole time. His bravery, her dedication and their determination astonished me.

Not long after that, what I believe would be labeled a neurological event (they’ve endured so many medical calamities in such a short time that I struggle to get the details right) landed him in assisted living in Loudoun County, where he remains and is likely to remain.

Ann shows up there every day. I hadn’t shown up at all.

I changed that today. Finally.

I was excited to see my friend but also a little nervous. I didn’t know what to expect. I also worried that words might fail me, either because I didn’t have any to say at all –it doesn’t feel quite right to talk about your very normal life to someone whose existence has been turned upside down — or because the wrong ones might come flying out. “This is so unfair!” seemed particularly likely to break free of the thought bubble it’s been floating in for quite some time. And then I got annoyed at myself for making this visit more about me than him.

This jumble of thoughts may explain why, when I went to sign in, I identified myself as a resident instead of a visitor. On resolving that minor error, I headed up to Dave’s room and knocked on the open door to announce myself. Because he couldn’t get up to greet me, I asked if it was okay to hug him.

Dave still being Dave — which, selfishly, came as a huge relief  –he welcomed my chair hug and everything else about my visit. We covered comfortable subjects, like my family, our sports teams, and some of my travel adventures, and then I asked about his health. My questions came out clumsily, but Dave didn’t seem to mind. He seemed to know I wanted to understand as much as possible, and he wanted to help me.

Even though my friend now struggles to get out of a chair, he can still teach a master class in the art of showing up. And he reminded me that late is better than never.

 

 

 

 

The road not taken

In April my book brought me to Elizabeth City, home of Page After Page Books and a long-ago ex-boyfriend whose friendship I regained last August.

I’ll refer to the former beau as “FB” here because I referred to him as “TB” (for “then-boyfriend”) in an earlier post and he didn’t love that. He claimed people would immediately think of tuberculosis, something that doesn’t produce positive associations in your average person. I decided to humor him by coming up with a reference that sounded less like an infectious disease, though when FB and I parted in 2001, I had far warmer feelings towards tuberculosis than him.

Breakups are never easy (or if they are, you probably didn’t care all that much), and that split set a high watermark that only my divorce from the Lawnmower could surpass. FB and I had met in Northern Virginia in 1995 and dated on-and-off from 1996 through early 1999. Shortly thereafter, FB decided to seek out calmer pastures and moved to Elizabeth City. We got back together in the fall of 1999 and dated seriously, albeit long-distance, for the next two years. I liked living near the water, loved coastal North Carolina, and was very committed to FB, so I was giving serious thought to making his small town my permanent home. To that end, in May of 2001 I landed a job as a summer associate with a law firm in Norfolk and made plans to live with FB for the summer.

I headed south and so did my plans.

FB and I fought on a near-daily basis, which surprised and confused me because, romance aside, we had always enjoyed an easy friendship. That summer, almost nothing had been enjoyable or easy. The whole mess came to a head one day in my final week at the firm when FB sent me a brief email whose last line was: “I think this should be the end.” I couldn’t believe it: not only was the boyfriend I lived with breaking up with me, he was doing it via email. (It could have been worse. Had we split in the Twitter era, I might have gotten a 140-character message that ended with #kaput.)

Even if I couldn’t disagree with FB’s email summation of the summer or his conclusion, his poor choice of medium made all of that irrelevant to me. In one of my less mature moves, I called to tell him –by which I mean his voicemail — what I thought of his cowardice. And then I decided to give him the end he wanted. I resolved to vacate the premises when he wasn’t home, something I could accomplish only by

The first floor of this joint is, to quote the chorus from the Bare Naked Ladies song, where we used to live. At least I managed to avoid the "broke into the old apartment" lead-in.

The first floor of this joint is, to quote the chorus from the Bare Naked Ladies song, where we used to live. At least I managed to avoid the “broke into the old apartment” lead-in.

using his sister as in intermediary (another of my not-so-mature moves).

I spent the night before my last day with the law firm at the home of my sister Lynne’s in-laws, who lived in Virginia Beach. Though they barely knew me, they greeted me with two things I was in dire need of: hugs and wine.

The next day, my parents met me at FB’s house at the appointed hour. We packed up my things and my cat, and I headed back north. I didn’t know where FB was and I didn’t care.

FB and I had no contact until the fall of 2014, when we mended the fence with ease. That friendship I used to love is not only intact but improved, because now we can laugh about the breakup that caused us both to cringe for more than a decade.

While visiting FB recently, I decided to ask him what he’d been doing on that day in 2001 while my parents were helping me vacate the premises.

“Driving,” said FB. Evidently he left his office that afternoon, turned on to a road he didn’t know all that well, and just followed it without thinking. Several twists and miles later, that same road brought him right back to where he’d begun. “I had no idea it was a loop,” he said. He made a few loops that day before deciding it was safe to go back home.

I felt a sudden need to travel that road, the one I had not taken in 2001 when FB and I reached the point where our paths had to diverge.

“Will you take me there?” I asked. FB laughed but didn’t hesitate to oblige.

The road took us past field after field of soybeans, twisted us through a tiny town, and led us to a blimp hangar before we returned to our starting point. We hadn’t exchanged many words on the drive, but I felt relaxed and content the whole time. I think FB did, too, because he spent most of the ride singing along to the stereo.where we used to live

As we pulled into the driveway, I thanked FB. The trip we’d taken was remarkable not for the sights but for the distance we’d traveled. Had you asked me fourteen years ago, I’d have sworn I’d never return to that fork in the road, much less with the person who’d let go of my hand when it forked. But I’m glad I did, because I know that each of us followed exactly the right route.

I wasn't kidding about the blimp hangar. Or the blimp.

I wasn’t kidding about the blimp hangar. Or the blimp.

 

 

 

If you want to find out what someone’s really like, just take her to the dentist

If you want to cut to the chase and find out what a potential mate is really like, the advice industry tells you to do things like take a vacation together, co-host a dinner party, or assemble an item from Ikea’s popular “Guantanamo” collection.

I say ignore all of that and go to the dentist with your sweetie instead, because you can find out everything you really need to know about someone by watching how he handles dental duress. I say this based on my own behavior when I go to the dentist, which I did today to get a crown.

I’ve been a patient of Dr. C’s for over nine years. Thanks to weak teeth, I’ve spent so much time there, when I walk through the door the staff greets me like Norm on “Cheers.” Yet even though I know exactly what to expect when I go for a crown, and even though Dr. C and his staff are unfailingly, impossibly kind, those visits bring out the worst in me every way, every time.

It starts with my appearance. I looked fine as I sat down in the chair today, but that lasted only seconds. The moment the technician stuck the Silly Putty in my mouth to take impressions–they call it “alginate” but we all know it’s Silly Putty — I began to drool. (When you’re a seasoned pro like I am, you know there’s no need to wait for the actual procedure to start.) And then I began to perspire. This wasn’t confined to my armpits, it was a full-body sweat perfumed with the scent of panic.

To stem the tidal sweat and my panic, I requested nitrous oxide. Nitrous and I adore each other. In fact, our trysts, which are always too brief for my taste because Dr. C refuses to sell to-go tanks, are what allow me to get through these visits. Nitrous doesn’t make me unaware of what’s going on, it just makes me not care about anything, including the fact that, to inhale the nitrous, I had to strap on to my face what appeared to be a green pig snout.

My appearance took another hit when the technician had me don a pair of sunglasses. Not the Ray-Ban kind the kids wear but the CVS kind old people wear, the ones that are so big they look like a tinted windshield. Not that I cared, of course. I also didn’t care that my mouth had to be propped open with a bite block, giving me the appearance of a beached bass. When I’m on nitrous I don’t even care enough to stay awake, so it’s safe to assume I snored.

Ninety minutes later the procedure ended, the nitrous stopped and I made my way to the front of the office. As always, Dr. C and the technician were all smiles and compliments. They shook my hand and told me I did great. A normal person, in the face of such kindness, would have said, “Thank you,” or at least tried to smile.

I knew I should try to put on a good face, or fraction of a face–Dr. C and his peeps aren’t to blame for the unpleasantness and expense of crowns — but I just couldn’t. Nor could I get anything nice to come out of my mouth.

“I hate these things,” was what I said. I spoke with neither rudeness nor warmth, but with absolute sincerity. I may not be my best self when I’m at the dentist, but at least I’m honest.

So the moment your squeeze tells you he has to go to the dentist for a root canal or something similarly major, expensive and miserable, be sure to go. Not with him, as a moral supporter, but from a comfortable distance so you can shadow him like the dental equivalent of a secret shopper. Then take up a post in an adjacent bay, put on a tinted windshield, and wait for the true colors to run, along with a little drool.

 

Flaming cookie wrappers and other standard Monday night fare

Tonight I approached a perfect stranger sitting alone at an outdoor table at the beer garden near my house and said, “Do you mind if I use this corner to set something on fire?” (as you do).

The stranger said, “Sure,” and then moved closer to the fire source.

Only one of two things could explain such a reaction:

  1. The stranger somehow knew that I’m only capable of setting things ablaze accidentally. (I owned a cat who could’ve attested to that, had he not passed away long ago under circumstances that I swear did not involve fire.)
  2. The stranger was a man.

The second explanation was the only one I could confirm with a visual.

I really shouldn’t have been at the beer garden at all tonight, much less setting things ablaze, because, in addition to bringing back bacon shirts from the road trip to Allentown, I also brought back a case of strep throat. I capped off my weekend with the Roommates by making a festive trip to the urgent care center yesterday, so the only rounds I’m doing right now involve antibiotics. But I stopped by my local watering hole anyway because the friend of a dear friend happened to be in town, just for tonight, and I wanted to meet her. (The meds had been in my system for more than 24 hours, the friends gave informed consent, and I wore a HazMat suit.)

Shortly after I showed up and introduced myself from a medically safe distance, she pulled a few small wrapped pastries from her purse. She’s of Italian descent and had wanted to buy the cookies, which are supposed to bring good luck, for the wedding she came to attend, but she didn’t find them until after the event. Once you’ve polished off the cookie, you’re supposed to make a wish, roll the empty wrapper into a cylinder, stand it up on end, set it ablaze, and watch your wish take flight.

I was disappointed to learn that you had to do more than eat the cookie to get the good luck. Still, I decided to give it a go. I’m in the market for wish fulfillment –who isn’t? –and this sounded way easier than praying.

I let my friends go fist. Their papers caught fire with ease but flight was another matter altogether. They attributed their botched launches to our table, one of those wire mesh jobs that made it hard to get the paper cylinder to stay vertical. Having learned from their poor choice of platform, I wandered to the standard wooden picnic table where the stranger was sitting. His table offered greater flatness, not to mention flammability.

I’m superstitious when it comes to things like wishing, so rather than aim for something grand, like finding true love, I decided to lower the stakes and wish for a couple of good dates.

No doubt you’ve heard that life imitates art, but maybe you didn’t know that it also imitates flaming wish paper. No sooner did my cookie wrapper catch fire than it capsized and played dead. Then a breeze blew it, still ablaze, in the direction of the stranger, who wore a wedding ring. This time he had the good sense to recoil.

The good news? Just because your wish burns to ashes doesn’t mean it won’t come true; it just means you need to make another wish. So pass the cookies, will ya?

It did not go up in smoke, it just went in smoke. Pass me another one!

It did not go up in smoke, it just went in smoke. Pass me another one!