It turns out Beautiful Carpenter was good at everything. He’s one of those people you try not to hate because he can play the piano, and do math in his head, and can fix, build, or otherwise create anything he wants with just his brain, his hands, and a few things laying around in the garage. Not only that, he’s still the only guy I’ve ever known that has the patience to wait for French press coffee in the morning and can change an alternator on a work truck in the dark during an icy rain in the Best Buy parking lot without throwing his tools. I don’t get it. When I’m in a frustrating situation like that, I can’t even fake enough patience to impress someone, but that’s just him.
Between his house and mine, we took on dozens of DIY projects and finished nearly all of them. And honestly my house never looked better. He was even more of a perfectionist freak than I was, and one night we went down into my basement and he ripped up that five-way intersection of crooked tile I had thrown the rug over a few years earlier, and put it all back together nicely. Then the next weekend, we finished the tile in the laundry room and the office, mudding and grouting until three am fueled on homemade organic margaritas and a heavy metal playlist.
When I picked up the phone to get an estimate on new house siding from a local contractor, Beautiful Carpenter listened in. Then he asked me about my ideas, threw in a couple of his own, and the next thing I knew, we were calling the lumberyard and ordering up some rough sawn cedar for us to do ourselves. Honestly, he did most of the work, but I never minded being his grunt man, sweeping up, doing simpler tasks and painting trim. As long as he was teaching me rather than doing it all himself, I think we were both happy.
That was a long-ass project that spanned from autumn to the next spring, into summer when it grew too hot to work outside. Instead, we passed the time floating on the lake behind my house, running the trails, and drinking beers at sunset waiting for the temps to cool down. In the mornings, we drank coffee at sunrise at the edge of the nearby creek where, besides us, only the fishermen were out.
When autumn finally arrived again, we trimmed out the windows and put a coat of paint on the whole house. After that Beautiful Carpenter landscaped the front and back of the house so I had a little retreat where I could watch sunrises from the patio or sunsets from the front porch. And you know, it looked pretty good.
To tell the truth, it needed another coat of paint, but like I said, my house had never looked better. So maybe next fall I will add the paint and some new front porch posts, but for now I see the progress I have made over the last several years. I still like to get the old pictures out from when I started these projects, just to remind me that I am growing and progressing every day.
And I know that whatever happens next, is just the next thing. Maybe that’s why I bought this shirt a few weeks ago. Because even though sometimes it’s hard to believe, really, everything is going to be okay.
In the middle of one of my DIY projects, the one where I learned all about chain saws, one of the things I had to stop and do was unwind a few hundred feet of orange extension cord. I never have the patience to wind them back up the way you are supposed to after every use, and I know there is special way handyman-types wrap these things so you can use just a few feet at a time or use all 150 feet if you need it. But I never do that. I just throw them in a pile in the corner of the garage until the next time I need one and then stretch it out half-snarled to the approximate length I need, or go buy a new one that I promise to take better care of.
Anyway, I needed an extension cord for the electric chain saw I was using but when I went to the garage to get it I found this:
In this tangled mess, was a 25-foot cord and a 50-foot cord but I needed only one of them. And since I was concerned for my safety—the perils of living in a free world that allows someone like me to use a chain saw—I considered taking the time to untangle it all. ‘Sometimes it’s better to stop and do something like this,’ I thought. But rather than doing that, I reached down and grabbed the end of one of them and pulled imagining that if I pulled hard and long enough something magical would happen to untangle them and I would have one end for the outlet and one end for the chain saw.
Of course, that’s not what happened, and I didn’t really think it would, I was just being hopeful. And hopefulness can do a lot, but I try to keep my eyes on what’s ahead—like the big thing I’m hoping to achieve—while being particularly mindful and appreciative of ‘the now,’ knowing that it will all end up in the same place. It’s my choice to make it a tangled mess or enjoy the ride.
Sometimes it can be great fun to just grab an end and pull and see what happens. Other times we’re gonna meet some resistance. And when we meet that resistance, it’s good to hang out there for a while and unsnarl the cords even when the temptation is to throw it away and buy a new one. The big thing we want will still be there. It has to be because it’s been there all along and is waiting for us.
I have found this is true of pretty much everything–work, home, cars, people. Sometimes we find ourselves in a tangled mess, not sure how it got this way, or wondering why we didn’t take better care of it. Our temptation can sometimes be to throw whatever it is it in the corner and ignore it, or maybe go get a new one. But then we miss what the resistance is telling us. And if we don’t hang out for a while and untangle the cords, nothing is going to change and we’re just going to have to do it again at the next job, or with the next lover, or the next time we visit mom.
So for me, the choice is pretty clear. Either tug and pull and struggle against, or sit with it, get clear and intentional, and keep my heart and eye on the big thing I know I want. And when I do that something magical does happen:
The Beautiful Carpenter was here. I didn’t notice until later that after we finished our work that day, he’d taken the time to do this for me. He was mindful. I am appreciative. Next time I see him, I will show him just how much.
One Saturday I found myself with time on my hands—ON A SATURDAY. This almost never happens. Normally, I run with Ben on Saturday and go to whatever sport he is involved in, maybe visit the grandparents, do errands, and if I’m in his good graces, we’d play Rock Band on the wii. That almost never happens either because I’d bring down his score with my bad guitar playing and less-than-rhythmic drumming. He never lets me be Tom Petty, but once-in-a-while I get to be Pink and play an instrument or sing on Crocodile Rock while he rolls his eyes and tells me I’m doing it wrong.
None of that happened on this particular Saturday because when I dropped him off at baseball practice, his dad was there to take him to his Aunt’s for dinner after.
So I spent the afternoon driving from small town to small town near my city searching for the perfect bathroom vanity, one that I am pretty sure never existed so I’m really not sure why I kept searching, but it kept me busy until the right one came along. It’s crazy really. I think I was just putting off buying one because after searching for months, finally buying one and installing it meant there would be no meaning to my life anymore—my version of walking on the moon.
Since finding a vanity proved to be futile, I drove the long way home because it was the first warm day of spring. In my head I planned the week ahead. I suddenly remembered I was picking up a new friend for dinner who invited me to share a gift certificate to a nice restaurant in town one night since her husband was gone for the week. And recalling how perfect her life seemed and how spotless her house always is, I looked around my car at the old French fries and Skittles stuck to the floor mats, and the shoe print marks on the dash and decided I’d better get my act and my car cleaned up before she learned about the real me and decided not to be my new friend anymore.
That’s what led to what you see in this picture. It’s scary what a roll of duct tape can do to a girl. But it was there and I couldn’t find the crevice tool that fit my Shop-Vac only the one to my old upright. So when I taped them together and came up with something that could suck the food and pea gravel from between the console and front passenger seat I felt pretty good about it.
Though I spent about an hour before this trying to fix my broken windshield solvent sprayer cursing god for not giving me a gear-head boyfriend who would just do it for me, I was desperate to get those french fries and skittles sucked up and this just sorta happened. I’d cry if it wasn’t so funny.
Not having a gear-head boyfriend was probably a good thing. I would have just messed it up not knowing then what I know now. I’ve learned a lot about men the last few years, mostly by doing lots of home remodeling and discovering duct tape. But also from having some very good friends that just happen to be men and keeping my eyes and ears open. I’ve learned about beer courage and that sometimes they don’t want to share their feelings. I’ve learned that they can be just as vulnerable as women, and in some cases maybe more so. Sometimes they miss their moms and some of them just want us to love them in ways their mothers failed to.
I’m starting to think that we learn to love others the way we believe we have been loved. Some people might say the way we believe we have been loved by God. I think I might say that too if I could figure out if I believe in god. I can see that could be true. If we see God as a big scary being, which is how I spent most of my life, we might be afraid of love. Afraid to love.
I don’t feel afraid of either anymore. When someone says God to me, I don’t feel that anxiety in my gut or the judgement I once did like what Louise Hay says about god not being, “an old man sitting on a cloud above planet Earth watching my genitals.” I think letting all of that go, has taught me how to love better too. Weird, with everything I’ve learned, you’d think I’d be better at playing the wii by now.
When you’re a single mom on a limited budget trying to renovate a home room by room, it’s best to stay out of the casinos. But if you are lucky like I am, and have a great guy in your life who took you there and wouldn’t let you spend any money, then it’s best to stay out of pricey coffee shops when you come home with about the same amount of cash you left with on Saturday.
I convinced myself that I was flush enough to order an almond milk vanilla chai latte extra hot—LARGE—and a bacon and egg breakfast sandwich on the way to my day job because I didn’t lose any money over the weekend. I was just home from my first trip to a casino (sort of a bucket list thing) where I was prepared to lose $100 gambling and also brought an extra $100 for food, silly souvenirs, and shared room expenses. Yeah, I know, I’m not a big spender. But when I got there (maybe a teensy bit late) I didn’t really have time to gamble because I wanted to see the band that was playing and then I wanted to walk around the casino and see how it was done first. Yeah, I know, I’m not that spontaneous either.
So I watched some folks play electronic poker, then I went to the off-track betting salon to get away from the cigarette smoke hanging in the air at 500,000 ppm. But all the races were over (even the ones in Australia), so instead I had a drink and ate a cheese-free flatbread and some French fries. By then I was a little tipsy and more than a little bit tired so all I could do was occasionally hold a $20 bill out to my friends who were playing electronic roulette, and bet on the wrong color or number from time-to-time. We went up and down by five or ten dollars for a very long time. We just kept playing. Man, that stuff can be addicting.
I guess my friends must have thought my money was about as good as my bets, because they never let me pay. I just stuck my $20 bill out toward them, and then stuck it back in my pocket repeatedly. Meantime, my guy found another roulette table and started applying his awesome skills, and in no time he was winning. We cashed out (way too soon probably) and headed to bed and the next day spent our winnings on good cheap breakfast food at noon (with extra sides), left the server a nice tip (and a rubber cockroach for fun), then took our time driving through the countryside home. Yeah, I know, he’s great, right?
Because I had this cash, I kept feeling like I should spend it. So the first thing I bought was from the vending machine at a gas station. I had seriously never seen rough style condoms or “sexy toys” in a vending machine before, and since I hadn’t officially gambled on anything yet, I thought this might be sorta like playing the slots. So I shoved a bunch of quarters into the machine and got my prizes. From the looks of the boxes that popped out, these prizes were in those machines for quite a long time. But when I got back to the car, I opened them up.
The rough style condoms where a little disappointing. The package said something about “studded” and “extra pleasure” and the girl on the package certainly looked like she knew a lot about both those things, but like I said, disappointing.
The sexy toy was a little more interesting, though. A package of Horny Goat Weed, a Chinese herb to enhance male and female libido. I’d heard of this herb before, but honestly, I thought the “horny” part referred to the horns of the goat or some kind of bristles on the weed. I had no idea it meant actual horniness. That one, I took home. So I spent $1.50 on a gamble, but I didn’t actually lose anything. So on the trip home, I kept trying to spend money but all I could manage to buy was a pair of Carhartt wool socks, and 4 egg rolls and 3 crab rangoons from Chinese drive-up window. I guess I’m just not that much of a spender. But for some reason, I’m not that much of a saver either.
I had recently, for the first time ever, looked at my budget. I was always afraid to do this because I never really wanted to know where all my money went. That way I could continue to say “I swear, I don’t know where it all goes,” and therefore continue not to know. I really, really liked this strategy. But then I met the carpenter, and it all got complicated. He had a finance degree and loved playing with money and figuring out spending strategies, and watching things grow (more about his awesome gardening skills later). Anyway, he had me write down all the stuff I spend money on and all my monthly bills and pointed out all the things I could do to save money and maybe take a vacation with him sometime. Thankfully, when I mentioned how much I spend on salon services, he told me to not to cut back on those because it was a sign I took care of myself (or maybe a sign he likes things tidy in my garden, if you know what I mean).
Either way, he was right. And one of the things I eliminated from my budget was my trips to the local coffee shop two to three times a week at about $10 each. I had convinced myself I deserved these trips because by the time I got Ben and the neighbor kids stuffed into my 2009 Honda 2-door Coupe with their backpacks and band instruments and then pried them all back out in carpool lane before the mom in the Ford Expedition behind me (with one preschooler carrying an empty pink backpack) could start honking, I was exhausted and needed a pick-me-up before I went to work. Well, you try getting a didgeridoo and a trombone in and out of a trunk that size when it’s already full of the recycling you never got around to taking to the drop-off site.
Besides that, it’s not like I was going to Starbucks or some other national conglomerate rip-off. This was a locally owned coffee shop that had almond milk AND bacon and they needed my support in the form of $8.56 plus tip on my two carpool mornings and Fridays when I celebrated leaving for work early since Ben was at his dad’s.
Here’s where Karma rode in. This time I thought it was weird because I ordered a large latte instead of a medium, but it still cost $8.56 and almond milk is usually extra. It’s extra everywhere because apparently those of us with lactose problems never lose money at casinos. Anyway, I didn’t think much of it. All I could think of was how it was okay to go there since I still had all that unspent cash. And then all I could think of was putting my mouth to that yummy vanilla chai deliciousness. So when I did, and it tasted extra sweet, the thought that it was real milk instead of almond milk crossed my mind for a sec, but honestly, I thought it was just the sweet taste of righteousness on my lips.
Three hours later, I’m excusing myself from meetings to hide the painful sounds erupting from my gut, and an hour after that, I’m curled up in the fetal position in the sick room. I still tried to act like everything was okay, but by day-two when the pain increased and my gut screamed in terror something about not having the right enzymes, I knew Instant Karma had knocked me right in the head. I also knew that if I ever wanted to finish my house or go on vacation with that beautiful carpenter who seems to like me, I’d better get myself together. And so, I put the rest of the cash away, and swore off the coffee shop again, and the next time I got paid, moved $500 straight into my savings account. I know, it’s not a budget, right? But it’s a beginning and like I’ve said many times before, baby steps eventually start to add up.
I’ve heard it said that in more advanced stages of psychological development, we come to accept and embrace our masculine self (for women) or our feminine self (for men); what Jung called the Anima and Animus. Lots has been written about it, including this guy’s blog post that I happen to really enjoy. But for me, I’m thinking that understanding what is typically a masculine trait–beer courage–could be part of this advanced stage of development.
Prying up old tile in my upstairs bath did not prove as satisfying as ripping out my old bathroom cabinet. What I thought was about a three hour job turned in to a painfully slow process, with me trying (once again) to save something that didn’t want or need to be saved–the poured mud floor underneath–and yellow floor tile mocking me, asking who exactly I thought I was trying to renovate my own house, all the while the voice of my mother asking why I didn’t have a new man to do that for me, reverberating in my ears.
I rarely buy beer, but something about doing home repairs makes it seem right. At one point I thought it would be a good idea for hardware stores to sell it. While I doubt that anyone thinks using power tools and alcohol together is a good idea, I do think the idea of having a beer while tearing out a bathroom is a good one.
So I opened a beer and started chipping tile from the bathroom floor. An hour later, I’m feeling buzzed and only about four pieces of tile are up. The hammer keeps slipping and I’ve hit my thumb about 45 times. Beer courage fades quickly when you’re met with a smack down. Guys in bars, I get it now.
On my mind part of the time was a guy-friend whom I’d had a teeny-weeny disagreement with and who had run for the hills when my voice got all high and whiny like it tends to do when I’m upset. I think if men fully embraced their feminine sides, our getting upset might not scare them so much. But like my therapist used to say, “When a man hears that, all they see in their minds is a giant flashing red light that says ‘MOM . . . .MOM . . . MOM. . .’ and they run away in fear. I wanted him to forgive me long enough to tell him that I’m not his mom, but I hadn’t heard even the slightest hint that would be possible.
In yoga class, we are taught to lie with our butts against the wall and our feet up in the air and lay like a giant L to clear our minds. So I did this for a few minutes and waited for the sound of forgiveness, but it never came. I was also hoping if I lay there long enough when I opened my eyes all the tile would be gone and a new floor would be there in its place, but that didn’t happen either. It was pretty awful.
I almost gave up, but rather, I went to the fridge for more courage. I hammered away—mostly at my left thumb—until a good bit more tile was wedged from position. Not sure if it was the beer or the hammering, but I gained some more insight into the male psyche, ‘After hours of this,’ I thought, ‘I wouldn’t want to talk about my feelings either. I don’t even have any feelings—especially in my left thumb–so what is there to talk about? I just want to get to a stopping point, finish my beer and go to bed—maybe shag the wife if she’s still up and doesn’t make me take a shower first.’
I don’t know if men who write novels or are CPAs feel this way, but I think they must. Because they all say this stuff, right? I think I learned something else about men, too. A lot of them are more sensitive than we give them credit for, like my friend who won’t forgive me. They are just as wounded and imperfect as women are. I considered emailing him until he finally gave up and wrote back, but I won’t because I probably did sound like his mom that day, and I know what my brothers think about that.
Well, technically, I’m not allowed to do a spinning back kick yet. Geeze. This week was bad. I can’t believe someone hasn’t found me laying on a sidewalk hyperventilating. Thursday things already suck, because I drop Ben off at school Thursday mornings and don’t see him until the next night after work when I pick him up from his dad’s. But this was a Thursday that should have sucked even more.
I get a call at work. (In my cube right? So I can’t really talk, which people on the other end of the line don’t know, so I always sound more like an idiot than usual.) It was my therapist (who honestly I haven’t seen in months). She just called nonchalantly to tell me she was retiring.
“Sooner than I expected,” she said. “I’m having some surgery so hopefully I will feel better, but I decided to go ahead and retire.” She’s only in her mid-sixties, I’d say. I thought therapists work until they are in their eighties. How can she be retiring?
All I could think of to say in cube-world was “Oh.” And then I mumbled something inaudible about how I hoped it wasn’t serious. Lame, right? But she’s the therapist here, how the hell am I supposed to know what to say?
She said she would still be seeing clients through the next month but that would be it (. . . so that if I wanted to get in . . . .hint, hint. . . ). Obviously she thought I might need to, based on my utter lack of verbal response. I didn’t feel compelled to make an immediate appointment or anything even at her prodding, so I guess that’s a good thing, right?
But still, whose therapist retires? And who would I pay to listen to my whining now? She recommended another woman in her practice she thought would be a good fit for me. Which I took to mean is desperately looking for new clients because her husband just left her and the four kids for a Scarlette Johannson look-alike. Then we said our awkward goodbyes, and that was it. God, I wish people would stop breaking up with me, I thought. I know my whiny little problems don’t amount to much, but I already suffer from abandonment issues. How is one expected to take this sort of thing?
Then after work I went to the yoga class I’d been attending every Monday or Thursday night for about five years, and my yogi tells me she’s leaving after her Thursday class next week. Their house sold 4 hours after they put it on the market (just to see what would happen) and they were leaving immediately for North Carolina to live on the beach for a while until she and her husband found where they wanted to land for good. Who has karma like that except a yoga instructor? I’m just a somewhat normal person, how do I compete with that in this crazy universe?
So you see why normally I would be breathing into a paper bag at this point? Wouldn’t most people? But for some reason I wasn’t. I didn’t know what to say to her. So I didn’t say anything. I just did my down dogs extra good her honor, and walked out like I was gonna see her next week, as usual. How could I just do that? Every class something amazing happened. I saw purple when we practiced yoga nidra. I nearly levitated following her Savasana, and best of all, nearly every time l left that class, I floated home feeling as if I had just gotten laid. And let me tell you, for a single woman, that is no small deal.
Her class got me through quitting my job to take back some power in my life, then two years later losing my highest paying client when they decided to do all their writing in-house, then a period of employment in crappy part-time jobs, then reemployment, my mom’s illness, my divorce (when she told me not to get that tattoo until I was a full year out from it), neck pain, a family wedding, some more neck pain caused by the family wedding, my dad’s illness. You get the idea.
Whatever I thought I would say, I thought I would just wait and say it next week. Then on the way home I remembered Ben had a program the next Thursday and I’d never see her again. But still, I feel okay with that. I know they say when the student is ready the master appears, but I think it might be true for me at this time. I think I am ready to let both my therapist and my yogi go.
Maybe part of that reason for that might be because I started taking Tae Kwon Do classes recently. Not for any spiritual, martial artsy, find myself reasons, but more for shallow, flat ab, find my assagain reasons. Because honestly the ass I saw in the mirror the other day was not mine. It belonged to some lady who hadn’t seen the inside of a gym in years. Holy crap. That would be me. And all the Mary Kay targeted-action firming lotion in the world wasn’t going to bring my old ass back. So, I called Ben’s Tae Kwon Do Master and explained to him that I wanted to join the class, and not for any other reason than to get into better shape, and he was cool with that.
Hell, I thought, it all pays the same no matter why we join the class right? So why would he care? Besides, I had some awesome self-defense training growing up with three big brothers, so I might not be too horrible at it, anyway.
You know what happens, right? I’ve been walking around the house kicking the crap out of everything and crying a lot. Sometimes because I hurt my foot, and sometimes because like I’ve heard him say a million times in the two years I’ve been sitting on someone else’s ass watching Ben take his class, “Taking a punch is a very emotional thing.” Don’t I know it, Master Song. Don’t I know it.
In the middle of tiling the basement, the cold water shut-off valve in the main bathroom upstairs decided to start leaking. So I decided just to shut it off (like it says). That goes over for a while, but Ben absolutely didn’t like brushing his teeth in hot water. I mean, at first it works if you let the water run very slowly and use only the cold, lead-leached water left in the pipes all night before the hot water reaches the faucet. But like most kids, he turned on the faucet full-force and used it all up pretty fast.
So the next thing that happens is he’s screaming about the burns on his little fingers and I run up there and, choking on the steam filling the room, shut it off as quickly as possible promising him I will “fix it tonight.” Well that was bullshit. For weeks after that we were forced to use the same sink every morning until one Saturday I had an extra 15 minutes to kill and decided fix it–for real this time.
That was semi-successful, but then something else went wrong. Basically, my sink sprung a huge leak that I couldn’t fix. You see, when you own an older home, for some reason even the simplest plumbing repair can turn into a six-month long project (or in my case a year-and-a-half) because something old is always attached the new thing you wanna put in, and those old things break off in your hand like a Melba cracker. And that’s basically what happened with my sink. The actual sink had a hole in it that had been patched by the previous homeowners and the patch came off in my hand.
So the whole sink was useless. Then I decided the whole bathroom was useless–at least that’s what it became because I started ripping out the cabinet with the sink, the tile on the walls, the wall paper, and anything else I could wrap my 14 1/2 inch pry bar around. Was I feeling some anger at the time? Yeah, yeah I was, but you know what? Ripping that bathroom apart felt so good after all I had been through, especially when a particularly stubborn place, like the old counter top in the photo here, wouldn’t budge and I pushed and pried and used all my strength against it.
And finally, when it gave way after all that force and struggle, it was very gratifying. Would I say it was like an orgasm? Well, for a single mom with no boyfriend, I would say yes, yes it was. It was the best orgasm I’d had in a while. So much so that I poured a glass of wine, sat back looking affectionately at my work, and determined that the next day, I would haul the junk outside and start ripping out the floor tile.
It’s important when you are recovering from someone or something, or a lifetime of a lot of things to accept when people extend a gift, an invitation, some help, or simply friendship. Today, I read in a book by Anne Lamott this: “I automatically think that closing down is safe, but really, staying open and loving is safer because then we are connected to all that life and love.” I’ve been messing up on that a lot lately.
But opening your heart can be treacherous and can send you into hiding when the outcome you hoped for doesn’t manifest. So after another several days my ego and my heart battling one another for top position in my psyche, closing down did feel safe, but normal. I could barely accept an invitation to plod through the woods with my bruised heart and a couple of friends, yet it seemed like a silent, closed down, lonely old friend had returned.
I mostly didn’t talk and walked off to myself a bit listening to the sounds of our feet stomping the leaves beneath and the two of them (brother and sister) bonding over something going on in the family. This time, though, their mother is dying. Nana.
Today they talked about how Nana had been recently calling for her own mother. Sometimes when she did it, she was unawares. Other times, she would realize she was calling her daughter by the wrong name and smile, awkwardly embarrassed. When Vicky asked her about it, she said it was just easier to say mother, so that’s why she said it. Vicky told me also about her aunt who died last year. When she was dying, she kept saying she missed her mother. She missed her mother, and she just wanted to go see her.
It made me think about how much I will miss my own mother someday and how my daughter will miss me. I thought about the prayer log I keep for all the orphans I know and how long it’s been since I paid them the attention they deserve: Michael, Melanie, Sharon, Angela, Jim’s kids, Debbie, Beverly, most of my cousins, dear Patrick. My bruised heart didn’t seem so battered suddenly.
The melancholy stayed with me the rest of the day though. Ben was in bed before nine and we opened the windows and listened quietly for few minutes to the tree frogs and toads in the creek and farm field behind our house. Peaceful now, not like mid-summer when they are so loud he begs me to close the windows. He said he felt sorry for other kids who lived in big houses in neighborhoods where they never heard the lullaby of nature like that. He said that: “the lullaby of nature.”
A few minutes later I sat down to work when Mrs. S, the neighbor across the street, called to say that her husband had the telescope out if Ben wasn’t in bed yet and wanted to come and look. So we slipped on our shoes; his hair still damp from his shower, and ran across the street to see what was in the sky. We saw Jupiter and its four stars, with Venus sitting right next to it up in the western sky, and across from it to the east was Mars; all on the same plane early this March of 2012. But the marvel in the sky was the Hind’s Crimson Star. The jewel of Lipus, bright red and beating like a heart in the sky.
Mr S said several times. “I’m seventy-two years old, and that’s the only time in my life that I’ve ever seen it that bright and clear.” I felt lucky to see it with him. I think it made him happy to share it with such an enthusiastic student as Ben. He quizzed Ben on Orion, the seven sisters, the dippers, Taurus, and all the other things he’d taught him the last time we watched the night sky with him. Ben remembered everything he had said.
We said our good-nights and Mr S said if Ben was interested in Astronomy, it would really please him. He misses his own two boys, and their 5 small kids who all live so far away. The sacrifices those two made for their boys: she quit teaching to stay home when they were little. The boys never finished high school because they both went to college right after junior high, but you’d never hear Mr or Mrs S brag about it. Now the boys invent things for tech companies and invest our money and have beautiful wives and children, and their parents are still here in the old neighborhood, adopting my boy, who is smart and interested in everything like their boys were, buying his scout popcorn, asking after his school work, smiling at his precociousness that gets on my nerves some days.
So Ben and I ended the day with the melancholy lifted, feeling safe and happy again, with life flowing in through our open windows, thanks in large part because it was offered to us. And so staying open is actually safer because staying inside with the windows closed would have just caused us to feel lonely. But running across the street when Mr and Mrs S invited us led to a new feeling; a better feeling of being safe and loved.
I’ve lost a couple of friends and more than one or two opportunities because I was afraid to accept something that was offered out of genuine kindness or just for fun. I really wish I could get a second chance at those sometimes. But most of the time, the best I can do is promise myself that the next time someone offers, I will just say okay.
When you are recovering from something, or a lot of things. You might think you are ready for love way before you really are. I know this because of all the false starts I have made at it, and all the subsequent retreats. Take, for example, my lame attempt with Matt.
Matt showed up when things in my life were coming apart. Even before he knew anything about what was going on with me, we were becoming friends. Sometimes I think he liked me becuase I was so vulnerable. I never talked about it, but I was sad a lot of times. So I think my brooding is what attracted him to me. I think it’s what made me attracted to him, too. Being vulnerable will do that to a girl.
He listened to everything I said, remembered to email me links for things I was interested in, like places to hike and articles to read. I liked the attention. I thought he was cute, athletic, fun to hang out with, and his sister is one of my best friends. Also, he lived in another city, but close enough that we could maintain a friendship and see each other occasionally. Perfect, right? But as soon as I wiggled free from my disaster of a life, he started wiggling the other way.
At first he would come to town and be all about me. He brought me wine. He sat close and talked in a protective way about how I should do this or that, touched my leg for emphasis, and I liked it–a lot. Then he’d come to town the next time and stay a safe distance away when our group went out for beers or walked through the park. I’d leave a party and he’d barely say goodbye. Then as soon as he got home he was facebooking and emailing me. It was safer from that distance, I suppose, but that was okay with me because I was still very much recovering from the whole mess my life had been and we were just getting to know each other.
But it went on like this for months until I finally decided it was time: We were hiking with a group and Matt and I managed to get some time alone on the trail. We shared camera shots of the herons, made lots of eye contact, and stood very close with our hands touching looking into eachother’s digital camera screens. When he wasn’t looking I bit my lips to make them look pinkish and swell up all pouty-like and irresistible (because it was sorta cold out there and they mostly looked purple and corpse-like). Basically, I gave him every chance in the world to make a move, but no moves were made.
That’s when I started wondering if I had bad breath or something. I reviewed what I had eaten; nothing but a Luna bar and some water. Still, I breathed through my nose, just to be safe, and kept up the irresistible act. Finally, after several minutes of nothing, I gave up and walked away. He followed, but at a safe distance. We drove back home in separate cars and when I saw him later that night at a party he mostly stayed in a separate room and then waved goodbye from the window when I left.
Rejection is confusing, I know, but the whole thing never made any sense until a week or so later when I found out he had a new girlfriend. “He has a girlfriend?”
I’ve been on the other side of this one. The other girl (me this time) can’t understand the guy’s strange behavior; making dates, then canceling, saying he’ll call, then doesn’t; pretty much only available in his car or via email. Yeah, I was the girlfriend last time this happened so I didn’t catch on at first, but then it hit me, “That’s what she said.”
Really, that’s almost exactly what she said. I was standing in my boyfriend’s apartment by the front door, she on the outside of the door, him standing in between us with his head tilted to the side and just his lips sticking through the door crack making excuses about who I was and why he didn’t show up for the movie, as if the two women couldn’t see or hear each other. She looked bewildered at first, but then said,”You have a girlfriend?” I was just F’ing pissed. That night did not end well.
So it looks like that’s what kinda happened this time to me. I guess it turned out okay, though, because Matt and I are still friends enough that I can hug him in front of his girlfriend now and nobody cares. I was still a mess back then and not much of sure thing anyway and it’s hard to compete with getting laid regularly, so I can’t blame him for wiggling away. As a matter-of-fact, the whole experience helped me establish a ‘no dating anyone’s brother’ rule for myself. Brothers are sacred. Getting involved with Matt probably would have messed up my friendship with his sister and hers is a long friendship that I cherish above many things—maybe even getting laid regularly.
This has been a tough week topped off with a trip Saturday to the car dealer where I was turned down on a new car lease. Then today Ben complained of a stomach ache at Church so we left early, because I’ve cleaned up barf at the WalMart pharmacy, lots of bathrooms and various couches and recliners, but never at church and I was not doing it today.
After we got home he seemed to be better so we had some Mac and Cheese for lunch to see how that would go. He seemed fine, and I had errands to run. I needed groceries, had to drop by the 24-hour BMV kiosk to renew my plates that expired last week, and had to weather strip the front door before the big snow tonight. When he complained, I agreed to skip the grocery store and just get my plates and run into the hardware store.
As I stood in the aisle—much too long—looking at the overwhelming selection of weather stripping, he started to feel worse. So I hurried to a check-out line where he said, “Mom, I’ve got to get out here right now.”
So I told him to go stand by the door a few feet away and get some fresh air. I HAD TO HAVE MY WEATHER STRIPPING after all, before the snow started blowing in that old door. Ben stood at the entrance of the hardware store like the bravest little soldier he is, while the girl at the register offered to hurry for me. When I looked back up at him I saw him bend at the waist and lay a huge pile of his lunch at the feet of the people going in and out. I heard a few ughs, and ooohs, but the people just kept walking.
So I dumped my stuff and ran over in time to catch the next load in my hands, and the next in the jacket I’d stripped off. And I know my cotton bikini underwear were sticking out of the top of my jeans as he sat on the floor and I bent over him, trying to comfort him and catch the vomit that just kept coming, saying sorry over and over, and choking back tears.
Then out of nowhere a man and a woman were asking the cashiers for paper towels, asking for someone to come with a mop, cleaning up my child’s vomit. I begged them not to help. I didn’t want them to get sick. This was not their problem. But they ignored me. The husband just kept cleaning up and stuffing vomit-filled paper towels into Lowe’s bags while the wife cooed at me, and empathized, and told me she understood—and never once judging me for the underwear and top of my butt sticking out of the back of my hip-hugger jeans.
When we finally got enough of it cleaned up for me to look up and notice, I saw they had been standing there with a son and a daughter selling fruit baskets for Boy Scouts. Still, I protested the husband’s help but she insisted saying, “He does this all the time at his job.” All I could say was, “What kind of a job requires you to clean up somebody else’s kid’s barf?”
“Oh, he’s the manager of a restaurant. You can’t believe the things he has to clean up. He’s used to it.”
I could hardly look either of them or their two innocent kids in the eyes with my underwear showing and my hands and hair full of vomit. I have a funny thing about complete strangers seeing me at my worst. I felt bad that I had no cash to buy one of the fruit baskets to help them, too, after all of that. Geeze. Not sure what was worse the underwear problem I could do nothing about at the moment, or the jacket full of vomit I had bundled up in my hands; my guilt over not returning their kindness, or my guilt over making my poor little guy go through all this in the name of weather stripping—though looking back, I don’t think any of it really bothered him. He just wanted to go home.
Unsure if this was the end to a horrible week, or just the beginning of another awful one, the hot tears stinging my eyes, I just wanted to take my bag of vomited-on clothes and go home too. As I stood up and turned to thank them one more time and make a quick escape of it, I looked up into the face of their son with his shy smile and long hair covering one eye, and he just stood there silently holding a fruit basket out to me. After all that, giving me something else for no reason. I looked at his mother who just nodded and smiled. That was the end of the choking back. The tears poured from my eyes. I thanked them, tried to make some sort of excuse about a horrible week, took the basket and ran off to my car.
I cried for the longest time in my car in the Lowe’s parking lot, trying to do it silently so Ben wouldn’t hear, hanging on to my last shred of dignity, with my poor little guy whimpering in the back seat trying to hang on to the last shred of his lunch.
And as I thought of all this later, unpacking the fruit and placing it carefully on display on the dining room table as a reminder of the goodness of others, I saw that what that family gave me for no reason was a lot like what God gives us for no reason. We are here and He is holding out a life that nourishes us, and will treat us kindly if we allow it. I imagine His offer is somewhat like that of that adorable boy scout and his dear family; silently urging us to take it, not expecting anything in return, even after he has cleaned up after us, ignored our pleas for him to just leave us alone, and has seen us at our worst.