Zoe & Sophia Enjoy Fine Dining (again) and Flee to Florida as the Sublime Consumers of the Lightness of Being

January 17th, 2010

January 17th

Thank you for the WONDERFUL ADVICE you’ve offered the two single women, whose lives are suddenly crashing in chaos! Zoe and Sophia, BFFs for thirty years, find themselves unexpectedly cast into the world of re-creation and redefinition after decades of being faithful wives to George and Marty. They need advice from anyone willing to help them. For instance, what advice would you give your BFF as she cried, WHY CAN’T I BE STRONG LIKE A TREE INSTEAD OF FRAIL LIKE A LEAF FLUNG ABOUT IN A FURIOUS WIND ? Any advice you can give to Zoe would be helpful, but this is what Sophia said.

Zoe sat at her kitchen table thinking about her first face-to-face meeting with Jackson from Florida in two days. She envisioned them as characters in a film, reunited after a long separation, running in slow motion then falling into each other’s arms and whirling round in a blissful blur. Smiling at the visual, her thoughts next turned to Walter–the guy who likes travel.  He  called and asked if she wanted to “date” for an hour or so. But Zoe wanted to stay “fresh” for Jackson, and anyway she was still weighing whether Walter was arrogant or just confident. Until she figured that out, she thought it best to avoid him. Almost against her will, Zoe’s thoughts suddenly floated, the way thoughts do, into an unchartered, unprotected area somewhere deep inside. In this place she began thinking about Ron. Although she hadn’t seen him in years, she did contact him after her split with George, and they spoke on the phone a few times. But Ron was tricky because he was the one man on earth for whom Zoe brandished the sword that always turned inward, that sense of loss for something she never quite had. Ron was the object of her unrequited love.

To shake the echoes of that buried hurt, one that still swam to the surface, Zoe took a shower, thinking she might wash the echoes away. When the hot splinters of water failed to dilute her feelings, she sat down and Googled his name as she had many times in the preceding months. Ron’s bio popped right up. He was now a divorcee and a high-ranking executive in the Chicago branch of the same corporation he worked for in Boston, when Zoe knew him, before she married George. His bio was apparent because he authored two well-received books on how to motivate employees hydraulically bound to corporate feudalism. The thrust of Ron’s advice (to get the sheep to stampede off a cliff and like it) was interactive communication, positive reinforcement, honesty, integrity and a host of other strategies he no doubt found in some Carl Rogers’ book on psychology. Ironically, these were qualities Ron steadfastly refused to apply to his relationship with Zoe. As the old pit gnawed at Zoe’s stomach, while new tears sprung from her eyes, Sophia burst through the door in a dither, startling Sparky from his slumber. He lay in a dog bed dotted with hard turds his body involuntarily purged during his nap.

Sparky was Zoe’s stroke-victim, incontinent yellow Lab. Forgetting that his sideways, loping gait wouldn’t scare even the most timid intruder, he raced at Sophia, but his legs gave out, and he slid into her knees. Sophia fell over Sparky and landed on her stomach at Zoe’s feet. Sparky and Sophia rolled onto their backs and threw dazed looks at Zoe.

“Zo, I’m fucked,” said Sophia, struggling to her feet.
“What’s wrong?”
“Marty’s at it again. He called three times in the last hour to bitch me out. He said he doesn’t care whether I’m at the house, he’s staying there tonight. He refuses to wait until we leave for Florida.”
“You can’t stay there with him, Sophie.”
“I know that. When I see him, even for a few minutes, my whole day goes into a shambles.”
“Have you analyzed that?” asked Zoe.
“I think it’s because I’m starting to let go. He’s not in my mental space all the time anymore. But seeing him triggers a flow of sad, even ugly feelings, like vomit or puss or something.”
“You gotta be firm. Call him right now and tell him no deal on the house tonight.”

Sophia walked into the next room and called Marty. After they shouted for awhile, she hung up on him, dissolved into tears, and returned to the kitchen.
“He said I should stay with you if I don’t like it. I asked him why tonight, and he was pretty vague, but since this isn’t a night Fugly usually has visitation with her kids, maybe Marty and Fugly aren’t getting along.”

Fugly, as Sophia called her, was the woman Marty had an affair with, which caused the split up of Sophia’s marriage. The situation was complicated. Fugly’s husband was a wealthy, famous musician and the son of  legend.  Sophia was forced to find somewhere else to stay every time Marty wanted to stay in their marital home because he couldn’t stay at Fugly’s. Sophia guessed that Fugly’s husband and father-in-law may have set some limits on Marty’s ability to be around Fugly’s kids. Sophia didn’t know for sure, but what she did know was Fugly’s visitation schedule dovetailed with her own weekly visits to hell.

“How is it your problem if they aren’t getting along, Sophie?”
“It’s been that way ever since we broke up. I don’t think Marty has the balls to make demands of her. Oh, no. He fucks Fugly, but if things get out of kilter with her, he turns around and flogs me. Is that fair, Zo?”
“Stupid question.”
“I thought there were no stupid questions.”
“In your case, Soph, that’s a misconception. You’re drooling, you know.”
“Am I,” said Sophia, wiping the spit dripping from her chin.
“Have you been dressed today?”
“Not exactly.”
“Did you bring clothes or are you gonna wear your nightgown on our date tonight?”
“We have dates?”
“Not yet, but I’m working on it–nothing hot and heavy, just dinner.”
“Zoe, I don’t want to go out tonight. I’m almost ready for Florida, but I still have a few more things to wash and pack. Hey, what’s wrong with you? Have you been crying?”
“No.”
“You have, haven’t you? Did something happen with George?”
“No. Go take a shower then dress in some of my clothes. You are not staying at home tonight. We’ll collect the stuff you packed and you can wash everything else here. You remember what happened the last time you and Marty tried to stay at opposite ends of that house together.”

Sophia turned her back, avoiding Zoe’s eyes and the tone of her statement. She took a deep breath and started to walk out of the room.
“God dammit, you know he struck you, strangled you and threatened to kill you.  I’m gonna protect you even if you won’t protect yourself.”
“I provoked him,” said Sophia pathetically. “I tried to break his I-Phone. And I screamed at him.”
“Sticks and stones, Sophie. There’s never a good reason to hit someone else unless they hit you first. Now fuck sake, take a shower. You stink, and I’m busy.”

By late afternoon, Sophia’s luggage was ported safely to Zoe’s house, and Sophia was busy rummaging around Zoe’s kitchen for something to cook for their evening meal, having convinced Zoe they should stay home. A snow storm started to blow in, and there was no use risking their necks to meet some guys they didn’t know.  If  Zoe really wanted to “date” she needn’t go farther than her bedroom and her faithful webcam. The world was her oyster in that regard. Plus, why take risks when the bright sunshine of Florida was nearly within their grasp. Zoe told Sophia to call her when dinner was ready and that she had something she needed to find in the attic.

Sophia and Zoe lived in large houses built in the 1700s that sat five miles apart on Lake Winnipesaukee in N.H. Besides their antiquity, the houses shared features like creaky stairs and maze-like hallways. Sophia waited until she heard Zoe’s footsteps recede upward before she turned down the R & B music and opened her lap top. Sophia and Zoe were both devotees of Pema Chondron’s Buddhist teachings, and since Sophia hadn’t meditated for a couple of days, she was feeling edgy and needed a dose of Pema. Knowing she couldn’t read and cook at the same time, Sophia clicked on one of Pema’s many short lectures she could listen to on Youtube.  One of her favorites was about Maitri and the idea that without cultivating self-loving kindness, it was perhaps impossible to feel it for others. She learned that below her rage was fear and beneath that, if she could only touch on it, was her tenderness. If she could tear down the barriers she erected to protect her from feeling her pain, then she could move toward compassion and non-aggression toward herself and others.

Unfortunately, at that precise moment in Sophia’s “awakening,” Sparky dropped a “present” from his bottom, which landed right where Sophia stepped, and although she felt something milder than rage, her fear of tracking it through the kitchen and smelling up the whole place, did not hit a tender place in her, and she failed to cultivate loving kindness for Sparky. Instead, she hissed at him, as her cat frequently did, and Sparky limped off to his bed wishing Zoe weren’t taking so long in the attic. Sometimes Sophia got on Sparky’s nerves, and this was one of those times. For the life of him, he didn’t know what he’d done to incur Sophia’s cat shit.

Covered in the flour she used to make the crust of chicken pot pie baking in the oven, of which neither woman would eat more than a few bites, (food being something they often forgot to consume), Sophia started up the stairs in search of Zoe. As she wandered through the hallways, toward the stairs to the third floor, she heard the strains of Earth Wind and Fire singing Now, I’m craving your body…I’m longing to love you just for the night….The reasons that we hear, the reasons that we fear our feelings a-won’t disappear. When Sophia opened the door to the attic, she was shocked by what she saw. There was Zoe, her stoic Zoe, with a head band wrapped askew around her tangled blond hair. She wore bell bottoms, a sheep skin coat and spiked heels. Zoe’s mascara dripped down her cheeks as she screamed out the lyrics,  And-after the love game has been played, all our illusions were just a parade, and all the reasons start to fade. In one arm she gripped the book by Carl Rogers, which Ron gave her years ago, but one she was never able to finish, her pain was so great. Her other hand held a single sheet of paper as it jabbed upwards to the rhythm of her wildly dancing feet.

Zoe barely registered Sophia’s presence, but instead threw back her head and shouted, After all the reasons why, the reasons were a lie. She then fell in a heap to the floor, and a deadly silence filled the darkened room as the needle from the old, forgotten record player slide from its place.
“Fuck sake, Zoe, what is wrong with you. Today YOU are scarier than a Stephen King novel?”
Stirring briefly from a near catatonic state, Zoe held up the yellowed sheet of paper for Sophia to read. It was written years before and addressed to Ron.  Sophia stroked Zoe’s head as she began to read.

“Your silence is hard. Hot waves of joy wash over me every time you say the words I long to hear. Desire swells and hope rushes in, where I almost believe we can make it work, somehow…again. I asked you about the future the other night. As you fell silent the tide washed out again, burning cold under my skin. The silence was icy wet air rolling down my spine.
The next day my palms sweated as I held the phone, until I buoyed myself enough to leave you a message because I wanted you to come to me. I want, I need, the feeling of you inside me again. Did you know I can feel the vibration of the phone’s receiver when I hold it in my hand waiting for you to call? I can feel it when it’s silent and not ringing.
I tell myself something might happen. Hope. I dream that I will bathe in your loving adoration again, feel those arms surrounding me, hear the sound of your hushed whisper in my ear as you gather me under you, and we surge as if one being. It is this memory that loops in my brain. I can’t make it stop no matter how hard I try. It crashes without end against the inside edges of my skull, less whole and a little more damaged with every revolution. And when it goes on for too long? The best I can do is to give up hope so as not to suffer the wondering and waiting.

Your silence sends me out to sea again. If you do love me, and you know I should give up hope, could you help me? Say it sooner rather than later, but don’t leave me with the worst…of never saying anything at all.
Speak to me dammit. Call me back from the deep. If you do love me, and I should feel hope, would you, could you tell me? Could you relieve me of this pain of not knowing? Tell me it is right to take another breath and to remember it’s only the salt air that I crave. It’s your silence that kills me softly each hour I wait.”

“I still love him,” Zoe said as she wept in the safety of her friend’s arms.
The women ignored the smell of burning food that wafted to the attic. It didn’t matter. They always had Cheerios Snack Mix and Nutella, a perfectly suitable dinner. But instead of eating much, Sophia sat for hours listening to Zoe tell the story of the love she could not shake over miles or time or experience. They finally fell asleep next to each other in Zoe’s bed sometime in the cold blue hours of the night.

Late the next morning they awoke to the shrill sound of Zoe’s cell phone followed immediately by a Salsa playing on Sophia’s. Sparky lay at their feet in a pile of his droppings and dripping with urine. Zoe dashed to the door to get Sparky outside, and Sophia answered her phone. It was her daughter Poppy calling.

“Mom, a blizzard’s coming in. You and Aunt Zoe need to drive to a hotel near the airport and spend the night. You can’t drive two hours through this storm tonight to catch your morning flight.”
“I wouldn’t worry, Poppy. We’ll be fine.”
“Dammit, Mom. Here, talk to Fonzi.”
Fonzi was the nickname for Poppy’s husband, a man Sophia adored and respected because he put up with Poppy, who although a loving, generous young woman, was still a spoiled girl of ten most of the time. Sophia had known and loved Fonzi since he was a boy. She remembered best his odd gait acquired at parochial school. For some reason he found it necessary, when the nuns weren’t looking, to slide down the old school’s wooden banisters on one butt cheek. Like razor blades, long oak splinters sheared off, punctured the skin on his ass, and his only strategy was to alternate cheeks. These wooden gems often became so deeply embedded that they were only removed through the painful process of the body’s infection management system, helped along by Fonzi’s dear mother, who was forever digging around Fonzi’s butt with a tweezes and safety pins. To Sophia’s relief, Fonzi grew up to be a wonderfully responsible, if permanently scarred, young man who loved Poppy and his step-daughter Lily more than life itself. His strong, calm voice came on the phone.

“Listen, Mom, I’m very worried about the weather. Won’t you please consider getting a room for the night in Manchester. It bothers me to think of you two driving as this storm worsens. Please, Mom.”
“Okay, Son. Let me see what Zoe says. I’ll try to persuade her. I love you. Take care of that precious little family of yours while I’m gone.”
“I will. Love you too and be safe.”
“Fuck sake, Fonzi, I never travel without condoms.”
“ Mom,” Fonzi wailed and nearly threw the phone at Poppy as he winced and whispered, “TMI. You talk to her.”
Sara and Meg, Zoe’s two oldest who lived in Boston, had already delivered the same directive to Zoe and received an equal dose of too much information, and so Zoe and Sophia decided to move up their departure and get out of Dodge. Just as they put their last suitcases into Zoe’s car, her phone rang. She was expecting to hear from Jackson in Florida.  But it was Walter who spoke as a ghost into her ear. Zoe stood trembling, incapable of answering his question of whether she wanted to see him again.
“Wrong number,” she finally whispered and hung up.

As they drove down I-95 toward their hotel near the Manchester Airport, Zoe turned to Sophia. Still breathless and shaken from Walter’s call, she cried: “WHY CAN’T I BE STRONG LIKE A TREE INSTEAD OF FRAIL LIKE A LEAF, FLUNG ABOUT IN A FURIOUS WIND?”
Sophia fussed with her lap top for a moment, searching for a quote she recently read on her Facebook page. Finally, she read, “THE TREES IN A STORM DON’T TRY TO STAND UP STRAIGHT AND TALL AND ERECT. THEY ALLOW THEMSELVES TO BEND AND TO BE BLOWN WITH THE WIND. THEY UNDERSTAND THE POWER OF LETTING GO.”

Zoe nodded and smiled then glanced at her friend.
“Hey, Sophie, I hope there’s a bar at this hotel. We wouldn’t want to miss a chance to meet some cool guys tonight.”

“Was that a Buddhist thing, Zo.”
“Sounds like.”

Battling the blizzard, they cruised, the two superb, fifty-something single women, off on another adventure as the Sublime Consumers of the Lightness of Being.

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