Zoe Books a Flight to Florida & Sophia Books Passage on the Ship of Indifference as the Sublime Consumers of the Lightness of Being
Please send your ADVICE to 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 if she asked, “WHY DID I LET MARTY COME HOME? WHY DID I OPEN MYSELF UP TO BEING REJECTED ALL OVER AGAIN?” Any advice you can give to Sophia would be helpful, but this is what Zoe said.
Holy shit was Sophia’s first thought as she awoke. What am I doing? Over and over the words drummed in her head. Sophia lay in bed next to her husband Marty, from whom she’d been estranged for six months, since he admitted his affair. Several days before, Sophia put up no resistance to his request to come home. Marty found Sophia dancing with Zoe to Latino music at a restaurant in Portsmouth one night. He simply proclaimed that Sophia and he belonged together, and that was enough to convince her to reconcile with him.
For the first few days, their reunion was magical. Marty was kind, affectionate, attentive and apologetic. Sophia was forgiving, trusting and loving. And of course, the sex was amazing. Together, they read a book called After the Affair by Janice Abrahms Spring. They knew a blueprint was crucial to help them work through the pain of Marty’s betrayal, discover why the marriage had broken, and to heal the hurt of their animosity toward each other in the preceding months. Marty collected his belongings from his girlfriend Fugly’s house and told Sophia that he’d broken it off with her. Sophia made an appointment for them to see a therapist.
As husband and wife, Sophia and Marty talked and cried and laughed for endless hours. Sometimes they raged, released their anger and then reset, wrapping each other in tenderness and comfort. The time they spent with their daughter Poppy and granddaughter Lily cleansed the old bitterness, allowing joy to swim to the surface. The profound power of belonging to a united family again surged through them and overflowed, like a river after a long rain. Then slowly, like the drip, drip, drip of Chinese water torture, the worm began to turn.
It was six a.m. when Sophia slipped from the bed and crept downstairs to the dining room. She made coffee then sat at her laptop, hoping Zoe was awake. Sophia needed to talk to her.
Zoe was awake and had been for an hour, talking on the Webcam to Jackson in Florida. Recently, Zoe decided to pull away from her compulsive pattern of seeking male attention. She stopped cruising internet dating sites. She also ended relationships she had forged with various men over several months. Determined to face her terror of being alone, she began devoting herself to herself. The only man she now communicated with was Jackson, for whom she had trust, respect and deep feelings. From him, Zoe received wisdom, friendship and quite possibly, love.
Zoe saw Sophia’s two-word chat message come in on her Facebook page. It said, “Call me.”
“What’s up, Sophie?”
“What the fuck am I doing, Zo?”
“I feel as though my self-esteem has fallen through the floor.”
“I told Marty from the first day he came back that I loved him, but that I loved me more. During our discussions I was very clear that I wasn’t willing to go back to being the person he took out his frustrations on. Especially during the months he was hiding his affair, I was flattened by the constant criticism, by forever being told I was wrong and feeling sorry all the time, for every thought that came out of my mouth. Now, he’s treating me like that again. It hurts.”
“Do you know why he’s acting like that?”
“Marty’s pulled away. I can feel his heart isn’t in this.”
“What makes you say that?”
“Apart from the way he relates, he hasn’t unpacked his suitcases. They just line the bedroom walls, mocking me.”
“Not good,” said Zoe.
“The past few days he’s been sullen and distant. He sleeps all the time, and the joy seems to seep out of him hourly.”
“What does he say?”
“He says he been depressed for months.”
“Does he say why?”
“He says he’s having an identity crisis, that he’s lost his moral compass and that he doesn’t know who he is anymore or where he belongs. He also said he hated staying in that dumpy, little motel and that the contrast between his nights there, and his time at Fugly’s, where wealth and possessions were so abundant that they were taken for granted, was just too daunting. He said that’s why he wanted to come back to his own home.”
“Okay, but where did you fit in. What were the reasons he gave for wanting to come back to you?”
“He said he felt haunted by me. He said whenever he would start to feel good or enjoy some activity, he felt disturbed. He didn’t feel right enjoying life without me.”
“Well, that’s interesting. I gotta tell you, Sophie, it sounds like he’s come back for closure, not for you. He needs to assuage his guilt.”
“That’s the same thing Poppy said.”
“Hum. Well, at least you’re having sex.”
“We were and it was fabulous BTW, but last night he wouldn’t make love with me. He said he was too depressed.”
“Do you believe that?”
“Did something happen, Sophie? Can you pinpoint when things started to turn?”
“Well, for starters, he began texting with Fugly. And he talks a lot with his brother Wayne on the phone.”
“Is Wayne the gay brother?”
“Not according to Wayne.”
“Sophie, he talks like a gay guy, he looks gay, walks gay, lives with gay guys. How is Wayne not gay?”
“Does it matter, Zoe? We love gay guys. Maybe fundamental dishonesty is a family trait–I don’t know. Can I just get to the point here?”
“What was the point?”
“Wayne didn’t approve of the reconciliation. Who knows whether it was because he enjoyed the bragging rights to Marty’s relationship with Fugly. I suspect he told everyone the identities of her husband and her father-in-law.”
Sophia was referring to the fact that Fugly was married to a famous musician. But her husband was the son of universal legend, Famous Father. It was Famous Father who financed the business project that Fugly proposed to Marty, which brought them together in the first place. But when Famous Father learned of their affair, he pulled out his money and the project collapsed. A couple of months afterwards, Fugly moved out and left three young children in the marital home. Marty was only allowed to stay at Fugly’s on the nights when the children were not with her for visitation. Other nights, he had stayed in a weekly-rental motel near Fugly’s house.
“You know, Sophie, that wouldn’t surprise me. As delightful as Wayne was the few times I met him, he always struck me as a name dropper, the type who basks in the glow of vicarious importance since he lacks the motivation or nerve to do anything extraordinary in his own right.”
“I don’t know, Zo.”
“Anyway, what happened after Marty started talking to Wayne?”
“Well, after their first two-hour conversation, Marty picked a fight with me. Once we calmed down, information started spilling out about how Fugly and her husband were away together for a couple of weeks, out of state, for some intensive counseling. I asked him how he knew this, and he said Wayne was in touch with Fugly. I didn’t think much about it until Marty started being more and more hostile toward me. It was the same behavior he showed during the months leading up to the split. Most conversations became about what a bad, crazy person I was. Then he admitted receiving text messages from Fugly, but he wouldn’t discuss them with me.”
Zoe cleared her throat but said nothing.
“Finally, I put two and two together. I have a feeling I’ve been a player in a chess match between Marty and Fugly. You can’t tell me that Fugly’s two weeks of intensive therapy with her husband, in some distant location, was a spur-of-the-moment decision. Marty must have known about the plan before he came looking for me. Now, I could be totally wrong about this, and I hope I am. But even if he didn’t know beforehand, Marty’s been privy to everything going on with Fugly through his phone calls with Wayne.”
“Sophia, I want you to leave that house immediately and come here. If that’s truly the case, you are not emotionally or psychologically safe there.”
“But, Zo, what if I’m wrong? What if he is sincerely here to reconcile with me and just needs time? I will have blown that chance by not trusting him.”
“Sophie, face facts. One, you are smart; two, you are intuitive; and three, you know Marty very well.”
“Hum. I hear the dogs coming down the stairs. I’ll talk to you later,” said Sophia and hung up.
Just then, the door to the living room burst open. Tolstoy, Sophia’s huge Maine Coon cat, led the pack. Sophia’s dogs, Voltaire and Dickens, galloped after him, heading straight toward Sophia. Ever since the dogs returned home, they showered Sophia with excitement. She crouched to get out of their way, but the dogs jumped up and knocked her over. Since she was down, Tolstoy leapt onto her stomach and pinned her to the floor. The dogs joined in the game. Voltaire lay across Sophia’s chest and licked her face. Dickens sat on her knees and took a friendly swipe at Tolstoy, a prelude to boxing. Sophia lay helplessly laughing.
Tolstoy was so happy to have his big brothers back. He pined for them from the day Marty took them away. Since then, Tolstoy had been stuck with Sparky, Zoe’s stroke-impaired yellow lab, as a playmate. The thought of Sparky made Tolstoy roll his eyes. Sparky got on Tolstoy’s nerves for a host of reasons. Because of his “condition” he had no clue how to wrestle. God almighty, he couldn’t even roll over by himself. And because Sparky ran sideways, chasing him was not fun, just confusing. Sparky was dull as dirt too, since all he did was moon over that bitch Zoe, which sucked the sense of humor right out of him. But the worst part was that Sparky was forever stealing Tolstoy’s food and then following it up with a “nightcap” of cat crap. Tolstoy realized he was obsessing on Sparky, instead of appreciating the sheer delight of Voltaire and Dickens, so he told himself to shut up.
Without a word to Sophia, Marty looked down at her as he walked past and then opened the outside kitchen door. All three animals danced through it. Unaided, Sophia rose to her feet and offered Marty coffee. They sat silently drinking it in front of the fire. And then Marty started with a barrage of criticism and ended with his news. He told Sophia that he was moving back to Fugly’s. At first Sophia cried. And then she began to talk, really talk.
Sophia asked Marty why he returned, disrupted her world, treated her coldly, told her that she was a crazy and awful person, and to top it off, became violent with her. Then she nailed him between the eyes with the most ironic aspect of all. It was he who came back to her, but somehow he twisted it around and now accused her of “imprisoning” him. She asked him whether he put her through all that just so he could assuage his guilt over his betrayal. Finally, she laid her theory on the table. She suspected that because Fugly and her husband went off to thrash out their marital detritus, Marty felt insecure. But from the minute he sensed he was back on good footing with Fugly, his alienation from Sophia escalated. She dismissed the original motive Marty professed—that Sophia and he belonged together—as a fleeting thought that vanished early on. She said she believed Marty truly came back to her partly for closure, partly for safety, and partly as a strategy.
Marty neither denied nor confirmed Sophia’s words. He expressed that for the sake of the family, they should try to be friends. Marty told Sophia he loved her, but could never “love” her as a husband again. He said he was leaving for her own good, that all his negativity would eventually dampen her spirit and extinguish the way Sophia had recreated herself by carving out a new identity. Their voices rose. Their voices fell. But soon, there were no more words.
Marty collected his unpacked luggage, called to the dogs and drove past the doorway where Sophia stood watching, feeling numb and breathless.
Tolstoy sat in front of the house, feeling powerless as he watched Marty’s car pull into the road.
Sophia didn’t call Zoe or her daughter Poppy or her son Colin or anyone else. She reached for the handle of an old basket in the summer kitchen and wandered around the house until she found When Things fall Apart, by Pema Chodron, the American Buddhist writer. She put the book in the basket. In the kitchen she found a bag of Chex Mix, a jar of Nutella, a soup spoon, a bottle of white wine and a wine glass. These too went into the basket. She striped off her clothes until she stood in her bra and panties. On the counter in the kitchen, she opened a bottle of rich, green extra virgin olive oil, poured out a handful and rubbed it on her arms, stomach and legs. She turned on a CD by Yo Yo Ma playing Brazilian music, opened the window and put the speaker in the window sill.
The sun was high in the sky and the air unusually warm for a March day. Sophia walked beyond the barn and gazed out at the shimmering lake she adored. On her way back, she went into the barn for a chaise lounge and dragged it into the courtyard, out of sight of the road. She set the basket on the grass next to her and lay down, drank her wine, listened to the music and read about compassion and the power of positive thought. She alternated handfuls of Chex Mix with spoonfuls of Nutella, but she did not let herself cry. She told herself that she did not want to die, that the pain would pass, much the way it did in childbirth. One day, she would not even be able to remember the way today’s anguish felt. Patience, she told herself. Patience.
A few hours later Zoe found Sophia sound asleep in the sun. She smelled of wine and Nutella chocolate dripped down her chin with bits of Chex Mix stuck to it. Tolstoy lay on Sophia’s stomach, licking olive oil off of her arm. Zoe had no idea why Sophia was like this. She marched up to the chaise lounge and stood over her friend, hands on hips.
“Fuck sake, Sophie, WAKE UP! You look scarier than a Stephen King movie.”
“Hey, Zo,” Sophia said with a start. The metallic feeling from sleeping in the sun invaded her perceptions.
“What the fuck are you doing?”
“Pretending I already live in Florida.”
“Marty left. He went back to Fugly.”
“Fuck. I’m so sorry, Sophie. You must be hurting.”
“Yes and humiliated. But I also feel like an idiot for letting him come back in the first place. I have no one to blame but myself.”
“Bullshit. Marty came back to you, and you trusted him. You also gave the process a hundred percent in good faith. Now, I just wish you would see him for who he really is.”
“Who is he, Zo?”
“He’s a guy blinded by the ego—the self.”
“What do you mean?”
“Name a self…any self….Marty is self-deluded, self-aggrandized, self-consumed, self-martyred, self-pitying, and self-serving.”
“You forgot selfish.”
“Technically, that’s not a compound adjective with a hyphenated “self.” But, that is his most pronounced characteristic, selfish. He will never be anyone other than who his is today. Accept that, and let go of the guy who was once your wonderful husband. He doesn’t live in that body, mind and spirit anymore.”
“I know that now.”
“Sophie, it is one thing to take care of our own needs. That’s important. It’s another thing to do so with treachery toward another person.”
“He got physical with me again, you know.”
“He hit you?”
“Yes. A few times.”
“Yeah. He cornered me in a chair, threatening to kill me if I spoke or moved. After he smacked me in the head, I said I ought to call Fugly and warn her that he was dangerous. Do you know what he said?”
“He said, ‘Oh, so now you just want to ruin my life?’”
Zoe laughed so hard, she snorted. “So, the truth of his actions was your fault, and if you tell the truth, you would be ruining his life, eh? The audacity is spellbinding and the blindness, breathtaking. The man lacks any accountability or integrity. He’s not a good man, Sophie. Maybe he was once, but no more. And in some reduced measure, he may be again, but weep not for his soul, my love.”
“That was poetic. You’re right, of course.”
“Now get up, go take a shower, and let’s go shopping.”
“Wait. I want to tell you what I told my therapist the other day. When I was eleven, after my brothers were killed, I used to think I saw them everywhere. And always my young heart wanted them to come home to me. When my sister was killed, I was an adult and knew I couldn’t carry those wishes in my heart, but still, I just wanted to see her, talk to her, hold her, and kiss her— just one more time. When Marty and I split, it was without rational explanation, without a goodbye, without comfort. I felt as if my head, my spirit were chopped off by a guillotine. Unlike my siblings, Marty returned from the dead, metaphorically. But it was the worst nightmare realized because it wasn’t Marty. It wasn’t even his ghost.”
Zoe’s eyes misted as she starred at Sophia for a few seconds. Then she said, “Okay, Sophie, let’s go shopping.”
“No. You go. I need to think.”
For the next few days Zoe hovered around Sophia. So did Poppy and her husband Fonzi. Sophia’s son Colin traveled up for a visit too. But no one talked much about what had happened. Sophia stayed busy writing, but she ate very little and slept even less. Sophia only felt deep joy during the hours she devoted to her granddaughter Lily. But whenever she was alone and idle, Sophia’s thoughts were consumed with one word–Why. Why? Why?
Meanwhile, when Zoe wasn’t hovering, she was trying to sort out where her life was leading. She had removed every obstacle, every other man from the landscape, and now she needed to know if the relationship with Jackson was worth sinking roots into. She had hidden nothing of her essential self from him. He could either take her as she was or decide to leave her alone. But she was uncertain of where he stood, whether he was willing to risk love. And without seeing him, spending time with him, reading the meaning of his words in his eyes, he still presented an illusion. So, one afternoon, Zoe booked a flight to Florida.
On her way home from work, Zoe stopped in at Sophia’s. Zoe found Sophia, head bent over her laptop, typing furiously. That she hadn’t showered or dressed all day was obvious to Zoe.
“How’s it going, Sophie?”
Sophia looked up at her with haunted eyes.
“Marty called earlier. He wanted to know if I would change my plans with Lily tomorrow so he could see her.”
“What did you say?”
“I agreed as long as he continued to respect the boundary we set that he not take Lily to Fugly’s for visits until I move away. It’s too painful for me. Fugly sucked up my life like a vacuum cleaner. She admitted to Marty that she deliberately sought to lure him away from me. And now she has my husband again, and after I move, she’ll have this home, on this beautiful lake—a perfect summer house. But for now, I can’t bear to think of Lily spending time with that predatory person. I just can’t watch it. Marty can share Lily after I’m gone.”
“What did he say?”
“What did he scream, you mean? He screamed that I was trying to control his life, right down to not allowing him to visit with Lily in ‘his’ home.”
“What did you say?”
“I said that I wasn’t aware it was ‘his’ home since he wasn’t allowed to stay at Fugly’s when she had her children for visitation.”
“He said, that was all taken care of. He’s allowed to live with her full-time now.”
“So, you were right.”
“Yes. But the stakes were higher than I suspected. On some level, conscious or not, I believe I was the leverage in his power move to get what he wanted from Fugly. She must have called his bluff. He has always said that one should never bluff and not be willing to follow through. I’m convinced one big reason he came back to me was to force Fugly’s hand and the hands of whoever is making the decisions for her kids. He wanted her to validate their relationship, to clear the way for him to live with her all the time.”
“Did you say that to Marty?”
“What did he say?”
“He gasped. Then nothing…it was the loudest silence I’ve ever heard.”
“What do you feel now, Sophie?”
“Indifference. That moment of his silence was transformative.”
“What do you mean?”
“It’s as if I’ve let go, and I’m drifting down a river of indifference. Marty shot the bullet that finally killed my love. There’s nothing left to resist. I’ve released myself from him.”
“Jesus,” cried Zoe. “You can’t write that shit.”
“Shakespeare did. He created lots of diabolical characters. Oh well, I guess Fugly and I share something in common. We were both played.”
Zoe went into the kitchen and poured two glasses of wine. Sophia focused again on her manuscript. When Zoe returned, she handed Sophia the wine and then she built a small fire. The room had grown cold. After awhile, Zoe asked Sophia to stop writing and to sit with her by the fire. Then Zoe told her about the trip to Florida.
“How long will you be gone?” asked Sophia, as panic rose in her throat.
“Just a few days.”
“When do you leave?”
“Day after tomorrow,” said Zoe. “Will you be okay?”
“Can Sparky stay with you?”
Tolstoy’s ears perked. Since Zoe arrived, he had been feeling smug that Sparky was cooped up in the chilly car, while he was inside and warm, stretched out by the fire. But when he heard Zoe’s question, he leapt up to the table and landed on Sophia’s open laptop. Random letters sprung up across the screen.
“Dammit, Tolstoy, get off,” said Sophia.
Tolstoy’s big green eyes just stared at Sophia. They pleaded with her not to let Sparky stay over for days on end. Sophia lifted Tolstoy and carried him to the door and put him outside. Pissed off, Tolstoy sprinted to Zoe’s car. Sparky saw Tolstoy and barked. If nothing else, thought Tolstoy, I can get Sparky agitated and jealous. Tolstoy pranced around the car, looking at Sparky the whole time, taunting and teasing, as Sparky jumped from window to window, begging for liberation. This feels powerful, thought Tolstoy. I like it.
Zoe heard Sparky and took pity on him. She hurried to the car and opened the door to let him out. Shit, thought Tolstoy, as he made a dash for the house. Sparky ran after him sideways, involuntarily discharging turds in his wake. Tolstoy shot between Zoe’s legs and Sparky tried to follow. As big as Tolstoy was, Sparky was bigger, and Zoe was lifted and hurled on her back. Sophia, watching from the doorway, ran out to help Zoe, but she tripped over Tolstoy as he plowed into her, trying to make his escape. Sophia fell forwards and skidded to a stop on top of Zoe, but not before skinning her knee.
Under the fading sky, the setting sun cast a glow over the two old friends as they lay on the ground, staring into each other’s stunned eyes. And then something broke. They began to laugh. And for the first time in days, their laughter did not devolve into tears.
Finally, they helped each other to their feet and walked inside.
“Let’s drive to Portsmouth and eat somewhere new, Sophie. We need to flirt with some cute waiters.”
“You’re losing your tan, you know.”
“I know. Not once did I go to a tanning bed to meditate while Marty was here. It’s as if I forgot who I was–again.”
“Do you know why?”
Zoe reached for a journal she kept in her purse. “I read this quote by Wayne Dyer and wrote it down. Here it is,” she said and began to read.
“Believing that who we are is defined by what other people think of us cripples the joyful spontaneity of our authentic selves. If others disapprove, and their opinion defines us, then we modify ourselves or shrink from view. Our image of ourselves is located in them, and when they reject us, we no longer “are” at all….We cease to exist except as a reflection of what others think. The fact is that who we are has absolutely nothing to do with any thoughts or opinions that exist in anyone else in this world.”
“Wow. That’s deep, Zo.”
“Well, these notions apply to both of us, for sure. I realize that I allow myself to be defined by the way I’m regarded by the men I’m with. If they distance themselves, I feel rejected and to some extent, I loose a sense of self; my self-image is located in them. I modify or shrink who I am to please them because I don’t want to feel the loneliness that stalks me.”
“I see what you mean, Zoe. Tell me if this tracks. Part of why I lost my sense of self after Marty’s betrayal was that I was defined by his reflection of me, one of rejection, so I ceased to exist on some level. Just as I was beginning to materialize as my authentic self again, he came back into my life and brought with him his disapproval and negative opinions of me, which I allowed to define me again.”
“That makes sense, Sophie.”
“But that idea cuts two ways if you think about it. Who I thought Marty was—the Marty I adored–has nothing to do with who he is, and more importantly for me, who he thought I was—an awful, crazy person–has nothing to do with who I am.”
“Sophie, I say we work harder on embracing the joyful spontaneity of our authentic selves.”
“That sounds like a worthwhile goal. If we change the way we think about ourselves, we can accept who we are and love ourselves more.”
“Was that a Buddhist thing, Sophie?”
“How would I know, Zo?
After the women showered and lathered their slender torsos and long, lean legs with fragrant lotions, they stood in their panties and bras in front of the bathroom mirror, arguing. They both wanted to wear the same shirt out to dinner in Portsmouth. Zoe gave in and then Sophia said no, Zoe should wear the navy blue top. Then Zoe said no, Sophia should. Finally they decided that neither of them would wear it. As they began to laugh at the sheer stupidity of the discourse, their eyes met in the mirror.
Sophia said quietly, “I think I have Marty’s motivations figured out, Zo, but WHY DID I LET MARTY COME HOME? WHY DID I OPEN MYSELF UP TO BEING REJECTED ALL OVER AGAIN?
Zoe picked up the mascara wand and began blackening her eyelashes. Then she said, “SOPHIE, YOU HAVE A BASIC KINDNESS AND AN AMAZING CAPACITY TO FORGIVE THE PEOPLE YOU LOVE, AND THAT’S WHY YOU TOOK HIM BACK. BUT SEEING MARTY’S ACTIONS AS REJECTION OF YOU, ROBS YOU OF YOURSELF. SO, DON’T THINK OF THEM AS REJECTION. THINK OF THEM AS LESSONS YOU WERE MEANT TO LEARN ABOUT HIM. YOU NOW KNOW WHO MARTY IS TO YOU.”
“Hum. Anyway, Zo, should we go tanning before we eat or afterwards?”
“After. I don’t wanna smell like that tan-enhancing crap we use on our skin.”
“You gotta point. Do you have any ideas where we should eat?”
“Fuck sake, Sophie, do I have to do all the planning around here? You choose for once.”
“Well, there’s this vegan restaurant that just opened up.”
“Never mind. Let’s just go to Ixtapa Cantina. At least we know they have cute Mexican waiters. I don’t wanna take any chances.”
The evening spring air rushed through the open car windows as Zoe cranked up the sound to a vintage M. J. Blige song. From somewhere in the core of their hearts, the two fifty-something BFFs sang loudly to the heavens– words they knew to be true–You Can’t Keep a Good Woman Down. They smiled as they sang, and then off they drove, on another adventure as the Sublime Consumers of the Lightness of Being.
To be continued…but remember, to read the whole story, start at the bottom of the blog. The easiest way to find the earlier stories is to use the calendar in the right-hand column. Just click on the dates that are in BOLD. And please, keep sending your wonderful advice. Thank you.