Zoe Finds “Art” & Sophia Finds a Man in a Cafe as the Sublime Consumers of the Lightness of Being

March 9th, 2010

March 9th
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 offer it. For instance, what advice would you give your BFF were she to ask, “I WANT TO SPEND TIME BEING MORE CREATIVE. WHAT SHOULD I DO?”Any advice you can give to Zoe would be helpful, but this is what Sophia said.

Before Zoe opened her eyes, she tried to remember where she was. The smell was familiar. Sparky, her stroke-impaired yellow Lab had involuntarily purged enough hard turds into the dog bed to fill the air with a distinct olfactory unpleasantness. Zoe could feel the weight of her laptop on her stomach where she’d left it when she fell asleep after Webcam “dating” late into the night with Jackson in Florida.  But the angle of her head was unfamiliar because she wasn’t sleeping on her own pillows. Finally, she remembered she was in Cambridge, at the home of some old friends, who invited her to dinner and to stay over. The windstorm a few nights earlier stole the power from hundreds of thousands of people in New Hampshire, and Zoe still didn’t have hers back. Because the branch of Zoe’s company didn’t have power either, Zoe had to work out of its Boston office for a couple of days.

Zoe finally opened her eyes and smiled as she remembered the night before. Her friends were an interesting couple. He was an artist and poet originally from (Rasta) Jamaica. She was a painter and dance instructor, a New York Jew fortunate enough to have a comfortable trust fund. The couple found each other at an arts festival in the late 1970s and had been happily married ever since.

The evening before was filled with music, dance, poetry, painting, rum punch and good vegan food. Zoe inhaled the fun. Before dinner the friends showed Zoe pictures of their home on the beach in Jamaica, where they spent two months every year. They captured Zoe’s delight with their vision to turn the place into a year-round artists’ retreat. During dinner, the husband read some of his poetry. Between dinner and washing dishes, Zoe posed for the couple so they could sketch her. After they sketched, the wife put a box of crystal beads in front of Zoe, and she made herself a lovely necklace and earrings. Later a few neighbors dropped by and everyone danced to Reggae with wild abandon.  Then a hard knot formed in Zoe’s stomach. She thought about what her life would be like in New Hampshire if Sophia moved to Florida. Aside from work and endless dates with ill-suited men, all she could see was a barren patch of cold nothing.

Sophia stuck a toe out the door, just to feel the air. She closed her eyes and listened for a couple of minutes to birdsong she hadn’t heard in many months. Something internal stirred her. Was it the sense of spring? This was her anniversary, and she wondered if her husband Marty remembered as he awoke in the arms of his girlfriend, Fugly. With her eyes still closed, Sophia allowed herself to recall when she first met Marty. Sophia had gone home that night, unable to sleep as colors and sound swirled through the air of her dark, silent bedroom. Marty went home and left a note on the kitchen counter that said, “I’ve met the woman I’m going to marry. They both knew it was love at first sight, and the love endured for many wonderful years. But Sophia could only take a few seconds of these memories before her eyes snapped open, and she begged herself not to cry. Too many tears already had been shed for the loss that robbed her of her breath, her joy, her desire to live some days. She needed to talk to Zoe.
“Hi, Sophie.”
“Where are you?”
“I’m in Cambridge. Wow, I’m surprised you got out of bed.”
“I made myself get up, but I wish it were tomorrow.”
“It will be soon enough—never wish time away. Time is all we have.”
“Huh?”
“Wanna do something fun tonight, Soph? It’ll take your mind off, you know….”
“Like what, Zo?”
“What would you like to do?”
“Be in a coma,” said Sophia flatly.

Zoe changed the subject. “I really hope my power’s restored today. But if it isn’t, I’ll stay with you tonight. Anyway, let me see if I can line up dates for us,”
“Maybe. I gotta go.”
“Where?”
“Back to bed.”
“I’ll be there in a couple of hours. Try not to live on Planet Nuts until then.”
“Okay, Zo.”

It wasn’t the best day for Sophia to stroll down memory lane, but she couldn’t help herself. She thought if she remembered some of the better years with Marty, it might help her honor what they had and let it go. Sophia started pulling dozens of photo albums from shelves where they’d lived collecting dust for too long. She piled them around her on the dining room floor. Sophia sat amidst the piled albums and took in decades of love, loss, laughter, pain, peace and turbulence. Every picture jabbed her until one found her most tender spot, and that portrayal plunged a sword into the middle of her heart.

The picture was of Marty and Sophia in bathing suits and straw hats watching the U.S. Tennis Open under the tree in their yard. For years they brought the TV outside and spent every spare moment of two weeks watching and pretending they were in New York. Even when Lily was only five days old, the infant lay in a drawer, outside in a shaded area, and her grandparents cuddled her as they sat rapt, adoring the baby, the tennis and each other. It was during the U.S. Open the summer before, that Marty admitted his affair with Fugly, and Sophia’s world came crashing down. Tennis brought Marty and Fugly together, ripping Sophia out of all future frames. The stab wound now bled. Stunned and numb, Sophia curled into a fetal position and lay for a long time amidst the strewn photo albums. She was pretty sure Marty forgot it was their anniversary.

A while later Zoe breezed through the kitchen door. Her head bent down as she looked at a spectacular photo Bucky in Tennessee texted to her. It was his full-frontal-nude body. Bucky was the twenty-five year old who pursued Zoe relentlessly. He did everything from fly to Vermont tracking Zoe down, to propose marriage a week later. AND at each turn, Bucky met with Zoe’s indifference, but he remained undaunted.
Unfortunately, because Zoe was so absorbed in the photo, she didn’t notice Sophia lying in a fetal position, nor did she see the stacks of photo albums strewn everywhere. As a result she tripped over Sophia and fell headlong on top of her. Sophia didn’t stir.

Sparky was right behind Zoe, and he became so distressed that his sweet Zoe might be hurt, that he barked anxiously then let out a steady stream into the fire place. Soon the whole house smelled like burnt pee. Tolstoy, Sophia’s huge Maine Coon cat, became instantly offended by the odor. He hissed and yowled at Sparky then took a running leap and landed on Sparky’s back, where he clung, by his claws for dear life. Tolstoy’s girth was so great that the impact of Tolstoy’s body sent Sparky slamming into the wall, where he lay whimpering.

Tolstoy released his grip on Sparky and leapt over to Sophia, wondering why that bitch Zoe had to bring that lame-ass dog to his house every day. Tolstoy licked Sophia’s face, thinking she needed reviving or cleaning, he wasn’t sure which. Sparky wondered why that bitch Sophia had to have such an evil cat. But soon his thoughts turned back to sweet Zoe’s well being. He tried to find his legs to get up and go comfort her, but he was stuck on his back, like a bug.

“Fuck sake, Sophie, say something. Ouch or shit, anything.”
“Ouch…shit,” murmured Sophia.
“Why today of all days did you drag out these pictures?”
“I need him, Zoe, if only the memory of his face and smile.”
“He’s been such a creep to you.”
“In the end I’m not sure it matters. I know who he is deep down. I still love him.”
“Yes, but could you forgive him?”
“To err is human, to forgive is divine.”
“Who said that?”
“Alexander Pope.”
“Sophie, if anybody could forgive, you could. I believe all people have divinity somewhere inside of themselves, and your divinity is an ability to forgive.”
“Thank you.”
“But what about forget? Could you forget the brutal way he shunned you and his meanness toward you, and the fact that he left you for another woman?”
“I guess I’d have to, Zoe. Hey, I don’t know why we’re lying on the floor talking about this dumb shit anyway. Marty’s got Fugly, and I don’t see him making his way back to me. So, could you get the fuck up off of me and figure out a way to fumigate this house. Sparky outdid himself this time.”
“Power down, sister,” said Zoe as she rolled over, straddling Sophia in order to have room to stand without knocking over furniture or falling in the fire. But before she stood, she looked down into Sophia’s eyes. “Sophie, you look scarier than a Stephen King movie. When is the last time you showered and put on makeup?”
“Can’t remember.”
“That long. GO TAKE A SHOWER. Your depression is starting to smell as bad as Sparky’s rear end.”
“Okay, Zo.”

With that, Sophia stood up and walked to the bathroom while Zoe put away the photo albums and cleaned up after Sparky. Unfortunately, she managed to get soot and urine all over herself, so she headed upstairs to grab some of Sophia’s clean clothes and to take a shower in the other bathroom.

A few minutes later the women stood in their panties and bras lathering their slender torsos and long, lean legs with olive oil lotion. Next, they took turns drying their blond hair, and then applied subtle make-up, as their eyes met in the mirror.
“Why did we shower?” asked Sophia.
“Ahh, because it’s the hygienic thing to do, bag lady.”
“You know, that’s really insensitive toward bag ladies. They are people too.”
“You’re right. I’m sorry.”
Sophia pulled back and squinted at Zoe.
“Why didn’t you come back with some pithy comment, Zo?”
“You’re way too vulnerable and depressed to have a sense of humor today. In fact, you’re down right dreary.”
“How should I be?”
“Try to think about everyone and everything you have to be thankful for.”
“Good idea.”

Just then Zoe’s phone rang. It was one of Zoe’s men who wanted to meet for lunch in Portsmouth. Zoe looked over at Sophia.
“Will you be okay if I go out to lunch?”
“No problem,” said Sophia, but her heart raced in a panic. She didn’t want to be alone. As Zoe readied herself to leave, Sophia decided to text Marty on a pretext about a bill that needed paying. He didn’t respond.

Sophia saw Zoe off and then sat down to write. But the words wouldn’t come. She checked her Facebook page and her email, and just as alarm rose in her throat, signaling the kickoff of at least a couple of hours of staring and crying, Marty called her. He asked if she’d meet him at Popovers, a wireless café in Portsmouth, to go over some information about their taxes. Sophia trembled, as she always did when she anticipated being in Marty’s presence. Sometimes her physical reaction was the fear of fighting, something she tried not to do with him anymore. At other times, it was sexual and emotional yearning just to be near him.

Although Sophia had two hours to kill before her meeting with Marty, she packed up her laptop and left the house immediately. She had to flee the memories about the day, so she decided to drive straight to Popovers, where she could read and do some writing.

The date Zoe met at the Mexican restaurant in Portsmouth was Walter, her guy who liked to travel.  Zoe still struggled to accept Walter’s, but her bigger problem was with his self-consumption. His most profound demonstration of this was wrapped in his inability to communicate with her consistently. He would declare that he really wanted to fashion a relationship, but then he wouldn’t call for days. When he did meet her for a meal like today, he tended to dominate the conversation, talking about his job, about a recent trip to Amsterdam, about his witchy ex-wife and his beautiful daughters.

Never once did he ask Zoe anything about herself. A couple of times she tried to talk about her newborn grandson and about her high-powered job in the entertainment industry, but the conversation invariably veered back to Walter until she brought up Sophia’s name. That seemed to perk his interest. He asked to see a picture of Sophia, so Zoe opened her laptop and went to Sophia’s photo section of Facebook. He nodded approvingly as a small smile crept across his face. He quietly alluded to the closeness of Zoe’s relationship with Sophia and raised a wondering eyebrow as if he were picturing something in his mind, to which he did not want to give voice. Finally, Zoe figured out where all his obtuse questions were headed, where Walter’s interest usually led, to matters below the waist.
“No,” Zoe said bluntly, “Sophia and I do not have sex with each other. We’re like sisters, so if you have some idea about a threesome, change the channel.”
After their meal arrived, Zoe decided to cut in on Walter’s blathering, and she talked nonstop about whatever crossed her mind.

Meanwhile, Sophia set up her laptop at a marble table at Popovers. The window she sat next to gave her a view of Market Square and the lovely old brick buildings that bordered the hub of downtown. She ordered decalf Earl Gray tea and looked around her as she sipped it. Lots of writers set up digs at that particular café. Sitting at the table behind her and at the one to her left, were two, lone interesting looking men who wrote furiously, impervious to their surroundings.

Her nervous tension about meeting Marty didn’t subside, but she was able to concentrate for a few minutes until the battery in her laptop gave her a two minute warning. She stood up and searched for an outlet, but the one she found was too far away for her cord. The writing man nearest to the plug stood up, discerning her need and offered her to sit at his table and work.

Sophia froze. She looked up four inches, into a set of magnificent hazel eyes. The man’s face broke into a smile so captivating that it took her breath away. Then she studied his striking, salt and pepper, thick hair. Next, her eyes trailed down to his broad shoulders and slim hips. The only thing he lacked was the potbelly so many fifty-something men carried around like a trophy. Sophia’s eyes widened, but words lay trapped in her brain. A nod sufficed to convey her agreement to the man’s idea.

Unfortunately, the move to his table was not a smooth one. He asked for her cord, which she tried to hand him, but she bumped against the table, and the cord toppled her teacup and propelled her phone half way across the room. She put her laptop opposite his, but didn’t see his glass of iced coffee. The contents of the glass spilled to the floor in the exact spot where the man’s feet were planted. Sophia ran up to the counter to snatch a hunk of napkins to clean his shoes, but in her hurry back, she tripped headlong into the handsome stranger, who graciously caught Sophia in his arms and held her for several seconds too long to be merely a “good save.”

Sophia and and the stranger talked for an hour. Their commonalities astounded her. She discovered his name was Jack, and that he wrote biographies, mostly of sports figures. Sophia and Jack shared their love of music, art, birds, gardening and sunshine. He told her he had two grown children and a grandson, and that he was a devoted husband for decades. But just as Jack turned fifty, a younger woman joined his support staff, and she made a play for him. Incapable of resisting her allure, he walked out on his wife.  The relationship with the other woman, although intense, was short lived, and he went home to his wife. She tried to take him back. They availed themselves of every resource, but in the end, she fell in love with someone else and left him.

Sophia just listened and watched the pain play across his face. Sophia gazed into the eyes of a humbled man, somewhat broken, but a good man, a kind and intelligent man, a man of character. She didn’t tell him much of her story, only that she was also a writer and that she suffered as his wife had suffered. Jack nodded, looking tenderly into her eyes. Reluctantly, he pulled his eyes away and glanced at his watch. Then he reached into his wallet and handed her his card and asked her please, please to be in touch. As he walked away, Sophia was so smitten she forgot all about Marty and Fugly and everything else on earth at that moment.

Instead of writing, Sophia drew Pema’s Chodron’s book When Things Fall Apart from her purse and began to read. Pema was the American Buddhist writer whom Zoe and Sophia adored. Sophia reminded herself to live in the present, not to have expectations about what might or might not happen in the future.

Sophia’s mind bounced back and forth like a recoiling wire between what she knew and what she felt. She knew she should release thoughts that fixated and grasped for things beyond her reach, past or future. In that instant Sophia felt an intense draw to Jack, yet she paused because he had demolished his wife’s trust, the same way Marty had destroyed hers. She was afraid because she wanted Jack, plain and simple. But she had to be careful to protect her heart. Sophia was certain that living in fear of the future was a useless waste of living. And she yearned to embrace all the possibilities. But could she do that without a safety net? Then she remembered a quote Pema herself used as a guide. “Only to the extent we expose ourselves to annihilation over and over again can that which is indestructible be found in us.” In life, Sophia told herself, there is only groundlessness. Everything falls apart, and everything comes back together another way.

When Marty walked in a few minutes later, Sophia looked up and smiled at him. He handed her a bottle of Pouilly Fuisse, the type of wine he brought her on their first date many years before.
“Happy Anniversary,” said Marty.
“Thank you,” said Sophia. “I forgive you.”

And just like that, she let go of the Marty in front of her. He was someone else now. Love of the old Marty, her Marty, welled up inside of her, and she knew that was the love to honor and cherish, the love that would remain in her heart forever. But today, she celebrated a different anniversary. It was the first hour of the first day of knowing Jack. Her intuition told her that perhaps she could love this man and he her. Jack was flawed, yes, but he was also humbled, a man who’d learned his lesson.

Meanwhile, Zoe’s lunch wound down with Walter, and she was relieved it was over. She gave him a peck on his cheek as they parted, but her head was bent and fingers busy texting even as she walked away from him. First, she texted Jackson to say she missed him. He did not respond. She called him, but he didn’t answer the phone, which was always attached to his belt. She left a message, telling him again that she missed him. He did not call back.  God, did she ever yearn for Jackson.  She decided to call Sophia.
“Hi, Sophie, where are you?”
“I’m at Popovers. I met my new man today.”
“Huh?”
“His name is Jack.”
“Fuck sake, Sophie, make sense.”
“I met a guy in Popovers today, and I have a feeling we could fall in love.”
“Are you delusional? What’s he like?”
“I’m not delusional. I just know it when I see it.”
“Know what?”
“Never mind. We’ll talk. Are you in Portsmouth?”
“Yes. Wanna meet somewhere?”
“Let’s go shopping, Zo.”
“I’ll come to you.”

The afternoon air was filled with a hint of spring. Zoe and Sophia ambled along on the sunny side of the street, stopping occasionally to sit and talk on the benches in Market Square. Sophia described Jack and the magical hour she’d spent with him. The women walked further and popped into various boutiques to look at clothing and jewelry. Inside Cool Jewels, Zoe turned to Sophia.

“Does meeting Jack make you think twice about moving to Florida?”
“I don’t think so.”
“Did you tell him about Florida?”
“Briefly. No details though.”
“If you move, that means I’m still in a quandary.”
“What do you mean?”
“I don’t want to stay in New Hampshire. There’s nothing here for me except my job. I need to live in a more diverse place, where I see people of all colors and nationalities.”
“No question you’ll have to move away to do that. New Hampshire is homogenized. Why can’t you just move back to Boston; that’s where you’re from? Could you convince your company to let you work there?”
“I’m not sure.”
“Did the idea of my moving to Florida bring on this craving, Zo?”
“To some extent. But I’ve missed living in a city for a long time. By the way, I had the best time in Cambridge last night. It made me realize how much I need to be part of an artistic community.”
“Tell me about it.”

Zoe told her about the night before with her old friends. Her face was radiant as she recalled the sketching, poetry and dancing. A yearning sprung from her eyes when she said to Sophia, “I WANT TO SPEND TIME BEING MORE CREATIVE. WHAT SHOULD I DO?”
“What are your artistic interests, Zo?”
“I can string beads. You should see the earrings and a necklace I made.”
“Okay,” said Sophia tentatively. “Is that considered art?”
“I’m not sure.”
“You don’t paint or play an instrument, but you dance well for the Webcam.”
“Hum.”
“Wait, Zo–you are incredibly artful in your gardening. Your esthetic is unique.”
“That’s true!”
“And you pitch me fabulous ideas for my stories?”
“Yeah, but that’s really your art.”
“True. You know, Zo, if dating were an art form, you could FILL a museum.”
“What’s that supposed to mean, Sophie?”

When Sophia stopped laughing at her own joke she said, “Besides gardening, your greatest strengths are organization and communication. You have strong professional tact, and you articulate ideas really well.  Your other great talent is sex.”
“Nice of you to say, but how do these skill sets become artistic?”
“ZO, YOU COULD TEACH GARDEN DESIGN AND KARMA SUTRA MOVES TO ARTISTS!”

Zoe nodded her head happily. “Hey, Soph, we need to celebrate with margaritas”
“What are we celebrating, Zo?”
“I have Art. And you just might have a new man.”
“Yeah. Let’s celebrate!”
“Let’s do Mexican so we can flirt with the cute waiters.”
“On the way home, can we stop at the tanning salon?” asked Sophia. “Pema’s talking in my ear right now, and I do my best meditation in the tanning bed.”
“Okay.”

As the two friends swept into the restaurant, the smarmy host welcomed Zoe back. Zoe nodded then remembered her dismal date earlier.
“You know, Sophie, I’ve tried, but I just don’t think I can get around Walter’s nose.”

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

Zoe and Sophia sat at their usual table and didn’t have to wait even a minute before Jose, their favorite Mexican waiter, placed Margaritas in front of the shimmering BFFs. But before they took a sip, in unison they drew their cell phones from their purses, and off they went, on another adventure as the Sublime Consumers of the Lightness of Being.

To be continued.  Read about major changes is the Bff’s lives. But remember, if you want to read the whole story, start at the bottom of the Blog.

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