Zoe & Sophia discover The Secret, Sexy Hair, and Nutella Cheesecake on their Adventures 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, “AM I EMOTIONALLY BALANCED ENOUGH TO LOVE A MAN RIGHT NOW?” Any advice you can give to Sophia would be helpful, but this is what Zoe said.
Sophia awoke in the night, puzzled by the weight across her chest. At first she thought it was Tolstoy, the huge Maine Coon cat who habitually sat on Sophia as she slept, pinning her to the bed. Sophia poked at the object, didn’t feel fur and realized an arm rested on her. Only then did she remember there was a man in her bed, her new lover, Jack. She carefully lifted his arm and slipped from the covers, tiptoed to the door and went downstairs to her laptop in the dining room. She opened her Facebook page, hoping Zoe would pop up in the chat box. Sophia needed badly to chat.
But when Sophia logged in, Zoe was logged off, which sent Sophia stumbling up the rocky path to panic. Sophia asked herself what the hell she was doing. Why was she involved with a man who had cheated on his wife? Was she seeking a man like her ex, Marty, who was horrid to her, hid his affair with his predatory girlfriend Fugly, and then dropped Sophia on her head with no discussion, no kindness, no closure whatsoever? Was Sophia setting herself up for a repeat performance of the worst emotional wreckage of her life? Just as these thoughts threatened to dispatch Sophia to Planet Nuts, she heard footsteps creak down the staircase of her 1770s home in New Hampshire. The door to the living room opened, and in the frame stood Jack, looking for Sophia. She smiled and waved shyly as he walked toward the dining room.
“Are you okay?” asked Jack.
“Yes, I’m fine. I can’t sleep, so I thought I’d write for awhile.”
“Why do I get the impression you’re not telling me the whole truth?”
Sophia shrugged, uncertain whether she dared risk telling Jack her concerns so soon. Nothing he said or did led to the conclusion that Jack was untrustworthy. She just harbored fear, given his history of infidelity. Of course, Sophia knew fear was the other side of hope, according to Pema Chodron, the American Buddhist writer Zoe and Sophia adored.
If Sophia hoped that Jack was an honest person, then she was hoping her fears that he wasn’t, would not be realized. She figured out then and there to be honest with him, and just allow the present moment to unfold, permit communication to begin, and trust her instincts to guide her about believing in Jack.
“It’s old shit for me,” Sophia said, as she licked a gob of Nutella chocolate spread from a spoon. You had an affair on your wife, which scares me.”
“Fair enough,” said Jack.
“Then I realize that my fear springs from hoping you won’t do that to me. I am fixating on something over which I have no control, you for starters, and the future for finishers.” With this pithy comment, Sophia tossed back a handful of Bold Party Blend Chex Mix and chewed relentlessly, hoping the crunching sound would distract her from the discomfort of the moment.
“That’s an interesting way to put it, but I get your meaning. I guess you’re just gonna have to trust me. I’m here, aren’t I? I’m with you, at this moment, in the middle of the night, freezing my ass off in your lovely dining room. Over time, you must judge for yourself whether you can trust me. All I can say is that I will be trustworthy. It’s your choice to believe me, but without trust, there’s no valid relationship anyway, so what’s the point of worrying? Now, could you either help me build a fire so we can talk without turning blue, or could you get your adorable bottom up to bed, please? I need you to wrap those long, lean legs around me. I want our fingers to rub each other up and down our spines.”
Sophia clung to her chair like tree fungus. Quick blasts of hot air shot from her mouth. Each breath was filled with Chex Mix, glued together with Nutella. She sounded like a choo choo train and looked pretty scary. Jack’s eyes widened as he leapt out of the path of Sophia’s flying blobs of food. Sophia was so unused to being touched by a man, that even the mention of it drove her off her rocker. She flew out of her chair, hoping to shield Jack from the spewed food, but she choked on what was in her mouth, which caused her to trip over a chair, as her fingers clutched her throat. She fell like a chopped tree, right into Jack. He managed to catch her fall and his, but not before chunks of Chex found their way into his face. Sophia didn’t know what to say, of course. So, she ran back to her laptop, looked in the live chat box, and hoped Zoe would be logged on by now. But Zoe was not.
The next morning Sophia lay in blissful splendor, spooning with Jack, who was sound asleep. Dawn had broken, which meant it was time for Sophia to get up and start working at her laptop downstairs. She had lots to do beyond writing, and her strict schedule required a minimum of six hours of daily devotion to her manuscripts. So, to get her work done and make it to her lunch date with her mentor Guinevere by noon, she had no time to lose. Guinevere was the grand dame of writers and literature in New Hampshire. Everyone venerated her. Just the mention of her name in literary circles brought a misty look to the speakers’ eyes, a look mingling profound respect with sheer delight. Guinevere was nearly eighty, an author herself, and she was worshiped by many writers, including Sophia, for her amazing guidance over the years.
Later in the day Sophia and Zoe were meeting their old chums Howard and Tess for a drink. Zoe wanted to introduce the three of them to Jack. Howard and Tess were the only “couple” friends who remained stalwart in their attempts to love and support Sophia through the past several months of her excruciating separation from Marty. Sophia loved Howard like a brother. He was an earnest, tender man with rat radar. He would let Sophia know in the gentlest of ways, whether he neither liked nor found commonality with Jack.
Tess was a dear friend with a razor sharp mind, a woman who never minced words. But Tess also had a vast, kind heart, and she would deliver an unpopular notion with a laugh so disarming that one could never take offense to what she said. But Tess’s eyes always told the story. If either of these people, whom Sophia held in such high regard, indicated in verbal or nonverbal ways that Jack was not the right person for Sophia, Sophia would not ignore their wisdom, notwithstanding the profound physical attraction she felt for Jack. As for Zoe, her closeness to Sophia made an objective assessment impossible, but Sophia still wanted Zoe there for support.
A couple of hours into Sophia’s work, Jack appeared downstairs, dressed and ready to head home to work himself. Jack wrote biographies, mostly of sports figures, and as with Sophia, weekend days varied little from weekdays. He and Sophia shared a cup of coffee then she sent him off with a breakfast bar and a long, lingering kiss. Just as he walked out the door, Zoe called.
“Hey, Zo, what’s up?’
“I’m feeling really numb today.”
“Numb cold or numb stupid or numb sad or….”
“Fuck sake, ENOUGH with the numb,” cried Zoe.
“Okay, okay. What’s wrong?”
“I don’t know what I’m doing anymore. Awhile back, we talked about my yearning to be in a more creative, diverse environment, and to be more creative myself. Part of that desire stems from a feeling of emptiness. I chase away my loneliness by filling up endless hours going out to dinner with various guys. I’m not even sleeping with anyone now, and I see none of these men as real partners, except Jackson in Florida. But he’s in Florida fuck sake.”
“Well, I’m moving to Florida. You could come too.”
“Not if I want to earn a living, I can’t. And that’s another thing. Every time I think about you moving away, a pit mushrooms in my stomach. I feel like bloated rust.”
“Oh, sweetie. I’m sorry. I know you only want me to listen and not try to solve anything, so just keep talking.” But as she said this, Sophia could hear Zoe crying on the other end of the line. “Talk to me, girl. What are you thinking?”
“I’m thinking I should have bought a better brand of tissue. I’m starting to get crusty nose.”
“It’s early. And I don’t have anything until my lunch date with Guinevere; do you want me to come over?”
“Guinevere,” Zoe sobbed. “She’s so wonderful. Yes, Sophie, come over. I need you.”
A few minutes later Sophia drove up to Zoe’s charming 1790s home. It was eerily silent. Usually Sparky, Zoe’s incontinent, stroke-impaired yellow Lab would be barking crazily at the sound of the car. Sophia went inside but didn’t see Zoe. She walked through the downstairs then headed upstairs. Soon she heard the Natalie Cole song This Will be an Everlasting Love blaring from Zoe’s bedroom. Sparky’s bark sounded faintly beneath the blast of music. As Sophia cracked open the door, Sparky burst out and nearly ran her over, dropping turds in his wake. Sophia kept her balance and walked gingerly over the stinking mess. Oddly, Sparky wore a bikini top. A straw hat, held on by a pink ribbon, bounced up and down on his head.
The curtains were drawn and the room was dim. Zoe lay on her back on the bed, arms and legs moving in and out rhythmically, like a sunbathing snow angel as she bellowed, “EVERLASTING LOVE” over and over. She wore the bikini bottom that matched Sparky’s top. Otherwise, Zoe was naked except for a pair of red spiked heels. Her hair was a mass of neglected bed-head snarls, and mascara dripped down her face. Strewn around the bed were a collection of seashells spilling out of beach buckets. Littered across the floor were several suitcases with clothes thrown into them.
“Fuck sake, Zoe. What are you doing,” asked Sophia as she walked to the old CD boom box and lowered the volume.
“I’ve been packing all night. I’m going to Florida. If Jackson won’t call me back, I’m gonna fly down and make him talk to me. He loves me. I know he does. And I love him. I don’t want see other men at all, even for dinner. I just want him.”
“Were you packing Sparky too? Why is he dressed?”
“I was pretending he was you.”
“Because now that you have Jack, I’m afraid you’re gonna abandon me.”
“Zoe, get the fuck up and stop acting like a crazed monkey. I love you.” With this Sophia reached down and rubbed Zoe’s head. Then she pulled a bathrobe out from under a pile of clothes in one of the suitcases and laid it over Zoe. “Listen to me. I am NOT your father. I am not one of your emotionally unavailable guys. We’ve been best friends for thirty years, and I’ve only known Jack for eleven days. No one can replace you. I need you, Zo, just as much as you need me. We give to each other what no one else can give us. Think about the joy we’ve shared over probably the worst year in our lives.”
“Okay, Sophie,” said Zoe as she rolled over and lumbered to her feet.
“When’s the last time you talked to Jackson?”
“It’s been four days although he did text and asked if I were seeing other men. I can’t lie. I won’t lie. But seeing other men doesn’t mean I’m sleeping with them. Still, he said the thought of other men in my life tore out his heart.”
“Well, what does he want from you?”
“He never really says.”
“What do you want from him?”
“I’m not sure,” said Zoe as she walked toward the shower. “I think I want a relationship, but I don’t see how to pull it off.”
“Well, if you don’t mind my saying, having dinner with other guys isn’t the best path to that objective.”
“I know. I just keep hedging my bets, I guess. Until I get a sense that he’s ready to commit, at least long distance at first, I can’t live with the dread of being alone.”
“You know what Nietzsche said? ‘In order to grow strong, you must first sink your roots into nothingness and learn to face your loneliest loneliness.’ Maybe that’s what you should be working on instead of trying to forge relationships.
“How the fuck do you know what Nietzsche says? Anyway, you sound like my therapist.”
“You’re free to pay me a hundred bucks an hour.”
“Don’t you have someplace you need to be, Sophie?”
“In fact, I do. Is your spell over? Can I get on with my day without worrying that you’re gonna hang upside down from the shower rod?”
“Yeah, I’m okay.”
“I’ll see you at five o’clock at Ixtapa Cantina.”
At noon Sophia walked into the Pine Gardens Chinese restaurant in Exeter. Guinevere stood waiting, her plump body leaning on a unique black cane, inlaid with a mother-of-pearl design. She was one of those rare older women whose eyes sparkled with mischief when she smiled. Her white hair, cropped in a bob, framed a pretty face. She gave Sophia a warm, burly hug, one long enough to transmit strong affirmative energy.
“What’s going on with you, these days?” asked Sophia.
“I’m making an effort to live my life deliberately,” said Guinevere in her robust, lively voice.
“I work at the bookstore three days a week, on the other days I meet for meals with family, friends and other writers, I run a reading group, and the rest of the time I write and read. For an old lady that’s pretty deliberate, I’d say.”
“Yes indeed,” said Sophia, laughing again.
Over won ton soup and moo goo gai pan with brown rice, the women talked about Sophia’s current manuscript, which Guinevere was reading in snippets which Sophia sent her. They also talked about Marty’s recent compassionate treatment of Sophia and her objective to let go of negativity, of the pain and anger brought on by Marty’s departure from the marriage. Guinevere was like a school girl, taking in the story frame-by-frame, the way writers do. She giggled at Sophia’s satirical observations about where Sophia landed now that Marty and she had called a cease fire. Sophia also described Jack.
Then Guinevere shared details about her young married life, working for a publishing house in New York City and living hand-to-mouth as a struggling writer. She talked about her parents and grandparents, and Sophia listened as Guinevere’s words painted vivid pictures of lives spanning well over a hundred years. Guinevere’s ability to articulate and describe was still so keen and quick that Sophia’s only hope was by the time she was eighty, that she would have half of the woman’s clarity.
Throughout the meal the theme kept circling back to Guinevere’s original statement about living life deliberately. The women laughed every time one of them said something to underscore an example of living deliberately, living in an awareness of the present moment, living as if it were the last day one had to live. Sophia looked back down the corridor of the past year-and-a-half of trauma and hurt brought on by the dying and death of her marriage. She reflected that through it all, she managed to live deliberately. She was in touch with her pain, she wrote a book that helped her to heal, and she was well on the way to finishing a second one. Sorrow was not the only emotion that defined those hours for Sophia. She deliberately sought joy in her family and Zoe. And now, at least for today, she found joy in discovering Jack.
At the end of lunch, Guinevere sat crunching her fortune cookie. She glanced down at the white strip of paper and decided to read it, no sense in wasting thoughts or words. She chortled as she handed the fortune to Sophia.
“I almost didn’t read this,” said Guinevere, her eyes dancing, “but I think it’s relevant.”
Sophia looked at it and laughed. It said, “Killing time murders opportunities.”
Both women were attuned to synchronicity and neither could resist the best humor of all, irony.
Zoe meanwhile regrouped, upended the clothes from the suitcases into a pile on the floor, undressed poor Sparky and cleaned up his heaps of crap. Next, she cleaned her house and began thinking about how she could create a blueprint for her life that was different from the construct in which she now lived. Baby steps, she kept telling herself. Change was frightening, but healthy, like burning a field. The grass would grow in greener, fuller.
Zoe decided that living in New Hampshire would be unbearable when and if Sophia moved away, so she made a plan as to how she could work remotely from Boston or Florida. Where didn’t matter, just anywhere else. Afterwards, Zoe decided to drive to Portsmouth before she was due for the drinks date with Sophia and the others. Shopping was always a balm. Just as she reached the highway, Jackson called. She wondered whether her positive energy toward a new direction somehow flowed to him. Unlike her last several conversations with him, this one was loving and thoughtful. For the entire drive to Portsmouth, they gently discussed Zoe’s need for male attention. Just before they hung up, he said that if she were willing to let go of dating other men, he would be willing to provide her with all the attention she could handle, sexual and otherwise. Jackson’s proclamation was like corn popping in Zoe’s head as she reeled between awe and ecstasy. As soon as he hung up, Zoe called Sophia.
“Hey, Zo. What’s up?”
“Where are you?”
“I’m in the River Run Bookstore looking for a book called The Secret by Rhonda Byrne.
“Meet me at Ixtapa.”
A few minutes later Zoe and Sophia drove up to Ixtapa Cantina at the exact same moment. They hugged each other then walked into the lobby, arm and arm, smiling into each other’s faces, like an old couple who’d been together for a very long time. Juan, their favorite cute Mexican waiter, waved at them, and before Zoe or Sophia could tell him not to, he placed, with a flourish of gallantry, two margaritas on the table in front of them.
“I guess we should nurse these slowly,” said Sophia, “Howard and Tess won’t be here for awhile, and I want a clear head when they meet Jack.”
“I’ve made progress today,” said Zoe. I’ve started putting a positive life plan into action, and Jackson professed that he could be in a committed relationship with me if I were receptive to letting go of the other men in my life.”
“Wow. That’s huge. So all your desperation from this morning just vanished?”
“In a sense, yes. I realize I’ve been so entangled in negative and obsessive thinking that I was lost.”
“You must have figured out ”The Secret,’ Zo.”
“What are you talking about?”
Sophia handed her the book. Together they read through a few pages. The gist was that the law of attraction is a fundamental law of nature. We attract to ourselves those things our thoughts send out into the universe. If we formulate positive thoughts in our mind and then send those out, positive things are attracted back to us, like a magnet. The inverse is true of negative thoughts. Our feelings are merely guides to let us know whether our thoughts are “good” ones or “bad” ones, attracting those things we want or do not want in our lives.
Just then, Jack walked into Ixtapa, wearing a big smile. The sight of him robbed Sophia of her breath and all she could do was nudge Zoe and point. Zoe beamed her approval, at least as far as appearance was concerned. He was tall, with thick, salt and pepper hair, a handsome face and a fit body. Zoe jumped up from the L-shaped booth to introduce herself. Sophia tried to jump up too, but her sweater caught on the corner of the table and sprung her back down like a rubber band. Unfortunately, she bumped the table on the way, and the two full margaritas tipped over and splashed onto Sophia’s hair, down her shirt, and into the lap of her skinny jeans. Juan raced over with bar towels to clean up the mess on the seat. Jack and Zoe stood watching, glancing with amusement into each other’s eyes. Just as Sophia hurried toward the restroom to clean herself off, Howard and Tess breezed through the door.
Sophia was so embarrassed that she stayed a long time in the restroom. Still looking a mess, she finally returned to the table and saw five new margaritas had been delivered, along with a basket of warm tortillas and salsa. The introductions were over and everyone was engaged in lively, if skeptic, conversation about The Secret, which by some miracle of positive thought, had escaped being drenched in tequila.
Howard and Jack talked about the power of positive thought to accumulate wealth. Tess and Zoe talked about the powerful thought that went into Tess’s recent hairdo. Tess’s hair was naturally curly, but just that afternoon, she asked her hairdresser to blow dry her hair straight, just to see what it looked like. Howard gave mixed reviews about the transformation, but Zoe and Sophia loved it.
“Tess, let me see your phone,” said Zoe. “Let’s take a picture of you and send it to your sister in Connecticut to see what she thinks.”
“Okay,” said Tess.
Soon, Juan came to take the order for appetizers. Sophia only half listened to the banter about Tess’s hair. Instead, she struggled to get a read from Howard’s demeanor about his reaction to Jack. The forecast was murky. Howard’s body language was guarded; his arms remained folded against his chest. His laughter sounded a little forced, or perhaps that was Sophia’ imagination. Jack’s charm and good looks dazzled the women, so they were no help as a gauge. Just as the appetizers arrived and they ordered a second round of drinks, Tess’s phone blinged, signaling the arrival of a text message.
Tess looked down at her phone. The message was from her sister telling her the straightened hair looked chic. But before Tess could eat a bite, another text message came in. It was from her mother and father who were wintering in Florida. The text clearly expressed that Tess should bring back the curls.
“How many people did you send that picture to, Tess,” asked Sophia.
“I just sent the one–to my sister.” Zoe and Sophia laughed at the speed of thought that came back to Tess about her hair.
Neither Howard nor Jack paid any attention to the hair-talk. They were still discussing the dubious possibility of accumulating wealth through brain waves. As Tess took the first sip of her drink, another text came in from a second sister in New York. She liked the straight look. Tess was growing irritated and hungry and thirsty. The next two texts were from her teenage son and daughter. The son thought her hair was fabulous, but the daughter said she looked like an old woman. Finally, just as Tess and the others were downing the last drop of their drinks, another text blinged on Tess’s phone. It was from her brother in China. He was thumbs up on the curls.
“Well, we have to get going,” said Tess to Howard.
“Why? Do we have plans for tonight?”
“Yes. I have to go home and wash my hair.”
After kisses and hugs of farewell, Howard and Tess gave Sophia neither smiles nor frowns before they hurried out the door. Jack asked whether Zoe and Sophia wanted to stay and join him for dinner, but they both said they had plans for the evening. Sophia gave Jack a kiss and said she’d call him later.
Sophia grabbed Zoe’s arm as they walked quickly away from the restaurant toward some of their favorite nearby stores.
“What did you think of him, Zo?”
“The jury’s still out.”
“He’s gorgeous, charming, smart, funny and interesting. Everything Marty was. I’m not sure whether you can trust him.”
“In what way–how?”
“I don’t mean things like cheating on you. I’m talking about emotional engagement.”
“How the hell did you read that from him?”
“It’s hard to say. I think he might be ambivalent, you know, a push-pull kind of guy.”
Sophia was silent for a minute while the two friends walked through The Gap, fingering piles of clothing. Finally, she said, “Well, if anyone would know about that sort of man, it would be you.”
Zoe turned to her, wincing. “I know you said that because you’re hurt by my observation. You’re right, of course. But let’s just say it’s easier to see when other people are walking into the jaws of a lion than it is to see when we are doing it ourselves.”
“True enough,” said Sophia, whose face puckered as tears sprung from her eyes. “It all goes back to the law of attraction. I’m attracted to someone like Marty, however negative the outcome might be, because it’s familiar. I understand his instincts. It’s safe because I know what to expect, but it’s unsafe because the real issue is about who Jack might be, intrinsically. Perhaps you see in Jack certain attributes I overlooked in Marty because I loved him.”
“Exactly,” said Zoe. “Which raises the question of whether you want to get into the same cycle with a new person who is similar to Marty in so many ways?”
“I think the bigger question is about where I am, Zo. “AM I EMOTIONALLY BALANCED ENOUGH TO LOVE A MAN RIGHT NOW?”
Zoe held up a green tank top in front of herself as she faced a mirror. Sophia faced the mirror too. Their eyes met in the reflection, and Zoe took a deep breath before answering. “I QUESTION WHETHER YOU ARE IN A PLACE THAT ALLOWS YOU TO SEE A MAN CLEARLY ENOUGH TO LOVE HIM WITHOUT BLINDERS ON. YOU WANT A CONNECTION WITH A MAN, BUT YOU ARE STILL IN SO MUCH PAIN.”
“You might be right, Zo. I’ll have to take this one really slowly, if at all.”
“Hey, Sophie, let’s go to my house and watch old DVDs of Sex and the City. Those should get you thinking straight.”
“Okay,” said Sophia. “Can we first stop at the bakery near my house? I hear they have Nutella cheesecake.”
“Be still my heart.”
“Hey, Zoe, do you think either of us is really ready to fall in love yet?”
“I can fall in love with anything that has Nutella in it.”
“Was that a Buddhist thing, Zo?”
And so, in separate cars the two fifty-something BFFs drove toward home, consumed by thoughts of love gained and love lost and love that might not be. But they never questioned their love for Nutella as they roared through night on another adventure as the Sublime Consumers of the Lightness of Being.
To be continued, but remember, if you want to read the whole story, start at the bottom of the blog. And keep your wonderful advice flowing. Thanks.