Zoe & Sophia Plan a Night Dancing at a Club with Twenty-and-Thirty Something Sexy Women and Brave a Night without Power During a Windstorm
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, “IN ORDER TO GROW BEYOND MY PAIN, I NEED TO FIND COMPASSION IN MY BROKEN HEART FOR THE MAN WHO BROKE IT. HOW DO I DO THAT?” Any advice you can give to Sophia would be helpful, but this is what Zoe said.
Zoe pinched her cheeks in the pre-dawn as she drove north over the Tobin Bridge in Boston. The night before she’d slept at her daughter Sara’s house, after first attending a bi-monthly group-therapy session in Cambridge. Zoe strove hard to fill in the space left by another silent spell from Jackson in Florida. Group therapy wasn’t working too well, and dating other men wasn’t working at all. Zoe was also chasing away her mounting alarm about Sophia’s plan to move to Florida. The only way she knew how to quash her feelings was to drive and connect, drive and connect. Spending so much time in her car, Zoe became skilled at snapping pictures,talking on her Blackberry, checking her Facebook page, and chatting live—all at the same time as she drove. She took multi-tasking seriously.
Sophia meanwhile paced the bedroom floor of her 1770s house on a lake in New Hampshire. She counted the knot holes on the pumpkin pine floor boards, the ones laid before George Washington was president. Somehow, Sophia had it in her mind that her own life was a patchwork of knotholes, like those from the old boards. Trees grew around knotholes, the ones created when limbs were ripped from their trunks. Sophia felt like an old tree, whose trunk had been ravaged by wind. But unlike a tree, which “knew” it had to grow around a knot hole to reach skyward, Sophia was stuck in the hole of her failed marriage to Marty, a man she had adored with all her heart. He broke that heart when he left her for his girlfriend Fugly, as Sophia called her. And Sophia simply could not figure out how to grow around the hole left by his departure. The hole gaped open and dripped with pain because at the base of it, she had to admit she still loved and missed Marty, notwithstanding the profound choices he made to cut her from his life. The ‘hole’ was also literal when it came to their financial affairs.
Fugly and Marty first met when Fugly approached Marty to become involved in a project to be financed by Fugly’s legendary father-in-law, Famous Father. Famous Father pulled out of the deal when he discovered Fugly and Marty were involved. Fugly moved out of her home, leaving behind a husband (Famous Father’s son), and their three young children. When the project crashed, Marty’s and Sophia’s financial situation plunged into a downward spiral. Sophia guessed that Fugly would be financially set for life and would ultimately take care of Marty if their relationship lasted. As it was, he lived at Fugly’s new place on the days she didn’t have child visitation, and she paid for Marty to live in a motel near her house on the days he wasn’t allowed to stay with her. (Only Sophia’s dogs were allowed to live full-time at Fugly’s). Sophia, on the other hand, couldn’t afford to pay the mortgage on the marital home. So, she had decided to move to Florida, not only to get away from Marty, but because she found a place to rent that would cost a quarter of her current mortgage payment.
Just as Sophia decided to go downstairs to count the knotholes on the living room floor, her phone rang.
“Hey, Zo. How was your date with Walter?”
“Predictable. Although he said he wanted to show me how much he loved me, the only thing he wanted to talk about was how much he loved me below the waist.”
“You ate paste?”
“Why did you eat paste? You know, come to think of it, I need to figure out how to get the paste off my wall?”
“Fuck sake, Sophie, why are you talking about paste?”
“You know the pictures of Fugly that I pasted to the wall, over the hole Marty punched in it last summer when he screamed, “WHY CAN’T YOU JUST FUCKING TRUST ME?”
“Yes. I’ve heard about the hole many times.”
“Well, I took down the pictures. But the paste is still on the wall, and I don’t know how to clean it off.”
“Why did you take down the pictures of Fugly?”
“I need to start moving beyond my anger, Zo. Pain is one thing. We can’t will it away. But the anger–is just eating me alive. I know when I move to Florida, I will just take my life with me. I don’t want my anger moving down too. It’s time to let go of it.”
“How will you do that, Sophie?”
Before Sophia could answer, Zoe saw that a text had come in from some guy, and she said, “Gotta run, Sophie.”
Zoe purred into the phone, trying to sound alluring. Thank goodness the guy couldn’t see the bags under her eyes. As they talked he alluded to the idea that Zoe and Sophia came as a pleasure package. Zoe assured him nothing could be further from the truth. She tried to explain that pictures of women “doing it” in magazines were conjured up in men’s imaginations for the edification of men, rarely women. She also told the guy that she and Sophia were one hundred percent hetero, notwithstanding the fantasy several men wove around their friendship. Didn’t he have a mother or sisters? She asked. Didn’t his mother or sisters have girlfriends? Why did some men think that all women were as dog-like as some men were? Finally, Zoe grew irritated by the stupid conversation, so she found an excuse to hang up on the man.
On Sophia’s tenth circle around the living room floor, during which she contemplated paste removal and lost count of the knotholes, she roused herself by remembering she had a noon deadline to send her literary agent the changes in the manuscript he was trying to sell for her. Even though her agent assured her that he never liked to pressure “his authors,” Sophia was a person who took deadlines seriously. And she was a little nervous about effective use of time. Soon she would have to devote most of her days to packing up her things, so it was best to meet his “soft” deadline, to make time for all the other stuff in her life.
Not that Sophia’s life was crammed like Zoe’s, with dates and social events. But on this day, she looked forward to picking up her granddaughter, Lily, to go to a matinee of a movie Lily wanted to see. After that, her only engagement was to go to a birthday party in the evening being held at The Gaslight, a Portsmouth night club. Sophia was excited about hanging out with her daughter Poppy’s twenty-and-thirty something friends, dancing until it hurt. But she also knew the only reason she agreed to go to the sultry nightclub was to banish thoughts of Marty from her mind, if only for a little while.
Just then, Marty sent Sophia a text, asking her to get together that afternoon, at a coffee shop in Dover. He wanted to discuss the division of assets and bills. She texted back that she was taking Lily to the movies, but she could meet with him after that. When Sophia pushed “send,” her body trembled as it always did when she anticipated seeing Marty. She was mystified that after living with him for decades, the thought of seeing Marty still had such power over her. She was uncertain whether her physical reaction was brought on by the stress of such meetings or by Marty’s gravitational pull, which had remained intact all those years and beyond. But instead of sitting at her laptop to write, she called Zoe to remind her about their plans for the evening.
“Hey, Zo, don’t forget we’re going out with Poppy and her friends tonight.”
“Sophie, I wouldn’t forget. Do you think I’ve lost my mind?”
“What do you mean you don’t have time?”
“It’s Friday, why wouldn’t you have time to go out tonight?
“I do. Why are you talking about time?”
“No. I don’t have any limes. What do you need them for?”
“Fuck sake, Sophie, what’s wrong with your ears?”
“No, I don’t have any beers either.”
“ENOUGH,” shouted Zoe. “TAKE OFF YOUR HAT!”
Sophia reached her fingers to her head and realized she had forgotten to take off the hat from the night before when she went out to the barn for firewood.
“Zoe, how did you know I had my hat on?”
“Never mind that. Have you showered and dressed yet?”
“Fuck sake, Sophie. You either have or you haven’t.”
“Well, no then.”
Sophia showered and dressed then drove to pick up her beloved Lily, a smart, sweet and splendid looking little girl with dark, curly locks and deep, entrancing eyes. They drove to Portsmouth to catch the noon showing of Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief. On the way, Lily asked questions about her grandfather Marty. She was an insightful little girl and hoped to pump information from her grandmother. No one else would talk very openly about the vast shift in Lily’s life. And Sophia also tried to wiggle out of answering Lily’s questions.
“Why did Papa leave you alone, Nana?
“Papa wanted something different in his life, sweetie.”
“What did he want?”
“Something else, dear.”
“Do you get scared alone in that big house?”
“No, honey. I’m very brave.”
“Why do you cry so much, Nana?”
“Sometimes, I just miss Papa.”
“We all miss Papa,” whispered Lily. Then her face began to pucker in tears.
“Okay now, Lily, you have to choose between candy and popcorn at the movie, not both. So, don’t start begging when we get there. I recommend the popcorn.”
“Okay, popcorn. When will I get to see Voltaire and Dickens again, Nana?” Voltaire and Dickens were Sophia’s and Marty’s border collies. Marty hadn’t allowed them to visit with Sophia for months.
Sophia consumed her weight in unbuttered popcorn during the film, a case of nervous eating. She dreaded, yet craved, her meeting with Marty so much that it was distracting. But every time her mind drifted in Marty’s direction, away from the exciting plot of the movie, she gently pulled herself back to the present moment, to stop fixating on things beyond her control. This was the practice suggested by Pema Chodron, the American Buddhist writer whom Zoe and Sophia adored.
Sophia often glanced over at Lily’s profile, absorbing the child’s undiluted pleasure and fascination with the adventure playing out on the screen. Twice, Sophia couldn’t resist leaning into Lily and kissing her cheek, while Sophia wondered why she couldn’t just hold on to the sheer bliss of that moment forever. Of course, fundamental to Sophia’s healing process, was her acceptance that we can’t hold on to anything, good or bad, forever. Everything is in a state of flux. The minutes fall away, never to be reclaimed. We don’t know what the future holds, so we need to relax into the present, to embrace the wonder of existence right now. Perhaps that is why Sophia gazed more at Lily than at the screen.
The main character in the film is a teenager, Percy, a demi-god whose father is the Greek god Poseidon and whose mother is a mortal. Although the story takes place in modern times, Poseidon is bound by a law which prohibits Gods from having tangible relationships with any child they sire with a mortal. Percy becomes aware of his status as a demi-god during the course of the story, but in the end, he still has issues about being abandoned by his father. In the last scene, Poseidon gets permission from his brother Zeus (the boss God) to speak with his son Percy, just this once. Poseidon looks lovingly into Percy’s eyes and tells him, that although he cannot be part of Percy’s life in a physical way, he will always be there in his mind and heart and that he will protect Percy with his love.
At that moment Sophia felt like she was looking into Marty’s eyes and wishing he would say the same thing to her. All Sophia really wanted was reassurance that Marty would try to blanket her in the safety and love he had provided so well over the years. Then it occurred to Sophia, that she was not a child, and to expect that Marty could do that for her was so far beyond realistic that it bordered on madness. Feelings of helplessness overwhelmed Sophia momentarily, and tears slithered quietly from her eyes as the credits rolled down the screen.
Soon, the house lights came up, and the grandmother and her stunning granddaughter walked hand-in-hand from the theater, laughing and recounting thrilling scenes from the movie. Sophia was thinking that as a little girl, Lily should seek and expect that protection of love from others. But as an adult, Sophia knew with equal certainty that she should not. Sophia was responsible for developing a spirituality which involved providing loving kindness and protection toward herself.
Sophia and Lily walked to Barnes & Noble to buy Lily some books. Sophia loved that Lily was an avid reader. After that, they shared dozens of kisses and hugs, until Sophia dropped Lily at Poppy’s workplace in Portsmouth and drove north to meet up with Marty in Dover.
Meanwhile, Zoe sat at her desk where she worked as a contracts negotiator in the entertainment industry. Zoe worked her tail off, which earned her a fabulous salary. Her day was so busy that she hadn’t taken time to eat since her pre-dawn drive. Suddenly, she felt woozy, so she made herself a salad and took it back to her desk. While she ate, she checked her text messages. The most recent one was from Bucky in Tennessee, the twenty-five-year-old who claimed he loved Zoe, notwithstanding their age difference. He demonstrated his “love” the weekend before when he traveled from Tennessee to Woodstock, Vermont and tracked down Zoe, while she and Sophia were enjoying a ski weekend with Poppy and Sophia’s niece Lulu. Zoe kicked the young man to the curb and left Vermont thinking Bucky was finally convinced that Zoe was clearly an unsuitable match for him.
When she opened Bucky’s text, the impact jolted her out of the chair. He sent a picture of himself buck naked, except for the top hat he held over his crouch.
The text read: “Will you marry me?”
Zoe roared with laughter then wrote “No, my dear. I’m a grandmother, and you are barely an adult.” Zoe was certain this allusion would suffice to douse his fire.
He wrote: “No, I mean it. Marry me. You are beautiful and sexy. Tonight, when you go to bed, could you turn on your Webcam and let me watch you sleep?”
Zoe was confused by the bizarre request. So, she decided to call his bluff. “Ok, I just decided I’ll marry you. I’ll quit my job and move to Tennessee. You can support me. How does that sound?”
Bucky signed off, saying he had to go because he was late for his job at the car wash. Zoe forwarded the text exchange to Sophia. In her text, she wrote how interesting it was that the word “Cougar” was given to older women seeking younger men, but she wondered why an equally unflattering animal name, one reflecting the predatory nature of younger men seeking older women, wasn’t in the lexicon yet.
Zoe’s text came in while Sophia sat across from Marty in the trendy coffee shop. Marty had tears in his eyes because Sophia was showing him compassion. She apologized for her angry outbursts and acknowledged that the marital split had taken its toll on Marty too, even though it was his choice to have the affair with Fugly. During their meeting, Sophia’s heart softened to Marty. For the first time in a long time, they spoke to each other with ease and without rancor. She also realized how much of their practical lives she’d been responsible for handling, and that Marty was quite helpless when it came to sorting out the financial wreckage. Marty didn’t even know that the date on a bill, which designated when a bill was due to the creditor, was NOT the date he should send out the check. That was just one example of his incompetence. Their meeting ended with a hug, the first in months, and Marty thanked Sophia for her efforts.
Later, when Sophia was home getting ready for an evening of dancing, she almost felt sorry for Marty. She sent him a sweet, funny text to which he did not respond. She sent him a second text thanking him for their meeting. He did not respond. She sent him a third text telling him not to be down on himself and assuring him that he was a good man. He still did not respond. And then Sophia remembered who Marty was.
Marty was a narcissist, who at that very moment, was “at home” with Fugly and couldn’t be bothered to return her text messages. Sophia’s compassion for Marty flowed away, like the tide. She knew the tide would flow back in again and again, and that she would feel compassion again and again, only to be disappointed. In her heart, she knew Marty felt guilty for his actions, for hurting Sophia and so many others. Marty didn’t want to feel guilt because it invoked a sense of responsibility. Marty didn’t want to be responsible. It was finally dawning on her, that reaching out to Marty was a no-win situation for Sophia.
When Zoe drove in an hour later, she found Sophia weeping, with her head resting on the dining room table.
“Fuck sake, Sophie, what now? You’re still in a bra and panties, and you have no make-up on. We’re gonna be late. GET GOING.”
“Fuckin’ Marty—I hate him,” cried Sophia as she staggered toward the bathroom to get ready.
Zoe looked down at the table where Sophia’s head had been. A book sat open and its pages were damp with tears. It was not the usual book Sophia always kept next to her laptop, Pema Chodron’s book When Things Fall Apart. Instead, it was a fictional story about a mystery involving Sigmund Freud called The Interpretation of Murder by Jed Rubenfeld. The first two paragraphs read:
There is NO mystery to happiness.
Unhappy men are all alike. Some wound they suffered long ago, some wish denied, some blow to pride, some kindling spark of love put out by scorn—or worse, indifference—cleaves to them, or they to it, and so they live each day within a shroud of yesterdays. The happy man does not look back. He doesn’t look ahead. He lives in the present.
But there’s the rub. The present can never deliver one thing: meaning. The ways of happiness and meaning are not the same. To find happiness, a man need only live in the moment; he need only live for the moment. But if he wants meaning—the meaning of his dreams, his secrets, his life—a man must reinhabit his past, however dark, and live for the future, however uncertain. Thus nature dangles happiness and meaning before us all, insisting only that we choose between them.
Zoe figured Sophia was crying because her belief system was suddenly gouged, after being heaved onto the horns of a dilemma. The ideas in Buddhism, to which Sophia clung for dear life, focused on living in the present. But Sophia was a writer who lived in her mind, a mind that required reinhabiting her past endlessly, to give meaning to her life and to her stories.
Zoe was about to go into the bathroom to talk to Sophia, when she heard wild yelping, growling, hissing and yowling. She ran toward the summer kitchen and pushed open the door. There lay poor Sparky, Zoe’s incontinent, stroke-impaired yellow Lab. He was pinned to the floor by Tolstoy, Sophia’s enormous Maine Coon cat, who sat on Sparky’s stomach and glared menacingly into his eyes. Since Sparky’s stroke, rolling over was tough for him, so sometimes he ended up like a beetle stranded on its back.
Sparky looked up at Zoe, thinking how lucky he was to have such a sweet, gentle mistress who would rescue him. Following Sparky’s eyes, Tolstoy turned his glare slowly upward. Tolstoy was pissed. That bitch Zoe was about to jump in on something that was none of her damn business.
Tolstoy thought Sparky was a bastard for dragging his lame ass into the summer kitchen and inhaling the dinner Tolstoy had craved all day long. Tolstoy was especially touchy since Sophia put him on a diet to help him with his compulsive eating disorder.
Sparky just thought Tolstoy was being selfish, and now he couldn’t even roll over and run away because Tolstoy was so heavy. Sparky decided to meditate through his distress. He closed his eyes and waited for Zoe to handle Tolstoy.
“Knock it off—both of you,” Zoe said quietly, then she hurried away to console Sophia.
Tolstoy and Sparky were so surprised by Zoe’s apathy, that Tolstoy forgot he was mad and began licking something he hoped was edible, a clump clinging to the fur around Sparky’s ear. Sparky lay still, thinking that Tolstoy acted really hungry, which meant Tolstoy would soon prance through the cat door, run into the yard, and hunt down some pitiful mouse to eat. Then Sparky’s only obstacle was Sophia. But as long as that bitch Sophia was in the bathroom being pathetic, Sparky would have plenty of time to skulk across the summer kitchen and dig into a mouthful of cat crap as a nightcap.
Meanwhile, Zoe sat on the toilet seat watching Sophia pull skinny jeans over her long, lean thighs and then apply her make-up. Outside the wind tore limbs from young trees, flung chairs across the yard, and ripped a banging shutter loose from a window. Neither woman noticed the clatter. Then Sophia’s phone rang. It was Poppy.
“Mom, are you okay?”
“I’m fine dear. Zoe’s here and we’re just about to leave for our big night out with you guys. What’s up?”
“Have you looked outside, Ma?”
“There’s a raging storm with seventy-mile-an-hour winds. Most of Portsmouth and Dover are without power. I have no power.”
“I guess we’ll be postponing the birthday party,” said Sophia, as her mind ticked off all that needed to be done in case she lost power too.
“Ya think? Mom, make Zoe stay there with you. The radio is warning people not to drive, and the governor called a state of emergency.”
After Poppy hung up, Sophia told Zoe the news, and the two women ran around filling buckets and pans with water, loading up the wood box, assembling candles, searching for the oil lamps and flashlights, and putting batteries in the radio boom box. Finally, just after they dragged a mattress downstairs next to the fire, everything went black. Sophia lit the candles, and Zoe lit the oil lamps. They changed out of their party clothes and into yoga pants and sweatshirts. They poured themselves glasses of Cabernet Sauvignon, and hunkered down on the mattress in front of the fire. Only then did Zoe go into a full-blown panic with the realization that she had no internet—the server was down too.
“Fuck sake. What am I gonna do?’
“I guess you’ll just have to talk to me, Zo.”
“My phone’s fully charged. I could call Jackson in Florida.”
“Well, my phone’s not, so we might want to save the batteries for something important.”
“Shit,” said Zoe, a doleful look spreading across her face. “What do you wanna talk about, Sophie?”
“I have a question I’ve wanted to ask you all day. It’s about Marty.”
“That’s a surprise.”
Sophia let Zoe’s sarcasm roll off of her as she watched the shadows from the candles and fire dance on Zoe’s face. Finally Sophia asked, “IN ORDER TO GROW BEYOND MY PAIN, I NEED TO FIND COMPASSION IN MY BROKEN HEART FOR THE MAN WHO BROKE IT. HOW DO I DO THAT?”
Zoe studied Sophia’s face for a moment, thinking about her answer. Then she said, “IT’S A GOOD THING FOR YOU TO FEEL COMPASSION FOR MARTY, BUT TO REACH OUT TO HIM WITH KINDNESS AND THINK HE’LL RETURN IT, IS DELUSIONAL. YOU WANT A CONNECTION, BUT INDIFFERENCE IS THE ONLY THING MARTY WILL EVER GIVE BACK TO YOU. TO DO THE SAME THING DAY AFTER DAY AND EXPECT A DIFFERENT RESULT IS LUNACY. YOU NEED TO WALK AWAY, TO BREAK THE CYCLE, SOPHIE, AND TO PROTECT YOUR HEART.”
“I’m hungry,” said Sophia. “All I’ve eaten today is popcorn.”
“Do you have Chex Mix and Nutella?”
“In the kitchen.”
“Hey, do you still have that Sex and the City trivia game?”
“I do indeed,” said Sophia, jumping up. She reached for a candle from the table and disappeared into the living room.
When she returned to the dining room, Zoe lay propped up on pillows, licking Nutella from a spoon. Sophia ripped open a new bag of Chex Mix, but before reaching in for a handful, she held up the first question in the trivia game.
“Here goes. ‘The last line in the final episode of “Sex in the City” talks about the most important relationship we have in our lives. Who is it with?’”
Zoe’s eyes flashed around the room. They zapped across her silent laptop, with its dark Webcam. Her eyes flitted over her mute phone, and then came to rest on her dear friend’s face. Finally, she took a deep breath and gave the answer.
“The most important relationship we have in our lives is the one we have with ourselves.”
Sophia flipped over the card and looked at the answer. She smiled and nodded at Zoe then said, “You win the first point. Hey, was that a Buddhist thing, Zo?”
As the storm raged outside and the room grew chilly, the two phenomenal, BFFs fiercely competed for first place in the trivia game to beat all trivia games, off on another adventure as the Sublime Consumers of the Lightness of Being.
To be continued, and remember, if you want the whole story, start at the bottom of the blog and read up. Please keep sending in your wonderful advice. Thanks.