Zoe & Sophia Discover the Perils of Crackers and Cheese with Hot Dates They Meet at a Museum while Suffering Separation Anxiety
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 and your BFF give if you asked each other “WHERE ARE WE GOING? AND WHAT WILL WE FIND?” Any advice you can give to Zoe and Sophia would be helpful, but this is what they said to each other.
The day started softly with the rising sun. Mist hung like chiffon over the water behind Sophia’s house. Swiftly, two great blue herons rose through the mist, fleeing a sudden invasion of mallards and Canada geese. An ancient snapping turtle swam the center lane of the lake as he journeyed toward the dam at the other end, sinking every few yards, foraging for prey. Ospreys hovered overhead then plunged feet first into the shimmering surface when they spotted a good catch old snappy had missed. Once the ospreys ascended, clutching fish in their claws, they broke toward the sky, their slow wing-beats changing to glides as they soared.
Zoe rolled over and watched Sophia wake up. She reached out and stroked Sophia’s soft, light hair. Poignant pictures pricked her, snap shots of moments that filled thirty years of their sustained love as best friends. Sophia’s eyes fluttered open, and a smile sprang out to greet Zoe.
“Don’t give away your power, Sophie.”
“I won’t. Never again will I give away my power.”
“Let’s take a walk.”
“First, I need coffee.”
Because the days were closing in on Zoe and Sophia before Sophia’s permanent exodus from New Hampshire to Florida, the friends spent many nights together. They framed each other, stored up each other’s warmth and energy, like birds gathering food in autumn, preparing for the long stretches to come during which they would know each other’s voices and words, but be too distant for touch, smell and sight.
Zoe and Sophia walked down to the water, holding hands like school girls in a playground. They dipped their toes in the lake, and as brave as Zoe was about icy water, even she gave up the idea of swimming. But they giggled as they splashed each other. Side by side they perched on the arms of a weathered Adirondack chair, watching their dogs Sparky and Voltaire chase a tennis ball up and down the shoreline. A chilly breeze finally drove them back inside.
Sophia built a small fire in the fireplace, while Zoe made another pot of coffee.
“What about you, Zoe. Are you going to hold on to your powers too?”
“Which ones? I mean, what do you see as my powers?”
“The same as mine, the same as everyone’s. If you can see my powers, you can see your own.”
“Do I have your power in the strength with which you love?”
“Of course you do.”
“I guess I knew that. How about the way your creativity gives you power,” asked Zoe.
“Ah huh, yours does too.”
“But Sophie, that’s your work. Writing is what you do. I have a wonderful job, but it’s not creative.”
“I suppose it’s a matter of semantics, but you spend much of your time at work thinking about creative solutions for people. How we spend our time is a huge factor in what defines us—don’t you think?”
“When Marty and I were together, I used to say work was what I did, but my marriage and home were who I was.”
“I remember,” said Zoe, lifting her eyebrows. “I never felt that way except toward motherhood, which was all about who I was. Otherwise, I was often happiest at work. But my marriage to George was pretty volatile from the beginning and always lacked mutuality.”
“Do you think my closeness with Marty was one of the ways I gave up my power, Zoe?”
“Maybe. You let Marty define certain aspects of you. You lived for and around him so totally. Actually, he was the same way with you. I’m not sure I’ve ever known a more symbiotic couple. It worked for you when it worked, making his betrayal all that more crushing. But that’s not the power I was worried about you giving away, Soph.”
“What did you mean?”
“I meant the power you’ve given to Marty to hurt you since the split.”
“Yes, I need to take back the power of finding my own value. Marty can never again be at its core. Long before the split though, I was trying to resurrect him. What a sad waste of time. The Marty I knew died when he began his affair with Fugly.”
“I don’t wanna talk about Marty right now or about that ugly, rich, predatory girlfriend of his. Even thinking about them robs you of your power. Right now, I wanna talk about us. What else gives us power, Sophie?”
“Our curiosity and intelligence.”
“That’s true. Neither of us questions those qualities in ourselves. But if we’re all that intelligent, why do we give away our power?
“Do you know what Pema says?” Sophia was referring to Pema Chodron, their favorite American Buddhist writer.
“What does Pema say?”
“She says fear drives most people and our instinct is to run away from our fears. But when we run from them, we give the power to our fears. She thinks we should run toward those things we fear then fear loses its power.”
“That sounds like Psychology 101,” said Zoe as she walked into the kitchen and grabbed a half-eaten bag of Chex Mix.
Sophia followed her to the kitchen. “That’s true, Zoe, but it’s one thing if you’re talking about fear of heights or dogs or the dark. It’s another thing to talk about the deep-seated emotional fears that can become the driving motivation for how we fashion our lives.”
“Okay, Sophie. Give me an example. What do I run away from?”
“You run from fear of being alone and have since you were a child. You can probably look back on your life and see how fleeing that fear was the cornerstone of some of the most important decisions you made.”
“Maybe what attracted you to George was his unhealthy fixation on you. He wouldn’t let you out of his sight. You found someone whose insecurity matched your fear of being alone.”
“Interesting. I wonder if I can extricate myself from that fear.”
“Maybe. If you could view aloneness as a state of nature that won’t harm you, then you wouldn’t be so afraid of it. I wish you enjoyed you as much as I enjoy you.”
Zoe laughed. “I kinda see what you mean. No one can live inside of me except me. It’s just I and I in the end.”
“Okay, Rasta sistah, what do I run away from?”
“You run from the fear of loss.”
“Ya think?” laughed Sophia.
“If you could transform your ideas about loss it might help you.”
“Every second of every day, everything changes. If you could substitute the idea of loss with the concept of change, maybe your fear of loss would lose its power. Change is like time; it never stops. Time is the rhythm of life, change is the melodic sound—they are inextricable.”
“Deep. But you’re insinuating that all change is good, Zo.”
“Not really. It is what it is. Why fear what we can’t control?”
“Why fear anything?” asked Sophia quietly.
“There you go,” said Zoe as she took a bow. “It’s easy to say, and hard to do, of course. But let’s get back to the power thing. What do we feel when we feel powerless?”
Sophia tossed a handful of Chex Mix into her mouth and crunched for a few seconds before answering. “I’d say when we feel powerless, we feel our lives lack value, and that really, really scares us.”
“Okay, I’m done for now, Sophie. Hand over the Chex Mix. This discussion gave me a headache. What are we gonna do with this gorgeous day?”
“I dunno” said Sophia, “work in our flower gardens?”
“No, no, no,” Zoe said, shaking her head emphatically. “I’m not watching you talk to twenty flower beds filled with “your babies” and cry hysterically because you’re not gonna be here when they blossom. Let’s go to New York.”
“That’s kinda far for a quick jaunt. Anyway, we’re going there next week.”
“Okay, let’s do Boston then.”
“Can we go to the Museum of Fine Arts?”
“Why not? We’ll do lunch. Hey, maybe we’ll meet some interesting men.”
“Or maybe we’ll just see some interesting art work.”
“Either way works for me, Sophie. Let’s shower.”
After they showered, the women stood in their panties and bras as steam billowed around them. They rubbed lotion over their slender torsos and long lean legs, but the mirror was too clouded for them to see their reflections. Sophia tugged on the bathroom window, which stuck like so many others in her 1770 home. When she finally pulled it free, she propped it open with an old hairbrush. Soon the steam floated outside into the warm spring air. Zoe and Sophia bent upside down, drying their blond hair before they applied moisturizer and subtle makeup to their faces. Because the day was warm enough, they dressed in tank tops and shorts, and slipped sandals onto their feet. But even in the sunshine, Boston’s wind off the harbor would have a chilling dampness, so they packed sweaters.
Meanwhile, Zoe’s stroke-impaired yellow lab Sparky was in a power pout, his face turned to the wall. He was upset because Voltaire, Sophia’s border collie, insisted on dividing his time fairly between Sparky and Tolstoy. Tolstoy was Sophia’s huge Maine Coon cat. Sparky was less than fond of Tolstoy, but Voltaire adored the cat. Voltaire lay by the fire on his side with one paw slung around Tolstoy, who was plastered to Voltaire’s chest, licking his face. Not only did Sparky not get how anyone could love Tolstoy, but his feelings were hurt because he felt left out. Sparky glanced over at the “love birds,” and Tolstoy shot Sparky a slit-eyed look, for no other reason than just to rub it in. Tolstoy’s a bastard, thought Sparky. Sparky’s a dweeb, thought Tolstoy. Voltaire rolled his eyes, shook his head, and wished everyone would just get along.
“What are we gonna do with the dogs, Zo?”
“I’ll call George and tell him I’m dropping them off at the house. He’ll let them out and feed them later.” Although Zoe and George’s divorce was just a few weeks away, they still lived on the same property. Zoe lived in the 1790 house, and George lived in the guest cottage.
“That’s probably best. It’s too warm to leave them in the car for long, and that way we won’t have to hurry home. We can just go where the wind blows us.”
“Whatever,” said Zoe, grimacing at Sophia’s metaphor.
“What’s wrong,” asked Sophia.
“Go where the wind blows us? Fuck sake, Sophie.”
“Fuck you, Zoe. Okay, we’ll ride the tail of a falling star and land where it drops us.”
“Skip it. Do you know what the special exhibit at the MFA is right now?”
“No, but we can Google it. Anyway, I’m in the mood for the ancient Egyptians. Maybe we can even walk over to the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum and look at the garden under the atrium. I bet the flowers are lovely.”
“Okay, but let’s get going and please bring something to eat for the ride.”
Sophia walked hurriedly to the kitchen cupboard and grabbed a new bag of Chex Mix, a jar of Nutella and two spoons and stuffed them in a cloth bag. Then she drew from the fridge four bottles of vitamin water and dashed out the door.
On the drive to Boston, the women first sang along with vintage Jill Scott. When their favorite song, Living My Life like its Golden, began to play, they looked at each other and smiled then threw back their heads and bellowed the words from the base of their stomachs. But by the time the song ended, Sophia’s voice wobbled.
“What’s wrong, Sophie?”
“This was the theme song for my life when Marty and I were together. I was so smug in my marriage. I adored him, you know.”
“Yeah, but you had to overlook a lot.”
“You had to overlook his hardcore narcissism.”
“In what ways?”
“Marty’s the kind of person who thinks primarily of his own needs, rarely apologizes, lacks true empathy, shows little compassion, is vain glorious, and feels others are always being thoughtless and lacking in care towards him.”
“Well, that’s quite a laundry list.”
“I’m not done, Sophie. Marty has a way of forcing others to explain their actions, rarely visa versa. And do you know how often in an hour you used to say “I’m sorry” to him? It made me wanna puke sometimes. You lived in constant fear of disappointing him because he was impossible to please. Nothing was ever his fault and everyone else was always “wrong,” never him.”
“What prompted this rant, Zoe?”
“It’s not a rant; it’s clarity I wish you would see. You were a perfect foil to him, the eternal optimist who trusted him irrationally to your detriment. Sophie, you’re the only adult I know who still believes in Tinkerbell.”
“I accepted him for who he was,” said Sophia. “Growing up, he was modeled that people were either for you or against you. He’s all about black or white, no gray. Remember how judgmental he was about people who had affairs? Now, he has to make what he did be “right,” and he can’t stand the mirror I hold up to him. Since I no longer worship him because he cheated on me and left the marriage, I fell from grace.”
“Go figure, Sophie. He’s the troll fucker, but you’re the bad guy.”
“That’s an interesting nickname.”
“Well, Fugly looks and walks like a troll, she’s not that bright, and she has the depth of a flyswatter. All she really has going for her is a lot of money that other people earned.”
“Well, I’m moving past that now, Zoe. I think a better name for him is the ‘deconstructed half-man.’”
“Marty’s whole motif was vested in integrity and accountability and doing meaningful things with one’s life. He can’t argue that what he did to me reflected either integrity or accountability. And recently, I asked him what he and Fugly did all day. He said they sat around and watched TV, and when he was working, she invented stuff to do. He said she’s looking for meaning.”
“Well, you’ve written two books since this whole shit started. That’s not half bad, Sophie. Cream always rises to the top.”
“That’s what my mother used to say when I didn’t feel good about myself.”
“You have so much value, Sophie, but Marty’s too stupid to know it.”
“Not necessarily, Zo. If financial security was his objective, he certainly achieved it.”
“Zo, the mountain I struggle to climb is to release all expectations of Marty. Mercifully, the summit just might be in sight. And once I bury him atop of it, I will dance on his proverbial grave. There are no bridges back to Marty. Now, could you please turn up the music; I don’t wanna talk about him anymore.”
As they drove, the women listened to the South African musician, Hugh Masekela. His songs were political, uplifting, and lively. They sang along, snapped their fingers and danced as vigorously as they could, pinned in by their seatbelts. But pretty soon, Zoe could tell Sophia was growing restless.
“What do wanna talk about now, Sophie?”
“I wanna talk about The L Word.”
“What is your obsession with that show?”
“I love all the universal themes reflected from a purely female perspective.”
“Lesbian female perspective you mean.”
“Not entirely. One of the main characters, Kit, is straight and some of them are bi-sexual and transsexual. Some characters are even gay and straight men.”
“Who are your favorite characters?”
“The writer Alice and the museum art director Bette,” said Sophia.
“Why those two?”
“I identify with them. Can you believe Bette was reading Pema on the show? I nearly fell over.”
“Weren’t you watching in bed?”
“You know what I mean.”
“I like Alice and Bette too,” said Zoe, “but my favorite character is the sex magnet, Shane.”
“Does she remind you of yourself?”
“No, not really, but I do relate to her pain, especially when I was in my early twenties.”
“I’m beginning to panic, Zo. I only bought DVDs of the first four seasons, and I’m nearly done watching those. Maybe we can stop at Barnes & Noble so I can buy the last two seasons.”
“I wanna go to a lesbian bar tonight to dance,” said Zoe suddenly. “I haven’t been to one since we lived in Boston, before you met Marty. We used to have so much fun dancing, remember?”
“I do. But how did we go from watching The L Word to dancing at a lesbian bar?”
“How did we go from Shane the sex magnet to Barnes & Nobel?”
“I’m sorry,” said Sophia. “Did you want me to explore further why you like the Shane character so much?
Zoe nodded. “Do you think she’s a sex addict?”
“I’m not sure what that is, Zo.”
“I guess it’s a person who uses sex like alcohol or drugs, to mask insecurity and pain.”
“Well, I think the Shane character uses sex because it simulates love without her having to feel love, which she’s afraid to do because she was abandoned by her parents as a child.”
“Do you think I’m a sex addict, Sophie?”
“Do you think you are? I think you have a highly tuned libido, but you never screwed around on George all those years until the end. You might be drawn to wanting male attention, but perhaps that has more to do with wanting to be loved than with wanting to have sex.”
“Hum. Interesting. Let’s talk about something else.”
A few minutes later the women walked into the Museum of Fine Arts. First, they visited the darkened, hushed room where the Egyptian mummies lay encased in glass. Next, they found the brighter room where the Impressionist paintings hung. By mid-afternoon, Zoe and Sophia were hungry. Because the day was warm and sunny, they decided to go to the cafeteria and take a tray of food outside to eat in the museum’s enclosed courtyard. In the courtyard young mothers sat talking, watching their children play on the grass amidst fearless birds that pecked at crumbs on tables and in the dirt. But no interesting-looking, single men were afoot.
After lunch, Zoe and Sophia walked the couple of blocks to the Isabella Stuart Gardiner Museum, a place they had visited many times, especially when their children were young. They knew the eclectic, extraordinary exhibits well, so instead of meandering from room to room, they perched on the low wall surrounding the amazing indoor garden. The museum itself was patterned after a Venetian palazzo, and the garden, its centerpiece, was crowned by an atrium five stories above.
“Would you have envisioned us living the lives we are now when we were in our twenties?” asked Zoe.
“No. But I’ve never really thought about it either.”
“Didn’t people in their fifties seem ancient to us?”
“Practically dead. But, you know what–I don’t feel old. Do you, Zo?”
“Nope. I still feel young inside.”
“Well, fortunately, you still look young too. Not a day over forty.”
“Forty’s not young either when you’re twenty. But you too, Sophie, are well preserved.”
“Maybe that’s because we don’t feel old. Well, most of the time I don’t. On days when I’m utterly miserable about Marty, I feel pretty old. I don’t like what all the crying does to the lines around my eyes.”
“Those lines have a way of disappearing when you stop crying.”
“That alone is a good reason to stop. Thank God for Elizabeth Arden, Lancome, Clinique….”
“Fuck sake, Sophie, enough with the product lines. You’re broke, so maybe you shouldn’t spend so much on that stuff.”
“Like hell I shouldn’t, Zo. It’s worth every penny. As much as I cry, imagine what I’d look like without that shit to count on.”
“Why are we talking about facial moisturizers?”
“Would you rather talk about the orchids and the lilies? Hey, look over there. Those guys are checking us out. Work your magic, Zo. Send out that vibe. Maybe they’ll come over to meet us.”
“You’re a big talker,” said Zoe as she turned around to see the men Sophia spied.
“They look like brothers,” said Sophia.
“Yeah, they do. Not bad looking, well dressed—I like guys who wear oxford shirts under sports jackets over jeans,” said Zoe as she caught the men’s eyes and smiled gently.
Before long the men walked over and sat down on the garden wall next to Zoe and Sophia. One of the men struck up a conversation by asking Sophia the name of a nearby flower. Sophia could identify the names of everything growing in front of them. Had she only answered the man’s question about the single flower, she might have avoided toppling into the rabbit hole of her nerves. But no, she babbled on randomly about flower after flower until Zoe jabbed her in the ribs to shut it before she blew it. Sophia halted in mid-sentence, expelling air from her lips instead of words, and the two men looked askance for a second wondering where the rest of Sophia’s thought had wandered to. Zoe took up the conversational mission, wrapping the men around her words with her charm. Soon, they asked Zoe and Sophia if they knew of a place nearby where they could walk to have a glass of wine.
As the foursome strolled to a nearby wine café, Zoe and Sophia learned that they were fifty-something brothers, two years apart in age, lived in California, and were in Boston to attend a family wedding. Both men were divorced, had grown children and did something behind the scenes in the film industry. Since this was Zoe’s field too, of course she found immediate commonality. Unfortunately, Sophia did not. The older brother, Dave made no secret that he was gunning for Zoe, and with an almost imperceptible nod to Sophia, Zoe made known the feeling was mutual. The younger brother, Nick, was solicitous and sweet to Sophia, tried everything to draw her out on the walk, but her brain was so busy saying,“I’m okay, I’m okay, I’m okay,” that she missed the more subtle nuances of his gallantry. But each time she glanced into his eyes, she was aware of how attractive she found him.
They sat at a small table in the crowded café, and Zoe continued her animated conversation while the waiter brought them a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc and a platter heaped with cheese and crackers. Sophia, still unable to contribute much to the conversation, nodded like a fool and laughed at the wrong times. Zoe threw her a bone, encouraging Sophia to talk about how she was turning one of her recent manuscripts into a screenplay, but Sophia dropped the bone with a monosyllabic response and stuffed her mouth full of crackers instead.
Unfortunately, the crackers in Sophia’s mouth were like dust bunnies clogging a vacuum cleaner, and when she took a swig of wine in an attempt to soften the mass, she choked, and a ball of half-masticated crumbs spewed from her mouth and shot across the table, hitting Zoe in the left side of her head as she gazed flirtatiously into the lovely eyes of Dave. The men turned slowly and stared at Sophia.
“Fuck sake, Sophie, eat much,” said Zoe, raking her fingers through the mushy mess clinging to her hair.
“Sorry,” said Sophia as she wiped from her chin the soggy crumbs that hadn’t made the journey across the table.
The men pretended nothing had happened and resumed their lively repartee despite that Zoe’s attention was distilled into a steady glare, which shrieked at Sophia to cut the shit. Feeling she needed to redeem herself, Sophia risked a conversational maneuver.
“My favorite TV show is The L Word. Do you like it,” she asked.
“I thought that show finished up,” said Nick.”
“It did, but I just bought the first four seasons on DVD. They were on the sale table at the bookstore.”
“That’s nice,” said Dave. A glazed look crossed his eyes as he cocked his head to one side in bewilderment.
From this bit of encouragement, Sophia launched into the same discussion of her favorite characters, which she had with Zoe earlier in the day. Two sentences in, Sophia glanced at Zoe’s slitted eyes, which screamed “change the subject,” and once again, Sophia stopped in mid-stream, failing to complete a cogent thought.
“I never saw The L Word,” said Nick.
“Neither did I,” said his brother.
“Well, okay then,” said Sophia as she pushed several slices of cheese into her mouth as if to plug the portal through which stupid thoughts could not escape her brain.
Despite Sophia’s incompetence at coherent speech, Nick realized that she suffered from nerves, and he found her very attractive, so he tried once again to engage her by asking whether she liked to travel. Since Sophia’s mouth was too full of cheese to answer, Zoe jumped in and told the men about their recent trip to Naples, Florida, which spawned Sophia’s desire to move to Naples as soon as the house she planned to rent became vacant. Zoe also explained how a complication with the owner of the house and the departing tenants held up Sophia’s original timetable, and that Sophia was frustrated because she had packed everything in her New Hampshire home, and just awaited the final word that the Florida house was free. Zoe hoped that perhaps this explanation would help justify Sophia’s strange behavior.
Unfortunately, when Zoe mentioned Sophia’s imminent move, Zoe’s emotions suddenly rushed to the surface, and she decided to contain them by also stuffing her mouth with cheese. So, when Dave asked Zoe what her plans were for the evening, Zoe tried to explain that she and Sophia were going dancing at a lesbian bar. But it came out as “doeing dandding ah a desblian blah.”
Sophia’s palate was clear by this time, so she translated for Zoe. And just as Sophia was about to invite the men to come along, Zoe coughed and gagged on her cheese. Since snot ran from her nose, she was able to spit the blob of cheese into a napkin and blow her nose at the same time. The The brothers were very cordial in the way they placed fifty bucks on the table as they said their goodbyes and hurried out the door.
“That went well,” said Sophia.
“Not too bad,” said Zoe.
“You know, I’m too tired to go dancing tonight.”
“Me too. Let’s just go home. We can save our dancing energy for next week when we go to New York City.”
As Zoe and Sophia stepped outside into dusk, muted lights sought to twinkle. They walked in silence for a minute in the soothing, warm air then Sophia said, “I read a quote yesterday that I really liked.”
“What did it say?”
“Let everything happen to you: beauty and terror. Just keep going. No feeling is final.”
“Was that a Buddhist thing, Sophie?”
Again, the two friends walked in silence for a few minutes. Then Sophia turned to Zoe and asked, “WHERE ARE WE GOING?”
Zoe turned and smiled at Sophia as she then asked, “AND WHAT WILL WE FIND?”
As Sophia climbed into the passenger seat of Zoe’s car, she said, “I BELIEVE WE’VE HIT THE INHERENTLY UNKNOWABLE IMPASSE.”
“YES, I BELIEVE WE HAVE,” said Zoe as she pulled out into the city traffic.
As the two astonishingly confused, but shimmering fifty-something best friends wove along the back streets of Boston, they danced, straining against their seatbelts. Jill sang Living My Life like its Golden, while Zoe and Sophia belted out the tune, roaring like lionesses. And as darkness closed the curtain on the day, they raced over the Tobin Bridge heading toward home, off on another adventure as the Sublime Consumers of the Lightness of Being.
To be continued…but if you want to read the whole story, start at the bottom of the blog. Easiest access is to click on the bolded dates in the calander to the right of the story. And keep sending in your wonderful comments. Thank you.