I spent last Memorial Day weekend with my friend Ernie at his beach house in Westport, Washington. It was cool and grey, not unlike the weather here today in Chicago. Except that it was expected, as it is usually that way.
We cooked and talked and listened to the soundtrack from Saturday Night Fever over and over. We napped and read and took long walks on the beach where we created a healing ritual: The Sacred Spiral.
It was a response to the shame both of us had known in relationships, coupled with Ernie’s own experiences dragging a large stick in wet sand in a circular pattern, ever-widening, until it touched the shore on one side, the tide on the other.
We did this in silence, often crossing over one another’s markings. At the end, we each wrote a message in the sand. Mine was, “God is Good.” A reference to a conversation I had just a few days before.
I haven’t thought about that weekend in a while, until this past Thursday. I was buying an enviro-sac, an overpriced bag that rolls up small and lives in one’s purse, ready for the impromptu shopping trip. As I was paying for it, I spied a ring in the display case –long and wide with a big, blue stone set in the center. The typewritten tag next to it read: 1970s cocktail ring. $16.
I slid it on. My small hand appeared longer, elegant.
I had the immediate thought that with this on my left hand, I could now sell my wedding and engagement rings. Different finger, but no matter. It closed the space.
I bought it.
Walking home, I thought about where I was at this time last year, and suddenly remembered exactly where I was at this time last year, the Thursday before Memorial Day.
I was kissing a man who wasn’t my husband.
Not long after asking for a divorce, my husband casually remarked that we were “free agents.” I was floored, but I chose not to fight it, or fight him. The ending had already been written. We were just uncomfortably in the middle, clumsily navigating our way there.
The kiss was clean.
We had known one another for a couple of months. We’d been flirtatious. He too was going through a divorce. It felt obvious. That evening, electric.
His lips over mine. My face in his hands. New. Unfamiliar. Searching.
He showed me the scar where his gall bladder was taken out. He asked me about the scars on my breasts.
We took a walk in the woods, our arms linked, talking and kissing and talking and kissing. His dog leading the way, turning back from time to time to make sure we were still following.
He told me his story and when he was done said, “Now you.” He wanted to tell me who he was. He wanted to know me.
I sat on his lap in the kitchen before leaving that night. Words rumbling in my mouth, behind my face. I wanted to say them but I was afraid they sounded silly. I told him anyway. I said, “God is good.”
He laughed, looked straight through me with his crinkly eyes and said, “God IS good.” And he kissed me.
I took to referring to him as Mr. Thursday, because I wanted to respect his privacy. At least, that’s what I told myself. I think somewhere deep in me I knew that was all he would be –Mr. Thursday. Mr.-Thursday-right-before-Memorial-Day-2012 to be exact, as we never connected in that way again.
I talked to Ernie about him that weekend. How I somehow already knew this wasn’t going to go my way, even though I didn’t want to know it.
Thursday and I had agreed that neither of us were remotely interested in a relationship. Looking back, I probably would have jumped at one, given the chance. Anything to get out of my discomfort. But I bravely told him I was on my way to Africa, and then back to Chicago. That perhaps we could just enjoy one another’s company. He agreed.
The next day I woke up with that sick sense of dread. That what was true yesterday was no longer true today.
It was painful. All those relationship questions that first bubbled up when I was 12 and Alan Wittenberg didn’t like me back were waiting for me – still unanswered.
“Why doesn’t he like me?” “Why did he change his mind?” “What if I were prettier, thinner, less emotional?”
And then, a more adult concern, “Why do I attach so quickly?”
I didn’t think I would have to address these questions again at this point in my life. I felt like I had learned nothing. Like I didn’t know the rules. My divorce buddy in Chicago, my friend who was three weeks behind in my footsteps, assured me that none of us do.
I haven’t thought about Mr. Thursday in a long time. My fixation with him was replaced by a fixation on another man, which was replaced by a fixation on another man. And then that fixation was replaced by truth. What is versus what I would have liked it to be.
I find myself in a place I’ve never been – I am not with a partner, pursuing a partner or lamenting the loss of a one. It’s strange new territory. There is no one I’m interested in. My attention falls simply “on me.”
I called Ernie this weekend and reminded him of where we were a year ago. About Westport. About Mr. Thursday. About seeing his ex on the beach with their dog, Cordelia, and his new partner. About turning on our heels before they saw us.
Ernie said he and his ex can sit down and talk now – civilized – with no need to turn away.
God IS good. So is my $16 ring.