“So, what do you think about your brother and Freya? Has he said anything to you?”
She blinked at me. “Mum, that sounds like an absolutely terrible idea. She has a child. Hello?”
“You sound very bitter my dear, you know,” I replied, giving her a sympathetic smile.
“Maybe,” she shrugged. “But how do you know that they’d be a good match? Seems like a pretty strong claim to make since you’ve only met her once, like, forever ago.”
I sighed and looked her over sternly. “Because, Emilia, I see the benefit of her presence in your brother’s life. I notice how lively he is after they’ve spoken. Sometimes he calls me and his tone of voice is light, he sounds like he’s floating. And then he tells me all about how they just talked again recently and how lovely she is. In fact, I can’t recall a conversation recently in which she wasn’t mentioned at least once.”
While I thought for a moment, my daughter used the opportunity to play the skeptic, as per usual.
“Mum, people always talk that way in the beginning when they feel something for someone. Isn’t that how it always is? Doesn’t mean that they should pursue a relationship. Frankly, I don’t think he’s ready. I mean, are you truly considering the fact that she has a child? A child; he’s practically a child still himself. At least he behaves like one.”
She shrugged a shoulder and raised an eyebrow. Part of what she said, I couldn’t deny. It was true that my son was not keeping a strictly adultish schedule. But it was also true that it was high time he start getting with the program. I was tired of worrying about him.
“Em, it sounds quite plainly like you just don’t like her, hm?”
It was my turn to raise an eyebrow, and I did so as I folded my arms across my chest. She looked annoyed.
“It’s not that. I hardly know her. I just don’t think he’s really ready for a relationship of this caliber.”
“Caliber?” Interesting word choice.
“Yea. I mean, this won’t just be some woman who has some job, somewhere in the city, who can just be avaliable whenever, or go drinking. Whatever. You know what I mean.”
She ran a hand through her hair and took a sip of water.
“I do know. But they’ve been friends for such a long time. I’ve always believed that they have a special connection. I know your brother. I can see when something is working well in his life.”
I leaned back in my chair and studied her face. She drained her water glass.
“Well, its not like either of us will have much to say about it in the end. He’s sort of capable of making his own decisions.”
She gave me a half-smile.
“Yes, he is capable.”
Later that evening, I was speaking to the individual in question.
“Hello, my dear. How are you this evening?”
I gave the kitchen window above the sink a little push and it creaked open, allowing the smoke from my cigarette to escape into the night.
“I’m great. How are you?”
The smoke billowed from my mouth and I nodded.
“Very well. What are you planning for tonight?”
“Actually, I’m on the line with Freya at the moment.”
I could actually hear him smiling.
“Are you indeed? That’s nice. I’ll let you get back to your call then.”
I was smiling. Smoking and smiling.
“Ok. I’ll call you later.”
He did. Several hours later as I was mixing pigments. Hands completely stained and caked with color, I tried to reach for the phone.
He was as good as his word. I smiled.
“Hello Mama, how are you?” There was that trademark post-Freya lightness in his tone. I tucked the phone between my cheek and shoulder and made for the sink.
“I’m covered in pigment at the moment. Let me wash my hands. Just a minute….”
There was silence on the line except for the rushing of the water from the faucet. I scrubbed at my hands, washing the clumps of bleeding color down the drain.
“Well, that will be as good as it gets for now. Tell me, how’s Freya?”
I smiled, anticipating his response.
“She’s good. Great, actually. God, she’s so talented. Every time I talk to her and she reads me anything she’s written, I’m just struck dumb. It’s so brilliant. She’s pretty amazing.”
“I bet she is. Do you think she will ever come for a visit? I’d love to see her again.” I said, lighting another cigarette. My fifth for the evening.
“We are talking about something like that right now. I’d like to see her soon too. It’s been so long. Too long.”
As I unlocked the door to the boutique the next morning, my head was full of dreams. I was pushing the nightmare about my ex-husband out of my head, trying to let the pleasantries of the night take over instead. I had had dreams of tropical islands and undersea scapes, of my children and their borderless happiness. Emilia I had just seen the day before, and I could say with perfect certainty that she was still plodding on with the same man because she had grown used to the security the relationship offered; not because she actually loved him all that much anymore. It was clear to me, and had been ever since they had reached the six month mark, that there was no way to make them fit together. But she wasn’t ready to accept that. So I wasn’t going to push her more than mentioning that I wanted her to have her best chance at a fulfilled life.
Tamaś I hadn’t seen in several months. The last time we had a visit, he was coming out of a relationship; it had been relatively short and yet he was pretty upset by the events that had taken place. He looked worse for the wear, as if he hadn’t had a full nights sleep or a proper meal in weeks. There were shadows that clung to his skin, and the dullness that hung in his eyes told me everything I needed to know about how he was feeling inside.
“Tamaś,” I had said, laying my hand over his, “you have to come out of this. You have a lot going on in your life, positive things, and it would be much better to focus on those instead. Get yourself on a regulated schedule and I think you will find that you wont have much time to be depressed. I love you son. I know that doesn’t compensate for the love of a partner, but I do love you nonetheless.” He had smiled somewhat sadly, and I had left it at that.
Where Emilia was a bit of an outright ball-buster, Tamaś was much more introspective. Things usually hit him much harder.
Several days later, however, after I returned home, I received a phone call from him. I was expecting complaints of a hangover and confessions of irresponsibility, but instead, he talked about Freya. Though he had talked about her before, I hadn’t heard her name in awhile. Something about the manner in which he spoke about her, though, made me suspect that things had changed.
“You sound like you’re doing much better than when I left you on Sunday,” I remarked.
“Yea, I feel actually really good. I got a pretty decent night’s sleep last night, I had a good day at work. Things have improved, including my mindset.”
“Oh really? Any particular reason? I’m thrilled to hear it, mind you.”
“Ah, I don’t know really. I had a pretty long conversation with Freya two nights ago. It had been awhile since we last talked and it was just really good to hear from her. It’s funny, I had been thinking about writing her, but she beat me to it.”
I noticed the smile in his sound.
“And how is Freya?” I asked simply.
“I think she’s pretty great. She looked wonderful. Beautiful, actually,” he said.
I found myself grinning as I folded a pair of pants in the shop, thinking back on the conversation.
“She’s just always so happy when we talk, and I think she’s always very honest with me, and it just feels good to share news with her.”
“That is very good Tamaś. I’m glad you’ve reconnected. I’ve always liked Freya. Plus, I’ve always believed that you have a special connection. So.”
“Yea, I think that too.”
I flipped the lights on inside and examined the aesthetic that the shop had taken on over the last twenty-four hours; the university students I had commissioned to paint, photograph, and create pieces had been busy all weekend and now I was seeing the fruits of their labor for the first time. It was incredible and I was overcome with emotion, a lot of pride. I swiped a tear away from my left eye and reached for the packet of tissues in my bag. Wiping at my nose, I moseyed through the space, sliding my eyes over the watery blues of the paintings, the black silhouettes of the photographs, and the life-like lines of the sculptures. For the trillionth time in my life, I thought to myself “Who says art can’t change a life?” It had certainly changed mine. For most of my adult life, I had been married to a man who had only seen numbers whenever he actually took the time to look around at his surroundings. I’m partially convinced that this wasn’t his fault; he was an accountant by trade, and a realist by nature. It was the strangest thing, but as time went on, I realized that I had not truly loved him in many many years. More like I was going through the motions in another life, while my true passions burned within the confines of my bones.
When it came to the point where I could no longer abide by the life we had built for ourselves, our two children were already grown and had since moved out of the house. The divorce was a grueling process, but with a little patience, and a lot of grace and forgiveness, I was able to fully move on with my life, blessed with the peace of knowing that I had done the right thing. Trying to explain this to my children had been another matter entirely, but in the end, I think they just wanted to see me happy. They had known for quite some time that this had not been the case previously.
Life thereafter had become a whole new adventure. I remained in my position as an art professor at the university, but also questioned my motives for doing so. I decided to go on sabbatical; I traveled by myself for three months, going wherever the wind blew me, meeting up with my kids for two weeks at the end. It was a time of healing, self-discovery, and rebirth. By the end of it, my eyes, heart, and mind were clear and ready to pursue things I had not previously thought possible. And at my age. 57.
Let me just say, it is a crazy life.
So, I bought a sliver of a building downtown, right in the middle of the pedestrian zone, and made it my business, both literally and figuratively, to make art a tangible thing. I pored all of my energy into brushing up on my sewing skills, and soon after began designing, re-engineering, and dying clothing. And, because I looked at this endeavour rather humbly, I decided that I couldn’t make it work on my own. I enlisted the help of my students, asking them to donate their work to the shop, which would then become a gallery/boutique hybrid. When I was finally ready to unveil my dream to the public, we had sold out of all of our tickets, and there was a proper queue at the door. Wearing something of my own creation and a huge smile, I served the guests champagne, and answered the same questions two hundred times. I didn’t care though; every time I answered, I felt my body become a little lighter. So this was what is was like to be free, impassioned, and appreciated. Good morning, world. How very nice it is to meet you.
I had everything I needed; a job I loved with all my heart, enough money, great friends, a huge circle of support, a growing network of colleagues, a quaint apartment to go home to, and my darling kids who were out pursuing their dreams in the big wide world. And, actually, it had become almost ridiculous how many men (of all ages!) had expressed their desire to spend extra time with me. In the beginning, I blushed a lot. As it went on, though, I learned to be flattered, but to only give hope to the select few. I would often stand at the mirror in the bathroom, speaking aloud to my reflection, asking her what in God’s name we had done right to be such a desirable human being.
“You have a badass aura, doc,” said Marv, one of my students at the university.
“A what?” I had replied, dumbfounded.
He looked over at me from where he was seated before his sculpture.
“I mean, you’re a positive force to be around.”
More silence from me. He smiled.
“You have a beautiful charisma. Your aura. It speaks for itself.”
“Oooooh.” I smiled and shrugged into my shoulders. He laughed.
To all of this, I must still admit that it is not perfectly easy to be alone in your late fifties. I come home to an otherwise empty apartment every night. The cat greets me, and I know she loves me in her own catish way, but she’s a bit brusque with her love. Cooking for one is bullshit entirely. Obviously there is no way around it, but I’m much happier to just eat a bowl of cereal and have two glasses of wine before I tuck myself into bed. Metabolism has slowed way down at this age anyway; who says I need a proper meal at nine o’clock at night? Not me, surely. Mostly, I’m happiest when I’m working long hours, coming home to work more, or getting dinner with my girlfriends. Oddly enough, quite a few of them happen to be single at this point in their lives as well.
I speak on the phone with my kids usually a few times a week. They send me a quick text to let me know they are alive and well, but I can’t help but give in to the desire to hear their voices as often as I can. My darling daughter usually never has time for a conversation that lasts over fifteen minutes. She’s either running herself ragged at her job, or taking care of every little thing her boyfriend may need. Sometimes I wonder if she actually realizes that she’s a person with needs herself. A beautiful person at that.
Tamaś, on the other hand, always makes time for me. I thank God all the time that I have a son; he has always been there for me. And he usually tells me something I didn’t know about what’s going on with his sister. She’s way more honest with him than she is with me.
Sometimes I blame myself for her situation. I think that, maybe, if I would’ve showed her how to be an independent woman sooner, then she might have learned to emancipate herself from oppressive relationships much more successfully.
Not that I’m complaining at all, but sometimes it’s very hard to be a mother, even at this late stage of the game. In fact, when I meet my girlfriends for much needed martinis, that’s what we mostly lament about; how to parent an adult without over-doing it. That, and dating.
Christ help us.
I have been seeing a man quite regularly for the past several months. He is incredibly nice, very handsome, honest, and creative. I think the first and the last of the traits mean the most to me. It is so nice to have connected with another creative mind. In fact, I had known him for quite a few years beforehand. He is another professor in the art department. Art History is his expertise rather than the hands-on, but I soon found out that he is incredibly capable and competent with his hands—in a lot of ways. He had gone through a separation from a long-term girlfriend a year before, and some time thereafter, we had bumped into each other in the cafeteria at seven o’clock in the evening— an ungodly hour for a coffee, but that’s what we both sought nonetheless. Ten minutes later, we were at a table in the corner, laughing ourselves ridiculous and making plans to have dinner that Friday. He’s nine years my junior.
After too much wine at a little Italian restaurant downtown, I took him to the boutique to unveil my brain child, and after he had perused it thoroughly, he was kissing me on the front steps, an open bottle of wine clutched in my hand as the passers-by made their drunken ways home.
He spent the night. We didn’t actually have sex, but there was a lot of cuddling involved. And snogging. So much snogging. What a kisser. The best ever, I thought.
My first thoughts in the morning were: 1. Why the fuck did we drink straight out of the bottle?! I have glasses! Who does that anyway? 2. I had a guy sleep over. Holy Christ. How long has that been? But then I looked over at him reclining next to me and thought, “Well, this is perfectly comfortable. Maybe we’ll go make pancakes.”
I guess that’s how it happens with people my age; we old souls. We are no match for the world of dating apps and hook-ups. Besides, I’d rather be alone than yoked to some chap who doesn’t bring me the pure level of contentedness that I can have when there is no chap at all.
I must say though, that this particular chap, Graham is his name, has been suiting me just fine. I just wish my kids would agree to meet him. They are still a bit shell-shocked I guess. I understand that, but they must know that life goes on. I know for a fact that their father has had a series of girlfriends. Social media is rather liberal with this sort of information.
One indiscriminate Wednesday night after I had just finished a four hour lecture, Graham took me out to an English pub for greasy food and a few beers, and we ended up back at my apartment where he was already kissing me like he meant it in the stairwell. The nice thing about him was that he always kissed me like he meant it. I had a fully stocked fridge, the exception to the rule, and we fed each other olives and drank a nice pilsner afterwards. After we had made love and I had cleaned myself up, I sat on the edge of the bathtub and called Tamaś. Just as he answered, Graham came in to relieve himself. He was courteous enough to sit down slowly, and I made my exit, tucking myself into a blanket on the couch.
“How was your week my dear?” I asked.
“It’s only Wednesday Mum, a bit early to say. But, so far its okay.”
“Good God, you’re right. I have no concept of time. Sorry. I’m a bit worse for the olives, too.” I said, laughing.
“Olives? Do you mean martinis?”
My son: he knew me too well.
“Actually, tonight its beer. Graham took me to the pub for a few rounds and then we came here and have drained the fridge.”
“Huh. That’s kinda weird. You must really like him.”
“I do. You should meet him. But that’s really besides the point. I want to hear about you.”
“Not much to tell, really. Work is really busy, which is good. I’ve been busy working long hours and then I go for a round with some guys and then I go home. It’s been fine.”
“Have you….talked to Freya?”
There was a startling pause on the line.
“Alright, and how is she?”
I was shocked by his hesitation.
“She’s fine, I, I—I dunno mum, I think I really hurt her.”
“What?” Suddenly I wasn’t feeling the drunken cloudiness anymore.
“She, well, I, we’ve been talking about things. Been going in a whole new direction and…she asked me something yesterday that I was entirely unprepared for.”
“What could that be, I wonder?”
“She asked me if I wanted children, and if they needed to be my own.”
“And what did you tell her?”
“I told her that yes I did, but not yet, I’m not ready. I just—God I never thought about any of that while I was thinking about anything with her. I feel really bad about it. I should’ve used my brain a little more.”
There was a sigh on the line and then I was certain he was lighting the end of a cigarette. I moved to the kitchen and followed suit.
“Well, what are you going to do? Was she angry?”
“No, not angry. I think just incredibly disappointed. Which may even be worse. I never wanted to hurt her. And I know that there’s something there. I’m just not able to commit to it all the way. I don’t want her to think I ever lied to her. I didn’t. I meant every word. And I still mean it. I don’t know what the future will bring. I’m just not able to give her the security she needs right now.”
We both were quiet
“We decided that she shouldn’t visit.”
At this, I groaned audibly.
“Why are you doing this?”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean you’re not giving yourself a chance. What if she gets here and you never want her to leave your life again? Ever.”
I took a drag from my cigarette.
“I know. Believe me, its occurred to me. She’s wonderful and I don’t want to live without her in my life. But I’m not ready to commit to what she needs.”
“My dear son, you have to commit to something in this life. It might as well be something that brings you unbridled joy and inspiration.”
“She does do that I think.”
“I know she does. I can tell by the sound of your voice. And how you talk about her.”
“You’ve always had a special connection.”
“You say that all the time Mama.”
“And I mean it every time.”
“Do you think I’ve made a huge mistake?”
I was quiet for a moment, smoking and considering. In fact, I did. But I didn’t know if it was my place to say.
“I think there’s something there, and that it deserves a chance so that the both of you can finally know for sure where you stand with each other. You’ve been friends for so many years. If you’re feeling something for her now, I think that it deserves a second look. And a chance. Most of all a chance.”
“But her son, how can I deal with that? I’m really not ready.”
“Tamaś, she lives a million miles away. You could start with seeing her, see what happens, and then I think you will have more clarity about everything else.”
“Do you really believe that?”
“I don’t know. I just know that I really don’t want to hurt her, and that if she comes, there is no promise that I can make to her that will be enough.”
“You can’t possibly know that. Until you see her again, you can’t possibly know that.” There was a breath of silence. “Unless you really aren’t all that interested to begin with. Is that what you’re afraid of?”
“I wish I knew.”
“Figure it out Tamaś, and whatever you do, be kind to her. And don’t be surprised if she tells you to go jump in the lake. You started it, and she may finish it, once and for all. Friendship may not be enough for her anymore after all of this.”
Shortly thereafter, we hung up, and I lit another cigarette. I was exhausted from the day, but couldn’t find a state of mind that would lead me to sleep. Graham came out of the bedroom, dressed in his chinos and a T-shirt.
“Marie? Are you coming to bed?”
I sighed and smiled.
“I suppose I will, yes.”
“Did you receive some bad news?”
“I can’t say really. Sometimes I just wish I could understand my offspring better.”
He smiled at me and held out his hand.
“Come on, we’ll put a round of mindless television on and I’ll hold you until you’re sleepy.”
“Am I a baby?”
I smiled up at him and took his hand. He chuckled.
“No, but everyone deserves to be taken care of at one point or another.”