Weekend Coffee Share: Perfect Circle

If we were having coffee this morning, it would have to be an iced coffee, with lots of milk and a splash of hazelnut. It’s a hot day already, with humidity at almost 100%, and I think we’d all be happier with something cold to drink.

I’ve been thinking about circles this week. Not just any circles, though. Those circles in some long-ago math class that I coasted through with a barely-passing grade, where the rings overlap and mark off a small segment of shared ground. I don’t remember what that little bit of shared ground is called, but I wonder if my old math teacher would be proud of the fact that I’m applying math to real life.

There’s been a lot of overlap in my life recently. Circles have been crisscrossing where I least expect it. Meandering lines have suddenly doubled back to form circles in surprising places.

Circle 1. At my first professional job as an adult back in the 1980’s, there was a very sweet lady named Donna who always looked out for me and helped me settle into the department. It turned out that she knew my father. Small world, right? That world got smaller yesterday, when I met her son, who turned out to be the pastor at my brother-in-law’s church.

Circle 2. At about the same time I was working with Donna, I started going to a big church in another town, where I became really active in a singles Bible study group. It ended badly for me in a way that really soured the taste of organized religion for me.

Oddly enough, one of the people from that group has ended up being a part of my life now, decades later and lots of miles away. She has quietly taught me more about forgiveness and compassion than I ever learned sitting on a pew anywhere.

Last week, another person from that church contacted me, more than twenty years since our last meeting. She said she had sampled one of my books and didn’t see God in it, and wanted to know what caused this. Her words were kind on the surface, but the unspoken judgement and implied recrimination hit me like a physical blow.

Circle 3. My ex-husband and I have been apart for more than two years, but we both laughed together on Wednesday when we realized that it was our twentieth wedding anniversary. Since our divorce isn’t actually final yet, we found a bit of humor in the fact that we can technically say we made it twenty years. He and I always shared the same peculiar sense of humor; even when things fell apart for us, that is the one thing we still have in common.

Circle 4. Most of my family is gone now, and I sometimes feel terribly alone. There just aren’t a lot of cousins or relatives in the area. I feel disconnected from the world somehow, like a hot-air balloon tethered to the earth by only a few strings, and those strings are being cut one by one. When I was married, the greatest gift my husband ever gave me was his family — brothers, cousins, aunts, uncles . . . all strings that helped tie me back to the earth. Connections.

Losing my marriage was like cutting all of those strings.

Those random circles all came together yesterday at a small memorial service on the shore of a little inland lake. A gentle breeze worked its way through the branches of the maple trees and tiny waves tickled the sandy shore as we gathered around the table that held flowers and a few small items. There were pictures of a tiny baby boy, born too early into a world that wasn’t ready for him.

I rode to the memorial with my ex-husband and stood with his family; they are my family, too, regardless of our divorce. His niece — our niece — was supported by a circle of those who love her, while Donna’s son, the pastor, officiated at the memorial for our first “great.”

God was there, too. In the words of the sermon, of course, and in the passages that were read from the Bible. But more than that, He was the one bit of shared ground, the one intersection of all those circles.

I can’t worship a God who thunders from a pulpit.

I believe that God is in the kindness and love shown in each of those circles. In Donna looking out for her younger co-worker while raising her son to be a spiritual leader. In my old church friend who teaches by example and not by judgement. In my ex and his family, who still accept me as one of them and hold onto those strings that connect me to this earth.

And yes, He was in little Logan during his few minutes of life in his mother’s arms, as hard as that is to believe through her grief.

So now it’s Sunday morning. Some folks are getting ready for church, and some of them may think less of me because I am sitting here chatting with friends over an iced coffee rather than heading out to a house of worship.

But for me, God isn’t just in a house of worship. He’s not in judgement and recrimination. He’s all around me in everything that we do, but most of all, he is in that little bit of shared ground, that place where all the circles of life intersect and bring us all together just when we need each other the most.

Image result for bible verse about kindness and compassion

 

The Man-Tree

My friend Matt is having a good laugh at my expense today, and it’s all because of something I said to him a few years ago. I guess I should have known that this particular comment of mine was going to come around and bite me on the butt, but somehow I really thought he’d forget about it.

At least, I hoped he would.

He was going through a rough time back then, feeling bad about the fact that he was still single in his mid-forties. And I treated him with all the smug assholery of a married person who thought she had all the answers. I was a married straight woman who thought I had all kinds of helpful advice to offer to a single gay man.

“You’ll never meet anyone if you don’t go out once in a while,” I told him.

He replied that he didn’t like clubs, didn’t feel like taking any classes or joining any singles groups, and refused to join a dating service.

I offered to fix him up with a friend. “L– is only a few years younger than you,” I told him. “He’s really cute, has these beautiful green eyes, is really active in community theater. I have known him since middle school, and I promise you he’s a really good guy.”

Nope, Matt didn’t do “fix-ups” or “blind dates” because he was afraid of being fixed up with a serial killer. Because, apparently, Matt harbors a secret belief that I have lifelong friends who just happen to be serial killers.

And that’s when I uttered those famous butt-biting words: “So I guess you think you’re going to meet Mr. Right by planting a man-tree in your living room and just picking the one you want?”

Fast forward several years, and now I’m the single one. It’s been more than two years since the Big Guy and I split up, and I haven’t been on a single date. Not one. I’ve had a few men flirt with me, but I can never tell if they are joking or serious, and I don’t have a clue what to do about the ones who just might actually be serious.

I don’t want to be single anymore, but I don’t want to have to find Mr. Right. I’m too old to go to clubs, and I hate crowds. I don’t like the idea of joining an online dating site. It’s just too random, and I really don’t think there are a lot of men on those sites looking for 50 year-old chubby divorcees.

I want Mr. Right to just appear. You know, by planting a man-tree in my living room and just picking the one I want.

If you listen really hard, you can probably hear Matt’s laughter from wherever you are. Seriously, I think he may be on the verge of giving himself an internal injury.

A while ago, I made a joke to a new co-worker about being available for fix-ups. I told her the same thing I’ve said to many people over the last couple of years: “Hey,” I joked, “if you’ve got any friends who are interested in middle-aged, overweight women, I’m up for a little matchmaking.”

She didn’t laugh. She just smiled and told me she had the perfect man in mind.

Holy shit.

Okay, so I haven’t actually met him yet. Haven’t even talked to him. In fact, he probably has no idea at this point that our mutual friend has been telling me about him. And if he does know, he may not want to meet me.

But with Matt’s laughter ringing in my years, I just told my co-worker to go ahead and talk to her friend. Set us up.

This may go nowhere. Maybe he’s not interested in dating or maybe he wont be interested in dating me. Maybe he’s a giant jackass who picks his nose at the dinner table. I don’t know what to expect. But if I’ve learned anything from everything that’s happened to me over the past few years, I’ve learned that we all have to take chances in life every once in a while. Step out of the comfort zone, do something that terrifies us, take that first frightening step, because life offers no guarantees.

No man-trees, either.

Leo

There’s a new guy in my life, and he is amazing. He’s got gorgeous golden hair and big brown eyes that are exactly the color of melted chocolate, and I am just blown away by the utter adoration I see in those eyes whenever he looks at me.

When our eyes meet, it’s almost like he can’t get to me fast enough. He can’t wait to get his paws on me and cover me with wet, eager kisses.  Sometimes, at night, he stands under my bedroom window and calls out to me, forcing me to open the window and hiss at him to hush before he wakes the whole street.

He can never be mine, though. He belongs to another woman. That’s right; I have become something I never thought I could be. I am the Other Woman.

But it’s all right, because Leo is sort of a hound. A real dirty dog.

Actually, more of Golden Retriever mix. Leo is my neighbor’s new dog, and I really don’t think it’s much of an exaggeration to say that he is obsessed with me. He’s been known to jump into my car and perch on the passenger seat with an expectant look on his face, as if to say, “Hey, baby, where’re we going?” He dodges past me and into my home to sit in the middle of my living room, and I swear he looks like he’s saying, “Hi, Honey, I’m home!”

Although his young owner is terribly embarrassed by his behavior, I have to admit that I’m kind of enjoying it. I miss the dog that I left behind with my ex-husband, so it’s always nice to be able to shower a little bit of affection on someone else’s dog once in a while. But more than that, it’s refreshing to have some attention and yes, adoration, from a male of any species at this point in my life.

God, I hate being single.

I was never very good at dating, even when I was younger. I was always self-conscious about something, whether it was my weight or my lack of experience with men or the fact that I am just not a very sophisticated person. I once dated a really, really rich guy and spent every date worrying about whether or not I was using the right fork. He was a very sweet man, but so far out of my league that it could never have worked.

So here I am, single and nearly fifty years old, and I write romance novels.  Could I be any more of a living cliché? Well, maybe if I get a few cats.

I think that’s why I tend to write about average people. The characters in my novels are not billionaires or heiresses or even corporate VIPs, although I enjoy reading books with those type of characters. I write about people like me. People who work as hairdressers and teachers or mechanics and worry about making the mortgage. I write about people who are searching for something in life, but not necessarily love; I try to write about people who are looking for a spot to land, a place to call home, a life that fits. And, of course, since I write romance novels, they always find love while searching for something else.

So far, my characters are also healing, physically or emotionally, because that’s where I’ve been in my own life these past few years.  Whether it was Tara recovering from her car accident, Lisa moving on after her divorce, or Maggie learning to follow through, I’ve tried to write about women who find love because they grow and heal; I don’t ever want to create the kind of female characters who have to be rescued by a man in order to be complete.  The flipside of this is my desire to create male characters that are also in need of healing and/or personal growth. Ethan needs to let go of his bitterness and anger, Sean needs to grow up and make a decision for himself, and Daniel needs to let go of his fantasy woman so he can get to know the real woman he is falling for.

I believe in love. I believe it’s every bit as necessary as food or water or air. I believe I’ll find it again, and that’s why I write romance novels despite my being single.

I think that’s also why I’m struggling so much with Their Love Rekindled. Cassie Garcia is a single mom, a widow trying to repair her life after losing her firefighter husband in Her House Divided. She is a woman with many secrets and a responsibility to protect her dead husband’s reputation in a small town full of whispers and gossip. In this book, I’m trying to show another side of the cozy little town I’ve built in the rest of my series.

I love Cassie. She’s a great character to write.

Her love interest, however, is giving me trouble. He’s her first love, a teenage romance coming home after being gone for too many years.  He’s a soldier and . . . that’s it. I wanted to give him PTSD or some horrible war injuries, but everything I write just comes out clichéd and melodramatic. Overused. Been there, done that, read the book and saw the movie.

So I think my soldier is going to go back overseas for a while, at least until my next book. Cassie’s high school sweetheart is still coming home to rekindle a few things, but his wounds are from a different type of battle. While Cassie has closed off her emotions in order to focus on her goals, Aaron is a lost soul searching for answers to questions he has spent years trying not to ask.

I like Aaron. He’s a good guy, but a bit of an asshole.

My Beach Haven stories have been all about people finding a place to belong in a warm, loving community. It’s about a small town that’s more like a family. Their Love Rekindled is about the uglier side of small-town life, with the gossip and judgment that sometimes come with everyone knowing everyone else’s business. In the end, the question isn’t as much about Cassie and Aaron rekindling their love for one another as it is about rekindling their love for their home town.

And . . . now I’m excited about it again. Someday, I may write about a billionaire who comes in to rescue the damsel in distress. I may write a historical romance set in the old Wild West. I don’t know where I’m going or what kind of things I may write someday, and I’ll never say never about any kind of topic or character. But for right now, I’m happy writing about men and women in a small town; I’m happy writing about average people like me, people who have a lot of growing and healing to do on the way to finding love.

And one of those characters, somewhere along the line, is going to have a dog named Leo.

Believe

I think I was probably thirteen or fourteen years old when I went to the wedding of a family friend and heard the minister talk about true love.  He reminded all of us that Eve was created from Adam’s rib, and then went on to explain to the congregation that this means there is a perfect match for each of us. For every man, he said, there is a woman bearing his rib; for every man, there is a woman who makes him whole.

Let’s explore this a little, shall we?

So there is one perfect match for me.  Okay.  What if he lives in Timbuktu and I never meet him?  What if he died of Reye’s syndrome when he was eight years old?  Wait — maybe he’s alive and well and right here in Michigan, but he’s gay. That is the kind of luck I have.   Maybe I already met him when I was too young and too picky, and I never gave him a chance because he was short.  Maybe he is married to the wrong person.  Or maybe I met him and missed my chance because I was already married to the wrong person.

And really, who is to say that my husband was “the wrong person”?  We shared some good times along with the bad, and we made three incredible children together.  Maybe he was my perfect match but we were just too stupid and selfish to figure out how to stay married.

No, I don’t believe that there is only one perfect person for each of us.  Life just can’t be that cruel.

“The heart wants what the heart wants.” I’ve heard this saying so many times over recent weeks.  True romantics who get all misty-eyed and emotional, who gulp and sniffle while moaning that they couldn’t help themselves, couldn’t help falling in love because it was just bigger than they were, an irresistible need to be with a soul mate after eyes met across a crowded room.

Come on, let’s be honest with ourselves.  The only thing that meets across a crowded room is libido.  The only thing bigger than anyone is desire, and the mating that follows has nothing to do with anyone’s soul.  Rather than the heart wanting anything, it’s more along the lines of “the dick wants what the dick wants.”

princess-bride-westley-and-buttercup-8476325-1280-720

Okay, so maybe I’m a little angrier than I realized.

I read romance novels.  I love movies like Somewhere in Time and Heart and Souls.  I sing along with Don Williams about believing in love.  I believe that I will fall in love again, and that I will someday be happy with a man who treats me the way I deserve to be treated.

I believe in love.

What I don’t believe in is fairy tales. Destiny.  Kismet.   In real life, Prince Charming became a bad guy on General Hospital.   Princess Buttercup married Sean Penn while Westley ended up playing a campy villain in the next generation’s fairy tale movie.

Stuart_Damon_Lesley_Ann_Warren_Cinderella

I had the whole eyes-across-a-crowded-room experience once.  It was my first relationship, and I was hopelessly immature about it; I cherish my memories of him, but it wasn’t the kind of love that lasts a lifetime.  He taught me about love and about sex, and about letting go when it was over.  He didn’t break my heart.  He woke it up.

There was no crowded room the night I met my husband.  It was just him and me, with his shy smile and the bluest of blue eyes.  We rode in his pickup truck to a hockey game, where he apologized for swearing in front of me when the Orlando Solar Bears scored on the Kalamazoo Wings.  We bumped into my sister and her family, and he didn’t know I heard him tell her that I was beautiful.

Me, beautiful.

I kept the ticket stub in my jewelry box.

We fit.  We laughed together so easily, and talked about past loves, past hurts.  We fell too fast.  Bought a decrepit old house to fix up and started making babies and for the briefest of moments it looked like all of our dreams were going to come true.  But somewhere along the line, we stopped laughing.  The renovations on the house never happened, and we fell out of love as easily as we fell into it.

I still believe in love.

I’m not going to make eye contact with some stranger across a crowded room and fall hopelessly in love.  Nor will I ever tumble head over heels because a man says I am beautiful. I know better.  I am not going to create impossible dreams of a glorious future with anyone.  I want reality.

I believe in reality.  And the reality is that there is nothing magical about true love.  No Kismet, no Destiny, no “meant to be”.  No perfect, mystical, once-in-a-lifetime, pre-destined match.

Love is just . . . love.  That’s all it is.

Believe it.

Dear Santa

Dear Santa,

I know you don’t get many letters from people my age, but I am writing to you because I find myself facing Christmas this year without very much to believe in.

I can accept the fact that there won’t be many presents under the tree for me.  I’m an adult; I can handle it.  The Big Guy and I have agreed that it would be foolish to exchange gifts this year, and I’ve always taught my kids to spend their money on each other rather than on me.  With Mom and Dad and The Girls gone, that leaves only my sister, with whom I have also agreed not to exchange gifts.

Christmas isn’t all about the presents.   But Santa, I still have a wish list of everything that I want this year.

I want to sign the papers on my little house and get started on the next part of my life.  It’s just a worn-out manufactured home on less than an acre of land, but it’s in my price range and it’s got enough bedrooms for my kids and me.  And it’s got closets, something I have lived without for the past eighteen years.

Ah, closets!  I could spend weeks extolling the virtue of having places to put things away!  But I digress.

I want an easy winter this first year on my own.  It has been too easy to sit back and let the Big Guy do all of the driving in bad weather.  He says he will still do more than his fair share of it now, but I don’t want to be that ex-wife.  I want to get along with him and be nice to each other despite our divorce, but I don’t want to need him.

I will not be pathetic.  I will not need a man who doesn’t need me.

Santa, I want a good night’s sleep.  I’ll settle for five or six good hours, if that’s all I can get.  I want to drift off gently instead of tossing and turning until I pass out from sheer exhaustion, and I want to stop waking up at two, at three, at four-thirty, staring at the ceiling and listening to thoughts and memories chase each other around my mind until I give up and make an extra-strong pot of coffee to get me through the day.  Coffee that I used to divide between his white Chemtreat mug and my seagull mug every morning, but that I now pour into just mine.

Coffee for one, please
Coffee for one, please

Santa, I want my kids to like the Upgrade, and I beg you to see to it that she loves them, treats them well.  But please, please, see to it that they don’t love her more.  Give me something, some way to compete in their eyes.  She is younger, prettier, happier with this new love in her life.

Please, Santa, give my children the gift of understanding that their boring, lonely old mother has always done her best.

And someday, Santa, I want to love someone again.  Maybe not this year, maybe not for several years.  But please, let me know that I haven’t lost the ability to love, that my heart is going to be good for something besides just pumping blood back and forth in my chest.

I don’t need roses or candlelight dinners.  I just want someone who will say “I love you” first instead of always “love you, too”.  Someone who will sit with me on the couch and watch stupid TV shows together or hold my hand in public, who doesn’t care what people think if he kisses me right in the middle of the park during the town Christmas Festival.  Someone who cares enough to remember the stupid, tiny details about me, like my favorite color or the fact that I hate apple pie.

Someone who will still think I am beautiful, even after eighteen years – and who will say so once in a while.

Someone who won’t go looking for an Upgrade, because I will be enough for him.

Someone who will love me as much as I love him.

All I want for Christmas, Santa, is a little bit of Hope that everything is going to be okay, and that life is going to get better.

Space

It’s 2:39 and I can’t go to sleep

There’s too much space.

How can someone so big be so small?

Balanced, hugging the pillow

You make eye contact with the wall

While I count each turn of the ceiling fan.

The space between us holds so much

We sleep wounded and wake up afraid

Share morning coffee and a kiss

With a good-bye and I-love-you.

We survive our day dreading our night

To lay in silence once more

Connecting with walls and ceiling fans

With too much space between us.

It’s 2:39 and I can’t go to sleep

Because of all that space.

Off With Her Logic!

“Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.” – the White Queen, Alice in Wonderland.

What are the six impossible things you believe in? (If you can only manage one or two, that’s also okay.)

Believing in six impossible things before breakfast isn’t as difficult as it sounds.  Most of my beliefs are pretty impossible or at least defy logic.

I believe in God.   I don’t necessarily believe in organized religion.   I know that Christianity doesn’t always make sense; that so much of it depends on having faith in something that I can’t see or prove.  But I have to believe that there is something, someone with a plan.  Someone bigger than I am, someone in charge.

Rational and scientific people can show me all kinds of proof to the contrary, but I will never stop believing.  My faith is as much a part of me as my heart and lungs; I couldn’t survive without any of them.

I believe in ghosts.  We have a ghost in our house who likes to turn on the TV during the night.  She seems to especially enjoy Craig Ferguson.

She stands beside our bed and gives me a sad, sad smile whenever one of my kids is sick or troubled about something.  I’ve done my research so I know who she is – or was—and I think it’s pretty cool that she watches over our kids like this.

I believe in love at first sight.  I don’t believe that it only happens once in a lifetime or that it lasts without a hell of a lot of hard work, but I believe in that sudden, instant connection that goes deeper than simple attraction.

I believe in luck because I am the luckiest person alive.  I hate to mention my accident again, but think about it:  the tree that landed on me was roughly four and a half feet in diameter.  It landed on my head hard enough to break my spine in five places, but didn’t crush my skull or damage my spinal cord.   It landed on my chest hard enough to pin me in the vehicle, but didn’t damage any internal organs.   I lost use of fingers on my left hand, but I am right-handed.

Best luck of all?  My kids were in the vehicle but were unharmed.  Luck.  No other explanation.

I believe in trusting instincts.  If it feels wrong, it is wrong.  Period.

The best example of this is a story my father used to tell.  He picked up a hitchhiker while driving cross-country in the 1970’s, but the kid made him more and more nervous as time went by.  The kid –Jeff—was polite and clean-cut and did nothing to arouse suspicion, but Dad said his gut instinct kept gnawing at him until he finally kicked Jeff out of the car at a bus station.  For years, he told us about Jeff and promised that we would see him on the news one day.

We did.

Jeff’s last name was Dahmer.

My final impossible belief is this:  I believe in Karma.  Not as some vindictive force that will smite the wicked and so forth.  But as just a certain degree of justice in the universe.  Mean people don’t win.

Sounds childish, I know.  But I believe that fate will eventually get around to everyone.

 

Spoons

Sometimes at night you are here

breath stirring my hair

hand warm on my hip.

Spoons.

Flat of my feet against your knees

shoulders against your chest

safe inside your curve.

If I turn, I know how you’ll look

blue eyes closed

mouth slightly open

cheeks flushed.

So young in your sleep.

Pink morning light outlines your jaw

on the flowered pillowcase

I can smell your cologne:

Eternity.

You open your eyes with a drowsy smile

and vanish with the alarm clock’s ring

not a dent in the pillow

no Eternity.

It’s been a year today

When do I start getting over you?