It is Saturday evening. I’m visiting my friend Clare at her home. Downstairs her husband watches a ‘guy’ movie. Her little son, thirteen months old, is asleep in his crib. The smells of dinner, turmeric and garlic, linger. We sit on her couch and eat creamy cheese and those crispy crackers with the raisins that are my favorite. Between bites and sips of red wine we talk of motherhood, our work, her marriage, my search for love. We talk of God and the mystics, of the unexplainable nature of creativity. I speak of the sadness that follows me around and the anxious beating of my heart. I confess that I’m lonely for companionship, for someone who would choose to be there when I returned home and accept me whether I was weary or disheartened or joyous or triumphant. She does not flinch, does not look away, but remains watching with her clear eyes. “I understand,” she says. And in that simple sentence is the essence of friendship, of any loving relationship. I understand.
She’s just finished reading my latest novel. I flush with pleasure when she says it’s art I’ve made with my fingertips. She understands these things, I think, as I look around her living room, where her photographs and her husband’s paintings are displayed on their walls. This home is beautiful and eclectic, a reflection of two artists who took the ultimate leap of faith and married, bought a home together, started a family. All of it such a risk, I know now. Because sometimes it doesn’t work. Sometimes you have to let go and start again.
Before I leave, we embrace and thank one another for the gift of time. I feel loved and fed. The hollow place in my anxious heart has been filled with our kinship. But when I walk into the night air, the chill from the breezes off Puget Sound wrap around me. I shiver as I get in my car to drive east across the bridge to my life in the foothills. I cannot discern if it’s the damp, cold air or the sense of dread that chills me. I do not want to go home to an empty house. My girls are with their father and the house feels empty without them. I have a sudden image of a deep canyon and an echo. But I start the car and drive east.
When I arrive, I wait as the garage creaks to life, rising slowly, before pulling into my space. The tidiness of my nature isn’t evident here in the garage. Instead it hints at the messiness of my life. Books, photographs, saved papers and files are in boxes where a second car used to park. Our ‘fake’ Christmas tree, items set aside for donation, old speakers and a defunct computer crowd against the trash bins. On one of the shelves is my wedding dress preserved in one of those airless seals they do for you at the dry cleaner. “Your Wedding Gown” in fancy cursive adorns the box. It never ceases to draw my eye. It always makes me sad
Your wedding gown. I’d had it carefully put away after the wedding, hoping I might have a daughter to give it to someday. Maybe she would want to wear it for her wedding, or have it made into something new, I thought at the time. It is all tulle and sparkles and cut in a classic style that would hold up against the decades between weddings. But my two daughters, the ones I dreamt of and were blessed with, don’t want it. Not now. “Mom, wouldn’t it be bad luck to wear it since you and Daddy got divorced?”
I step inside. The cats greet me with their green eyes and flickering tails. I keep my coat on as I head upstairs to my bedroom, still chilled. The cats follow. I do not turn on any lights except the one in the bathroom as I change into pajamas and brush my teeth. The hollow feeling has returned. I stand in the doorway between my bathroom and bedroom. My quilt is the color of a clear sky right before nightfall with white pillows, newly washed and fluffed. Like an echo, I think of the Saturday night I hoped for at the beginning of my marriage. It smells of baked chicken and sounds like children laughing in the other room and tastes of red wine he poured while I tossed the salad. But it was not to be. This was. An empty bed.
I silently chastise myself for feeling so much self-pity instead of grateful for a quiet night to myself. But the emptiness remains. This is not the life I wanted, that I thought I’d have. No amount of bravery overcomes my sadness. My dream of a happy family has long since blown away in the breezes off Puget Sound. The possibility of a love of my own is doubtful, considering the odds of a woman my age attracting a man, not to mention how I am. You know, so much energy and emotion and my artistic soul. Plus, we come as a threesome. Three blonds for the price of one, I think, as I turn off the bathroom light.
The space between what I hoped for and what I’ve become – this is the place I live now. Echoes of the family I wanted are there in the garage. But inside is my life. An empty house on a Saturday night. Beds neatly made with no one in them. Sliding my bare feet into cold sheets. Two cats curling up near my feet.
All that said, I must fight my way through the hollow. I must, no matter what, have hope that tomorrow will be better. I know there is honor in continuing forth even when sadness wants to take us down, keep us from getting out of bed. And it is true that dreams morph. Disappointments often bring opportunities we couldn’t possibly imagine because they’re so much bigger than we ever allowed ourselves to hope for. Change brings pain but also chances for a new beginning. I am stronger than I was three years ago. Life is better, too, in many ways. I have the opportunity for love now, when before I’d accepted that my bad marriage was as good as it was going to get for me.
So tomorrow I will wake and open the latest manuscript and write, feed the cats, go to kickboxing and make dinner when the children come home tired and hungry. I will fight against the hollow, the sadness, for one more day. One minute at a time. I will embrace the family we’ve become – three blonds for the price of one. This is all I can do. And for now it must be enough to simply believe that a new, morphed dream awaits.