It was at that moment that I noticed how much gel was in his hair. Why would he use so much gel for hair that was so unevenly cut and starting to bald? Does he think he needs to look like Ross Geller, circa 1996? Tragic, I tell you. And why was his collar undone? What kind of person leaves their collar undone to propose? Is this really happening?
Then he pulled out a box. A velvet box. A red velvet box. Those kind of tacky boxes you see at places like Zales and think, “Well, I hope I never get one of those.” And then you do. It’s right in front of you, piercing your thoughts and crippling your relationship like weeks-old flowers. Your under-dressed, too-gelled boyfriend looks like a lame loser with a Zales box. And this is your life.
So do you run?
He opened the box to reveal a plain diamond on a plain band. Well, just what I wanted. Blah, you know, like my CPA boyfriend. But it’s not what I want. It’s lack of interesting detail makes me sneeze. Or maybe it’s the gel. The sparkle is nonexistent. The band seems scratched, even from my distance. I have taken several steps back. The whiff of gel is too much to take. I cannot even hold his clammy hands anymore. It’s too much.
This is not my engagement ring. This is not my life. I turn my Converse sneakers around on the concrete floor. I look at the window, the drapes covering too much of the top. It needs to be fixed and not be so blah.
So do you run?
Curlers in her hair, Holly picked up the phone. And then slammed it back down. She refused to use her cell phone for this. That would waste too many of her precious, not-unlimited minutes.
Holly stood. Paced. Sat. Stood. And paced some more. Her worn boots skirted across the linoleum her husband installed just weeks ago. She wanted tile, but what could she do? He lost his job days after they ripped out the rotting wood, and she was just a store manager. They weren’t allowed luxuries. And that bugged her. If she had known what a cheapskate he was going to be, she wouldn’t have married him. Didn’t she deserve more? Didn’t she work hard, too? Didn’t she deserve some stupid tile?
Holly sat again. Her husband was the problem. He always had been. He was always more interested in creating budgets and stupid Excel spreadsheets than her. He barely even kissed her anymore. Didn’t she deserve that? But above all of that… he’s the one who brought that awful woman into her life.
Biting her fingernails down even further and chipping away at the last of the fire engine red nail polish she painted just yesterday, she scowled. This was just a full-blown, outrageous nightmare. How could she do this? How could she confront her? The woman she was supposed to love, but just couldn’t? She loathed her. She wasn’t going to change her tune.
Holly picked up the phone again. This time, she dialed. Voicemail. She frowned. This could not be resolved by voicemail. Her mother-in-law could not call her a vile name at Christmas dinner and then only be called out via voicemail. Nope. Not going to happen this way.
So Holly hung up the phone. She wouldn’t deal with this further. She was done with this mother-in-law. She was done with this marriage and especially done with this ugly, ridiculous linoleum floor.
Zoe, tall and gangly, wearing her dated but comfortable Juicy Couture tracksuit, moves into the overrun shoe section. Manolo Blahniks are looking decrepit and certainly not worth full price on the stained, linty floor. Shoes thrown here and there. A harried store employee closes her eyes for just a moment. She opens them again, smiling as if she has never smiled before. Her eyes are piercingly blue like the scene you see upon landing on warm islands. But not the blue you see after you have been spoiled by the luxury of blue oceans. It is the initial blue. The perfect blue.
A petite customer with an unforgiving smile hits Zoe from behind. Zoe must move on from this zoo-like maze that is clothes and shoes and a hint of coffee. Moving upstairs, customers are tearing through sale racks. The non-sale racks are pristine. Clothes hang like bats in the night. There is no disturbance and no trace of lint or even a sole wrinkle. At the sale racks, customers move around each other quickly, snatching each item without a care for who might be nearby, seeking that perfect shirt for another day in just another life. One blonde woman throws a nasty glance that could kill to another blonde woman. They exchange a look of anger and move on. Their wrinkles around their eyes are pronounced, as if neither of them have smiled in years.
Zoe goes down the escalator. A mother is yelling at her daughter for jumping. The daughter, small and silly, keeps jumping. Zoe finally beelines for the nearest door after being hit by another unforgiving woman. She is now outside. And the sun has set. It is lighter out here than in Nordstrom, somehow.
This is when I get the dog. The best dog ever. The best dog ever with the cutest, little ears that spring up whenever his name is called. Or whenever something is said. Or whenever he is hungry. Whenever, whenever.
I gotta have it. I gotta have the dog. This is for my sanity, you know?
My dad comes in. Disrupting my thoughts. He wants me to make dinner. Why do I have to make dinner? He says it’s because I am not the child anymore. Am I not the child anymore? How old do you have to be to ‘not be the child anymore?’
“You must make dinner.” He says again. “Can you do that?”
“I can do that,” I tell him.
I am 20. I am free as a bird. I live with my parents. You know, to escape the rent. To escape the world around me. That’s where the dog comes in, you know. But I like birds, too. Maybe I should get a bird? What are birds like? Do they fly high? Do they jump at all? Will they give me big hugs when I cry? Will they force me to get outside, get walking? See the world? I don’t know. Maybe I want the dog. That’s what I always said I wanted. So that’s what I will keep with.
Oh no. I do have to make dinner. So I get the spaghetti. And the sauce. And I stir it in a pan. I try to get the clumps out. Why are there clumps?
I eat the food. It is bland. Too red. Keeps my eyes open too long. So I decide to leave. I don’t need to eat. I need to sleep. This is why I need the dog.
My brain goes off. It is night. I go to sleep. I dream of my future dog. This is gonna be when I get the dog. The best dog ever.
“I can do that.”
Turning around again, one last time, that’s when she saw it. The picture of them on the fridge. How could she have been so careless to forget this? It was the picture of all pictures. The picture of them at the Yankees game on a frigid May night in 2005. Their smiles radiated clearly from the picture. Her hair was still blonde then, flowing and curly, with just the right amount of bounce. Her mousse worked that day. Some days, mousse just did not create the perfect effect. It was crunchy and stilted or frizzy. But that day Maggie got it right. Like her hair, Maggie thought she had got life right that day.
Peter was Maggie’s first boyfriend out of college. He was one of those captivating Wall Street guys. Not the assholes one usually met in bars, prowling for their next lay. Peter was a gentleman, kindhearted. He called her Maggie May. May, not being more than a middle name, was a cute addition to her name, she thought. She had always wanted a nickname. She had always wanted someone as special as Peter to give her one. And here he was: her knight in shining armor: kind, rich, handsome, and a giver of nicknames.
And he still destroyed her.
Maggie knew that she had to take the picture off the fridge. She could keep it just for a few weeks. What was the harm in that, after all? It was a wonderful moment in her life with a wonderful man. And she couldn’t get rid of it. Right?
Maggie tucked the picture in her pocket, knowing full well that it was a mistake. But she had to take it. Peter was the love of her life. And maybe, just maybe, he would come back for her. He didn’t need that other woman he didn’t bother to give a nickname. No. He needed his Maggie May. And this picture would be a reminder of their struggle, and their triumph. It symbolized everything for them.
She would always be Maggie May to him. And in her own mind.
Her nest was empty. The children had grown up; the husband had died. And she felt like she had nothing. She felt like this could be the end.
That was, until she saw a brochure for Iceland. It was a casual happenstance—just waiting for an anxiety-ridden root canal at her evil dentist’s office. But this brochure—left by some poor schmuck who probably would need it less than her—took over her mind. Her anxiety melted away for a few moments, looking at the pictures of the Blue Lagoon and Dettifoss. What beauty she saw! The landscapes! The Icelandic horses! What a wonderful place to find herself.
So she would go. She had to go. Wasn’t this a sign? After all, she had had a disastrous year. Her husband was finally taken by cancer. He’d suffered for years, and the doctors originally claimed that he would survive. But they lied. Just like everyone lies at one point or another. And he was gone—just like that. Her world was shattered and she knew that she’d never love again. Why would she? Did she even care about that? She doubted it. Her true love was gone. And she just had her children. But, of course, they flew the coop, too. Her older daughter moved to the Northeast. Somewhere in Maine. Somewhere she’d never think to visit. And her younger daughter, well, she was just starting a life of drugs and alcohol. She had tried to get her daughter into rehab before her husband died, but it was useless. She knew that her younger daughter would either come around eventually… or have the same fate as her late husband. It was just a question of when.
Here she was. Waiting on her bed. Anticipating. She was leaving tomorrow. For the trip of a lifetime. The trip that could and would save her. She just had to let it. She just had to get through these next moments before the taxi came. Well, of course and the seven-hour flight with no food at all. And then, finally, the anticipation would be over. And she would finally be free. This was the anticipation she was always seeking, always waiting for… freedom from it all.
Here she had to go.
Hear me out, as I got to thinking about kindness… and kindness to all.
I am guilty of this. I know that you are, too. We’re happy and kind and nice to strangers. We thank our waiters profusely. We laugh with the man at the checkout. We’re friendly, even if we’ve had a bad day. And when we get home, we take out that bad day on the ones we love. Why do we do this? Because they’ll always be there? Or so we think. This Lenten season, instead of giving up something, I am trying to be kinder to those I love. It means something to keep an extra smile for our favorite people. They mean something. I want to keep them in my life. And the best way to do it… be kind. Be kind and nice to strangers; and also to the ones we hold dear.
Do you find yourself spinning? Looking for more? Not having enough? I do. And I wish I could stop.