Believes, Hopes, Endures

Irene stood on the platform dressed in her best suit, a soft mauve wool gabardine over a cream silk blouse with a loose bow at the throat. Her stylish, new and, for her, expensive and very flattering (her mom said so!) black felt hat atop her smooth auburn hair. Her neat little feet were snug in black suede stacked heels.

“Wear your coat!”

“Oh, no, mother, no. It’s so old and ratty.”

“Not so ratty and it’s warm. It looks like it’s whipping up a storm out there.”

“Not today. It can’t possibly storm today.” Irene was sure her happiness controlled the weather.

“If you say so.” Her mother threw up her hands in resignation, but she understood her daughter. She’d been young herself, filled with yearning and hope, her own man away in faraway Europe — Holland, he was. Irene’s young man was one of the lucky ones in this war who’d fought on only one front. He’d seen action on some Pacific Island, but he was coming home.

Irene waited, her heart filled with anticipation. Finally they could begin their lives together as they had planned since high school. She’d filled some of the bleak and lonely months by preparing for their new home — embroidering tea-towels and pillow-cases that she trimmed with tatted lace. She’d made her first quilt! Her grandmother had shown her everything from piecing the design to quilting by hand on her old quilting frame. When she had money left over from her job at the five and dime, she bought something for their house. Pots, pans, anything she thought they would need. “I want everything new in my house,” she’d told her mother.

“We all do, dear,” her mom had answered, smiling at Irene’s youth and naiveté. She was not going to burst her girl’s bubble. She knew too well what that felt like.

Snow began to drift slowly in tiny, tense flakes. Irene looked up at the sky, a uniform gray. “Mom’s right,” she thought, wishing she had a coat. Flakes like that meant cold.

Suddenly bells clanged. Irene heard a train whistle, and the approaching chug-chug of an engine. It pulled into the station and the air-brakes hissed as the train stopped. Irene stood back, looking at the doors opening along the train. She wanted to watch him before he saw her, to savor the moment of his arrival. She had imagined this moment, running to him and him lifting her in the air in an embrace. They would kiss — a fervid, passionate kiss that captured all the years and fears, a kiss for the future, too.

The train’s brakes sighed. The conductors went down the train placing steps on the platform. The hand trucks were wheeled to the open doors of the baggage cars and the porters and baggage handlers began unloading the heavy footlockers. All the trains were full of soldiers coming home.

Irene, standing on tip-toe, watched the doors, her teeth chattering as the tiny flakes fell more rapidly leaving a sift of dry powder on the platform. Dozens of young men in uniform got off the train into the arms of mom, or dad, girlfriends, wives and children. Some came out with no one to meet them. They shuffled their duffle bags onto their shoulders and walked into the station and off to wherever they were going.

“How sad that is,” thought Irene, imagining their loneliness, wishing she could greet them all.

Then she saw him. She watched, thinking he would look for her from the bottom step where he could see above the crowd, but he didn’t. He stepped out and turned back to the train, smiling. He reached up to help someone, and down came a petite Japanese girl, dressed to the nines with a fox boa around her neck, smiling at him. Once on the platform, Jim leaned over her and wrapped her in his jacket. They hurried together into the station.

Irene walked home in the blowing snow. She wished she could take out every embroidered chicken and flower from every tea-towel, untangle every thread of tatted lace and return the threads to the spindles. She wished she could undo the pieces of the pretty quilt and put them back into the rags and scraps from which she’d cut them, and, instead of all those hours learning to quilt from her grandmother, she wished she’d taken the old woman out to pick buffalo berries and chokecherries for jelly. She wished she could walk backward through that miasmic fog of hope that had carried her to the bitter moment with the knowledge she had now and regain every lost hour.

But that’s not how things worked. Many of her lovely things made their way to the church charity Christmas sale. Irene was grateful she didn’t catch cold, and she never wore the hat again. All Jim had to say was, “I didn’t know how to tell you, so I didn’t. We got married in Okinawa.”

Reading a Friend’s Reflections

I’m reading a book written by a friend. The book is about some of his solitary journeys, mostly in Alaska. The writing is often beautiful and sometimes I’m able to perceive its beauty. The thing is, he writes in Italian.

In one of the stories he writes about arriving at the cabin he leased for several years and where he will spend five weeks. To get there he has to hire a hydroplane. In this segment the hydroplane has two other passengers. When they see that he is being dropped off in the middle of nowhere, they begin to caution him about the dangers of being in the wilderness alone.

One of the things I KNOW about this person is that would piss him off. We hiked in Arches National Monument very late one afternoon through dusk into night. Our destination was the Delicate Arch overlook. The road to the Delicate Arch was closed, and we wanted to see the arch, so we walked and ran. We had to hurry. On our way, a man tried to stop us telling us we’d never get there in time to see it and we’d never find our way back in the dark.

I thought my friend was going to belt the guy for interfering and slowing us down. I was pretty sure we’d find our way back in the dark. As for the Delicate Arch? NOT seeing it was not as important to me or my friend as trying. Did we get there? We did. You can draw your own conclusions about whether we got back.

My friend has written in his book that the last thing he needed to hear when he’s dropped off in the actual middle of true nowhere is a couple of strangers cataloging the risks. He knows the risks, and he is apprehensive, but how useful is fear when he’ll be there for five weeks alone?

As I read my friend’s words, I thought about Reinhold Messner saying in his film for Outside Magazine “My Life at the Limit,” that it wasn’t climbing Everest without oxygen that scared him. Doing it alone scared him. Solitude scared him and that was what he was conquering, not the mountain, not the lack of air to breathe.

I’ve never had to confront solitude like that, but my whole life has been pretty solitary, mostly by choice. As a kid I was constantly trying to get out by myself somewhere, the woods, the bluffs, the hills, the mountains. That and wanting a dog seem to have been the consuming forces of my life. When I got my first REAL dog (Truffle) I understood what the combination meant for me. Freedom. I could go ANYWHERE with a big dog. It was a liberating partnership.

My friend has described himself as a misanthrope. Maybe he is. That’s something no one but him can possibly know. I’m not. I like people, but there is a difference between solitude in nature and experiences in nature with friends. I like both, but probably I like solitude in nature (with a dog) best (though I never turn down a chance to hike with a friend because it is fun). I have been stopped on many trails by people asking if I were afraid to hike alone. My answer was always no, that I was more afraid NOT to hike.

Still, I have no experiences that compare with being dropped by a hydroplane at a remote Alaskan cabin where I will stay for five weeks, except, maybe, my whole life. That’s something to reflect on as I continue reading these stories.

Ladies Lunch

“Just the two of you?” asked the girl in the black leggings, black button down shirt and purple cummerbund.

“Yeah. JUST us.”

“Inside or out?”

“Outside, please.”

“Jenna will seat you. Have a nice day!”

Elizabeth and Sharon followed another legging clad nymph, this one also in black leggings and black shirt but with a red-orange cummerbund. “Will this do?”

“It’s fine,” said Sharon.

“Can I get your drink orders? Your waitperson will be Wesley.

“Sure, I’ll have a strawberry daiquiri and my friend will have…”

“A martini, please.”

“Perhaps you’d like to refer to our martini menu. We have a variety of martinis, strawberry martinis, sour apple martinis garnished with a Granny Smith apple curl. There’s our famous Abuela martini with Mexican chocolate and vanilla, or maybe my personal favorite, the Blood Orange which features two citrus juices, strawberry vodka and a splash of thyme infused…”

“A martini. Dry gin, dry vermouth, an olive. Do you have this?”

Jenna nodded. “We do.”

“Good. That is the martini I want.

Sharon raised an eyebrow, “Shaken or stirred?”

Jenna looked at the women blankly.

“Shaken or stirred. Whatever the bartender’s up for.”

As Jenna walked away with their drink order, Elizabeth shook her head. “Remember that Devo song, ‘Freedom of Choice’?”

“No. That kind of music never did anything for me.”

Elizabeth looked across the patio toward the fountain. At a small, intimate table in the corner an elderly couple sat holding hands across the table, staring stupidly into each other’s eyes.

“I just wonder why.”

Noticing the drift of her friend’s eyes, Sharon said, “You’re not going to make another foray into THAT are you? Jesus. You’re nearly seventy.”

“No, but looking back, I wonder why we were all so inarticulate.”

“Who’s having the martini?” Wesley appeared in a red-orange shirt, black pants and violet cummerbund.

“My friend,” Sharon gestured at Elizabeth. “The strawberry daiquiri is for me.”

“I think he could have guessed who the daiquiri is for, Sharon.” Elizabeth grinned. Sharon was the take-charge type, always organizing reality.

“Whatev’. You were saying?”

“Back in our fresh-blossom days, why were we so inarticulate?”

“I don’t think we were. I think we were VERY articulate. Way more than ‘Thx’ and ‘Ur wlcm’.”

“We didn’t have those options. I wonder if I’d been able to text I’d have managed to express more of my feelings.”

“Like what? ‘Luv u’?” Sharon laughed so hard that pulverized strawberries and rum nearly came up her nose.

“Yeah, maybe.” Elizabeth thought of at least ONE situation that would have been helped A LOT with a text saying ‘Luv U.” She took a long pull on her martini. “I don’t think we were all that articulate. Yeah, we could argue about shit, but self-expression? You don’t remember all those seminars, workshops, retreat weekends where couples went off to learn to ‘share’?”

“Oh yeah. Why I didn’t think of those? Those were SO helpful!”


“Well, yeah. I found them very helpful, now that you mention it. Didn’t you? Had a lot to do with LSD and self-discovery, if I remember right. It was about discovering our potential, sharing our authentic selves with others.”

Elizabeth shook her head. “I remember going to something at my church where we made collages from magazines to reflect our ‘inner selves’. To whom? All I remember of that collage was lighting a match, blowing it out, and opening the cardboard end to make a roach clip. I glued it to the collage, a 3D feature. As if that was information? It just said I was 18, and I’d smoked weed. I thought I was so cool.”

“Who had the braised veggies with braised mahi and braised vinegar and oil on a plate of braised air?” asked Wesley who’d returned with lunch.

Sharon had her hand upbraised. “I do and my friend is having…”

“He knows, Sharon.”

“OK, right there. A place where you DON’T communicate but you could. You could say, ‘I’m having the freshly smashed peanut puree with grape reduction on the housemade gluten free panini.”

“Esalen. That’s the place everyone was going to. What BS.”

“OK, Liz here’s the thing. You regret you didn’t communicate with the men in your young life…”

“Not as much as I regret they didn’t communicate with me. Now I’m older I get what they were trying to say.”

“…OK, you regret the poor communication, but you reject — out of hand — the things that were around to try to fix that. We were raised by people who didn’t communicate. They drank.”

“I still think those encounter group things are creepy, and I never did any drugs — well, weed. I guess the problem is I’m more Edward Abbey than a touchy-feely encounter group.”

“Edward Abbey? THAT was your model?”

“Maybe. You know what he said about that stuff? ‘Never did get to know those spiritual amphibia crawling in and out of Esalen hot tubs.’ That’s a great line. A Fool’s Progress.”

“Abbey didn’t do so well with luv, either.”

Bag of Beans

“Barb, c’mon. It’s a beautiful day. Let’s head up to the hills and take a hike.”

“Last time we got lost.”

“We weren’t lost. Saying we were lost is a real stretch. We’re here at home, aren’t we? Clear proof we weren’t lost.”

“You and your stupid short cuts. Through acres of dried cow paddies. No. I’m not buying into your ‘rugged individualist’ meta-identity, Trevor. I’m going with Angela. We’re getting mani-pedis.”

Trevor shrugged. He went to the kitchen to make some coffee, but when he got there, he found no coffee. “Sweet cheeks, didn’t we just buy coffee?” he called down the hallway.

“I threw it out.”

“Are you out of your mind? Coffee doesn’t grow on trees! Well, actually it does, but it isn’t free. Why on earth would you throw out five pounds of freshly solar-roasted Colombian coffee?”

“It’s not good for us. I read an article. Drinking a lot of coffee causes digestive problems.”

“Key words there, babe, ‘A lot’. In reality — which you seldom visit — plenty of very reputable studies show that coffee can protect us against Parkinson’s disease, type 2 diabetes and liver disease, including liver cancer AND it appears to improve cognitive function and decrease the risk of depression. You’re just wrong, plus that was $50.”

“I know I’m wrong all the time, but you should listen me.”

“OK, so that’s a blatant contradiction. If you’re wrong all the time, I should absolutely NOT listen to you.”

Barb heard the front door slam. About half an hour later she heard it open again. Trevor soon stood in the bedroom doorway with a small bag of coffee. “Do I have to lock this up or are you going to leave it alone?”

“I hate you.” Barb began to cry.

“Oh Baby, don’t cry.”

“We fight all the time. We don’t like the same things. We don’t agree on anything. Why are we married, especially now that we’re pregnant?”

“Holy fuck, we’re pregnant?”

“I found out yesterday. She reached under her pillow and pulled out the little plastic and paper evidence. Trevor tried not to wince at the fact that Barb had been sleeping with her head over dried urine and, well, he had too.

“Oh, darling!” he wrapped his arms around her, cradled her head on his shoulder, kissed the top of her head, told her he loved her. They forgot all about the fact that they were fundamentally incompatible and each in their private heart, resolved to live happily ever after.

Dating. Puking in the Mercedes

Divorced. “Pushing thirty.” Pressure everywhere to “find someone before it’s too late.” Pretty typical? Yeah. Definitely, but it was the late 70s…

So what? Oh, kid, you have no idea how things WEREN’T back then, but it was pretty odd for a (reasonably) good-looking woman to still be on her own and employment options were far more limited than now. Feminists were IN ACTION but the action was too new to have born fruit. “You wanna’ go to a fern bar and meet some men?” asked her friends one Friday evening. (Actually, no one ever called “fern bars” “fern bars” — but they were. Potted ferns hanging from macrame, uh, hangers; negative ion machines blasting good vibes secretly and silently into the crowd.)

“I’d rather die.”

“You’re never going to meet someone this way.”

“How is some joker asking me my sign meaningful at all?”

Fact was, she loved someone, a sad little love story that might make money if she ever sits down and retypes it (it was printed out from her Amiga back in the 80s).

At work, administrative assistant to the directors of Development and Alumni Relations, she was surrounded by young law students. Sandy, Dean’s secretary, said, “You have to try. Mr. Right isn’t going to come flying through your door.”

Men were icky and gruesome in their way. She’s already been beaten up by her first husband. Once he was gone, the horror didn’t stop. The guy downstairs had attempted to break down her front door. She retreated to her bathroom with the phone and called the cops. When they arrived, and questioned the guy, he said, “I just wanted to get into her pants. What’s wrong with that?” Of course, they cuffed him and took him away. Men — good or bad. You decide.

Meanwhile, Sandy, the Dean’s Secretary, gave Larry Poser the phone number he’d been asking for. She got a call. “You want to go out with me? Sandy said you might.”

Larry Poser. Ah. Skinny, short, big nose, black hair, but funny. Very funny. But ugly. Yeah, definitely fell into the category she found ugly. Hmmm.


They went out and had a pretty good time. Poser WAS funny and so was (is) she so they had a lot of laughs. A week or so later he showed up at her apartment with a bottle of wine. They sat on the floor and drank wine and talked. He said, “I always figured lively funny people like you would be slender. But you’re not. That’s too bad.”

She was far from fat, but God designed her to be compact and strong, and close to the ground. “Fuck you,” she thought. “Why are you here?” she said.

“I like you. I’m here because I like you. Listen. My friends PD and his wife, WIFE, have asked us to go out with them Saturday. We’re going to that new Italian restaurant and then for dessert. Do you want to come?”

PD was the chief public defender. He and his wife — both early thirties and beautiful — lived in a beautiful restored Victorian on Capital Hill. She was a grad student. Shit. And how could Poser be THEIR friend?


She borrowed an outfit from Bess who had nice clothes. Poser, PD and WIFE came to pick her up in their Mercedes. They went to the restaurant, which was beautiful. The food was delicious, the company was great. PD was VERY funny, but on top of that, she was very nervous. She realized she didn’t really like Poser at all and wondered why she was out with him. She felt she was on exhibition — something that always terrified her (she had a hard time speaking in public and had never made it through a piano recital as a kid). Dinner over, she and WIFE went to the Ladies to do whatever. WIFE said, “Poser really seems to like you.”

She felt a very insistent wave of nausea, a combination of fettuccine, laughing while eating and nerves. She held it down. “Really?”

“I think so. He talks about you a lot.”

The nausea returned.

They walked down the curved staircase to the front door. PD made a show of opening the back door of the Mercedes (brand new) to let she in. She sat down. PD closed the door. She puked all over the door, the floor and an edge of the seat.

“Take me home,” she said.

“No way. We’re going out for dessert.”

And they did.

A few days later, back at the law school where she worked, she was talking to Sandy. “How was it?”

“I puked in the guy’s new Mercedes.”

“Well, that’s memorable.”


“Do you like Poser?”

“Not really.”

“Good. I overheard something the other day in the hall.”


“He was going out with you because the Dean likes you. He wants a recommendation letter.”

“Yeah, I didn’t think he liked me. It’s mutual. I don’t like him, either. He’s ugly.”

“Well, Tony Pulire has been asking about you. He’s not ugly.”

That’s another scary story for another day…

Nothing ever made her more nervous than dating. Sure, it appears to be a sweet experience, with candy, flowers, romance and so on, but it’s a Mean and Vicious Killer, the “man of her dreams” a holy grail and She NEVER knew her favorite color. And no; the adrenaline was NEVER worth it. She has hiked alone in remote mountains (alone with dogs, that is), had encounters with rattlesnakes, coyotes and seen a mountain lion. She’s traveled around Europe by herself, lived in China during the early 80s, and has done many things that others think require courage. For her, they’re just adventure and life is nothing without adventure. But dating? Gratuitous shame, angst and misery.

Luv’ Story

“What’s wrong, darling? Your cheeks look wan and drawn.”


“You look pale, tired.”

“Uh, nothing’s wrong.”

“You sure? I miss your rosy cheeks.”

“I have NO idea what you’re talking about. I didn’t sleep, that’s all. So, did you get the raise?”

“No. The subject didn’t even come up in my review.”

“You had an annual review and DIDN’T talk about money?”

“It happens.”

“Not in my world. We need more money, Troy. We can’t keep living like this.”

“What exactly is wrong with ‘like this’?”

“Last night, at Marcy and Trevor’s, we were the only ones…”

“‘Only ones’ what?”

“You know what?”


“If we have to have this conversation you just don’t get me.”

“That you’re a superficial, materialistic little bitch? Sweet cheeks, I’ve always known that. So where do you want to have dinner tonight?”

‘Luv (Because I Haven’t Written a Cynical Love Story in a While)

“Where are you going?”

“I’d rather not say. I’m a free person. I can go where I want when I want.”

“Yeah, but, when will you be home?”

“None of your business.”

“Wow. What did I do to deserve this?”

“I feel like you’re smothering me. I don’t have any freedom.”


“Seriously. Think about it. You always know where I am, what I’m doing, who I’m with.”

“You always know where I am, what I’m doing, who I’m with. It’s not like there are any big mysteries.”

“Why not? Wouldn’t some mystery make this relationship more interesting?”

“Seriously. You want mystery.”

“Well, yeah. With everything so predictable it’s not all that exciting.”

“You want excitement. Listen sweet cheeks. Mystery and excitement are not always good things. Maybe the mystery is I have another woman on the side. Maybe the excitement is that I’m leaving you for her.”

“Oh my God, I knew it!”

Love Songs, Part II

Research is good. We usually look at the past through our own eyes and experience, and every once in a while a historian (we’ll call him “History Man”) will say, “Those people aren’t you, Sweet-cheeks. Those Medieval love songs that you are having such a hard time with AREN’T like love songs of today.”


“No. Those guys had arranged marriages. They were stuck with whatever their parents had set up for them. These lyric poems are more along YOUR style of love.”

“You mean hopeless, unrequited, at an absurd distance, across insane age differences?”

“Yes, exactly. Is this or is this not you, ‘…poets of the Middle Ages would likely find our contemporary love rituals completely alien. Medieval desire…was expressed as an ideal to be constantly sought, but rarely attained.”

“Whoa. So you’re saying that not only is my sense of humor medieval but my view of love?”

“Yep. Feel better now? Ready to return to hopeless yearning and all that makes you so happily miserable?”

“Thank you History Man.”

You can read the rest of History Man’s thoughts here:

Lamont and Dude Discuss Friendship

“Dude, how’d it go up there in LA?”

“I dunno. I told you I’m about over this. This is not being a REAL Smilodon. This is being a guy in a smilodon suit. I almost told the kiddies that today.”

“I knew there’d come a time when you’d want to show those kids what a REAL Smilodon does. Did.”

“No. The kids are cute. They love Smilodons. I’m not going to fuck with that.”

“Yeah, you’re no real Smilodon. Tell you what, I’ll wear the costume next week. No one will know. You can have a weekend off. Hit on some women, you know, like in the old days.”

“It won’t work. You’ll open your human mouth and all kinds of wise cynicism will come out. Besides, were you ever a roaring predator?”

“You’re seriously asking me that?”


“I was a tiger.”

“I keep forgetting. I wasn’t around for that one.”

“Maybe you were a rock. You were an island. I don’t know.”

“That was the iteration that made you afraid of luv’, right? The one where you were killed by the male while you were mating?”

“It’s not that unusual.”

“Probably nature’s way of keeping the species strong. Only the really tough females survive.”

“If you’re trying to insult me, that’s not the way. You weren’t there and you’ve never been a Siberian tiger. If anything, it’s a design flaw.”

“Why would I insult you? You’re my best friend!”


Lamont and Dude are characters I came up with a few years ago. They have the uncanny ability to remember many of their previous incarnations which gives them a unique perspective on life, the universe and everything.


Friendship is one of the greatest things in life. ❤

Heart-shaped Fruit

Obviously, I never got love right or I’d live in a bigger house with another person in it instead of a little house with two big dogs and a tiny, elusive mouse.


One winter, after a love misadventure in Italy, I ran away and went to stay with my friends who lived near Zürich. I had a brokenish heart. It wasn’t decimated, but it wasn’t happy, either.** My friend’s parents had emigrated to Zürich from Italy right after WW II.

Pietro started to sing before we left the house. He had a terrible singing voice, awful, but not quite as bad as mine. “Non esiste l’amore. E soltanto una fragola,” he sang as he put on his boots.

“Ma, Pietro, no,” said Laura, my friend’s mom. “Marta, Non ascoltarlo. L’amore esiste. E non é FRAGOLA. É FAVOLA, sai? Story. L’amore e buono, bello. Pietro, non essere così cinico.”* 

Pietro winked, put his coat on, and we went out for a walk in the forest. He explained it was a joke. Fragola — strawberry sounds like favola — fable. He wanted to console me. Just being there was a big consolation.

The trip to Italy had been a disaster from the get-go. Late connections. Storms in Cincinnati. A missed plane in New York. Routed through Paris. Lost luggage. No record of my being on the plane from Paris to Milan. No boarding pass. Trapped in the luggage area of Malpensa for an hour while Alitalia sorted it out. The traveling companion I’d picked up on the way to New York was a story in herself, an elderly Italian woman from Las Vegas traveling with two neatly wrapped mink coats disguised as boxes filled with jars of homemade jelly. Finally, in Genoa, I had to borrow my would-be-lover’s mother’s underwear!

When I arrived in Zürich, my luggage was there (thanks to the would-be love in Italy who organized it). Each day was Swiss December sunshine. I felt I’d been meant to be in Zürich in the first place. I loved my friend’s family, Zürich, the forest, their dog. It was really and truly ALL GOOD. It was also the last time I saw Pietro alive. He died of Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma the next winter.

Looking back, I see this is a pretty romantic story and a grand adventure. Still, that fragile easily-smashed and rotted heart-shaped fruit is a pretty good metaphor for love.





*Martha, don’t listen to him. Love exists. And it’s not strawberry, it’s story, you see? Love is good, beautiful. Pietro, don’t be so cyncial.”

**And, the man in Italy and I are still connected in our own way. I ran away, other stories followed in following years, but some threads are made of tough stuff.