WHAT TO SEND A GIRL WHO’S GIVING YOU A HARD TIME

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While rummaging around the basement a few days ago, I found myself wrist-deep in the contents of a dusty old suitcase that hadn’t been opened for quite some time. It was the smallest and only surviving case in a three-piece set of Amelia Earhart luggage my parents bought for me when I set off to college in September 1948.  You wouldn’t want to use it as a suitcase these days.  It’s heavy (for its size) and has no roller wheels.  But it has remained useful over the years as a sort of storage box.

Indeed, when I managed to pry its two closures open, it was jammed full of yellowing correspondence from the time when people sent each other real letters on real paper — sometimes even handwritten — which were then folded into real envelopes with postage stamps on them.  These were letters that took at least two or three days to reach their destination, and sometimes longer.  You had to be patient.  Or else pace impatiently, until the mailman arrived.

We may revisit the interesting question of why I hang on to all this stuff in another post, after I’ve figured it out myself.  However, this post is not about that.  It’s about the folded piece of paper on top of one of the bundles of letters in the suitcase.  The rubber band holding the bundle together had dried out and it snapped when I picked up the bundle.  The top piece of paper slipped to the floor.  It was just asking to be read!  How could I not unfold it and take it over to a good light?

Long story short, it was a plea/demand straight from the gonads — its author being a young man I had met and in due time kissed, again and again, during the previous summer.  Unfortunately, he was now in a college twenty-five hours away from mine by train, racked by uncertainty as to my feelings.   He wasn’t quite as young as I was, but nearly — and was definitely hotter to trot. (At least when writing about it.)  Apparently, I was taking my time — too much time, as he saw it — in committing the degree of my desire to paper.

Having just reread his typed expression of angst for the first time in nearly sixty-six years, I like it much more than I did when I first received it. I even now like the not-so-surreptitious suggestion that I was being a bitch.  [“Bright EYE WET nose can be taught all manner of tricks”]  I probably was.  I sobbed at parting in Grand Central Station, but otherwise would go just so far, and no farther.

Nonetheless, I must have liked it enough, despite the jab, for him soon to become an important person in my early life, the one referred to elsewhere in this blog as “first serious boyfriend.”  And I like it so much now I thought other people might like to read it too.  I know he wouldn’t mind, if he were still alive.  He’d smile.  Maybe you will, too.

[Note:  I’d re-type it to make it easier for you to read, but I can’t reproduce the e.e. cummings style without a typewriter roller, and I no longer have a typewriter — not even in my rat pack basement.]

[Second note:   although e.e. cummings was cutting-edge stuff to the 1948 college crowd, his poetic style, emulated here, may not have aged well.   On the other hand, the feelings expressed have no pull date.  Some kinds of H-U-R-TZ never go away.]

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COULDA, SHOULDA

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It was a single session yesterday.  Often the Pilates studio can pair me up with someone, which lowers the price by ten dollars. But sometimes, they can’t.  Despite the ten dollars, I like having Peggy to myself.  We get to do some girlfriend talk while she puts me through the various routines I can manage. Also, near the end of the hour she often gives a delicious back massage while I’m stretching forward on a fearful-looking apparatus called The Tower.

Peggy is sixty, and looks wonderful in her exercise clothes from Lululemon, Athleta and (sometimes) the sales racks at Marshall’s.  (But you really have to look hard to find something at Marshall’s, she cautions.) She is rounded and shapely (“Great legs and ass,” says Bill), but also firm and strong, with highlighted blondish brown hair she’s growing out into a longish pixie cut, and nicely made up blue eyes. Her face is cherubic although her chin is softening, but just a little.  She has two beautiful blonde daughters in college (the older finishing in May) and — after spending nearly all her life in or around the Princeton-Lawrenceville-Pennington-Flemington area of New Jersey — a wonderful sense of adventure.

Peggy had a relatively long career in fashion marketing and merchandising until her marriage to a divorced man who shared custody of his three small children with his ex-wife.  After the marriage, fairly late in her thirties, she became a full-time wife and mother both to her own two daughters and — for half the week — his three children as well.  She moved out about a year and a half ago,  when the youngest daughter had gone off to school, after four or more years of increasing unhappiness in her marriage.

During that time, she discovered Pilates, became a certified Pilates instructor, and has been working fifteen to twenty hours a week ever since.  Now that the divorce is finalized, she is waiting for her older girl to graduate before moving on. At the end of June, she’s taking herself off to the suburbs of Charleston, South Carolina, near the beach.  She knows no one there, but she loves Charleston, loves the southern climate, loves the beach.  “When I was shoveling snow off the driveway for the umpteenth time this winter,” she said, “I told myself never again!”

She’s worked it all out with her accountant.  She knows how long she can afford to look around for work, what she can spend per month, when she needs to start earning again, when she’ll be able to replace her car. [2016. She hopes it lasts that long.]  She thought she’d begin with Pilates again, because a certified Pilates instructor can always find work in an upscale community, but she really wants to become an interior decorator now.  She loves resort/beach style.  She’s friendly, outgoing, energetic. Unlike Jasmine, the eponymous heroine of Woody Allen’s last movie, who also said interior design was her career goal, Peggy will do just fine.

Faithful readers of this blog may surmise what has been on my mind the past few days, and will therefore not find it odd that I took advantage of my single session to ask Peggy a particular question I otherwise might not have asked while I did leg warmups on The Reformer.  It had nothing to do with her prospective move.  At least, neither of us thought it did.  At first.

“Do you remember your first serious boyfriend?”

She looked surprised at this turn in the conversation.

“Serious,” I said.  “Not just idle flirting.”

“Oh, yes,” she said.  “Very serious.  We met as freshmen in college, and it lasted four years.  Why do you ask?”

I told her about finding the online obituary of my first serious boyfriend, and filled her in a bit about our slight subsequent history together and how upset I was to learn he was gone.  “Is yours still alive?” I asked.  (Foolish question.  He’d be only 60, or 61.)

“Oh, yes.  Very much so.”  Her face took on a wistful look.

“What happened?  After the four years, I mean?”

“Well, he was going back to Colorado, where he came from. I was intent on a career in fashion in New York City!”

“And you broke up over that?”

She smiled sadly.  “We argued about it for two months.  But I thought, ‘Colorado?  There’s nothing there for me.'” She brought over a purple block and put it between my raised knees for the detested “tabletops.”

“He was handsome, and we were crazy about each other. He had some family money, and then became very very rich.  He’s a millionaire and more today. But I was 22 — and stubborn.”

“Did you ever see him again?”

“Oh yes.  About five years ago he was in New York for business, and we had a three-hour dinner together.  He looked great.  It was great.  We talked about our time together, and what might have been.”

“And?”

“He’s married now.  Has four lovely children. The youngest is still just sixteen.  I said, ‘If your wife ever kicks you out, call me!’  He laughed. But she won’t.  And he wouldn’t leave. I think they’re very happy. Actually,” she added, “he did come to New York once before, about three years after we broke up.  It was to tell me he was getting married.  That was an earlier marriage, one that didn’t work.  He didn’t want me to hear it from anyone from him.”

“He flew to New York from Colorado just to tell you he was getting married?”

She nodded.

“He must have cared about you very much,” I said, trying to achieve twenty angel wings with my knees still raised in tabletop. (The language of Pilates sometimes reaches throw-up levels of cuteness.)  “Maybe he married the first time on the rebound from you.”

She shrugged.  “Too late to think about that now. Career in fashion!  Hahaha.  I went on the road, marketing Ship ‘n Shore blouses.  Within a few years of college, he had a chain of sporting apparel stores all through Colorado.  I could have styled and managed them! And he was tall and gorgeous and we really did love each other.   And now he owns ski resorts, and a beautiful home where I could have done his entertaining!  And look where I am!  Off to Charleston at 60 to live in a rental while I figure out the lay of the land.”

“It’s going to be a great adventure,” I said, sitting up to get a drink of water before doing the arm work.  “You know it will!”

“Yes, it will!” she declared.

“Bill has a saying,” I added.  ” ‘We get too soon old, and too late smart.’ ”

“I’ll have to remember that one,” said Peggy.

Then we both agreed that “coulda, shoulda” never helped anyone, and we all do the best we can with what we have in the way of wisdom and knowledge of life at any particular time, and that there’s no point in beating yourself up about what you did or didn’t do when you were young.

“Tell Bill to get himself out and start walking,” she said, as I finished up for the day.

I shall miss her when she leaves.