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Friendship Dialogues #1

This is the sequel to Relationship Interview #9.

Mark is sixty-four and lives in the San Francisco Bay Area. Despite the strictures of the pandemic, he had five dates with Bernice, who is fifty-seven, before the focus of their connection shifted from possibly having a relationship to becoming friends. In the process of making this shift, Mark met Bernice’s closest friends Angela, sixty-three, and Marlene, sixty, and now Mark is becoming friends with Angela and Marlene, too.

*

“As much as we like each other,” Mark explains in a phone conversation with his pal Alex, “it seems highly unlikely that Bernice and I will end up in a relationship, though it seems likely we’ll be friends.”

“How do you feel about that?” asks Alex, who has been married to Denise for thirty-seven years and has no female friends other than Denise’s friends.

“I feel fine,” says Mark, who wasn’t looking for new friends when he started using Find the One, the relationship web site where he met Bernice. “Though part of me must still be hoping for a relationship with her because when I logged in to Find the One yesterday to peruse the latest possibilities, I felt like I was cheating on her.”

Alex laughs. “Spoken like a true monogamist.”

*

Saturday dawns sunny and unusually warm for March, and Mark uses the prospect of lunch at Marlene’s as his carrot for putting in a couple hours editing a whodunit, after which he makes a big batch of guacamole for the upcoming lunch with his three new friends.

Bernice arrives at Mark’s house at 11:30 and she and Mark walk the mile to Marlene’s together. She’s wearing a summery turquoise dress and a dark green mask and schlepps a big round basket containing salad and tortilla chips and Mark’s guacamole as they traverse neighborhoods of mostly older houses, the majority of the inhabitants Internet Technology peeps who supplanted the blue collar families that abided here before the dawn of the digital age.

They are both happy and relaxed, the self-imposed pressure of trying to impress each other mostly gone now.

Mark: You look marvelous as always. Who does your hair?

Bernice: (laughs) Before the pandemic, I would only go to Francois at Tricky Curls, but since the closures I’ve allowed Marlene to make two attempts.

Mark: Looks fine to me.

Bernice: Well she is a great artist. Who cuts your hair?

Mark: Before the pandemic, Denise did. Wife of my pal Alex. She’s French, too. So we both have French haircutters. But since the pandemic began, I go to some guy I meet at my mirror every few months. We communicate telepathically and he hacks the longer stuff back. We aim for symmetry and settle for what we get.

Bernice: You look fine. Short unkempt hair is all the rage now.

Mark: That’s me. Always on the cutting edge of fashion.

Bernice: Yet another thing we have in common.

They walk another block, marveling at how warm the day.

Mark: So… we’re friends now.

Bernice: Yeah. How do you like it so far?

Mark: Very much.  How do you like it?

Bernice: I love it. You’re my very first male friend who isn’t gay.

Mark: Do you have many gay male friends?

Bernice: Honey, I’m in show biz. I’ve managed a theatre company for twenty years, and before that I was a script supervisor on fourteen movies, otherwise known as the continuity person. And before that I was an aspiring actor. So, yes, I have many gay male friends. Do you have any gay male friends?

Mark: I used to. My best friend was gay, but he died and I don’t currently have any gay friends. Well, that’s not true. I correspond with a lesbian and a sometimes lesbian.

Bernice: I’m sorry you lost your friend.

Mark: Harry was a marvel. You would have loved him. Pianist. Composer. Full of fun.

They walk in silence for a time.

Mark: So you were an actor and a continuity person. You didn’t tell me that when we were trying to concoct a relationship.

Bernice: (frowns) I know. Came out easy as pie now that we’re friends.

Mark: And I didn’t tell you that I was an aspiring actor. I must have been embarrassed about that before we were friends.

Bernice: Did you go to LA and try to make it in the movies?

Mark: No. New York. Did the whole bartender by night, acting workshops and auditions by day. For three exhausting humiliating years. Then I came back to California and morphed into a book editor while trying to get parts in plays and indie films. (laughs) I was a colossal failure, but I loved trying.

Bernice: You didn’t fail, Mark. You just didn’t realize that trying was your success. That’s what I realize now when I look back on all the things I’ve done in my life. I never failed. I just didn’t understand that trying was my practice. As the Buddhist teachers say, we practice to practice, not to get somewhere, not to win some prize. When you practice the guitar you’re not failing. You’re practicing.  

Mark: And lately I’ve been failing to practice. But I know what you mean and I thank you for reminding me.

Bernice: I do occasionally have a small part in one of our plays. But acting in plays has never been my bliss. I wanted to be in movies. I’ve never been keen on playing the same part over and over again, but I love becoming someone else in relation to other people. That’s my favorite part about acting.

Mark: So is that where you and Marlene met? In Hollywood?

Bernice: Yes, she was the art director on two films I worked on, and we became instant friends. And then a year after I moved here to take the job managing the theatre company, she moved up here, too, and I eventually enticed her to design some sets for us, and she turned out to be a fabulous actor.

Mark: Was she a success in Hollywood, speaking of success?

Bernice: She art directed some very big movies and made lots of money, and if you ask her about her movie career she’ll say they paid her a fortune to make crap look good.

Mark: And how did you meet Angela?

Bernice: She is the accountant for our company. We met twenty years ago and fell in love as best friends will. Isn’t she just the most brilliant deadpan comedian?

Mark: She’s great. Every spoke of your troika is great.

Bernice: And so are you, my friend. So are you.

*

On Marlene’s terrace, frogs and turtles sunning themselves on lily pads in her big pond, Marlene serves a lunch of chicken enchiladas, spicy tomato rice, refried beans, salad, and guacamole. The women have beer, Mark water with a slice of lemon. Angela and Bernice and Marlene share a big table, Marlene and Angela wearing floppy sunhats and sun dresses, while Mark sits at a smaller table ten feet from them.

Marlene: You don’t drink any alcohol, Mark?

 Mark: I have the occasional sip of wine and the occasional sip of beer. I love the taste, but I’m allergic to alcohol and more than a little makes me ill.

Angela: Do you smoke pot?

Mark: No. I used to, but not anymore.

Angela: Why did you stop?

Mark: Well… I was addicted and it was ruining my life. So I quit.

Marlene: Good choice, Mark.

Angela: The three of us sometimes smoke pot together. We like getting high and watching a movie or dancing or… whatever.

Mark: Sounds wonderful. I loved getting stoned before I became addicted. But then it ceased to be about love and was all about needing to be high so I could feel okay about being here. You know what I mean?

Angela: Oh I do. Believe me, I do.

Mark: I believe you.

Bernice: Fortunately, we’re all cheap dates, so a puff or two usually does the trick.

Marlene: Speaking of getting high, I’m getting high on this guacamole. You must give me your recipe.

Mark: I’ll write it down before I go.

Marlene: Oh you can just email it to me.

Bernice: I’ll send you her email.

Mark: Great. So… what have you all been up to since we breakfasted at my place an eternity ago?

Angela: I’ve been doing other people’s taxes. Crunch time. Eight hours a day. Any more than that and the numbers begin to blur.

Mark: I know what you mean. I can only edit for a few hours at a time and then my brain stops working and I have to stop looking at words and get up and move around.

Marlene: How many hours a day do you work?

Mark: Five or six, and to make my forty hours I work every day.

Marlene: You don’t take weekends off?

Mark: (attempts French accent) What is this thing you call weekend?

Bernice: I can’t remember. The days all blur together now.

Marlene: I still keep my weekends separate from the weekdays, though I haven’t had a job since the pandemic began.

Mark: So what do you do with your time?

Marlene: I exercise for two hours in the morning before breakfast, yoga and Pilates online, and then after breakfast I draw for an hour or so. Then I take my neighbor’s dog for a walk, then I write emails, then I have lunch with tea and read, and then I visit friends in-person or on the computer. Then I might go shopping or do gardening work, and then it’s supper, and after supper I might watch a movie or take a long bath. Often I do something with Bernice or Angela or both of them.

Bernice: You’re so disciplined.

Marlene: Well, I have to be. I’m very prone to melancholy, so without the structure I will become morose and it isn’t good for me.

Mark: Sounds like a good life.

Marlene: It is. I’m very lucky.

Mark: Did you study art in college?

Marlene: Yes. I studied drawing and painting and sculpture in France, and then specifically set design and art direction for films in Switzerland.

Mark: And then you conquered Hollywood.

Marlene: (laughs) Au contraire. Hollywood demolished me. So much work to make crap look good, and one day I woke up and realized I was growing old and all I’d done with my life was help promote stereotypes of women as whores and men as vengeful heroes.

Mark: Do you ever wish you’d stayed in France? Made more complex dramas?

Marlene: Sometimes. Not often. France was quite stifling for me in many ways.

Angela: Not to change the subject, but these enchiladas are to die for.

Bernice: They are so good.

Mark: Fantastic. And I’m a serious enchilada aficionado.

Marlene: I’m glad you like them. (looks at Mark) I’m so sorry you can’t be at our table. But in a few months we will all be vaccinated and then we can sit together.

Mark: In the meantime, I appreciate your wish.

A pleasant silence falls as they enjoy the delicious lunch.

Angela: (to Mark) Bernice says you edit murder mysteries. Anything you’d recommend? I gobble them like candy.

Mark: I’m not the one to ask about that. Having edited hundreds of them, I now loathe the genre, though I do understand their appeal. In fact, a big part of my job is insuring that the books deliver that particular high the reader is reading for.

Marlene: If you hate the genre, why not edit some other kind of books?

Mark: Not to avoid your question, but perhaps the best way to answer you would be to ask why didn’t you art direct movies that weren’t crap?

Marlene: They make very few movies in America that are not crap, and most of the ones that are not crap either don’t pay their art directors very well or those jobs go to the few men at the top of the art director pyramid.

Mark: Well… they publish very few books in America that are not crap. And the relatively small publisher I work for can’t afford to publish books that aren’t moneymakers, which precludes most books that are not crap.

Angela: I think that’s so sad.

Mark:  Depends on what you like to read. I mean… only a very small percentage of our population buys books of any kind, let alone literary works, and that same population is two or three generations removed from the golden age of American literature that ended, for all intents and purposes, in the 1960s. And they probably wouldn’t like fiction of that quality if it were published today because the collective taste has changed, forever altered by television and the subsequent versions of television most people now access on their phones.

Marlene: Which is why I’m reading Dickens again. He holds up well.

Angela: And I read murder mysteries.

Bernice: And twenty years from now they’ll say the golden age was the early 2000s, and on we’ll go.

Mark: Thus it has always been. I was recently reading Twain’s autobiography and he reeled off the names of a dozen or so of his most famous contemporaries circa 1900 and I’d never heard of any of them.

Angela: So maybe it’s not so sad. Things just change.

Marlene: I wish I could look at it that way, but it feels like a death to me. The contemporary plays we do now, they feel so much like television shows.

Mark: They are. Because that’s all the younger writers know about. They’re not going to imitate Eugene O’Neil or Arthur Miller or Samuel Beckett. They’re going to write in ways that feel familiar to them.

Angela: (to Mark) Bernice tells us you write plays.

Mark: I’ve written a few. And I’ve gotten a handful of stellar rejection letters, but I fear I may already be a dead writer, though my body has yet to die. I stopped watching television when I was nineteen and traveled down a long road of reading great dead writers, so I don’t really speak the language of now.

Bernice: Which brings up an interesting question. Why write something or create something for which there is no audience?

Mark: It’s not only an interesting question, it is the fundamental question for artists who make original art. And my answer is that some part of me must still believe there is an audience for what I do if only by some miracle it gets to live on a larger stage than my desk.

Marlene: And my answer is we create what we create regardless of what anyone else thinks. Otherwise it’s not art. It’s commercial art, maybe, but not art.

Bernice: And my answer is a combination of both your answers. I assume the poem has come to me for a reason I’ll discover after I get the thing written down. Then I can decide if it’s something I want to share or just needed to get out. Like a bowel movement.

Marlene: (laughs) I have drawn many pictures of this sort.

Angela: And I don’t write or draw or create anything. I read murder mysteries and watch television, lots of television, especially British stuff. And you’re right, Mark. I’ve tried to read Faulkner and Nabokov and Dickens and Philip Roth and John Updike and I find it all impenetrable and nothing I care about. I couldn’t even read Harry Potter. But I love murder mysteries.

Marlene: What do you love about them, darling?

Angela: I love the suspense and the danger and the needing to know who did it.

Mark: You identify with the detective.

Angela: I do. I feel like I’m there, and I’m in danger, and I’ve got to find out who the killer is before they kill me.

Mark: That’s my job, Angela. Making the writing is good enough so the reader will identify with the detective and feel the detective is not merely solving a crime, but defying death.

Marlene: I’ve always wondered what the appeal was. And now I know. But it’s nothing I want to read. I feel like I’m defying death every day. Isn’t that what life is? Defying death?

Bernice: And eating good food while we’re at it.

*

Masked again and trying to stay six feet apart, Mark and Bernice take their time walking home from Marlene’s.

Bernice: Mark?

Mark: Yes?

Bernice: I watch television. And if we were in a relationship I would still watch television.

Mark: And I would watch it with you sometimes, just to be with you.

Bernice: I also drink beer and wine and sometimes scotch on the rocks and every now and then I smoke pot.

Mark: Would you allow me the occasional sip of your booze?

Bernice: I would. But I also like lots of plays by writers who are not dead.

Mark: You could educate me, and if I didn’t like a play you liked, we could have revealing discussions about why you like the play and I don’t.

Bernice: You say all the right things.

Mark: So do you.

Bernice: Do you think you’re still hoping to be in a relationship with me?

Mark: Probably. But I’m also fine with being your friend and never being in a relationship with you.

Bernice: How about taking ballroom dance lessons? Would you do that for me if we were in a relationship?

Mark: I would do that for you as your friend. And that goes for watching television with you and having sips of your booze and discussing contemporary plays. We don’t have to wait. We can do it all now.

Bernice: But no sex.

Mark: No, I’d even have sex with you as your friend.

Bernice: I don’t think that would work. Not yet anyway.

Mark: I wonder why you brought up being in a relationship when we were having so much fun being friends.

Bernice: Maybe because I can talk about it now without being afraid I’ll say the wrong thing.

Mark: Well that’s good.

Bernice: So now, once again, if not for the pandemic we would probably kiss, wouldn’t we?

Mark: That’s nonsense. If we want to kiss each other, we will. We’re both healthy and strong and neither of us has the virus. And we both know it.

Bernice: So why don’t you try to kiss me?

Mark: Because I love being your friend and I want to see where it takes us.

They stop walking and look at each other.

Bernice: I want to see where it takes us, too. I think the reason I brought up being in a relationship is that the more time I spend with you, the more I like you, and maybe I’m afraid you’ll fall in love with someone else and I’ll miss my chance.

Mark: I’m flattered. But I don’t think the fear of missing your chance is a good reason to start a relationship.

Bernice: No, of course not, but… I saw the way you were looking at Marlene and… she really likes you.

Mark: The mind boggles.

They resume walking.

Bernice: I’m being an idiot, aren’t I?

Mark: Yeah, but you’re very cute when you’re being an idiot.

Bernice: You’re just saying that to make me feel better.

Mark: No, it’s true. You get very open and vulnerable when you talk about your fears, and you become more beautiful than ever, which is an extreme kind of cuteness.

Bernice: (laughs) I like being your friend.

Mark: Ditto.

Bernice: Imagine me holding your hand.

Mark: Imagine me really liking it.

fin

Light Song

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Relationship Interview #7

This is the sequel to Relationship Interview #6.

Mark and Bernice have had three dates since they met through Find The One, a web site for people seeking life partners. Bernice is fifty-seven, Mark sixty-four. Bernice is the manager of a theatre company, Mark an editor for a book publisher.

*

The day after their third date, Mark calls Bernice to arrange their next meeting and is surprised and disappointed when Bernice expresses ambivalence about seeing him again and ends their conversation by saying she will call him when she has a better understanding of what’s going on with her.

*

Mark is by turns angry and sad for the next three days, and he assumes he will never hear from Bernice again. On the fourth day he wakes feeling glad he allowed himself to fall in love with Bernice because in doing so he rekindled his desire to connect with other people. So he calls a few friends and makes dates for walks and get-togethers, and his friends are happy he reached out to them.

*

On the evening of the eighth day after he last heard from Bernice, Mark is sitting on his living room sofa watching a basketball game on television when the phone rings.

Mark: (picks up the phone) Hello?

Bernice: Mark? It’s Bernice. Is this a good time to talk?

Mark: (his eyes filling with tears) Can you hold on a minute?

Bernice: Yes, of course.

Mark turns off the television and goes out his front door to stand in the cold air and have a good cry. He comes back inside, resumes his place on the sofa, and picks up the phone.

Mark: You still there?

Bernice: I’m here. You okay?

Mark: I’m fine. How are you?

Bernice: I’m doing better now. Had a rough week. I wanted to call you every day, but I was such a mess I couldn’t. I’m sorry.

Mark: No need to apologize. I’m sorry to hear you’ve been having such a hard time.

Bernice: Would you like to see me again?

Mark: Yes.

Bernice: Would you mind if we meet at my friend Marlene’s house, and Marlene and Angela join us?

Mark: (considers this) I don’t mind, but… may I ask why?

Bernice: Well… I’ve been talking to Marlene and Angela about you, and I realize I’m afraid to reveal more of myself to you.

Mark: Why do you think you’re afraid of me?

Bernice: Because prior to meeting you… at this point in getting to know a man, I would either end things or go to bed with him. And if I go to bed with him, I stop being who I really am and start pretending to be the person I think he wants me to be.

Mark: Why would you do that?

Bernice: Because I’m afraid you won’t find the real me desirable. That if you know who I really am, you won’t like me.

Mark: Oh Bernice, I’ve done the same thing my whole life. Only I didn’t do it with you. Didn’t stuff my feelings or pretend to be someone I’m not. And when I thought you were ending things I was sad for a few days, but then I was fine. And I was glad we had our three dates.

Bernice: I loved our three dates. So much.

Mark: Good. And when we meet at Marlene’s you’ll have her and Angela to support you and protect you, and you can be who you really are because you’ll be with your best friends who love you.

*

At noon on a cold cloudy day in late February, Mark dresses warmly, dons his gray mask, and walks eleven blocks to Marlene’s beautiful two-story house on a quiet street of houses built in the early 1900s. Per Bernice’s directions, Mark goes to the backyard gate where he is greeted by Marlene, a striking woman of sixty wearing a long black skirt and a peach blouse, her blonde hair in a ponytail, her mask the blue of her eyes.

Marlene: (with a French accent) Bon jour Mark. How prompt you are. Please follow me.

Mark follows Marlene down a walkway bordered by dense stands of bamboo.

Marlene: Bernice and Angela are late as usual. I assume you know this about Bernice.

Mark: Yes. We’ve had three dates and she’s been a little late to each of them.

They emerge into a backyard featuring a large lily pond. On the patio next to the pond are four chairs arrayed around a glass table, the chairs ten feet apart from each other.

Marlene: Please sit where you like.

Mark: (sits in a chair with a view of the pond) Love your pond. Are there fish?

Marlene: Oh yes. Goldfish, koi, mosquito fish, and turtles and always tadpoles and frogs. May I get you something to drink? A cup of tea? It’s so cold today. It was supposed to be warmer and now it looks like it’s going to rain.

Mark: Tea would be wonderful.

Marlene: Black or herbal?

Mark: Mint?

Marlene: I have mint in a pot on my kitchen windowsill. I will cut fresh leaves for you.

Mark: Thank you.

Marlene disappears into her house. Mark gets up to look for fish and turtles and frogs in the pond. Marlene returns and sets Mark’s mug of tea on the table.

Marlene: Here you are.

Mark: (picks up the mug and returns to his chair) Thank you.

Marlene: (sits in the chair with her back to the house) So… you are a book editor.

Mark: I am. And you are an actor and set designer.

Marlene: I suppose so, though I’m not acting or designing anything right now. Just surviving, you know. Hoping for this virus to go away soon, though I don’t think it will be soon.

Mark: Beautiful place to survive in.

Marlene: Yes, I’m very lucky. And we have our bubble, Bernice and Angela and I. Did she tell you?

Mark: No. That’s wonderful. I wish I had a bubble with someone.

Marlene: You’ve been alone the whole time?

Mark: Well I have two cats, but no humans in my bubble.

Marlene: I can’t imagine. I would have gone mad without Bernice and Angela to just relax with, you know. To not always wear masks and be afraid of each other.

Mark: If this ever happens again, I will definitely create a bubble with a few friends. We’ve already agreed to that.

Marlene: I hope this never happens again. But if it does, yes, you must make a bubble with your friends.

Angela and Bernice arrive.

Marlene: Here they are. Not so late. But I think it might rain soon and I’m so sorry I can’t invite you inside.

Mark: Don’t be sorry. We need the rain.

Bernice emerges into the backyard first, her short brown hair just washed, her mask green, a black winter coat over a burgundy blouse and blue jeans. Angela appears next. She is sixty-three with frizzy gray hair, red-frame glasses, and a black mask. Her winter coat is blue, her blouse gray, her slacks brown.

Bernice: (smiling radiantly) Hi Mark. I knew you’d get here before me. This is Angela.

Angela: (a New Jersey accent) Hello Mark. I’ve heard so much about you.

Bernice: (laughing) Yes you have.

Mark: Nice to meet you.

Marlene: (gets up) I was just starting to interrogate him. He’s having mint tea. What for you two?

Bernice: Wine for me, please.

Angela: Tea sounds good. Black, please. So cold today. And it was supposed to be sunny.

Marlene goes back inside. Angela and Bernice sit down and remove their masks, so Mark removes his.

Angela: (to Mark) With a nose and a mouth you’re a whole different person.

Mark: So are you.

Bernice: (to Mark) I’m always surprised when you take off your mask. I don’t know who I’m expecting, but I’m always surprised when I see your face.

Mark: Pleasantly, I hope.

Bernice: Yes. Pleasantly.

Mark: And I’m always amazed at how beautiful you are.

Marlene emerges from the house with a tray bearing a cup of tea and two wine glasses brimming with white wine. She sets the tray on the table, takes one of the glasses of wine, sits, and removes her mask.

Marlene: What did I miss?

Bernice: (getting her glass of wine) I was just saying I’m always surprised when Mark takes off his mask because his face is never what I’m expecting.

Angela: And Mark said he’s always amazed at how beautiful Bernice is.

Marlene: (to Mark) Your lips are the big surprise for me. You are no grim patriarch. Why I expected that, I don’t know.

Angela: (to Mark) You have beautiful lips. I thought the corners would turn down, but they turn up so you seem to be smiling.

Marlene: Bernice’s lips turn up at the corners, too. But not mine. When I was a girl, my mother warned me not to smile too much. She said smiling makes ugly wrinkles on the face. Can you imagine? Telling a child not to smile? And I believed her, so for all my life I tried not to smile, which is why people think I’m unhappy. But I’m not. I just don’t often smile.

Mark: Takes hundreds of conscious repetitions to create new brain maps to replace the old ones. I’m learning to play the guitar at this late date, and my fingers and brain balk at learning new tricks.

Angela: Do you take lessons online?

Mark: No, I go to my teacher every two weeks. We sit ten feet apart on his porch. He’s an old friend, so we talk as much as we play. But I’m learning. Slowly but surely.

Bernice: Angela plays the guitar.

Angela: Folk songs. Nothing fancy. I strum the basic chords.

Bernice: She sings beautifully, too. So does Marlene.

Marlene: And so do you, dear.

Angela: Not only that, but we sing on key. One day we’ll sing for you.

Mark: I can’t wait.

Marlene: Are you Jewish, Mark?

Mark: What gave me away? My frequent use of Yiddish?

Marlene: No. (laughs) I don’t know. It just came to me to ask.

Mark: My mother was Jewish, my father an agnostic Unitarian. Are you Jewish?

Marlene: No, I’m a lapsed Catholic. I still dream of nuns.

Angela: I’m Jewish. Of course everyone from New Jersey is Jewish, even the non-Jews.

Mark: (to Bernice) We never got around to our religious affiliations on our first three dates.

Bernice: You mentioned sending your son a card for Hanukkah, so I surmised you were at least half.

Mark: And you?

Bernice: My father was a zealous atheist, my mother a closeted Jew.

Mark: Do you think of yourself as Jewish?

Bernice: No, though I’ve tried to.

Mark: What do you mean?

Bernice: When I was in my forties I joined a shul and studied Hebrew, but I felt oppressed by the grim dogma.

Mark: Me, too.

Angela: Too bad you didn’t have a woman rabbi. Some radical mystic to rampage through the Talmud with you.

Marlene: No, a thousand years ago when they deemed all the wise women witches and annihilated us by the millions, what were we to do?

Bernice: Hide our true natures or die.

Angela: Play the parts written for us by men with no sense of humor. Think how different things would be if our oppressors had been funny.

Mark: I wonder what relationships were like before the great annihilation began.

Marlene: Women were more masculine, men more feminine. And when we danced around the fires at night we were wild and free.

Mark: Sounds good to me.

Angela: Did you have a sister, Mark?

Mark: A brother. But I grew up with two cousins who were like sisters to me, Elaine and Jean. Elaine was my age, Jean a year older. They were strong and athletic and light years smarter than I was, so I knew from the get go women were my superiors.

Marlene: Do you still think women are superior to men?

Mark: I do. In all ways except brute strength.

The sky darkens ominously.

Marlene: Oh no. The rain is coming.

Angela: (to Mark) Have you ever been in love with a man?

Mark: Sexually? No. Emotionally? Yes.

Rain begins to fall.

Marlene: Oh Mark, I’m so sorry you can’t come inside.

Mark: (gets up and opens his umbrella) Not to worry. I like walking in the rain. It was a pleasure being with all of you.

Bernice: (to Mark) I’ll call you.

Mark: I hope so. 

When Mark is gone, Angela and Marlene and Bernice hurry inside.

Bernice: Well? Did you like him?

Angela: What’s not to like?

Marlene: I didn’t think I would, but I did. And he is definitely not a melancholic. And he made me laugh. I can’t remember the last time a man made me laugh.

Angela: He’s a peach.

Bernice: Can we have him over again soon?

Marlene: Of course. He’s delightful.

Angela: Hold the presses. Headline. Marlene Declares Man Delightful.

Marlene: Of course he was on his best behavior, so maybe he tricked me.

Bernice: He’s always that way. He loved both of you. Did you see his eyes sparkling?

Angela: Next sunny weekend let’s have a barbecue.

Bernice: You see why I want to kiss him.

Angela: Who wouldn’t?

Marlene: When he took off his mask, his tender lips were the big surprise.

fin

Rain

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Relationship Interview #4

Mark and Bernice meet through Find The One, a web site designed to assist people in their search for life partners. Satisfied with what they intuit about each other from their brief emails, Mark and Bernice arrange to meet at a café with outdoor seating, both of them masked.

Mark, sixty-four, is seated and nearly finished with his latte, two shots, before Bernice, fifty-seven, arrives.

Bernice: (sitting down across the table from Mark) Sorry I’m late. (laughs anxiously) I’m a notorious late-nik. 

Mark: Not to worry. I’m a notorious early-nik so I’m used to waiting.

Bernice: Uh oh. You come early. I come late. (laughs again) This might not work.

Mark: Maybe not. But since we’re here shall we have a look at each other unmasked?

Bernice: Okay. Hold your breath.

(They take off their masks and gaze at each other for a long moment before putting their masks back on.)

Bernice: You’re very attractive.

Mark: You’re too kind. And you really are attractive.

Bernice: Aren’t we self-effacing? (laughs) So be honest, did you feel insulted by my being late? I really tried to be on time, but I just… I never budget enough time for anything.

Mark: I felt mildly peeved, but not insulted. I’m used to people being late. Everyone I’ve arranged to meet with so far has been late. And almost everyone I know arrives late. It seems to be how most people are.

Bernice: Have you met lots of women this way? Through the web site?

Mark: You’re the fourth. In five months. How about you?

Bernice: (looks up, trying to remember) Maybe… seventeen? Twenty? In three months?

Mark: Wow. Seventeen or twenty. Did any of them get past the first meeting?

(The waiter arrives. Bernice orders a latte, two shots, and Mark orders another.)

Bernice: A few got a second date, but none of them lasted more than two.

Mark: They must have been disappointed.

Bernice: Yeah, I think they were. And I don’t like disappointing people, so this has been hard for me. Were you… did any of the previous women not want to continue with you, or…

Mark: The one woman I really liked ended our meeting after thirty minutes and I never heard from her again. The other two wanted to keep seeing me, but I chose to end things after two dates with each of them. They were lovely people but we didn’t mesh intellectually or sense-of-humorly.

Bernice: Why do you think the one you liked didn’t want to see you again?

Mark: I don’t know. We were having a great time. Or I was. We had lots in common, she got my jokes, we laughed, we both spoke in complete sentences. And then out of the blue, or so it seemed to me, she said, “I have to go,” and got up and left. I think maybe she was looking for someone a bit more fantastic.

Bernice: What do you mean? Royalty? Movie star? Billionaire?

Mark: I think maybe younger. Or seeming younger. Like you. I wouldn’t have guessed you were fifty-seven. I would have guessed forty-two.

Bernice: You’re sweet.

Mark: But you know what I mean. You’re a very young seeming fifty-seven. I’m sixty-four and nobody’s gonna guess I’m fifty-anything.

Bernice: I would have guessed fifty-seven.

Mark: Well now you’re the sweet one.

(The waitress brings the lattes.)

Bernice: So you’ve been married twice. We won’t count the first one. What happened with wife number two?

Mark: Wife number two was ten years younger than I and liked sleeping with other men. And when I finally became aware of that, five years into our marriage, I divorced her as fast as I could.

Bernice: She’d been cheating on you the whole time?

Mark: After the first year. Or so she said. She was a fabulous liar, so who knows? She might have started in the minute we got back from our honeymoon. I trusted her. I believed she believed our wedding vows. Silly me.

Bernice: So how long has it been since you were in a relationship?

Mark: Seven years. How long has it been for you?

Bernice: Seven years also.

Mark: (wistful) Long time.

Bernice: I don’t really mind being alone. I think I’d like to be in a relationship, but not if it isn’t as good as being alone, and so far that’s never happened for me.

Mark: I know what you mean. I long to be in a good relationship, but not just a relationship.

Bernice: Though maybe that’s not fair, comparing a relationship to living alone. They’re so different.

Mark: I don’t think this is about being fair. It’s about really liking someone and wanting to share your life with them. We were designed to share. Evolved to share. Do you know about mirror neurons?

Bernice: Do I know about mirror neurons? I am one giant mirror neuron. That’s my problem. I become whoever I’m with. If I’m with a jerk, I become a surrogate jerk.

Mark: Ah.

Bernice: What does that mean? Ah?

Mark: I mean you’re describing someone who doesn’t have a solid sense of self.

Bernice: Oh I have a solid sense of self. And I like myself, too. What I have is a lifelong pattern, as the child of an alcoholic father and his enabler, my mother, of sacrificing my needs and desires to support the abuser. Which is why I do so much better alone. Because then I take care of myself instead of spending all my energy taking care of the narcissist.

Mark: (bows his head) Amen.

Bernice: I’m much better than I used to be about getting involved with self-serving narcissists, but I have to be very careful or the pattern begins to assert itself and blinds me to what the other person really is.

Mark: (nodding) I’m an enabler, too. And I’ve never been in a relationship with another enabler. I’ve met a few I was smitten with, but we were like those magnets that get close and then repel each other. I mean… how would that even work? How does an enabler enable an enabler?

Bernice: I suppose we could enable each other.

Mark: What a concept. The mind boggles.

Bernice: Yet you seem so confident. So easy in your body. Surely someone along the way enabled you.

Mark: (nods) Yeah, I was a happy kid with some good friends who had parents who were wonderful to me, and my father didn’t become terribly abusive until I was ten and I became some sort of threat to him. I had a few excellent teachers who encouraged me. And I’ve been alone and not in a relationship for most of my life, and I’ve had some wonderful friendships. It’s only in relationships when I’m unconsciously attracted to abusers and my enabling takes over. Took over. I’m done with that.

Bernice: How do you know?

Mark: I know because I woke up. After fifty-six years of living under that terrible spell, I woke up. And now that I’m awake, when the tendrils of the trance touch me, they no longer entice, but rather make me physically ill.

Bernice: Good for you. I’m not entirely awake yet, but I’m getting there. And I’m actually amazed and happy we’re talking about this on our first date. Or on any date. None of the others… I don’t think they could talk about this. Even on the fortieth date.

Mark: This being?

Bernice: What really runs us. The problematic parts of who we are. Or in your case… were. On my other dates at this point we’d be naming our favorite movies and favorite ethnic cuisines.

Mark: Young Frankenstein. Mexican Thai Chinese Indian.

Bernice: Mostly Martha. Mexican Thai Chinese Indian.

Mark: I love Mostly Martha.

Bernice: I love Young Frankenstein.

Mark: Nor have we delved into our occupations. You manage a theatre company.

Bernice: And you are an editor for a publishing company. But more importantly your favorite movie is Young Frankenstein, the ultimate enabler’s fantasy about a decent likable man who, through persistent kindness and a series of miracles, transforms the abusive monster into a sweet loving person.

Mark: (his jaw drops) Oh my God. How did I never get that?

Bernice: Too obvious maybe. Or maybe you were distracted by the beautiful lab assistant enabling the enabler.

Mark: (nods in agreement) And Mostly Martha is about a woman terrified of intimacy saved by an Italian chef versed in the arts of sensuality.

Bernice: Exactly. Speaking of the problematic parts of who we are.

Mark: Are you afraid of intimacy?

Bernice: Terrified, though I crave it.

Mark: And sensuality?

Bernice: I get a two-hour massage every week from an earth goddess. My way of practicing safe sex.

Mark: (frowns) Sex? What is this thing you call sex?

Bernice: Naked with another in a bed.

Mark: Tell me more. A memory stirs in the dark recesses of my mind.

Bernice: (laughs) So now you want to talk dirty on the first date, too?

Mark: No. I’m too shy, but… dare I hope to see you again?

Bernice: (takes a deep breath) Yes, I’d love to see you again. What do we do for a second date?

Mark: How about a walk on the beach?

Bernice: I can’t tomorrow, but the next day is good for me.

Mark: Okay, so…how about we leave it that you call me? That way if you have second thoughts, etcetera.

Bernice: Okay. I’ll call you.

Mark: And if you don’t call me, that’s fine.

Bernice: (perplexed) Why would it be fine? I said I’d call you. Don’t you want me to?

Mark: I do want you to. Very much. But…

Bernice: But what?

Mark: I want you to feel free to change your mind.

Bernice: Do you want me to change my mind?

Mark: No, but…

Bernice: But what?

Mark: (quietly) Part of me expects you will.

Bernice: Ah.

Mark: What does your Ah mean?

Bernice: My Ah means you’re a person who drills the hole in the bottom of his own boat and then wonders why his boat sank.

Mark: (considers this) I think you misjudge me. And if giving you my blessing not to call me sinks the boat of our newborn connection, so be it. I said what I said to let you know you don’t have to worry about my well being should doubt overtake you. We have confessed to each other what we were in our previous relationships, and we have told each other what we don’t ever want to do again, which is be dependent on someone else needing us.

Bernice: (nodding) I get it. I do. And… are you hungry? I am. They have excellent guacamole and chips here. And the enchiladas are superb.

Mark: (smiles) Funny you should mention being hungry, for I am very.

fin

If You Will