A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about the small triumphs that came with a summer of day trips. There were breezes from the river rippling across a church cemetery with sun-bleached tombstones, the sepia-toned photographs in museums of those who fought for civil rights, the seagrasses framed against an impossibly pure blue sky, the sugared walnut, apple, and chicken salad savored while looking out on the Chesapeake where a lone seagull swooped with abandon.
Yet, triumphs, when it comes to romantic love the second time around in these “sunset” or “autumn” years feel as elusive as those river breezes. As I wrote to friends on my Facebook page this week: Rule Number 1. Don’t meet a blind date in the town where you got married. And how do you get past the shaking hand and bad teeth when you are reminded of once being young and married to the man of your dreams? Just as an aside … he was sweet and a good conversationalist.
After I said goodbye to him and drove away from that town so steeped in memory, I waited for the dreaded text. An hour later, there it was. “Let’s meet again for a walk or a day trip,” he wrote. I sighed … how nice, but if only, if only I could see myself in his arms. Not the arms of the man I’d just had coffee with, but in the arms of the man I’d once loved.
A recent article comparing voles to humans (voles are monogamous) offered the somewhat saccharine notion that despite a human’s propensity for monogamy, “soul mates” can be found more than once in a lifetime. Take the 82-year-old woman who suddenly appeared sad in the elevator one day, the columnist wrote. Her husband had died suddenly. So, she got a senior golden retriever for the company. About a year later, she was again in the elevator, only this time with a happy smile. And shortly after that, was observed holding hands with an older gentleman. She had found someone!
As a widowed friend said to me, “How do we get past the age spots on the hands, the bad teeth, the croupy cough, the … well, just the old age? Not to mention that most men view women as second-class citizens?” She asked this after we had both attended a party, mainly of married couples where the women looked ten years younger than their spouses. One of the women, in her eighties, had actually found her second husband through a dating app. She leaves him at home now when she travels the world because “he’s a bother and doesn’t want to go anywhere,” she confided to my friend.
For anyone, who has read my books, you know that true love is a recurring theme. Although it’s not for lack of trying that my heroine, Ava Stuart, didn’t find someone again after Jay. In the years after his death, she would have liked someone to travel with, someone to come home to at the end of the day to cry, to bitch, to moan about the state of the world, to laugh at life’s absurdities. This is how writing leads the way for Ava. She explores her memories and reflections, and comes to terms with, even finding pleasure, in being alone.
“We write to taste life twice, in the moment and in retrospect.” –Anaïs Nin
Ava writes in her memoir in And the Memory Returns.
She thought about Jay, and how he always made her feel special. How lovely it had been to share with a real man—one who liked women and wasn’t threatened by them, who offered intellectual stimulation, a soak in a hot tub, talking about politics, love, and life. Ava felt like it had been a billion years since she lathered Jay with soap in the shower, her hands running down his firm stomach to his thighs where the dark hair caught in swirls in the hot water.
As she grows older, Ava understands that the hope and the promise of writing are that she can live twice, yet not be frozen by the past and still look ahead. No one holds her back. She holds the cards to this day and to her future. No one could save her, but herself. How many times could a woman reinvent herself? Did metamorphosis have an end date? Now there were so many women like her, alone and in their fifties, sixties, seventies, and beyond. She liked to think there was a wildness to this, an excitement in this sea change of women alone.
“I can shake off everything as I write; my sorrows disappear, my courage is reborn.”
How about you? Have you written to remember and move forward?