"I'm a recovering housewife," Carlotta says of herself. She is tall and statuesque, smokes Capris and drinks vodka martinis out of a pink and black tiger-striped glass. Carlotta doesn't seem to care that slim cigarettes and martinis are dainty items to be held and enjoyed by dainty women. Carlotta is a lady, and she drinks and smokes like one. I want to be like Carlotta.
"It was on Fourth of July that I threw Steve out, you know," Carlotta tells me. That bit of information is new to me, but in the years I've known Carlotta I've learned that she was married for over 20 years, that she raised two children in that time, and that when she divorced, she blossomed. She is a favorite among the bartenders at the Wright Place. It is impossible to not like Carlotta. As I enter this Carlotta stage of my life, she inspires me.
Fourth of July, like other holidays, inevitably led me to think about what is glaringly missing. In the world I imagined for myself, Gabriel would have been here for the holiday. He would spend the day munching on watermelon and hot dogs, I would be cleaning his sticky hands and face, chasing him while he toddled around on his newly discovered walking legs. A one-year old Gabriel wouldn't want to be held by his mommy much anymore, but maybe the shrieking and booming of the fireworks would cause him to climb into my lap where I could wrap my arms protectively around him and be close to him again. My heart aches knowing I couldn't protect him from the defect that claimed his life, that my body couldn't grow him "right."
When we moved into the house three doors down from my parents, I was secretly pregnant and imagining a life in the tight-knit neighborhood where Fourth of July block parties were once the norm. I knew I couldn't handle a neighborhood celebration this year so I planned my day to be spent with friends and family away from the house. Timothy organized a last-minute softball game in the morning, so I dragged myself from sleep to play. It's been years since I played. Honestly, I'm still a little afraid of the ball, but since I've faced my biggest fear, losing my child, the ball seems a little bit more manageable. After the game Timothy asked me once again to join him and our sister Monica to play co-ed softball in the fall. It's tempting. I've envied that time they get to spend together, and told myself that if scheduling allows for it next season, I would play.
"If I'm going to play, I want to practice." Tim nodded. It's not true that I want to practice, though. I hate practicing. I just want the ball to be magnetically drawn to my glove, without having to practice. I want every swing of the bat to make contact with the ball and it doesn't make sense to me that if they are both headed towards each other, they don't every time. More than I hate practicing, though, I hate to do something poorly. Before losing Gabriel, and then Ben, if I wasn't good at something I just wouldn't do it. Now, my fear of missing out on things outweighs my fear of looking ridiculous. Recently I noted to Jessica that my legs have more of a tan than they ever have, and she noted in response that she's seen me in shorts more than she ever has before. In recent year's I've rarely showed my legs, once considered my greatest physical asset, because I decided I didn't like the way they looked anymore. I trudged around Bakersfield in 100 degree heat in long jeans or mid-calf length sundresses because I didn't want anyone to see how much I had changed. But I'm changing again. And it's uncomfortable. It's uncomfortable when someone says "Andrea, you have legs!" and it's embarrassing when I miss the throw and it's humiliating when someone asks about Ben and I have to say "I don't know. We're getting a divorce." The alternative, though, was to stand still, and never feel the sun on my skin and never play with my brother and sister, and to spend the rest of my life alone in a marriage.
Immediately after we were married I recall feeling lonely and missing my single life. Ben worked a lot, and in addition to that, he seemed to want to spend his down time either without me, or with me on the condition that we were doing things he wanted to do. I felt compelled to wait at home for him, so when he got there we could spend time together. I think of all the time I've spent waiting in the last couple of years, and I don't want to wait anymore. Life is short and I want to spend it enjoying all it has to offer.
I was fascinated to find how much, once Ben left, I still enjoyed the alone time in the house. I thought the memories of our marriage and the thoughts about what could have been with Gabriel would lead me hate being there. On the contrary, I find myself looking forward to the times I come home to find my roommate is not there, and I can spend hours alone playing with the dogs, reading, doing chores, getting lost in a Lifetime movie, or thinking.
The thinking is the hardest part. It seems like my brain doesn't turn off these days and I crave distraction. There's been no better distraction than my friends. I have never in my life needed my friends like I do now. After investing so much energy in building an intimate relationship with one person that I hoped would be unbreakable, only to have it crumble, I am grateful for the relationships I have that are easy and fun and rewarding.
Lindsey just might be my favorite new friend. Although we've known each other for a while now, our friendship has really developed in the last few months. I was thankful for her invitation to watch the fireworks together to celebrate her birthday, which for her has commonly been swept up into Fourth of July celebrations. We perched ourselves in our lawn chairs on top of one of the foothills, beers in hand, to enjoy a unique view of the city from which we could see many of the fireworks displays around town. From our hill I could see how much the area has changed. I remember when the city first started developing housing in the foothill area, and I wondered where all the high school kids would go to get stoned and screw. I suppose now they just have to go a little farther out but in any case, looking out over Bakersfield from the foothills has always made me grateful to live in this little, big town. I'm glad I got Bakersfield in the divorce settlement.
I sat in easy silence with Lindsey because that's the thing about our friendship - we can talk, or we can be silent. We can go to lunch or dinner together, but neither of us minds going to lunch or dinner alone. We communicate almost every day but it's because we want to. We're just friends. We both drink beer, not martinis, and neither of us smokes cigarettes. But if we did, we would smoke Capris, just like Carlotta.
It was my privilege to participate in the surprise party that Elise put together for Lindsey at the bar yesterday. Elise came to me with the idea a few weeks ago, concerned that our good friend would get overlooked on her birthday because of the holiday. After the fireworks show I left Lindsey quickly, telling her I would feed the dogs and meet her at the bar later. When Lindsey walked into the bar she was surprised to find Elise holding a birthday cake lit with a sparkler, birthday decorations scattered across the bar, and a collection of food and gifts waiting for her. Lindsey was all smiles all evening, clearly happy with the party. I can't thank her enough for being the kind of friend that I want to do these things with and for, for being an unexpected friend in an unexpected time who I might be very lost without.