Hope and A Full-length Mirror | Guest Post by Tess Thompson
I have a guest blogger today, the lovely and talented author Tess Thompson, whose voice is remarkably like mine — honest, quirky, funny, and smart. I like her a lot. I hope you will, too. — jpt
“Hope” is the thing with feathers –
That perches in the soul –
And sings the tune without the words –
And never stops – at all -“ — Emily Dickinson
Tuesday afternoon I dress for a coffee date with a man. It’s a first date, if you can call it that, as I’ve never met him in person, only exchanged emails. His email was sweet and well-written – I won’t go into the details but he went to a lot of trouble to get my attention. We appear to have a lot in common. His pictures show a handsome, age-appropriate man. Also, it was obvious he actually read my profile as opposed to just looking at my photographs and sending a note like, “hey baby, your sexy” (yes, your, not you’re) like the 77 others I’d received since putting my profile up the week before.
Because of all this, I sacrifice writing time and agree to meet him for coffee. All I can think is, please don’t be a liar.
I do not have a full-length mirror so I stand on a footstool in my bathroom, perched precariously on the top step, surveying my outfit. On the bed behind me are the discards: a dress that gapped at the chest, jeans I decided made my butt look big, a blouse that felt scratchy. I’ve ended up with a short black skirt with tights and boots, and a soft sweater I found on the clearance rack last winter. A $14 sweater no one else wanted and boots from three seasons ago. Kind of like me, I think.
As I turn on the footstool, I almost fall. God, I hate this, I think. It’s a perpetual audition or job interview, this dating experience in my forties. I never thought I’d be here again, having paid my dues all through my twenties with liars and cheats and Peter Pans who refused to grow up. Then, at thirty-one, came my happy ending. Or, so I thought. But my dreams were false. The marriage didn’t work and our subsequent divorce robbed me of several layers of skin, leaving me with flesh and bone exposed to the elements. I’m vulnerable and frightened and tender-hearted.
And I’m forty-five, going on another first date.
I started dating about eight months after the split from my ex-husband. Encouraged by family and friends, I try online dating. This is how it’s done now, they all assured me. Since then, in my ever-hopeful and trusting way I’ve dated liars and cheats and players and crazies. I’ve genuinely cared for several men that I actually thought genuinely cared for me. Unfortunately, they were damaged in ways not at first evident. But, as the truth always does, their dysfunction and lies surfaced eventually. As my friend Jesse said each time. “You dodged a bullet with that one.”
Despite the dodged bullets, each experience changed me. I hate that this is true, but the trusting and warm woman I once was is now chipped and cracked like the china I inherited from my grandmother. It’s the lies, mostly, that did it. This high tech world we live in makes it easy to lie, easy to charm, easy to run double lives, or triple lives. So now I’m left skittish and untrusting, looking for untruths and dysfunction – trying to discern the cruelty that will come if I let my guard down before I let my guard down. Nice girls like me? Not made for this world filled with players and cheaters. It turns us into bitter, suspicious cat ladies. I hate it. I really do.
I’ve given up many, many times. No more dating, I tell my friends. I’m happy with my work and my kids and my family and friends. Life is good.
I’ve been on hiatus, concentrating on my work, friends, and my beautiful children. These last months I’ve reflected upon my choices and examined how my own behavior played a part. I see clearly when and how I overlooked red flags, made excuses for behavior and believed their stories when I shouldn’t have. But there’s also this – the men I’ve dated behaved badly. That’s just the truth.
I’ve vowed to myself and friends and my mother that I will never again compromise or lower my standards. In these past months, I’ve become really comfortable with the idea of being alone for the rest of my life. I know you all know this, but it’s better to be alone than with a man with so much baggage he can’t possibly lift a hammer to hang a full-length mirror in your bedroom.
But then, I look around me. I see happy marriages. I see true partnerships of couples who are both lovers and best friends. I see marriage proposals and anniversaries. I attend weddings of soul mates. And I think, why can’t I have that, too? I’m an interesting, successful and loving woman. I have so much to give to the right person. Why not me?
So hope begins again. I muster the courage to admit to myself the truth. I want love in my life. I want a man to grow old with. I want a sweetheart who will hang a full-length mirror in my bedroom so I don’t have to stand on a footstool. So I try. I go back online. I put myself out there for possible judgement, rejection, hurt. Ultimately, my desire for love outweighs my fear.
So now on a rainy day in late October, I stand on a footstool in my bathroom looking at my reflection and cringe. I’ve had two children, my face is thin and etched with fine lines. I don’t have long, flowing hair or long legs. My breasts are real. And yeah, I’ve nursed two babies. I’m flawed inside and out. This is as good as I can look, as good as I can be. Probably it will not be good enough. But I have to try.
I get in my car to drive to Starbucks and think, maybe, just perhaps, this man will be kind, generous, sensitive and honest. Maybe something about me will move him, shift his heart a little to make room for love, despite what has come before. Perhaps something about him will move me, will shift my heart to forget the pain of the last five years and fill in those cracks made from mendacity. Maybe our collective baggage will fit together. Maybe he’ll be able to love and accept an absentminded, overly sensitive writer who loves movies that make her cry, soft jeans, red wine, and spooning on the couch while binge-watching BBC shows on Netflix. Maybe he’ll see that my vulnerability, my soft heart, my bravery are a gift, not a fault. Maybe…just maybe.
I open the door to Starbucks one more time. The smell of coffee and hope greet me.
Hope, perched in my soul.
Tess Thompson is a mother and writer. She’s also a Zumba dancing queen, though the wearing of the crown is reserved for invitation-only appearances. Her creative life began as an actress, director and playwright but she found her true calling in narrative fiction, specifically women’s fiction. See more at www.tesswrites.com. She’s also on Twitter, Facebook, Goodreads and Amazon.
Julia Park Tracey is an award-winning journalist, author, and blogger. She is the author of six books: three novels, one poetry collection, and two women's history. She was the Poet Laureate of Alameda, California, in 2014-17. She's also the conservatrix of The Doris Diaries, the diaries of her great-aunt Doris Bailey Murphy. She has a BA in journalism from San Francisco State University, and MA in Early 20th C. British Literature from Cal State Hayward. Julia's articles have appeared on Salon, Thrillist, Paste, Scary Mommy, Narratively, Yahoo News, Your Tango, and Sweatpants & Coffee. Her articles have also run in Redbook, Woman's Day, Country Living, House Beautiful, Town & Country, the San Francisco Chronicle, Oakland Magazine, Quill, and MadeLocal. She was the founding editor of weekly Alameda Sun and literary zine Red Hills Review. Her poetry has been in The East Bay Literary review, Postcard Poems, Americus Review, Cicada, Tiferet Review, and many others. Julia has been recognized several times by the San Francisco, East Bay and Peninsula Press Clubs as well as the California Newspaper Association for her blogging since 2003.