I park in front of her house, grab the salad and wine from the passenger’s seat and whack my head on a low-hanging limb. Dana answers the doorbell and after a hug, we head into the kitchen.
“I get it,” I announce, like I’ve deciphered some secret code. “This is what single women do. Single women eat together. On week nights.”
“With a day’s notice,” she chimes in, “or an hour. Yep, this is what we do. Welcome to the club, sister,” she says, smiling, and opens the chilled Classico Superior.
“Your email came yesterday,” I remind her. “Katy left a voicemail an hour ago, asking me to dinner. Tonight. I LOVE this! No more dinner parties! No more setting the date three weeks out and suddenly I’m slammed with work and I turn into this crazy person, worrying about what I’m going to cook and when I’ll buy the food. This is SO MUCH BETTER!”
We clink glasses.
Women taking care of one another, creating community, sharing food—this is, after all, what women do, what we’ve been doing for eons only I’ve been doing it for a family, like my mother before me and a whole lot of Lake Wobegon women before her. But the kids are raised and living in apartments. My husband moved out in July. Our dog died last May. It’s me and two goldfish who are wintering in a rudimentary aquarium in the laundry room, counting the days until they’re back in the enormous clay pot under the weeping cedar in the garden they share with the Buddha.
More than you want to know? Let’s move on.
For a good ten years before I met Tony, before my friend Phoebe left Denver, she and I were one another’s Friday night date. When her Himalaya-guiding boyfriend was in town, we were a trio. In the summer we’d sit on Phoebe’s front porch with a glass of wine—in the winter, on stools in her kitchen—and kick around the evening’s possibilities: Tattered Cover, a movie, Chinese food. Twenty minutes would pass and she’d ask if we were hungry, then magically pull odds and ends of fabulous food from the refrigerator. Three bites into dinner, relaxed, tucked in and happy, we had no reason to leave.
“I hope you like spinach,” Dana says, and ladles the greenest split pea pureed soup imaginable into two white bowls. “There’s a lot of it in here.” We move from the counter in the kitchen to the table in the dining room. Two placemats, two napkins, two spoons, two forks. I pile the salad plates with greens. Small hunks of Humboldt blue nestle among dried cranberries, kalamata olives and Clementine wedges. We top off our glasses.
“Give me the best part,” I say. She’s just back from Malawi and Morocco. “God, this soup is delicious.”
“I was unplugged for an entire week, one whole WEEK.” She looks dreamy-eyed. “It was incredible.” Now she looks incredulous. “Getting all wired up again? Not so fun. The stillness in Malawi was remarkable. So is this salad, by the way.”
Dana shares the idea twirling in that outsized brain of hers: create the Dana version of unplugged adventure. “Maybe not for a week—that could be a hard sell—but a few days? Come on,” she says, “it’s amazing what happens when you stop. There’s a whole world out there, a whole LIFE!” Her blue eyes are on fire. “You know what else? I’ve been more productive this week than I was before I left, even with the jet lag.”
The company of female friends: one talks, the other listens. We volley and change it up. We ask when we don’t understand, high-five when we do. We support, empathize and encourage. We take leaps. We hold up the mirror so the other can see her truth. If we’re afraid, we say so and if we’re lost, we ask for direction.
It’s July, early evening on a Sunday. “How do I get back to writing?” I ask my friend, Niela. If I could just write, I had reasoned, maybe I could let go of the anxiety, not feel so abandoned. I had a hunch that if I could put words to the shock, confusion and heartache that had settled in my bones, I wouldn’t feel so afraid.
Moments ago the sun had dropped behind the maple tree in Niela’s front yard, leaving us in shade on the back patio. A split of her favorite retsina sits between us.
“The writing will come,” she says. I hand her a cracker smothered with hummus. “There’s too much right now. Tony has left. The house you built and lived in for 17 years is for sale. You’re mowing two lawns and taking care of all the gardens. You’re under pressure to earn money. You’re trolling for clients. Ali will leave the neighborhood in a month. That’s huge. Tess has already left. You lost Molly. My god Rebecca, it’s a lot.” She’s leaning forward now. Her voice softens. A light breeze stirs the scent of lavender in the bed near the walk. “The writing will come when you feel settled. Give it time.”
I eat a slice of cheddar and take a bite of cracker, savoring the salt. She segues into her own challenges—those boxes of unsold books in her basement, the audio book that needs more editing, the artifacts yet to be catalogued, and yes, the unpainted walls from the kitchen renovation two years ago.
“We’re quite the pair,” I concede. “I can’t get started and you can’t finish.”
I text Dana about seeing Rosewater on a Sunday afternoon. I pick her up. We swing by Glenna and Michael’s and the four of us drive through snow to the Mayan for Jon Stewart’s first movie. On the ride home, we’re unanimous: the man can do anything.
“Forget the movie,” Dana says. “I want to know if you’ve started the piece about single women.”
“You write it or I will,” she says, and pauses. “I’m serious. In fact, I’ve started it.”
I take my eyes off the road just long enough to catch the smirk. She means it.