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The most exciting thing I've done in the past three years is give myself a pubic haircut. Last October in a frenzied attempt to perk myself up, I decided to lop off the straggly ends. Baring myself in front of a full-view mirror—Lord, that ought to be outlawed!—I snipped a little, just a half inch or so. I thought I'd end up looking cute and sassy down there. Instead I looked shorn. But the worst part was that it never grew back.
Well, no...the worst part was that I had to go to the gynecologist the following week. In a misguided moment (I have many of those) I tried to pass off my near-baldness as a joke.
"How do you like my sassy new cut?"
"I wouldn't notice if you dyed it green and tied it with a Christmas ribbon." Dr. Howard never even looked up.
I don't know what possessed me to say such a thing to him. For goodness sake! I'm the kind of woman who carries dental floss in her purse and raises her hand for permission to speak at Friends of the Library board meetings.
I guess I'm still a bit unhinged by grief. When I think about it, the most gut-wrenching aspect of my foolhardy foray with the shears is that nobody is here to notice.
I blame Roy. If my husband hadn't hauled off and died, he'd be here paying attention. He was that kind of man, the kind who doesn't go through life unaware but lives every moment with arms and heart and mind open wide.
My day didn't start until Roy pulled back the covers and said, "Wake up, Louise. Did you ever see such a morning?" Rain, shine, sleet or snow—the weather didn't matter. Roy pronounced each day "splendid."
My husband could see beauty in a mud puddle. Literally.
"Look at that, Louise," he'd say after a heavy spring rain. "Have you ever seen so many amazing colors in mud?"
I'd look and see nothing except brown. But he'd pick up a stick and swirl the mud till the colors of the earth emerged, terra-cotta and deep blue and coppery red, and all of a sudden I'd see the world through his eyes—extraordinary instead of mundane.
Roy was my mirror to life. Two years ago when he died, it cracked wide open, and I've been living a smashed-up, patched-together, sleepwalking life ever since.
If he were here on this balmy August night I'd be sailing with him on the Tenn/Tom Waterway to appreciate the full moon instead of baking cheese straws in preparation for Tuesday-night quilting club with Patsy. I'd be striving for sex appeal in Bermuda shorts and bare-toed sandals instead of opting for comfort in Reebok walking shoes and a twill skirt with enough elastic around the waist to make allowances for two helpings of lemon cream pie.
Not that I mind Patsy. Just the opposite. I love her. She's the only person besides Roy who creates wonder wherever she goes. (She creates mayhem, too, but we won't get into that.)
She's my mirror now, as well as my compass. Without Patsy sprinkling pixie dust and pointing the way, I'd fade into the wallpaper. And not the wild, jazzy kind either. I'd fade into a plain-Jane, gray-and-white-striped paper.
Of course, I have my daughter, Diana, but while I'm perfectly willing to let my friend be the captain of my leaky lifeboat, I refuse to be the kind of mother who defines herself through her children. Besides, she has her own life now, a husband and a baby on the way.
Independence is part of life's natural order. Eagles lay pointed sticks in the nest when it's time for the eaglets to leave home. And I suspect they have more sense than to hang around their children's new digs all the time just because they're lonely and suffering from empty-nest syndrome. Maybe a bit scared, too, but we won't go into that, either.
I arrange the last cheese straw on the cookie sheet, slide it into the oven then go into my office and open e-mail.
From: "Miss Sass" patsyleslie To: "The Lady" louisejernigan Sent: Tuesday, August 15, 6:00 p.m.
Subject: Dangerous Tonight Hey Lady,
I'm feeling dangerous tonight. Hot to trot, if you know what I mean. Or can you even remember?? Look out, bridge club, here I come. I'm liable to end up dancing on the tables instead of bidding three spades. Whose turn is to drive, anyhow? Mine or thine?
P.S. Lord, how did we end up in a club with no men?
This e-mail is typical Patsy. She's the only person I know who makes me laugh all the time. I guess that's why I e-mail her about ten times a day. She lives right next door. Wouldn't you think I'd just pop over and sit down for a chat? Or pick up the phone and call several times a day?
I do both, but e-mail satisfies my urge to be instantly and constantly in touch with her without having to interrupt the flow of my life. If you call fifteen trips to the bathroom because I took a dieuretic to reduce the swelling in my feet "flow."
Sometimes we even save the good stuff, the real get-down-and-bare-your-soul talk, for e-mail. Don't ask me why. Maybe it's because e-mail gives you all the time you need to respond, plus it puts a buffer between you and the recipient if you need it.
From: The Lady, louisejernigan To: Miss Sass, patsyleslie Sent: Tuesday, August 15, 6:10 p.m.
Subject: Re: Dangerous Tonight So, what else is new, Miss Sass? You're always dangerous. If you had a weapon, you'd be lethal.? It's your turn, and I hope you get the lead out of your foot because the last time you drove I nearly peed in my pants, which is more than a remote possibility tonight because I took a water pill and my bladder control's not what it used to be.
P.S. What's this about men? I thought you said your libido was dead?
I press Send then wait. Her reply is almost instantaneous.
"I knew you'd jump on that bait." Talking to myself is a habit I've acquired since Roy died.
From: "Miss Sass" patsyleslie To: "The Lady" louisejernigan Sent: Tuesday, August 15, 6:12 p.m.
Subject: Re: Dangerous Tonight Ha! If I had a brain I'd be lethal.
And I said my libido was in hibernation, not DEAD! Jeez, Louise!!!!!
Patsy loves to have the last word, so I shut off my computer.
She and I have been best friends for forty-five years. When she breezed into Tupelo, Mississippi, in a whirlwind of big hair and big attitude—a stunning blonde from Boise, Idaho, who looked like a fairy princess but talked like a truck driver—I was the only girl in fifth grade who would have anything to do with her. The rest were either scared or jealous, but I had nothing to be jealous about. I was a mousy-haired bookish nerd in glasses (still am, as a matter of fact).
How two such opposites became inseparable and remained that way for all these years is a mystery to me. I think the Universe saw my plight—a homely, motherless little girl with her head always in a book and a daddy who knew everything about computers but nothing about raising a daughter—and sent an angel to be my beacon. Not the prissed-up version that belongs in a church, but a sassy, down-to-earth one who knew nothing about wings and everything about flying.
I told Patsy this when we were twelve, and she said, "If you ever call me an angel again, I'm going to wash your mouth out with soap fifty times!"
I never did mention it again, but I've been flying along in her tailwinds ever since we met. When I feel myself plummeting, I call her.
She's the only person in the world I would phone in the middle of the night to say, "Did you ever get the feeling you grew up and turned into the wrong person?"
Last night I did that, and instead of asking me if I had lost my mind or pointing out that it was eleven and she'd been in bed since the ten-o'clock news, she said, "I know exactly what you mean. Ever since Rocky had the bad judgment to get electrocuted in a thunderstorm I've felt as if I was living somebody else's life."