“What do you want?”
A furry body rubs up against my leg and continues to meow. I repeat the question as I stroke the cat’s black silky fur. I stop petting, and the cat looks at me with his huge saucer eyes. He takes his paw and gently taps me on the leg. I finally get some cat treats out of the closet, which makes him happy. He stands on two legs until I open the bag and put a few on the floor for him. After finishing them, he licks his chops and walks away, tail standing straight up.
I turn back to the sink full of dishes. Snow is falling outside; I can see it on my left, out of the corner of my eye. Snow leaves me with mixed feelings. I love the way it quietly falls, and how it creates a perfectly stark landscape. Nature becomes a blank slate, wiped clean of the offensive view of dead trees, yellow grass, and street curbs blackened by the salting trucks. On the other hand, it means I have to go out and shovel. Strenuous physical activity reminds me that I am no longer a young woman. My back is perpetually sore at the base of the spine, and I am acutely aware of the bone spurs on my feet.
I finish the dishes and turn off the water. I look at my hands, now wet and shriveled from the hot soapy water. I dry my hands and the dishes, and put them away. My house is small; there’s not enough space to leave things laying around without them becoming an impediment. But it’s the perfect size house for a single person. My friends envy the creaky old wood floors, beamed ceilings and oak bookcases. You would expect the tenant of such a house to be an old male Classics professor, never married, socially awkward. There is one significant difference—this house has no clutter. There are rows and rows of books. But all papers and magazines are neatly filed away. So, you might reason that the same professor has cleaning help.
But no, it’s just me, a female librarian approaching middle age, previously married, with no help at all. Well, that’s not entirely true. Some of the neighbors are helpful, and my parents still drop by to help out with larger household projects. Occasionally I will hire someone to do something for me. But money is tight, so I have learned to do plumbing, electric, and landscaping on my own. As for the social part—I like to think I’m not socially awkward. But maybe I am.
Many of my neighbors and friends are also divorced women. I live on a dead-end street, and all of my neighbors are divorced women. I don’t know if this makes us a living metaphor. And if it does—for what?
The phone gives a loud shriek, and I jump. I hate the telephone. People in my demographic are supposed to prefer the phone to e-mail or social networking, but that is decidedly not true for me. I sigh and trundle up the stairs to the loft, where my answering machine sits. It picks up the phone, and I hear a voice, “Hi Nischala, it’s me.”
I pick up the phone. It is one of my closest friends, another divorced woman with 2 children. She always refers to me by my Hindu name. We are devotees of the same guru, and that name was given to me by our guru. It means “stillness”.
I invite her over for a visit, and she accepts. About an hour later, I see her car pull into my driveway. She has no fear of driving in the snow, and so far it’s not that heavy anyway. Her tall figure towers over the car as she stands up, her black hair blowing in the wind. I open the door quickly to let her in. She turns her cheek to me so I can give her a kiss. More of a peck, really; neither of us are fond of the touchy-feely, but it is her European custom. Looking wind-blown and exhausted, she slumps into a chair in my breakfast nook.
My friend and I have different life goals, but we seem to live parallel lives. Her love and devotion is for our guru. While I am devoted to the guru, I always tend to be intensely in love with some man. I like to think I’ll have another committed relationship in the future. But there are always obstacles, and the people I fall in love with tend to be unavailable. As I don’t fall in love based on looks alone, I tend to stick around and be friendly with the object of my affection. If I can’t have them as a lover, it would be a shame to dismiss them as a friend. It would also be disrespectful for me to interfere with their existing relationship; if the shoe was on the other foot, I wouldn’t want someone to do that to me. On the other hand, relationships are not always permanent, and apparently hopeless situations may not be as hopeless as they seem. Still, I never set my expectations too high.
Most of my friends do not understand my approach to love. They think I am somehow deliberately shielding myself from love, and being overly picky—and therefore lonely. I’ve thought a lot about this criticism, and I’ve decided it’s unfair. Aloneness does not have to equal loneliness. And I’d rather be alone than with someone I really don’t care for. There is nothing worse than feeling trapped in a bad relationship. It is unfortunate that those I fall for tend to be taken, but I don’t make a point of going after people already in relationships. It just turns out that way. And you can’t control your attractions; love is not logical.
I make my friend and I some hot chocolate, as she has sworn off coffee and tea. She is in fact the only friend who understands my love situation. If I feel plagued with doubt about myself, she will shake her head and say, “Nischala, you need to follow your instincts. If what you were doing was wrong, Amma would steer you away from it. What good is a man in your life if he doesn’t respect you? Granted, it’s hard to maintain a household by yourself, but it’s not a price worth paying with the wrong person.”
I know she is right. There is an insufferable guilt that goes along with faking a relationship. I can’t fake intimacy or happiness with someone who I really have no feelings for. I cannot understand gold diggers for the life of me—especially when they marry someone they could not possibly care for or relate to on any level. That kind of life is not worth the money. I’ve been on dates with men I don’t really care for, and I always feel bad, especially if they appear interested. It’s not that they’re bad people; there’s just no chemistry. So, I’m forced to choose between two kinds of cruelty—rejection now or rejection later.
The cat comes out from under the sofa, and sticks his nose directly into my friend’s purse and digs around a bit. He then cautiously sniffs at her foot and looks at her questioningly. She smiles, and scratches him on the head. The cat has his favorite people, and she seems to be one of them.
Our discussion moves to the economy, and finances. I hear a lot about how middle and lower class Americans seeking government assistance are looking for “handouts”, and should “pull themselves up by their bootstraps” and work hard instead of being “lazy”. I can’t help but to feel resentful. I don’t know a single poor or middle class person who is lazy; most of us work multiple jobs, and may have families to feed on top of that. And we’re expected to bear the tax burden, not share it with the rich. As if I needed any more evidence that the world doesn’t operate logically.
After talking about everything and really solving nothing, my friend gets up to leave. The snow has stopped now, and she still has many errands to run. I stand on the porch in an inappropriate pair of clogs and wave as she leaves, feeling the wet snow stinging my feet. I go back inside and stomp my feet at the threshold to push off the snow. It falls off in shoe-printed blobs onto the floor, and attract the cat’s attention. He is stunned by the cold when they touch his nose, and he darts away, slipping under the sofa. I look outside and think about shoveling. The snow starts to fall again, and I think better of it. I go upstairs and prop myself up on my bed with a book, while my skylights turn a grainy white.