A Collection Of Work

Love After Death

In Romantic on May 1, 2012 at 9:17 am

Père Lachaise Cemetery - 2010

Recently I wrote a post about having overnight guests and my concern over the unfinished state of things due to our renovation mess. I think we managed quite well in spite of my Virgo tendency to want everything in its place before letting anyone in the front door.

Love After Death is their story.

Our guests gave me permission to write about an interesting twist to their love story as long as I didn’t use their real names. John took a couple of great pictures of them, but they didn’t want their photo online either so I went into my files to pull up a photograph that I thought might fit the story. I know you’re probably thinking what does a cemetery shot with a heart on tree have to do with love and this couple, but I’ll explain if you stay with me.

John and I had not met the woman who said she’d like to be Josephine in the story mentioning her fondness for the name based on the book Little Women and her sense of connection to the character Jo.

The man didn’t mind what I called him so I chose Jack, for Jackson Pollock. I’d only met Jack once about two years ago when he popped in for quick visit as he was driving through Cornwall but he and John have been friends since about 1999.

Jack and Josephine have known each other for more than thirty years having been part of a group that went camping together regularly and also spent a fair amount of evenings together socializing at their local pub in the 70s. Back then they were both married and never considered they might ever be more than friends.

Years went by and the group of friends changed with many moving on. Eventually both Jack and Josephine were divorced from their spouses and they lost touch until Josephine spoke with a friend about a year ago that she hadn’t had contact with for months. This friend told her that she’d heard that Josephine’s old friend Jack had died.

After hearing the news of his death and funeral arrangements, Josephine decided to go to the service. She found a spot to sit in the well attended ceremony and was shocked when she looked at the order of service and found that it was another Jack, one that she had not known as well that had died and whose service she was attending.

It turns out that there were two men named Jack in the group who had last names that were shockingly similar, a fact not well-known by Josephine’s friend, which set the scene for a happy case of mistaken identity.

After the ceremony, Josephine was standing upstairs and was surprised to look down and see Jack across the room. She said it was like a scene in Romeo and Juliet with her shouting down below to him, “Jack” and how he didn’t understand the reason for such an exuberant hug until she told him how happy she was to see him having thought he was dead.

Their accidental meeting at “Jack’s funeral” led to phone calls and dating and more recently a Christmas proposal and a decision to make a “Until death do us part” change in their relationship.

People find love in all sorts of places, but this one feels particularly sweet when you consider how what she thought was goodbye, turned into hello.


Cornwall – The Running Away Place

In Places on August 12, 2011 at 8:00 am

Mousehole In The Sun - Angela Jardine

When I was four I was adventurous and without the wisdom of fear, so I often ran away to teach my parents a lesson when I was upset with them. At forty I was all fear and, sadly, there was still no sign of any wisdom. So, when life got tough I ran away again and as Cornwall was the furthest I could get without needing a passport, crossing the sea or painful injections, I decided it was going to be my refuge of choice. Besides, it had a wild and romantic appeal to the odd pint of my blood that was Celtic. So I upped and left, feckless as a hare, to deepest Penwith to find solace among strangers.

On that first day of arrival I sat, a disconsolate heap of untidy tweed in my jumble-sale coat, on the cliff path overlooking Mount’s Bay, bemused by the loveliness of my surroundings. The early daffodils fluttered their golden skirts like coquettish can-can dancers and an azure sea played a leisurely game of tag with the rocks below, just feet from my feet. I waited for the sun to thaw out my frozen heart. It was healing by landscape.

After three days of this intensive treatment I was strong enough to return to the mayhem of my life in the North, though I wept as I crossed the Tamar and felt that I was going into exile. I did not know then that one day I would return to Cornwall and I would return to stay.

A mere fifteen years later I ran away again and headed, lemming like, for the same coast, the great bay of Penwith, having held the memory of it in my heart and mind, precious as a pearl in an oyster, for all the years in between.

I settled in the tiny fishing village of Mousehole and knew myself to be the luckiest person in the world. Everyday I found excuses to walk about the tiny, twisting streets, proud in my localness and anxious to be envied by the less fortunate visitors. My soul wrapped around my surroundings like a hen round an egg.

At least once a day I would walk to the end of the quay to gaze out across the bay towards the castle on St. Michael’s Mount, enthralled by the ever-changing scene with the sea below me as temperamental as a toddler one minute, as placid as a sleeping cat the next. Sometimes there would be tall ships, ghostly in the mist, rigging creaking, sheltering in the shadow of the Mount. Ships caught in a time warp.

Other days the scene would be hot and continental with yachts and motor launches idling about on the water and the gleaming white ferry charging purposefully across the bay, stalwart in its support of The Scilly Isles.

Mount’s Bay, and the land that encircles it, has held my soul in thrall ever since I first saw it all those years ago, and it still does. I am still its humble worshipper and I can only leave it with a sense of suspending time, of holding my breath, until I stand on its shore once more. It is the place I love above all others.


In Romantic on February 14, 2011 at 10:27 am


LA Photo By Denise Emanuel Clemen

“I gave San Francisco to a woman,” my date says.  I like that he understands what I mean when I tell him I have trouble being in L.A.  “It’s a problem when a freeway exit sign represents a person and the experiences you’ve had with that person,” he says.  He really gets it, I think, as we curve along the 110 through downtown Los Angeles.

“There’s Mr. Ex’s building,” I say as the damn thing looms over us in the urban glow like a monolith that might want to tip over and crush us.  My date looks over at me and nods. He’s a Match.com guy, and this ride home from the airport is our third date. We’ve been emailing during the days I’ve been away and I like him even better than I did when I left. But the only thing I know about where our relationship is headed is simply that we’re driving east. One date at a time. It’s all I can manage a year and a half after the breakup of a thirty-year marriage.

Half an hour earlier, I fretted as I strode up the jet way. What if I didn’t recognize him? I’d only seen him twice, and the last time we saw each other we were sitting in the dark at a dance concert. What if he didn’t recognize me? Airport fluorescent isn’t anyone’s best look, so what if he scanned the crowd and walked away? But when the escalator delivered me to the hallway outside of baggage claim he was there at the bottom, smiling and pretending to hold up a sign as if he were a limo driver.

For months after my marriage ended, whenever I came back from a trip I’d fantasize that Mr. Ex had changed his mind, and there he’d be at the airport waiting for me. He’d be holding a sign and it would say Take Me Back–or I’m Your Vehicle, Baby, a line from a Chicago song he’d always quote if he gave me a ride somewhere. But Mr. Ex never showed up. And now here I am in a car with a guy I barely know, and we’re driving through my past in the City of Angels.

My date first messaged me on Match a couple of weeks earlier while I was visiting friends in Portland. Robin and I sat on the couch, our heads together over my laptop, and scrolled through the pictures and profiles of the men who were interested in me. “Date the bass player,” she said. “They don’t have to be the center of attention.” After decades with a man who remained at the dinner table or a party only when he commanded the room, I liked the idea of someone who didn’t need to be wailing the melody center stage. The bass player had a solid day job, too and was fit from years of practicing and teaching Tai Chi. He didn’t profess to have any “unusual needs” like the guy in the loafers and the sport coat who explained during our online correspondence that he insisted on being “included” when his girlfriends used the toilet. The bass player didn’t post dozens of pictures of himself poolside in a skimpy pair of Speedos or shots of his pet lizards posed on toy furniture. So I took Robin’s advice and answered the bass player’s message.

We agreed on a hike for our first date and climbed one of the trails near the Griffith Park Observatory on a December Southern California day when you could actually see into the distance. The ocean was shimmering in the sunlight; storm clouds piled up like a stack of pillows over the San Gabriel Mountains, and from our particular angle the Hollywood sign appeared to read, “Hollywoo.” There wasn’t really any serious wooing going on though. Both of us were cautious. But conversation was easy, sweet and deep. After two hours of talking and walking we hugged and agreed we’d get together again. Then we got into our separate cars and drove down the hill. At the bottom, as we sat side by side at a stop sign, he blew me a kiss before we turned in opposite directions.

But I wondered if I really would see him again. My experience with Internet dating did not include much forthrightness when it came time for the on-the-spot analysis of the first meeting. “It would be fun to get together again,” I told the stocky curly-haired guy I’d met for coffee after a couple of weeks of emailing back and forth about our favorite New Yorker stories. He had teeth the color of topaz and t-shirt so sweaty that I shook his hand with a fully extended arm and had no intention of seeing him again.

“You’re beautiful and sexy and you have a great sense of humor,” the screenwriter on the verge of his big break told me at the culmination of our expensive dinner. I tried to envision my silver hair glistening in the candlelight like some ad in an AARP magazine, but I saw the way his gaze shifted every time a pretty woman young enough to be my daughter walked by our table. “I’ll call you next week,” he said as he kissed my cheek. I knew he wouldn’t.

Dating at the age of fifty-plus includes the inherent knowledge that we’ve all been broken, and there seems to be an ethic that says, “Do no further harm.” It makes it hard to be honest about the prospects of beginning a relationship. But with a little bit of luck a pleasant hour or two has been spent, and one returns home with a clearer idea of what characteristics might be included in that perfect match. If you are someone that dates with your head and not your heart, that is.

I have no idea what the bass player sees in me, is what my head says as I ride next to him. I ponder his profile while he watches the six lanes of traffic in front of us. We’re so different from one another, I think. Different ethnicities. An age gap of ten years. I’m taller. I know very little about music or eastern religion. But then he glances my direction and our eyes meet. There’s nothing I’d like better than to skate my palms over his shaved head and bring his mouth to mine. How exactly did an online dating site figure this out? Or am I just swept away in the moment the way I was last summer before I got tired of the playwright who wanted to read me a play of his every evening before we turned out the lights?

I’m striving for more candor this time around, and while I don’t think Internet dating requires a brutally accurate assessment of why people don’t especially want to go on that second date, I aspire to some degree of honesty. “I don’t ever plan on getting married again and if we continue to see each other, I’m going to take things very slowly,” I told my date before our good-bye hug in Griffith Park. “It might be months before I’m alone with you in the dark,” was my response after he invited me over to his place to watch a movie. “I’m really glad you came to the airport,” I tell him now, electing to keep my hands to myself in an effort to avoid a fifty-car pile up.

When we get to my place, I invite him in for a glass of wine. I’ve already told him I’m not ready to sleep with him yet, but as we sit in my living room with the lights low, visions of the future stand quietly in the shadows. Through the French doors, I can see the ivy and jasmine vining around my patio, and it’s easy to imagine my roses in full bloom when summer comes. Something is unfurling inside my heart.

In this era of Internet dating, love happens the way it always has. It’s not a laundry list of attributes or an inventory of likes and dislikes that propel us toward one another. It’s an earlobe, the taste of a kiss, or the way someone nods when they understand what is being said. Dating sites no doubt increase the traffic on the freeway to our hearts. The intersection of the data on our screens and the input of our senses is a good place to stop and smell the roses. But love, as it’s always been, is still a happy accident where the palpable world collides with the mysteriously intangible.

My date pats the sofa as I set two glasses of wine on the coffee table. I curl up next to him, pondering the wonders of Internet dating and the small miracle of how, in a city of almost four million people, I’ve been guided to someone I never would have found on my own.

Denise Emanuel Clemen writes in a variety of places one of which is Birthmother, A Blog About Adoption.