Take a shower. Fix your hair. Put on make-up, no short cuts. Put on a skirt and wear a silk blouse. Wear pearls or a charm bracelet. Wear earrings, always, like your mother taught you, and lipstick. If you are not listening, you are not a woman and this advice does not concern you, or you have certain beliefs which restrain you from these practices, or you are not ready for this exercise. Wear low-heeled shoes or flats. It doesn’t matter as long as your gait is relaxed and your feet look attractive. Blanket yourself in perfume.
Bring the dog. The dog should have experienced sufficient discipline not to pull on its leash. If the dog has not been trained to follow the master’s lead, a silver pronged choke collar will do. It is not cruel. It saves the dog too. It maintains the health of their windpipe.
Say hello to the man and his business partner. They greet you in the breezeway of the apartment building as you pass. The man is Argentinian. He has lived in the building as long as you have. It would likely not work between you long-term. He would be too traditional. But it is still evident he appreciates the pearls and Pave diamonds, the chiffon blouse with the ruffles, and the silk camisole. It is clear you have pleased him. Greet him. Greet his partner. Feel their eyes on you as you walk away. For now, you are only taking the dog to the grass downstairs, but this entire sequence, from the beginning, is not unimportant. Do not waver from any part of this instruction.
You have a final purchase to make at the furniture store by the tracks. Watch the salesman you have come to know there as he writes your order. Enjoy the beads of sweat on his brow and on his lip. Watch his hands tremble slightly. He is not the man for you. What he has told you about himself without any encouragement informs your opinion. When he spoke on and on the first time you were there, you were silent and only listened. Enjoy it when he says he has told his mother about you. He tells you your furniture will arrive even quicker than it arrived the first time around. Instead of having to wait a week, you will get it the next day. He tells you to be sure of it. He also tells you, as you leave, to please come visit him again, just come talk to him while he works. You will do no such thing. You are not a creature who allows salesmen to substitute furniture store visits for dates. Besides, you’re out of cash. What business do you have in a furniture store with a randy, cheap sales clerk?
This period, they call it the in-between, can be difficult. It is a holding pattern requiring strength. You may want to go back to an old way. You may be in a bookstore and hear a blues album and remember your old bluesman love and what you intended to sing with his band. You may find yourself wanting to cry. Don’t. Stand and listen. Buy the album. Buy some coffee. Drink it black. Vow to learn the music yourself and sing it with another band. No, likely this won’t happen, but you don’t know that. Vow it, now.
Meet someone new, a woman browsing French tutorials. Pick one book. Agree to meet and practice. She knows Spanish too, so do you. Actually, you may never see her again. It doesn’t matter. Hug her. Feel her warmth against you. She is not unkind. She knows about the divorce.
All of this happens so that the album of Hawaiian songs does not overwhelm you with its blue sadness and the memory of the bluesman touching you in the theater. It happens so you do not follow through with your desire to purchase the album and put it in his mailbox. Pieces of that bridge are on fire and floating down the river.
It happens also so you have a friend who is female. Listen to what I say, it is what your mother said, girlfriends are important.
Leave the bookstore now. Besides, it’s four o’clock in the afternoon. It’s more important you walk your dog than scheme up half-crazed ways of making yourself vulnerable to unavailable men.
Remember this above all else: Never, ever appear like you once were, not to anyone.
You have entered a new phase, but you must forgive yourself to enter. And you have to remember new lessons of restraint, for they will always apply.
You are now always your own private garden.
You are now always the only one responsible for nourishing the soil and replenishing the seed.
You alone tend you, you alone water. This is what I say for the tending of the sweet, resplendent places.
It is pleasant to walk your dog beside a lake in winter in a tropical place because all of the black ducks waddle up the ryegrass bank and pluck the seed with their small gray beaks. There is nothing required of you but to watch them and wonder what kind of ducks these are. In fact, to do more, to wonder more, to think more, would be of something in the not-waiting, and the waiting is what I am trying to teach, the in-between, the still small tending that takes place when one sits silent and closes the eyes and lets the breeze ruffle one’s hair and the edges of one’s skirt and takes in the warmth of the sun on one’s face as it sinks into a blue lake and trees grown dark in their shade.
It is not necessary to fret over the things you don’t have or what you try to imagine you should be making happen when there are black ducks in the ryegrass and a tree full of birds in the dying oak under which you sit. Men walk by and affect various postures, women frown at your Pave diamonds or your occasional cigarette. It doesn’t matter. Let them.
A man, trying to impress his wife, both of them baby-talking to their children as they pass, complains of your cigarette smoke. What kind of man are you, you want to say. You had seen the way he looked at you when he was in the park earlier and his wife was further away. And now he was saying something which implied something, something that said to her “I will always, always, always be on your side in everything and will always, always, always speak in this ridiculous manner to our children because it is what is necessary for now, to make you happy.” You have known that kind of man. He is nice, so very nice, so very ultra nice.
One man strolls by and claps at the birds in the tree. thinking to stun them into silence for a moment. You forgive him when you see what big strides he must make, to assert himself against all of that.