Part I: Sometimes Elegant, Other Times Not
In the moment before any story there is an image and then the translation of that thought into words, directing the actions of our lives. Of course, this is not always a good thing nor even a bad thing but it is how we roll.
In her iconic essay, “Why I Write” (NYT December 1976), Joan Didion says “I write entirely to find out what I’m thinking.” The essay title, Didion acknowledges right away, is borrowed from James Orwell, and that’s how it is with all words—borrowed—from a common culture to communicate, sometimes elegantly and other times, not so much.
I cannot say I had Joan Didion in mind when I received Celeste’s text about throw pillows. Rather, sex was on my mind as I was trying to write a scene about a health and sexuality podcast in a small town buried by time (think Girl Boner Radio meets Brigadoon).
“You really need some color on your loveseat and throw pillows look great. Which ones do you like?” 😊
“I’m not big on throw pillows. I don’t like them.” I believe this will suffice but like sex in a small town, the story becomes much more than any actual act.
I then receive three images of throw pillows in different shapes: a green and white check square, a green and orange circle, an oblong red and green Scottish plaid. I don’t like throw pillows; have never owned any. I don’t think I ever had a thought about a throw pillow until I met Celeste, truly a good soul.
My use of the term, “good soul,” is not complimentary but refers to people who are “just trying to help,” meaning they help their way and only their way, as if they were born with a vision better than the rest of us mere mortals. Dorothy Parker, elegant as ever, described good souls this way:
“There is simply no keeping them down–back they come, with their little gifts, and their little words of advice, and their little endeavors to be of service, always anxious for more.”
All of this is to say that I would soon find myself in H-E double toothpicks yet again.
Part II: The Curmudgeon and the Good Soul
Celeste is determined to make me like other people, believing that deep in my soul it is what I desperately seek. In other words, mine is the façade of a curmudgeon desiring to fit finely into another fold. Thankfully, every time I’ve attempted to be like everyone else, I found myself instead.
She and I would never have met if it were not for my recent relocation to an efficiency apartment of 17 ½’ x 12 ½’ with half galley kitchen (including a granite countertop just big enough for a small microwave) and bathroom. These measurements are important, dear reader, and not extraneous text.
Celeste is the daughter-in-law of a former neighbor, my dear Sibyl. As is befitting her name, Sibyl is wise and has seen almost all of the 20th century during her 93 years. Sibyl loves Celeste deeply but she also knows her as the kind of person who loves a cause and one who “will take over if you let her.”
And so it was that Celeste was looking for household items—”just about anything, really”—for some migrant families who moved into our area of the Florida Panhandle. After asking me, Sibyl sent her along. In truth, I was delighted!
It was less than 36 hours before I would move, and I still had more “stuff” than I knew what to do with and although I would not admit it, I was increasingly hampered by both spinal cord and autoimmune disease. I don’t know why I thought I could be anything more than the person who wrote the check for the move.
So, it wasn’t as if I could just box up/bag up items and take them to Goodwill or any other donation center. Literally, I did not have the physical wherewithal. Also, I don’t believe that Goodwill or any agency taking donations are dumping grounds for anything that isn’t dust.
In hindsight, I cannot imagine a poorer plan for moving household but hindsight is like that, a pair of eyes I rarely seek, perhaps at my own peril. What might have been is not the best view of the past so meh, I say.
Enter my good soul, Celeste, surveying my mismatched wares in size and color: plates and glassware, flatware, and utensils; towels, a yellow fitted sheet, a green sheet, a brown mustard colored pillowcase; knickknacks of absolutely no worth (or meaning to me) stored in bins for eleven years. Yet, Celeste seemed to find good in all but very little and that we shoved into black plastic bags for flinging into the dumpster. It was a hard day’s work.
Without Celeste at this juncture in the move, both my wallet and my body would be even worse for wear. I was and remain grateful, although that may not always be evident.
When there was less than 12 hours left, I had overworked my body into such an inflammatory state that my tissues were leaking freely and every joint was supersized while my moisture glands were as dry as the Sahara. Chronic illness is nothing if not contradictory.
I had been eating nitrate and nitrite free turkey hotdogs stuffed into quinoa tortillas with vegan cheese and a bit of spinach for the last 10 days. I will die a comfort food eater always with one eye to the healthy. Oh, and apples, always lots of apples and blueberries.
And that is how Celeste found me that final day, sitting in the middle of my living room floor facing a wall of filled boxes, shoving food fast. We had discussed my new efficiency apartment and she had mentioned a degree in design. Yes, I encouraged her and once again, I was ever grateful.
Patiently, she explained the floor plan of my new efficiency apartment was not what it seemed so she drew, to scale, a floor plan five feet shorter in length, which meant my loveseat would not fit.
With most of my food swallowed, I reply, “I guess I didn’t mention that I was actually in an apartment similar to the one I’ll be renting. We measured it and my 12-foot tape measure ran out with about five feet to go.” But such is not the mind of a good soul who knows all.
She is unmoved and only has eyes for her floor plan. “You really can’t tell about these floor plans,” she says and shakes her head. “See this closet? More than likely they are including it in the 17 feet.”
“But I was there. In the room. With my tape measure. With five feet to the closet door.”
More head shaking on her part and then she looks directly into my eyes and says what I have been thinking but have been unable to consider, “You won’t have room for the loveseat.”
I am not in love with the loveseat and originally considered selling it but I am now down to less than 10 hours before the movers arrive and bereft of bandwidth for Facebook Marketplace, as lucrative as it proved to be. Even Celeste’s church will not help.
For reasons I will never understand, I waste another two hours trying to convince Celeste she is wrong but methodically and calmly, she continues to explain that closets are hidden in floor plans. And the longer we go on, she becomes convinced the bathroom may also be included. “I will be shocked,” she says, “if that room is longer than 12 feet.”
Moving day proves me (and my floor plan) right and her wrong. I’m so angry about the added stress, the lost sleep and the unflappability that is Celeste so I wait a day before I text her: “It’s 17 1/2′.”
We go text silent for a week.
Part III Only Her Kind of Love to Give
And now, dear reader, we return to the throw pillow texts or from whence this post began.
“To be clear, I don’t want throw pillows.” I think about adding 🙏 but I think better of it.
“OK. Sibyl and I would like to gift you these pillows. It’s really uncomfortable sitting on your loveseat and throw pillows would help.” 😊
I am reminded of a saying about people having only their kind of love to give. In Celeste’s case, it includes using my friendship with Sibyl. There really is no keeping a good soul down.
“Well, buy them, then! I certainly can’t have that!!? 🙄 By now, I have stopped writing the sex-in-a-small town podcast scene. Sexuality cannot hold a candle to a throw pillow in the hands of a good soul. I wish it were not so. But before Celeste can respond, I text:
“When you are not here, I’ll throw them in the closet. I don’t like throw pillows and I won’t make myself look at them.” In a room of 17′, EVERYTHING is in view, including a fleck from a taco shell. And yes, I’m being a bit childish. 😬
“But you have so little space!”
We go text silent for the day but I wake up to:
“Good morning! I’m wondering how you feel about the throw pillows today.” 😊
“Same as yesterday! But you already bought them so????” 😣 Ah, perhaps she did not purchase the pillows. I am reminded of Leonard Cohen’s “there is a crack in everything; it’s how the light gets in.”
“Who doesn’t like throw pillows?” 🤔
“I don’t. I told you I don’t. I’m not like other people.”
“But this means Sibyl and I will have to bring our own throw pillows when we come to visit.” 😕
As much as I love Sibyl I’m not living with throw pillows, which I suspect the prophetess has known all along. I offer her good soul daughter-in-law an out:
“It seems to me that most of our visits will take place in Sibyl’s apartment.” 😊
“That’s a good point.” 😊
There is some silence before Celeste texts:
“Sibyl would be really upset, I mean really upset, if she knew about this exchange.” 😳
“I have no intention of telling her.” I know I won’t have to because Celeste will, and Sibyl knows (and loves) both of us, who we are and as we are.
There have been no visits to either apartment but Sibyl and I converse on the phone regularly, as we have done for all the years of our friendship—we’re phone friends—she in her rocker with her throw pillow and I on my loveseat in restorative recline.