It was somewhere around the year 2000, give or take a year or two this way or that, and I thought, Who has time for cafes anymore? Sure, I had once hung out at cafes writing in my journals, pre-Wi Fi, but that had been back in my free-spirited twenties, before I hit the sleep-deprived haggard struggling single-mom decade of my thirties, followed by the catch-up-on-your-never-materialized-career decade of my forties.
I hadn't, however, been grocery shopping in weeks and was thus sadly down to stale water crackers and old babaganoush. So in a rare bold move, I mustered enough of my measley energy to leave the house and walk two blocks uphill to the Moonlight Café.
Inside the Moonlight, I was struck by the fact that I could feel everyone else's blood, bones, and skin. Also, it tasted like homebaked bread in there! Our collective heat pulled me out of myself. I felt that I wasn't anywhere near as alone. I sipped at this revelation as I scanned the room again, opening myself up to the possibility of a reciprocal smile.
As I ate my cheese and onion omelet, the ceiling fan spun, and a whirling pattern of light and shadows animated a one-inch puddle of coffee on my table. The puddle flickered wildly, waving its arms in excited flashes of conversation with the fan.
"So," I heard the pretty copper-haired woman to my left say to the handsome guy she was with, "were you out with another woman last night?"
My ears perked up. This was a topic I could oh so identify with. In fact, I had joined an Internet dating service just the week before and had virtually met a very cute 31-year-old with thick wavy hair down to his waist. I never could have envisioned going out with a guy 17 years younger than me who thought I was "dishy." But somehow it had transpired. We had a drink at a cafe, he walked me home, we kissed lengthily while standing in the middle of my living room, and he said, during a mid-kiss pause: "If this is supposed to be a goodbye kiss, it's very ineffective."
I never could have predicted the likes of the men I had been involved with over the prior trillion years or so. How could I have anticipated Frank and his eloquent passion for wooden boats? Or Bob and his lyrical poems about the caves of Lascaux? Or Paul and his magnificent obsession with the martial art of eskrima? Or Jim and his knack for constructing mechanical flying vulvas?
Paul knew I was as tender and sweet as a piece of chocolate cake, so he broke me apart, piece by spongy piece, put me in his mouth, held me on his tongue, made me feel airy and light.
I wanted him to eat my frosting, lick at the coat of chocolate that kept the heart of me warm - warm for him, warm for us, warm despite the slick sheen of thin ice that we walked on. I wanted his want, wanted my want, wanted us both to have our cake and eat it too.
Then bam, it was over and I was all alone and didn't know if or when Paul was ever coming back. It squeezed all the breath out of my heart.
I saw him in a crosswalk several months later. He was wearing a white polo shirt and suit pants. He didn't see me sitting there at the red light in my Chevy Nova hatchback, transfixed as I watched his body and knew that I had known that body -- had known it in every way.
To be perfectly honest, I joined not one but two Internet dating services, post-Paul. I drank tons of wine while talking to strange men on the phone, I greedily harbored emails from all men, even when those missives were devoid of pheromones. Adam disappeared from Yahoo Instant Messenger in mid-sentence. Steve said he found me captivating but then asked for a raincheck before our first meeting. Rich, his gray hair draggling dirtily down to his shoulders, was stuck in the past with Dylan, Lennon, and some old acid-dropping guru. Jed raised chickens in his Sonoma driveway.
I drifted deeper and deeper into romantic confusion. Confusion became my middle name. Confusion suffused me. Confusion was the glue that bound my life together. Confusion was the yarn with which I knit my days. It was hard to accept so much confusion. But why? Even God, slamming his gavel down time after time, couldn’t get any order in his court. So why did I expect myself to do any better? Confusion reigned. I slogged my way through it.
And then one day Joe, my next-door neighbor, showed up bright and early on a sunny Saturday morning, dressed in his crisp white painter's overalls and matching hat, ready to paint my entryway wall. Joe. Dear Joe. Unexpectedly dear Joe. Joe who became my hero and also another story entirely.
Now I know, better than I knew before, that confusion isn’t all that bad. Poets get a lot of mileage out of confusion. So do lovers. Confusion sparks our yearning for order and clarity. Confusion leads to beautiful patterns of chaos. It gives us much to strive for. It's here to stay. So I don't worry about it nearly as much as I used to. Life is good.