I woke up about six weeks ago and realized it was my birthday. Not only did I get the year wrong, I got the decade wrong–sorta. I’m exploring my age category now because I don’t see much in blogs about middle age besides jokes and menopause–one subject that won’t be explored.
I wrote this post prior to getting the words. Hotel was already in the post. The other two were more difficult to put in than I would have thought without changing the story too much.
I wrote it late at night and made a truly stupid mistake no life long New Yorker should make in my only reference to the city. Fixed it.
Dinah stood at the door. She didn’t want to walk into the restaurant. People were laughing. People were sitting in large groups or worse that oddest number of all to the solitary traveler, two. It would be different if she were on a business trip or in Europe. People accepted the solitary woman business traveler or solitary woman abroad. She didn’t know why, but she felt the difference.
Dinah took a breath, looked in the window of the restaurant to casually inspect herself, walked in and smiled at the hostess:
The hostess shot her just a glimmer of the weirdest look:
This is a classy restaurant? Where’s the hon, after just one?
Yes, she smiled, one like the reservation says, bitch.
Dinah had a don’t mess with me look that she had perfected in her 20’s when she desperately needed it. The aura that surrounded it now was tinged with friendliness. People thought her complicated, though really she was simple. She had learned what was needed to live a successful solitary life. She did things with people, and did most of the same things alone.
She didn’t want to go to some obscure restaurant or a diner where solitary people came to be among other solitary people and not find pleasure in one another or life.
When she wanted to see a movie, play, any type of concert, and couldn’t find anybody to go with, or didn’t want to ask anybody she just went. If she wanted to go somewhere on vacation and nobody was available or wanted to go to the same cruddy resort for the tenth year in a row she went off alone.
Dinah had always known people. When she was younger she had known many people in entertainment. She had more boyfriends who knew people who counted than were good for her. She got used to being coddled. Nobody would reject an invitation to see Baryshnikov from the house seats, go to the VIP lounge at a disco or club. She didn’t often go out alone then but sometimes she would want to dance, and walk to a country club about ten blocks south and five Avenues west from her old apartment. One dance alone and she would be surrounded.
Even then she would vacation alone once a year because she needed to breath, and be away from everybody she knew. Maybe that’s a bad trait. Maybe being satisfied with ones own company is a supposed ideal that nobody really believed in. Maybe she had become too independent.
Truly she remembered what older unmarried women were thought of when she was a small child. They were laughed at, scorned, assumed to be a lesbian, pitied, no matter how successful. And who remembered the old maiden second cousin ten years after she died? Dinah didn’t want to be forgotten.
She feared becoming obscure if she didn’t stay involved in life outside her job or her apartment. She feared suddenly looking and acting old. Dinah wasn’t sure when she would become old or how she would know, but she believed that if she didn’t keep challenging herself to learn new skills and do new things, she would become old quickly.
She wasn’t a group person. Dinah didn’t understand people who went on tours with other single people just for the company. Yet the truly strange thing was that she had been doing things alone for so long, and almost never felt completely comfortable. But she had been married twice and had never felt completely comfortable married.
Sometimes just sometimes, she felt jealous of younger women. They had been brought up to expect so much, and when life didn’t always go their way, many complained bitterly, sardonically, sweetly or stupidly, and in print. They didn’t seem to understand there is a learning curve. Or they had never learned or had forgotten history.
Dinah wanted the accolades younger women seemed to get every time they did something solitary. But really she was too old to be breathless about it. She couldn’t see herself announcing to a group,”last night I did this by myself.”
Her generation claimed to have changed all the rules. But she remembered the stampede to get married the year the men shortage was announced. Suddenly biological clocks were clicking in tandem. The media had encouraged that. She refused to give in just because it was expected.
The night the levees broke she had seen Light in the Piazza by herself. It was one of her favorite childhood books and nobody she knew wanted to see it.
As she was silently crying for the levees, the twelve more than slightly tipsy Georgia peaches behind her whispered rather loudly. She couldn’t really hear them but was convinced that they were talking about her. She knew how dumb that was, but….
This night, almost two years later, she still felt that people were talking about her as she walked in the restaurant. Fortunately no maitre de had ever tried to put her in a table near the kitchen, unless the kitchen was an integral part of the restaurant. Dinah didn’t think she had the class her mother had, but she must have had something as when she changed tables and she did that on principle at times, she was always treated with respect. She hated being so skilled at doing solitary things yet really still feeling a bit or more of fear.
There was a club she used to go to often. Most times she took a friend or group of friends, and everything was wonderful. When she went alone, she would find herself walking past the club. The bouncer would see her from the door. The owner would send somebody out to greet her, and she and the owner would sit for hours talking. She had always felt dumb about her heightened state of anxiety at the club when she knew the owner was in love with her. Of course that might have been part of the reason.
Dinah really wasn’t the calm secure person so many people took her for. But she was a lot better than in club days. Life wasn’t as serious as she had once thought. The world wasn’t going to cave in if she made a little mistake.
After dinner she went to a cabaret alone. It took her ten minutes after she arrived to walk in. Dinah had an almost full blown anxiety attack, she couldn’t catch her breath. She was afraid she was going to begin hyperventilating, the street would begin to spin and she would faint. None of this happened, of course. She knew how stupid her anxiety attack was. At worst the night would be mediocre.
Cabarets meant people in love, people in lust, people out to spend money. She wasn’t planning on buying a bottle of anything or more than two $20 drinks. The $120 cover charge was steep enough. But Dinah wasn’t in the mood to go to a solitary hotel room or take a solitary river walk or tour or anything solitary. She wanted to be among people, if not quite with them. The singer was rather well-known, and the piano player’s name was familiar. She was looking forward to hearing songs of love lost and found.
Dinah was given a table near the stage. It was a good table, and she suddenly didn’t mind being alone. When the piano player walked to the piano she felt a pang. It was him.
Would he recognize her? Did she want him to? The last time she saw him was 89. She couldn’t remember exactly why she walked out of one of the sweetest relationships in her life. Ambition had played a role. She liked men who were go getter’s. Charm, he had in moderation, not in spades as she once desired. He had an OK sense of humor. Better than OK. It just wasn’t the New York irony, a language she spoke as she had spoke no other.
Did any of that matter now? She had been such a bitch. Dinah wasn’t sure that she wanted a relationship, but he had been so low maintenance. Low maintenance men had been an oxymoron to her then. They seemed so inviting now. Was he ever going to look at her? Should she leave? Fall through the floor. If she requested a table further away, he would see her and that way it would be awful. He saw her.
He stared at her for about 30 seconds before he smiled, a small but very real smile. Suddenly a solitary life didn’t seem so bad after all.