She wakes with the sense of a strong dream—vivid images, dynamic people, important words—receding just ahead of her conscious thought.
Don’t go, she thinks, but the dream whooshes around a corner of her waking mind, just out of reach.
But a memory immediately fills the void. Almost forty years ago, in another December, she was working in a supermarket deli, and she had a young colleague, Kathy, whose father was retiring. Kathy was blond and bubbly, and that week, she was even more effervescent than usual: she and her brothers were going to Florida to help her parents set up housekeeping. They’d bought a little vacation home near the ocean, saved all their lives for it. They’d given up dinners out and treats for the kids and family vacations.
When Dad retires…they’d said, for years, and they spun out tales of the fun they’d have: the whole family would come down to Florida, and they would have the most amazing barbecues.They’d walk to the beach, and the kids would dash into the ocean, and everyone would get sun-toasted. There would be endless beachy days.
So that week, Kathy was giddy with excitement. Her dad would retire that Friday. He and her mom would spend five days tying up loose ends, getting the paperwork in order, making some plans for the old house…and then, the following Saturday, all of them would fly down to Florida.
A family dream was coming true, and we were happy for our colleague Kathy, the rest of us, woven fast into a snow-deep western New York winter. We were happy, and a little bit envious. We trudged out to our cars after work, crunched open doors glazed with sleety rain that had frozen into snow. We turned reluctant ignitions, cranked the heat up as high as it would go, pulled the long-handled brushes from our backseats, and started, in the whipping wind, to clean off our poor vehicles, marshmallowed with snow tufts during our shifts.
Brrrr, we said. Lucky YOU, Kathy! Next week, you’ll be in the sun…
That Thursday, Kathy didn’t come in to work. Her father, our boss informed us, had had a massive heart attack. He died that afternoon.
And the Florida dream died with him. Kathy’s mother couldn’t bear the thought of going without him. She sold the property and settled back in to the old family home—the one that had endured so many sacrifices (We can live with the old linoleum! We don’t need central air! The kitchen is fine for one more year! Just think; next year, we’ll be in Florida…)
In a week or two, Kathy came back to work, the excitement gone, the glow erased.
The door to someday had closed abruptly.
It is one of those perfect Saturdays…they drive to Easterville to spend a good chunk of time at Half Price Books. Joe takes in a bundle of books and movies and videos games; they browse while the staff at the ‘Sell us your stuff!’ desk examine and evaluate. Finally, “Joseph! Your offer is ready!” floats out over the intercom, and he hurries over to hear the news.
He comes back, grinning, with the receipt in hand. He has turned the cache into cash.
They disperse, each to their own pursuits. In the clearance section, she finds two books she’d been meaning to request at the library. Two dollars each! She buys them both, snuggles in to a chair in the store window, waiting for the boyos to finish their shopping.
Later, they go to a local coffee shop where they brew the BEST decaf. They splurge on wonderful cookies, breaking their wheat-fast just for a day.
They drive home, gleaming at their bargains, sated with coffee and looking forward to satisfying reading to be done.
The next morning, as she pours her coffee, she thinks, Someday, I’ll live in a place with a bookstore and a coffee shop, and I’ll walk downtown in the mornings with my perfect book; I’ll go to the coffee shop and order something wonderful, and I’ll spread the book open, sip my steaming decaf, and I’ll read, unencumbered for an hour.
Maybe even more.
It’s a well-worn dream, soft from handling. Suddenly she sends tendrils out into the future, sends shoots searching for a concrete concept of when ‘someday’ might happen. Those green shoots whip out and flail and roll back up. Empty.
She cannot find the ‘someday’ of her dream, cannot make it real, and a small voice says, piping but clear: Why wait for someday? Why not NOW?
The next morning, she puts Lisa Brennan-Jobs’ Small Fry and a notebook into the beautiful quilted bag a dear friend made for her, and she drives to the new coffee shop on Poplar Avenue. She orders a slice of quiche, and they bring her a brimming, steaming mug of decaf, and she reads for an hour, the quiet murmur of morning conversations blending into white noise around her.
It is a good way to start the day, and she goes home ready to tackle the long list of to-do’s that awaits her.
At the supermarket, she runs into a friend, Lisa, from church. She and Lisa are about the same age, and they share a strong interest in services for adults with disabilities. They serve on a committee together, and they stop and talk for a little about the work that committee has been doing.
And then Lisa looks at her watch and grimaces. She has not yet retired, and she needs to get back to the office. Lisa waves and hurries her little cart toward the check out.
She waves back, and she admires Lisa’s outfit: a jeans jacket and a long, ethnic-y, patterned skirt.
When I lose some weight, she thinks, I’m going to get a denim jacket.
She pushes along the dairy section, inspects a carton of free-range eggs, sets it gently in the bottom of the cart. She moves on to the cereal aisle.
Later, as she is mopping the kitchen floor, she thinks, Wait. Why couldn’t I shop for a gently-used jacket? What am I waiting for?
That afternoon, she drives to the thrift shop. She finds a jacket in the men’s section. It is soft and broken in and it fits her perfectly.
She takes it home and launders it. She sews up a couple of fraying seams, and secures some wobbling buttons, and she irons that old jacket briskly.
It is just what she’d been looking for, this five-dollar wonder, and she wears it that weekend with her long, crinkly black and white skirt and a comfortable black t-shirt. Three people tell her how nice she looks.
This does not mean, she tells herself wryly, that I DON’T need to lose the weight. But I love my new jacket today.
She loves the old cabinet in the dining room. It is not an antique; it’s not even especially well-made. But it is the style she likes and the size she needs, and it fits perfectly into the space. It holds what needs to be held and its broad flat surface acts, when needed, as a serving space or a counter top.
It would be perfect, she thinks, if it were white. Distressed white; she imagines painting it, then hitting it with the sander, softening edges, making the department store cabinet look like a seasoned, heirloom-y piece.
When I get time, she thinks, I’ll buy some chalk paint…and then she pulls herself up short.
After lunch, she drives to the little shop on Overdale Drive, and she buys white chalk paint and a bottle of protective glaze.
That night, she cleans the cabinet out, stacking the contents neatly into three boxes, and she vacuums the dusty corners, pulls out the drawers, and gives everything a good, hot-soapy-water scrub.
The next morning, she gets up and brushes on the first coat of chalk paint. By the time she is done, the decaf has brewed. By the time she finishes her first cup, the paint has dried.
By the weekend, the cabinet is transformed; her vision is realized.
She thinks about faraway people she misses, and instead of longing for a far off time when she can visit, she makes phone calls and touches base, or she reaches out via email, or she sits down and writes a letter.
She takes the clippers out to the back yard and she hacks down the overgrowth on a scraggly old bush that’s been driving her crazy.
She walks every morning.
She has coffee with a friend she hasn’t seen in way too long, and she makes plan for lunch with another.
She organizes a long-neglected sewing project and works on it after lunch, every day, for half an hour.
She sorts through her bookshelves and makes a stack of books she’s been meaning to read. That night, she lights the fire and takes the first book off the stack, opens it, and enters that world.
Once or twice a week, at least, she takes the book and heads down to the coffee shop. Often, she wears her jeans jacket.
Life’s hard edges become more rounded, more pleasing. There’s a little pilot light that flares up at least once a day. She becomes aware of satisfaction, of contentment. She becomes aware at random moments that what she is feeling is JOY.
She carries the memory of Kathy’s young face just under her everyday awareness—Kathy’s glowing face, anticipating; Kathy’s muted face, the dream dispelled. She hopes, wherever Kathy is now, that life has been good, brought her happiness and wonder, given her a long beachy vacation with screaming kids and laughing adults and a wonderfully generous barbecue.
And she schools herself. Whenever she begins to think, Someday…, she stops herself abruptly.
Someday! she snorts. Some day???
Why not now?