As Z headed off to his meeting this morning, we were both grumbly about it. We are, perhaps, an abnormal couple in that we like to be together a lot. This time of year when we’ve spent the summer not teaching and therefore in each other’s space, instead of being relieved that it’s time for him to head back to the classroom for the Fall quarter, I’m a little forlorn at the thought that the relaxi days of summer are over. (And because he’s on a quarter system, summer lasts longer for us than it does for other people.) Today, in the little Poulsbo cottage, is the first that I’ve been alone for an extended period of time. It feels a little weird to wave goodbye as he backs out of our rainy borrowed drive-way in our giant rented car and heads toward what will likely be a tedious meeting. Were we back in Seattle maybe I’d fall into familiar patterns of distraction and busyness and not notice his absence so much, but here I am in this cottage that isn’t mine, looking at a view that isn’t mine, trying to get comfortable on uncomfortable furniture that isn’t mine, and it just feels odd to be without him.
For a while, I write and try not to scratch mosquito bites. Then I answer a few personal emails. Read a book. Stare out the window and watch the boats in the harbor, most of them still moored because of the wind and rain. I write some more. The clock ticks towards lunchtime, and I realize I can either eat the rest of a bag of really bad kettle chips and call that a meal, or I can face the confines of the coffin shower, make myself presentable, and take myself out to lunch. I opt for the latter, less for lunch and more because I know I can spend the afternoon doing what I never do anymore: shop like a girl.
Z would laugh at this and point out that we do plenty of shopping for things he has no interest in and much of our early non-courtship revolved around shopping expeditions. But it’s a different kind of shopping. The pace and the feel is different when you add a straight man to your shopping mix. Since I’ve gotten married, I have rarely spent more than 90 seconds picking out nail polish, whereas before, I’d do some serious comparison shopping for a half an hour. Nor have I satisfactorily searched for perfect new underpants or costume jewelry at Target. We’re more mission oriented now that we’re a couple: we’ve got a list and goals. And coupons. He thinks because I walk through the square of carpet that contains purses and sunglasses that I’m “shopping” but in my former, single life, that first pass-through would be more akin to what a bird of prey does on a first, cursory swoop before deciding which woodland creatures are on the menu, before circling again and again, closer and closer until a selection is scooped up in its talons.
As I walk down the hill, I plan my afternoon. I’ll have lunch, stop by the bookstore, go to the comfortable-but-expensive shoe shop, and then explore all the shops I typically turn away from when Z is with me: the kitchen shop, the two art galleries, the jewelry store, the multiple gift shops that seem to specialize in small metal birds and serving platters with French words scrawled across the surfaces. These are the shops that Z is least interested in, in part because they are heavily perfumed and make him wheeze and also because he knows we’re out of surfaces in our little apartment on which to set small metal birds and French platters. I’ll start to go in one, he’ll say, “I’m going to stay out here. Shop as long as you like,” but then because he isn’t going in with me, it no longer seems like fun.
For lunch, I choose an Italian place, and I feel overly pleased when I tell the host with no sheepishness or apology that I need a table for myself and my book. He let’s me pick my own spot, so I head for a back corner from which I can either read in peace or watch other people. There isn’t a lot going on here in terms of people watching, so I crack my book and start reading. The waiter comes over and says, “Iced tea, right?” I have no idea if he’s feeling (wrongly) psychic or if I have a Poulsbo doppelgänger. I hate tea, but instead of correcting his assumption that he knows me or has intuited my drink choice, I say instead that I’ll just stick with water for today, as if he’d normally be right but I’m trying something new.
The food comes. I eat and read and feel weirdly content to be in a restaurant on my own. I use my best table manners and even order a salad, so no one can fault me should they look my way. Not that I’m expecting them to, but I find that when I eat alone I’m inclined to be better behaved than I normally am so no one can say, “It’s easy to see why that one over there is by herself.” I blame this quirk of mine on public school cafeterias and for having been single until I was past my prime.
Before I leave the restaurant, the rain stops at the exact moment my cousin calls. We average about one call per every twenty attempts, so I don’t mind derailing my shopping plans in lieu of sitting on a bench by the harbor and talking to her. The sun has come, and people are walking their babies and their dogs as I catch up on family matters. When I hang up almost an hour later, I walk to the bookstore, stroll around, and every book I pick up reminds me I have shelves of unread books back at home. I don’t really need a new book. I walk across the street to the shoe shop, fondle a few pairs, look at the price tags, and leave. I’ve got enough shoes. I stand outside and look up and down the street to figure out where I want to go next. I put my hand on the door of a gift shop and then think, What could this store possibly have that I need? I turn on my heel and head to Sluy’s bakery, where I buy treats for later and a Krispie just for me and some sparrows.
We eat it, the ten of us, and I feel wildly content with my day. I head back to the cottage, write some more and wait for Z.
Maybe it’s okay that summer is over. Maybe when I get back to Seattle, I’ll be ready for solitary days at my desk, stopping periodically to watch the birds perched on the tree outside my window.