I've been participating in a Memoir Writing Group for the past several months. Here's a vignette that I wrote to file in my post-divorce dating stories:
A Walk on the Beach with Bob
I’d been divorced a couple of years and was beginning to feel I might actually be able to, in the not too distant future, function adequately in this single life. It took some time after I’d filed the paperwork that would dissolve my 32-year marriage, but about two years later, I’d finally let it be known to friends and colleagues that I could maybe, just possibly, eventually, be considered available for introduction to potentially interesting replacements for my ex-husband. It had taken several years to actually go through with the divorce; now I was maybe ready to have a suitor.
It’s funny, I really don’t recall how I came to meet Bob. It must have been through a friend or colleague, but that part of the story eludes me. I do remember that our first coffee date was at Starbucks late one Saturday morning in springtime. As I lived in Marin County, he drove across the Golden Gate Bridge from the City and, as I entered the coffee shop, he was easily recognizable from the self-description he’d given during our introductory telephone conversation a few days earlier. A pleasantly handsome and sophisticated-looking gentleman I guessed to be in his mid- to late-fifties with a full head of gray-white hair and a clean-shaven face including nice cheekbones and a strong chin line. I remember thinking to myself, “Well, hmmm, so far so good!” He stood about six feet tall, slender, impeccably attired in clean, pressed and well-fitting khaki slacks and a neatly-ironed polo shirt, no crumpled collar here.
It seemed the description I’d given of myself during that previous repartee must have been adequate because, as soon as he saw me, he stood, smiled and started walking toward me with his hand extended.
“Bob?” I tentatively asked in the same instant that he inquired, “Mary-Pat?”
“Yes,” both responded in unison as we shook hands in recognition and greeting.
Phew! We’d made it through the first hurdle!
Bob held out a chair for me to seat myself at the small table he’d chosen and, after asking what I’d like, he sauntered to the counter and placed an order with the barista. As always, though I try hard to camouflage it with a feigned illusion of confidence, those first few moments of new acquaintance find me just a little nervous.
Blind dates are not my favorite way to meet men and I can honestly say I’ve had some some near-disastrous first dates; but those are topics for another time! While waiting for Bob to return with our order I busied myself by hanging my purse on the back of my chair, gathering and folding my skirt around me and patting my hair that I’d just finishing arranging before I’d left my car three minutes earlier. He returned in a few minutes with two paper cups of black coffee and a cookie for each of us. The date had begun.
We spent the first few minutes with the usual introductory obligations, asking and answering simple questions and offering basic information that we each thought could pave communication pathways for conversation for the next hour, or so. First dates are uncomfortable, blind first dates, more so. However, in a relatively short time, this encounter seemed to be going quite smoothly.
I was impressed when he shared that he was an appellate court judge for the United States Federal Court System and had been in that position for 20 years. He was also a widower of over 25 years with four children, most of whose rearing had been his sole responsibility. They were all grown and he indicated that he, too, was a grandparent. Conversation between us flowed easily, we seemed to have several things in common, including a Catholic family of origin and parochial education. He’d graduated from St. Ignatius High School and University of San Francisco, I from Notre Dame and Dominican University.
After about two hours of almost non-stop and fairly effortless chatting, we concluded our first date with a plan to get together the following weekend, activity to be determined by telephone during the week. I remember I almost felt like skipping to my car for the drive home; I was feeling a little excited, so much more comfortable than when I’d arrived and was looking forward to our next encounter. I didn’t hear from Bob for a couple of days, just pause enough to begin having those niggling doubts creeping into my consciousness - “Oh, no, he’s not going to call.” Maybe I’d offered too much information. Maybe he’d thought I was too old. Maybe he was more attracted to blonds. Maybe? Maybe?
“Ring, ring,” jingled my home phone on the following Wednesday evening about an hour after my long workday had ended.
“Hello,” I answered affecting a soft, not too anticipatory tone of voice.
“Hi, Mary-Pat, it’s Bob.” Relief, he’d called!
We readily picked up just about where we’d left off at Starbucks several days earlier. For our upcoming date Bob suggested that we go to the Marin County Farmer’s Market at the Civic Center the next Sunday morning, buy some picnic fare and head to one of Marin County’s numerous beaches for a casual picnic. His suggestion sounded nice to me - a simple, but fun plan for our second date.
Sunday morning at the appointed time, Bob arrived at my home in San Rafael in a late-model sporty red sedan, attired in Bermuda shorts, an attractive sport shirt with a button-down collar and sandals. This fellow was definitely making points with me in the grooming and looks department. I, too, had put some effort into my wardrobe and grooming, hoping to make a favorable impression on this new gentleman friend. Ushering me into the passenger seat of his spiffy car, the atmosphere was immediately affable, warm, friendly and comfortable.
We drove to the Marin County Civic Center, parked conveniently and together strolled throughout the lovely farmer’s market, stopping to glance at various crafts and works of art, admiring, then buying some of the fresh, luscious-looking fruits and vegetables, a couple of fresh homemade cheeses, a loaf of freshly-baked sour dough bread, and topping off our planned picnic meal with some hand-held fruit tarts and bottles of sparkling water. When Bob spotted a vendor selling hand-built and painted garden bird houses, he took a liking to one and bought it - for me. What a thoughtful gift for a second date!
We left the market after a most agreeable hour or so and headed south on 101 to the Mill Valley turnoff that eventually led to one of Marin County’s many beaches, several of which are great for walking and picnicking even though the weather may not always be exactly toasty warm. Our day was clear, not overly warm, but comfortable - no fog this morning. We parked the car in the parking lot about a quarter of a mile’s walk from the shore, gathered our food and libation parcels, packed them into the cooler Bob had thoughtfully stored in the trunk of the car and headed out to a lovely, minimally populated, rocky beach. Bob laid out a coverlet he’d brought and we deposited the cooler.
Then we took off our shoes and began ambling along the shore, our feet either in or out of the chilly Pacific Ocean on the northern open-water side of the Golden Gate.
Conversation continued to flow easily from one subject to the next, seeming to become almost effortless. I was feeling more and more at ease and I had an inkling he did, too. We walked and talked, heading from one end of the beach to the other, and back again. When we passed the occasional couple or group, we smiled, interrupted our colloquy long enough to mouth ‘hello’ to the passersby, then returned to the subject at hand.
As we were leisurely walking and talking, I noticed two men casually strolling our way; as I’d done several times already, I smiled in their direction and uttered a friendly ‘hello,’ then resumed whatever line of conversation I was involved in. The couple passed on my right side and continued on their route.
Suddenly Bob stopped walking and whispered worriedly,
“Oh, my. Mary-Pat, I am so sorry!”
I looked at him with, I’m sure, a blank and then inquisitive expression on my face,
“What? Excuse me? . . . You’re sorry. . . Why?” I didn’t have the slightest notion what he was sorry about.
“I did not know this was a nude beach!” he quickly replied and repeated again, “I am so sorry.”
“What? . . . What did you say, a nude beach?” I asked, totally confused.
Then, suddenly it dawned on me as a picture materialized in my brain. I looked at Bob, then turned around to see the same two men who’d just walked by us, to whom we’d both said ‘hello,’ strolling hand-in-hand, animatedly conversing with one another, totally stark naked!
Bob, of course, thought I’d surely noticed those nude bodies exhibited for all the world to see and was being polite in not mentioning anything to him. For several moments he continually apologized profusely for unknowingly taking me to this nude beach.
I knew I had to interrupt his zealous contrition,
“Bob, please, don’t feel badly. I didn’t even notice!”
You see, I’d been a surgical nurse for so many years and had seen all manner of naked bodies of all shapes, sizes, physical condition, or lack there of. I remembered that the two friendly men had smiled and greeted us pleasantly. It just did not register that this was not a likely place to be confronted with what I saw everyday at work!