(Memories will get you into trouble every time, that’s a fact. Especially when those memories are wrapped around a love story. This love story started with the fleeting moments of a daydream, the kind that takes you back fifty odd years to a beach, a boy and a girl. Of course everything is perfect in this daydream – this snapshot from yesterday. The boy is tall and tan, and the girl is simply beautiful – anything less and it wouldn’t be a memory. The fact that they didn’t stay together, that they each went their separate ways soon after that memory snapshot was taken is beside the point. Why spoil a daydream? After 55 years, the only thing that really matters is that the two of them met.)
At almost 70, Cookie was content with her life.
A bad marriage fizzled out years ago, and she soon got used to doing everything by herself. Raised the two kids with no help from the ex-Prince Charming while keeping the creditors at bay. It was no easy task, believe me. It took a bankruptcy and a vegetable garden to keep her in the game. The first helped her start over, and the second kept them alive. They learned to eat zucchinis and tomatoes and so many carrots the baby’s skin turned orange. But that was a long time ago and Cookie doesn’t like to dwell in the past.
“Memories will only get you into trouble,” she’d always say. “You only remember the good stuff, not the bad.” So she planted herself deep in the day: eyes forward, no looking back.
Not until she hit 70.
Suddenly, at 70 her mind would start to wander, thinking back to the old days – before the kids, and before the deadbeat Prince Charming who swept her off her feet in the summer of 63. She blamed this bout of nostalgia on the 70th birthday party she had to throw for herself. She’d waited for one of her kids to throw it, but one was too busy and the other too broke. So Cookie did what she’s been doing her whole life – she took it on herself. Planned out the menu, bought the wine, the appetizers, booked the backyard of a friend, sent out the invites, and started looking at snapshots.
That was her big mistake.
She wanted to send out a photo on the front of the invitation so she started going through the albums. That’s when she found it – tucked away in the back of the book. Back there with all the doubles of the snapshots, misplaced between the bar mitzvah pictures and her daughter’s handprint mother’s day cards. She found that damn beach photo of the two of them.
Any other time, she would’ve just looked at it, and so what? Maybe a little smile might have snuck out before tucking it back into the photo album. But that would’ve been it. No muss, no fuss. But nowadays? With the internet? And that Facebook thing? How could she not just type in his name innocently? It’s not like they had this hot and heavy romance. She was 15, for crying out loud. And it was the 50s! There was a lot of kissing, but please, back then they had rules. What harm could there be in just typing in his name?
And that’s what she did.
His name was Marty. Suddenly, there on her computer screen (before she had even finished typing the last few letters) there was Marty staring back at her. No photo, just a name. But Cookie didn’t need a photo. She remembered him just fine, and if even if she didn’t, she held his image there in her hand.
He was good-looking for the time – had that pompadour hair from the fifties. He was her first boyfriend. They were sitting there on a beach – Long Beach, Long Island – they were the picture of youth. Three weeks later he joined the Army, and summer was over. Cookie went back to school and other boyfriends. Marty went to Alaska.
It was probably for the best, her mother had told her. “He’s a man, almost 22, and what does he want with a girl your age? Nothing good, I can tell you that!” When Cookie wrote him to say she was moving on, it broke his heart. He would tell her this not at the time, but 55 years later after they connected again. First on Faceback, then in emails, and finally over the phone: “You broke my heart, you really did,” Marty would tell her. “Why din’t ya say somethin?’’ Cookie would ask in her thick Bronx accent. “I thought you knew!” was all he could say. “I was 15!” she would laugh. “What the hell does a girl know at 15?!”
So the two of them now have reconnected.
Marty still lives on the east coast, but Cookie’s 3,000 miles away in L.A. Her kids are there, grown now, but where her kids are, that’s home for Cookie. They know about Marty – she’s filled them in. They just shrug, as grown kids often do – too busy with their own cares to care about hers. But her eleven-year-old granddaughter, Emma, worries that Cookie’s “moving too fast” and had a heart-to-heart with her while helping her prep the brisket for Passover. Marty had called and Cookie’s voice had changed to something so sweet Emma hadn’t even recognized it.
“You talk to him a lot,” Emma probed.
“Not that much.”
“Every day,” Cookie finally admitted.
“That’s a lot! You don’t even know him!”
“I knew him 55 years already!”
She found herself defensive like she had been with her mother. But now her granddaughter was playing the role.
“But you don’t know him now! He could be something bad now!” Emma insisted.
“He’s 3,000 miles away.”
“He could get on a plane!”
Marty didn’t travel, Cookie told Emma. The last time he was on an airplane it was the one that brought him back from Alaska and the Army. He had puked the whole way back. That was enough traveling for Marty. They could keep “the flying” – he’d go anywhere he had to go by car, or train, maybe a bus if he had to. But California was way too far for a fella in his almost late 70s.
Plus, there was one little complication (isn’t there always?): Marty had a wife.
Cookie didn’t admit this to Emma, or to anyone else for that matter. The old Cookie would have seen that one coming. But the new Cookie couldn’t care less. It’s not like Marty had tried to cover it up. It was right there on the Facebook for all the whole world to see. “Married” is what he put there so it wasn’t like he was trying to pull anything funny. Marty had brought it up right from the beginning, from their very first phone call, and it all made sense:
It was a loveless marriage for a long time. Separate bedrooms (and lives) as soon as the kids moved out. The kids had kept them together at first, and now it was the money.They didn’t have much, but much less it would be if they went their separate ways. Besides, they belonged together – like the couch and the matching armchair they got for their wedding. Faded in the same way, well worn by the same use, they were too much of a set to split apart now. But she did her thing, and Marty did his.
Marty told Cookie all this. He asked her to think about it but she didn’t need much time to think at all. She liked things just the way they were. Marty was the first person she spoke to in the morning, and the last one at night. At 8 sharp, with that first cup of coffee, the phone would ring, before she headed off to work. Yeah, she still worked at 70. She would work until she dropped, this she was sure of. But like clockwork, the phone would ring at 8, and it would be Marty. Every day, including the weekends. He’d always just start talking – no hello, hi, or how are you. He just picked up the conversation from the email that she had sent him the night before. So her days were book ended by Marty: from her first cup of coffee to her last moments awake. There are married folks that don’t even have that. That’s something, Cookie would say.
It was changing her.
And maybe that’s what Emma didn’t like, and didn’t really understand. Her grandmother was turning into somebody she didn’t know – that 15-year-old girl back on that Long Island beach. For the first time, in a long time, the possibility of romance had entered Cookie’s life. Cookie Florsheim, at almost 71, was falling in love (sort of). Who’d have thought it?
Slowly, even Emma started to come around to the idea.
When she had wanted her grandmother to buy her tickets to a concert, and Cookie had bought the wrong tickets, it was Marty who called up and said, “I got my finger on the buy button on the Ticketmaster website. Two for next month at Universal Amphitheater. You want?” And when Cookie’s car broke down and she had to call the Triple A for a tow, it was Marty who called her up the next morning; “I got three stores running specials on car batteries. I checked on the Google map and Sears looks to be the closest.”
Nobody had ever taken care of Cookie in such a way as Marty did. Not the slacker Prince Charming she had married who got lost in a coke habit and ran off with one of his acting students – after he got a series and started to make some money. Finally. Not that Cookie saw any of it. After years of supporting him while he laid on the couch and refused to do a dish, straighten the house, or pick up a screaming baby, now after he left, he suddenly has money? Life’s not perfect, you know. It wasn’t exactly perfect. And even her own father had let her down, a man who died too young to be there when she really needed him. It wasn’t exactly perfect at all.
She didn’t know such men existed like Marty. He had given Cookie a reason to believe again. And more than that she didn’t need. She would be fine with things just the way they were. There was Facebook, and the phone. Maybe they’d even learn that Skype thing. Or maybe not. Why risk a chance to find something wrong? Maybe he didn’t look so good, you know? Once you get past 65-70, it all goes to hell anyway. Nothing you can do about it. And besides, things were fine the way they were – It worked! Why fix something that wasn’t broken? Maybe if they stayed on their own side of the country, this could last forever. So Marty and Cookie continued with the emails and the phone calls – living their own individual lives three time zones apart.
Until the weekend.
On Sundays, Marty sleeps late, and then packs himself a little lunch to go. A thermos of iced tea, some sunblock, and the New York Times, he tosses them all in the backseat of his Buick and heads off to Jones Beach.
Cookie meets her kids at the Farmers Market every Sunday for banana nut pancakes – thirty minutes max of family time. And then, picking up a large bottle of Aquafina, a granola bar, and fresh fruit, she heads to the magazine stall to pick up her copy of the New York Times. She’s off to spend the day on the sands of Venice Beach.
On Sundays Cookie and Marty go to the beach.
They read their New York Times, and eat their lunch, tossing crumbs to the seagulls. Sitting in beach chairs, and staring out at the water, they text message each other now and then, reminding one another to put on sunblock, and to find some shade when it gets too hot. 3,000 miles away from each other, Cookie and Marty are back on the beach together again.
And it’s perfect.
© 2012 Written by Darlene Craviotto
If you liked this, please read the other posts in the Cookie & Marty series: