(This is the fourth and final post of the Cookie & Marty series. If you’d like to read the other three posts you can find them here in the order they were written: A Love Story (Sort of), A Love Story Continues (Sort of), A Love Story (Sort of): The New York Rendezvous (Pt. 1)…)
It’s Thursday and Cookie still hasn’t called.
I don’t know what that means.
I spoke to her on Monday when she first arrived in New York, and she sounded terrible. She’s only supposed to be there for five days, so is no news good news? Or is she just too miserable to talk about it? My imagination is playing out all kinds of scenarios, and most of them aren’t good.
My cell phone finally rings in the afternoon.
“Boy, do I need a drink!”
But wait…It’s 2:15 p.m. in California, so technically it’s cocktail hour in New York. Not necessarily a bad sign.
“There’s a diner across the street. Maybe they’ve got alcohol,” she tells me as she takes the cell phone with her to explore, with me at the other end. She’s in luck at the diner and quickly orders a Gin & Tonic.
“Look at me – I’m having a Gin & Tonic at a counter surrounded by people eating tuna fish sandwiches.”
“Has it been that bad?!”
She takes a long sip before answering.
“It’s been wonderful!”
After the fiasco of the flight-that-never-seemed-to-end, Cookie awoke the next day feeling that the pressure was off her shoulders.
“We met. We saw each other. And we lived through it,” she explained. “The hard part was already over!”
It had been 55 years since the two of them had seen each other, and even though they had shared photos in their emails, seeing one another up close was the real deal.
“I didn’t exactly look 15, but he didn’t look 22 either! So it was a draw.”
Marty had arrived at the motel the next morning, picked her up, and they went non-stop all day. Breakfast at a diner. Beachcombing at the beach. A ferry ride out to Ocean Beach on Fire Island. A sudden rainstorm and lots of laughter. A walk in the village, window shopping, and ice cream cones. Holding hands, and arms tight around each other. Non-stop conversation, and a feeling that they had known each other for all of the 55 years they had missed spending together. They did so many activities that first day, Marty called her up later that night.
“I’m exhausted! You’ve got so much energy! How do you do it?!”
“I’ve got a big personality,” she explains to me. As if I hadn’t noticed.
The next day Cookie spent with her New York family: two nieces, their husbands, and all of their kids. It was an amazing family reunion, a trek into Manhattan for Chinese food, while Marty stayed at home.
“Were you nervous that maybe he was ditching you?” I ask.
“No way! I exhausted him! He needed to rest!”
Sure enough, on Thursday he picked her up bright and early, and confessed, “I missed you yesterday. You’re under my skin.”
Thursday was filled with more beaches, and a visit to a magnificent old lighthouse.
The Lighthouse at Fire Island
Originally lit in 1858, its light still burns bright and steady – for decades offering the first evidence of land across a vast, oftentimes turbulent Atlantic Ocean.
In the afternoon, they walked further down the beach, collecting seashells. Her head down, and searching the sand, Cookie’s attention was on the ocean’s beautiful bounty when Marty suddenly stopped her.
“Don’t walk any further or you’ll be on the nude beach.”
Cookie stopped in her tracks. She knew all about this beach because Marty had told her about it when they had talked on the phone. He was always a beach lover, and so he would walk along this shore for hours, all by himself. One day when he was strolling along he came across the clothing optional beach. He started meeting people there – from all walks of life – nice people, mostly middle-aged, and he liked them. So he kept going back. And one day he figured, what the hell: he took off his shirt, and then took the big step and lost his shorts.
“Where’s your beach? Where exactly is it?” Cookie wanted to know. But Marty wanted her to be comfortable.
“Don’t look up,” he told her. “I don’t want you to see something that’ll maybe make you uncomfortable.”
Cookie stopped in her tracks and didn’t look up. But then something wonderful happened – all of Marty’s friends, the ones there on that clothing optional beach, knew about Cookie and they wanted to meet her. They wanted to meet the woman who Marty talked so much about, and who’d made their friend so happy. So they did something special just for her. They put on their shirts, reached for a robe or a towel, slipped into their shorts, and they went over to the other side of the beach just to meet her and to say hello.
“I love his friends!!!”
They were all different kinds of people. One guy worked for a trucking firm, another guy had the NY Yankee logo on his bicep (with the year of every series they’d won). One of the women worked on bridges, and another woman was a special needs teacher. They all gathered around Cookie, introducing themselves (now fully dressed), meeting her and hitting it off like long-lost friends. One of the women was scheduled to go to New Hampshire to begin her vacation, but she postponed leaving so she and her husband could throw Cookie and Marty a barbecue and the rest of Marty’s friends could meet Cookie.
“Can you imagine? They all put on their clothes just to meet me!”
It was a great week for Cookie.
“Marty is wonderful!”
A real gentleman, she tells me: always holding open her car door, and taking her hand. They had long conversations, and even the pauses felt right. After only the first couple of days.
“I stopped wearing makeup after the second day!” she says proudly.
And Cookie always wears makeup.
“I felt like I had been with this man forever. There wasn’t one moment when I wasn’t having a nice time. We’re like an old married couple.”
“And you don’t give something like that up.”
“But I’m sorry about your ending,” she tells me, as I hear her finishing the last of her Gin & Tonic, the ice clicking against the glass.
“What ending?” I ask.
“Exactly! There is no ending.”
Marty is comfortable with his life there on Long Island. He loves his friends, loves to walk his dog, loves his beach (clothing optional), and he loves going back to his home when the day is over. Cookie is also happy with her life – 3,000 miles away in L.A.
“There’s no kind of ending to our story,” Cookie explains.
I tell her not to worry about it. Sometimes the best story doesn’t really end – it just stops. But what matters the most are the feelings you’re left with when it does stop.
Cookie went back to L.A. on Saturday, and she called me once the weekend was over. Her flight home had been just as hectic as the one going out to New York: the flight was cancelled, and she had to spend hours in line at the airport trying to get another one.
“I’ll never book another flight using free mileage!!!” she wails.
She was ecstatic to be home.
“Are you sorry you traveled the 3,000 miles?” I ask her.
“Not at all!” she says without hesitation. “One of the best things I’ve ever done. If anything, this made me and Marty closer.”
Marty still calls promptly at 8 a.m. every morning, and Cookie calls him a couple of times during the day. They email each other constantly. And when the snow globe Cookie bought for her granddaughter at Ocean Beach broke, Marty insisted on taking the ferry back out there to buy her another. What the two of them have now, before Cookie schlepped 3000 miles east, are new shared memories. Before, the only memories they had were 55 years old, intense, youth-filled experiences. But now there’s that ferry ride to Ocean Beach, the Lighthouse on Fire Island, the sudden thunderstorm, sharing an ice cream cone, collecting seashells on the beach, the good friends who welcomed Cookie like a member of their own family, holding hands and cuddling, and a comfort they share with each other and no one else in this world. If that ain’t love, what is?
All animals mate, but few mate for life. With the divorce rate at 40 – 50%, Homo sapiens seem to change partners like the rest of the animal world. And yet, we try for something different. We stand up in front of our friends and family and we take vows – for better or worse, in all kinds of bad times, sickness and health, whether we’re rich or we’re poor. We say those vows because we mean them and we try to stay together for a lifetime. The lucky ones make it, but even if we fail, we still want to try again. The one quality we have that the animals don’t is our need for intimacy. Not just that physical act of reproduction, but that rare connection that happens between two people, that bond uniting two souls that takes away our loneliness, comforting, and soothing us to make those bumps in life a little more tolerable. It’s hearing another voice, or looking into another pair of eyes, and feeling more comfortable there than you do within yourself. That’s intimacy, and it can happen with or without sex, in and out of a marriage, with best friends, and with soul mates. It’s amazing that it even happens at all, but it does. And when you find another human being with whom you can share that intimacy, you’ve found your home. You recognize it and say, “Yeah, this is it. I’m safe with this person, and so I’ll stay.”
In those old Hollywood movies you never really see the end of a love story. Instead, the romance is sealed with a kiss, and the audience is sent home happy. That’s all we need to know – that in this oh-too-painful-at-times world, filled with stress and craziness, two people have found one another. That’s all we really need to know about Cookie & Marty: that these two people, living separate lives on two faraway coasts, somehow connected with one another. And they both lived happily ever after.
Because we want them to.