I was out the door at 7:15 am yesterday, bound for a new church gig in Sheepshead Bay. Exhausted from the day before (brief video shoot in Central Park to promote fundraising for my album and co-hosting a baby shower in my home for a woman I had never met), I wasn’t sure I would be able to get through the morning.
But work is scarce right now, and any day I’m hired to sing is a good one.
The church gathered at an old-timey yacht club, right on the water. Originally established in 1908, it was built as a family summer home for Rheingold Beer. Upon arrival, my grumpiness over the 90-minute subway commute dissolved. The creaky dining hall overlooked the peaceful bay, which was well stocked with neatly parked sailboats. Seagulls, pigeons, geese and swans fluttered about, happily. After all, the forecast predicted an unseasonably warm day.
Song leading went as well as it could. The congregation was small yet familial; they embraced me with open arms and hearts.
Almost immediately after the service ended, an older gentleman appeared behind the bar and began polishing glasses.
“Excuse me,” I said, as I zipped my black leather jacket up over my spring dress. “Do you happen to know if anyone here offers sailing lessons? Last fall I took a course out in California but I won’t be going back there because — “
I stopped myself. This guy did not have time for a breakup story. It wasn’t pertinent, anyway. Furthermore, he had a bar to open.
I cleared my throat and began again.
“I took sailing lessons a few months ago and would like to keep up my chops.”
“You gonna be around this summer?” I could almost taste his Brooklyn accent.
“Yes,” I smiled.
He extended his hand.
“I’m Bob. Nice to meet you. Next time you come back, ask for George Johnson. He’ll throw you on a boat. He’s always looking for crew.”
“Great! Oh, wow! That’s great! Thank you!” I chirped, and skipped out the door.
I navigated my way back to Manhattan on the Q train, which recently has been extended up to 96th Street and 2nd Avenue. It isn’t my normal route home, but I was up for adventure. Especially since the temperature was steadfast at a perfect 65 degrees.
I exited the train, took off my jacket and slung it over my shoulder. The sun was bright and warm. A gentle breeze flirted with my hair. I felt good. Confident. Cool. New York is my boyfriend and he was treating me to a glorious day out. And, in a few months, I would be sailing again.
I casually strolled up 96th towards the park and noticed a very petite, blonde woman being walked by her three dogs. The male pit-mix puppy whined with excitement and anticipation.
“I know, Mac,” she blared. “We’re almost there. Just two more blocks. But you have to be patient.”
Mac shot her a look, barked, and kept tugging towards the park.
I giggled, audibly.
“Isn’t it wonderful to be wearing a dress in February?” the woman said to me.
I looked down at my clothing, then back at her. I had briefly forgotten it was February.
“Yes!” I shrieked. “I’m originally from California and I quickly realized that, although snow is fun and cute, it’s not necessarily welcome in my daily routine. I much prefer this.” I gestured with open hands to the clear, blue sky.
She laughed. “I went to college in California!” The five of us kept heading in the direction of the park.
Eventually we sat down on the same bench. She let her dogs off the leash.
“I’m sure I’ll get a ticket, but who cares? MAC! GET BACK HERE!” She bellowed, then bolted off the bench to retrieve him.
I turned my face towards the sun, closed my eyes and smiled.
“What’s your name?” I asked, when she returned with her exuberant, wayward puppy.
“I’m Candace,” she extended her hand.
“Leslie,” I said, and shook it. Her firm grip pleasantly accompanied her kind eyes.
Out of nowhere, a park ranger appeared and inched towards us in her golf cart.
“Here we go,” Candace rolled her eyes. She gathered up the dogs and held them close.
But the park ranger didn’t budge. Mac started impatiently whining again.
“Oh, fuck it. I’m just going to go ask if my damn dogs can have a little joy off their leashes today.”
I watched her as she marched towards the golf cart. Three minutes later, the dogs were released. The park ranger continued to sit still.
“Wow! That was impressive!” I called, as I shielded my eyes from the sun.
“Sometimes you just have to ask for what you want,” Candace smiled. “Life’s too short to be timid and follow the rules. Don’t let them take you by the balls! Take risks! Be confident! Believe in yourself!”
I began to feel like I had been to church twice that day, and the sun was still high in the sky.
“So, what do you do?” Candace asked, as Sadie the Weimaraner dropped a muddy ball into her lap.
“I’m a singer and a writer,” I replied. “In fact, I just got back from Nashville where I wrote an album.”
“Wow! That’s great!” Candace exclaimed. “MAC! MAC! STOP DIGGING OVER THERE!”
She turned back to me.
“What kind of music is it? What genre? What led you to writing it?”
I took a deep breath in.
“Well, it’s a culmination of a lot of things,” I answered, a little too eagerly. “It might sound like a cliché, but it all began with a bunch of lyrics in my head over my latest breakup.”
I paused, then laughed.
“I guess you could say I publicly process my heartbreak. With my divorce, I wrote a blog that is becoming a book. And now? An album.”
“I totally get that!” she chimed in. “I’m divorced, too. And I recently had to end a promising relationship, myself. But more on that later. What happened to you?”
We settled into our park bench. I told her the story of my divorce and she listened intently, sometimes nodding and humming in agreement; sometimes with occasional outbursts of disbelief.
“WHAAAAT?!!? Who does that?! How is that even legal?”
We howled with laughter. I silently took note of how easy it was to talk about my divorce; to actually laugh about it. I am relieved it is behind me. Certainly, time lessens the severity of the wounds, but it is what you do with that time that matters most.
I moved on to the story of my latest relationship endeavor.
“I guess the best way of putting it is to quote my therapist,” I concluded. “Right guy, wrong time.”
“Yeah, but you have no closure! I mean, GOD.” She threw her head back. “I swear, men are missing a sensitivity chip.”
I laughed, then twisted my lips, swallowing to keep a surge of pain from becoming too overwhelming.
“Very true. But, to be honest, if all of this hadn’t happened, I may not have gone to Nashville and written these songs. I’m not going full-on Adele or Taylor Swift here, but I believe writing – creating, really! – is cathartic. And in turn, healing.”
“It certainly is,” Candace agreed. “Hey, listen – ”
She pulled a card from her doggie diaper bag and gave it to me.
“I’m a CEO and produce a lot of high-end events. I think you should come to them and meet people. Network, et cetera. Aaaand,” she winked, “You never know whom you might meet!”
I beamed. I certainly wasn’t about to tell her I normally work high-end events as a Captain or bartender for extra money.
“I know you probably need some more time to heal, but you should definitely dress up, come out and have some fun. MAC! MAC! WHERE ARE YOU?”
I dug in my purse, fished out my own card and handed it to her.
“I would love that, Candace. I really would.”
She smiled, then glanced at her phone. She had two missed calls.
“Well, I should probably head back home to the kids,” she stood up. “Let’s be in touch! And until we meet again – keep writing. Don’t be afraid to get that album funded. You can do it!”
We hugged. Then she was gone. I sat still on the bench and allowed my pale, bare legs to be saturated with a little more sunlight.
Did I just meet an angel? I thought. A small, feisty, strong, independent, successful, very genuine and caring angel who, yesterday, celebrated her 47th birthday with just her kids.
I allowed my mind to wander into fantasy. I imagined attending one of Candace’s events, smartly and sexily dressed, swirling a gin martini in my hand and entertaining droves of astonishingly attractive, extremely wealthy, outlandishly smart and genuinely good men. They would all clamor for my attention. I would casually yet humbly inform them how my book just hit the New York Times bestseller list, then hum a few choruses of the songs of the songs I had just co-written. A well-known producer would hear me from across the room, cease his trivial conversation with a couple of over-processed, under-intelligent, too-skinny women and approach me.
“That’s brilliant! Sing it again!”
My entire album would reach funding in two minutes, plus a little extra to help me pay my taxes and buy another dress for the following evening’s event.
Everything happens for a reason. Glad I took a different route home that one Sunday. Thanks, Candace!
But as the sun started to sink a little lower in the sky and the gentle breeze turned just a few degrees cooler, I shook it out of my mind.
Reality: I don’t need a man – or fantasy – to accomplish one single thing I am meant to do. Certainly, at some point, I would like to share my life with a partner. I am a relationship person. I have a huge heart. I may be a fool, but I am not afraid to love, and boldly.
But when I am hurt – when someone breaks my heart – I scream from the rooftops, cry in public, scrawl furiously on the page and fervently compose, because that is how I cope. I share my heart. That is how I heal.
And it’s okay. It’s okay to be human.
My pain has been turned into art. That can only ever be a good thing.
I will love again, I am sure of that. I’m hoping I have at least forty years left on this planet. There’s got to be a “right guy, right time” in there, somewhere. But I’m not worried about that right now. There are far more important things ahead. My job is to to keep riding the momentum that’s just been created.
Candace is right: Sometimes you just have to ask for what you want. Life’s too short to be timid and follow the rules. I’m certainly not going to let anyone take me by the balls. I’m confident. I’m taking risks. And I do believe in myself. More and more, each day.
I’m following my dreams. I can’t wait to see where it all leads me. And, as far as I’m concerned, it’s already a success.
Please support me in following my dreams. My goal this year – my fortieth on this planet!! – is to have my book published and have this album recorded, produced, mixed, mastered and distributed. There is no guarantee as an artist, but if anything I have written over the past several years has resonated with you, my hope is that my music will speak to you, as well. Every single contribution certainly helps, no matter what amount.
From the bottom of my heart.