Poetry on Vintage Tea Towels
A Story for the MOTH
Hello from my favorite coffee shop in Warrenton, VA. I hope this email… finds you. First and foremost, my heart goes out to anyone grieving right now. My life has been deeply touched over the years by Israeli and Palestinian friends alike and, if I’ve learned anything from those relationships, it’s that people are not their governments. I’m holding in my heart anyone navigating loss, heartache, and longing for a sense of safety in their communities.
Behind the scenes over here, I’ve been busy making plans for the future of this Substack and drafting a new story for DC’s MOTH StorySlam in November. Until I’m ready to share more, I thought I might pop in your inbox with a re-run from my archives. I wrote this story for the stage and performed it at DC’s City Winery in February 2019.
So I had been dating this photographer pretty intensely for about a month when he left, on assignment, for Paris with no set return date. He asked me to stay at his place while he was gone, to both check his mail and help him find a subletter in case his assignment was extended.
This photographer — we’ll call him Daniel, because that’s his name — has been gone for just a few days when he calls me from a hotel on the outskirts of Paris. He asks me how I am, says he misses me and then mentions — almost in passing — that he’s booked a flight to London.
Now, there are any number of reasons a man might decide fly to London. He may want to see the Christmas Lights on Big Ben, catch a glimpse of Meghan Markle outside Kensington Palace or enter a last-minute casting call to be the next James Bond.
But, coincidentally, Daniel’s ex-girlfriend also lives in London.
I ask Daniel whether he’s planning to see this ex-girlfriend and he tells me, yes, he is. He explains they both need closure and asks if I can understand.
To which I reply, OF COURSE!
Like the calm, cool, collected woman that I am.
Beneath the surface, though, my feminine intuition has kicked into overdrive.
Daniel had always been upfront with me about his past and about his feelings for this ex-girlfriend in particular. He’s told me how she’s a talented artist, and was, at one point, his soulmate.
Fast forward two days later and I still haven’t heard anything from Daniel.
I am desperate for something — ANYTHING — to keep me from dwelling on what may or may not happen between them. In an effort to distract myself, I decide to clean Daniel’s apartment. And I mean, REALLY clean his apartment. I clean the dust off his baseboards and the grime off the side of his washer and get the mildew off the drywall underneath his sink.
And when that’s done I decide to clear out his bedside table.
I open the top drawer and, before I can actually touch anything, a postcard falls at my feet.
It’s blank and doesn’t seem to be of any particular significance but there’s something about the artwork that catches my eye.
I notice that it’s drawn by an artist named Zoe Buckman.
Daniel’s ex also happens to be named Zoe.
Against my better instincts, I reach for my phone to look Zoe up. Sure enough, her website says London and before I know it I’m on Zoe’s Instagram, staring at a woman who is beautiful. Tall, fine boned, with soft blonde curls what I can only assume is a perfect British accent.
In tears, I call my friend Adria to let her know what I just found. She comes over IMMEDIATELY with a box of tissues and three bottles of wine.
Now, of all my friends, Adria is the perfect friend to call when you’ve found a potential boyfriend’s ex girlfriend. She’s supportive, level-headed, and quick to reassure.
Adria would be the first to say, hun, this woman is NOTHING compared to you!
So while I go searching for a wine opener, I hand Adria my phone. Adria takes one look at Zoe, looks up at me, looks back at Zoe, looks back up at me and just says:
“SHIT, girl. I am so sorry.”
Adria and I spend the rest of our evening obsessing over Zoe’s Instagram and overanalyzing everything she’s ever posted, said, or done. I’m desperate for any proof that Zoe is not perfect. But the more we scroll and the more we drink, the clearer it becomes that Zoe is not only attractive, she’s creative and talented. She designs lingerie that she displays in pristine white showrooms. She embroiders poetry on vintage tea towels, sculpts boxing ovaries from electroluminescent wire and sews together uteruses — uteri ? — from white lace.
She’s a woman borne straight from vision boards; the product of magazine clippings from Vogue and Vanity Fair.
After the third bottle of wine, I drunkenly text Daniel to admit defeat.
“I looked her up,” I write. “She’s beautiful and talented. Clearly, I’ve lost.”
By midnight, I’m all cried out. Adria pulls up her phone to call an Uber and I can’t resist going back to Zoe’s Instagram to wallow in my self pity one last time. I expand the caption of her latest post. It’s a long one, about 500 words, in which she goes on about her new apartment and… an ex-husband?
And, there’s a kid.
Adria’s halfway out the door when I stop her “ADRIA?!”
“I think … we have the wrong woman.”
I hand Adria my phone to show her what I just found. Not only is this Zoe NOT my Daniel’s Zoe — she lives in LA, not London — she has a daughter with David Schwimmer, aka Ross from Friends.
I’m SO relieved this woman is NOT my Daniel’s Zoe… I almost forget she’s still out there.
Daniel is still in London and I haven’t gone looking his Zoe since. For one evening, she became real. She was someone whose texture and substance I could hold in the palm of my hand and measure against my own. Indelible in the hippocampus from the last time Daniel and I spoke is the sound of her voice behind him and already that’s way too much.
All I can really do at this point is drink another bottle of wine, sew together a uterus from white lace and post some inspirational quotes about moving on.
As for Zoe Buckman? I still follow her.
Though every time she posts, I can’t help think to myself—