I have a Beatles poster in my bathroom. It’s a photo I’ve never seen elsewhere – George, John, Paul and Ringo in a field of pink gladiolas beneath towering buildings. Johanna saw it one warm spring evening several years ago as we were walking up Central Avenue in Albuquerque, in Nob Hill, passing Bow Wow Records. The poster was taped to the side of a bin of old vinyl and she insisted that I needed it. She was only ten or eleven at the time, and she loved the black and white Beatles photo we already owned that graced our entryway, and she was, like me, a collector of many things. The poster obviously seemed to her something I should add to my collection of artwork, so we went in and asked for a copy.
“Oh no,” the clerk said, “we don’t have those for sale. That’s the only one we have.” The poster was frayed and creased in a couple of places from spending such a long time on the side of the record bin. Bow Wow Records had no qualms about selling it to us in such condition, and Johanna was pleased to find such an obvious prize. I paid five bucks for it, rolled it up and took it home – bought a Wal Mart poster frame with sides that slid over the plastic frame cover. Nothing fancy. Even perhaps a bit cheap, but a piece of our personal history that added to our home’s décor and made it more exactly what it was.
The Beatles poster hangs next to a painted wooden sign that says “Settle for More” in bright swooping purple and blue letters on a lime green background. A lovely woman who had a booth next to us at market in Atlanta several years ago painted that sign, and she and I spent a week getting acquainted in that way that you do at events where you’re in close proximity for several days. During the slow hours, I looked at photos of her beautiful toddler and heard the story of her recent divorce. She admired photos of my gorgeous children and patted me on the back when I told about Zachary getting such high SAT scores and getting a free ride at UT.
I love the sign. And I believe what it says and every time I soak in the tub, it is directly in my line of sight, and when I look at it, I think of Molena with her incredible brown eyes and belly laugh. I tell myself to settle for more.
A couple of years ago when I was just thinking about dating again, I brought a man to my house, to my double wide by the lake. I hesitated before I did so, but he asked, and who am I to say no to a guy I was kinda sorta hoping might be worth my time. I had met him on Match.com, and in the midst of conversation, he had learned that I was a realtor at Ute Lake, someplace he was considering as an investment. I couldn’t discern whether he was interested in meeting me or spending his money, but either alternative seemed reasonable to me.
He was an Albuquerque orthodontist, and he flew to the Tucumcari in his plane, where I picked him up and we spent the afternoon looking at an expensive piece of commercial property that he thought he might want to buy. I was the realtor for the afternoon, and although there were appreciative glances from him, and vague talk of getting to know me and the area better, there was nothing that felt like a first date. Just a meet and greet. I was relieved – I don’t really know how to be the prospective girlfriend and the realtor in the same space, and so I was just the realtor. And we were accompanied by my very talkative broker, and there were no moments during all the realtoring in which either of us could have indicated much interest in the other, except that my potential guy was extremely cordial, opened my door for me every time I got in the vehicle, put his arm around my shoulder once as we approached one of the buildings we were there to view.
So when we were finally done with the realtor gig, and after TJ had driven him all around the lake, giving him the grand tour while I nodded in the back seat, we were finally left alone at the office. “I need to get back to the airport, but I’d love to see your place,” Potential Guy said, and I thought, dammit, do I really want to take him to see my double wide by the lake? But Johanna and I had cleaned in a flurry for two days, just on the off chance that this request would come up. We had vacuumed and dusted and cleared paths and made our little house that sometime looks like a tornado hit it into a bit of a showplace. At least a showplace for the people who know and love us.
But Potential Guy didn’t truly know us. And I was probably a little intimidated by him in general – I who am usually so proud of how well I’ve survived this life of mine. I know what you’re thinking – she shouldn’t be considering dating a guy who intimidates her. Well, I don’t know that he meant to be intimidating. I think I was more intimidated by the idea of how he would see me – I wanted to yell “I’m incredibly engaging and funny and smart, and the fact that I live in a double wide or that I have a purple couch from a garage sale is only an indication of how easily I roll with the punches! I left a gorgeous red leather couch in North Carolina. Let me tell you how I’ve survived such adversity with extreme style and panache!!!!”
But of course, we weren’t at that point. We weren’t even really dating. We’d had a couple of engaging conversations that held some small portent of possibility. And that was all. Except that he, like everyone who takes a close look, became intoxicated with the idea of owning property on Ute Lake.
So why didn’t I want him to see my house? Probably for the same reason that I wouldn’t want everyone reading this to see my house. Which is utterly silly. Yes, it’s a double wide, but I swear it’s not like I’m some kind of trailer trash. It’s more like this is what was available on the day I needed a home, and I loved the view of the lake and the fifty-foot deck and the way the light came in through the north windows and the open kitchen.
I loved this house when I bought it – it was a bundle of possibilities, just like my life was at that moment, and I wanted it to be mine. I wanted my life to be different. I was still incredibly sad from my North Carolina divorce, and had tried to be in Albuquerque for a year, getting over that loss, but Johanna and I needed to heal, and she needed to be in a smaller school district, and I needed to be able to sit in my brother’s backyard and drink a beer around a firepit, and we needed to be able to go to Sunday dinner at my mom’s, and I needed to be able to walk down by the lake every morning, so we sold our Albuquerque adobe on a corner lot and moved to Logan. Into this yellow house with the wide front porch and the crepe myrtle in the yard, and I’ve loved it ever since.
When I left North Carolina, I brought with me all that I could load and carry. That meant boxes of household goods and baby pictures of my kids and just two pieces of furniture – my bed and the a Tom’s candy cabinet that my parents had bought at an estate auction. It was from Southerland’s Gas Station in San Jon, a place that my Dad worked to make extra money the year I was born, when he was farming broomcorn . I would have strapped that cabinet to the top of my Xterra if necessary – I wasn’t leaving it behind.
And slowly over the first couple of years, my family and friends hunted up extra furniture. My friend Laura gave me a dresser out of her garage. My parents took me to the flea market and we bought bookcases. They found the purple couch for me. My brother and his wife gave Johanna a four poster bed. Someone sold me end tables, and a microwave. Slowly I pieced my household together, and in the process my life started to get some of its form back.
My house now is a hodgepodge of all that stuff. A bright painting of a red pickup truck in a New Mexico mountain valley that Viola painted for me. Mexican folk art on the walls that I collected and that was given to me. A red coffee table bought at the end of market from a handsome vender from the New York. A black couch out of a house my parents bought as a rental. Two different art mirrors that Laura bought at the Mariposa Gallery and gave to me as birthday gifts. Mixed in this plethora of what I think are really bright and happy images and decorative items are photos of me with my kids and my friends and my family – the really important stuff. My fridge is messily covered with photos of incredibly happy events.
And in my bathroom is a Beatles poster. And a hand painted sign saying Settle for More.
And so there was the awkward moment when Potential Man and I drove up in the yard. I saw the peeling paint on my white porch through his eyes. I saw the missing shingles (I really should have been trying to date a roofer. . .). I saw the place where I tried to touch up the yellow paint with the wrong shade of yellow. And when we went through the door I saw that the carpet is discolored and frayed, and all that lovely folk art and my photos and the Mexican paper mache chess set of which I’m so proud, the one I bought in an antique shop in Santa Anna Texas – none of that is necessarily very neat or tidy, and I thought to myself, here’s a guy with an airplane and a successful orthodontic practice and a house in one of the nicest subdivisions in Albuquerque, and I’m showing him my yellow double wide by the lake. With the purple couch and the Beatles poster on the bathroom wall.
I don’t know what his impression was. It felt like all he saw was the frayed out-of-date carpet. Mostly I suspected that Potential Man and I weren’t even really a potential couple. I love to think that I’m enlightened and grown up and emotionally healthy, and yet when a guy isn’t enthralled with me, I think I’m not pretty enough or not thin enough. Hell, I don’t even have fabulous teeth, and here was an orthodontist in my house. I was the child of dryland farmers, and when I finally had the money to fix someone’s teeth, of course Johanna got braces. And I must say she has the most beautiful teeth in the world.
Anne Lamott said something in an essay that struck me as one of the ultimate truths. She said that she worried that she might have come to the point in her life where she might not ever have another passionate relationship, that she might even end up alone. Like me, she preferred to be alone “rather than be in a toxic relationship.” Heaven knows I had spent the past five years getting over the most toxic of relationships. Lamott said “I learned to be the person I wished I’d meet. . .”
Now that the meet and greet between my house and Potential Man was over, and now that it was obvious I had somehow come up lacking (but who knows? Maybe he was recovering from his own toxic relationship. . . ) it made me rethink who it was that I wanted to meet. In my dreams, my ultimate partner would be smart and sweet, tender and funny, someone who would get me for who I am, who wouldn’t mind the books piled up beside my bed and all over the floor in my bedroom. Someone who would find the Beatles poster endearing instead of messy. I wanted someone who would see who I really am without caring about the outer trappings or the peeling paint.
And regardless of whether Potential Man ever wanted to be the guy who really gets who I am, I needed to continue being sure of who that is. I am a strong New Mexico girl who has quite happily put her life back together and who now owns her own double wide by the lake. In the immortal words of Lyle Lovett “It I were the man that she wanted, I would not be the man that I am.”
If someone is looking for a girl who has a perfect cookie cutter of a yard and home, I’m probably not the best choice. And if a guy’s wanting a girl who will spend the bonus money on new carpet instead of taking her daughter to New York for her 16th birthday party, well, I’m just not that girl.
Lucky for me, not long after Potential Man came through the front door of my double wide and obviously deemed it unworthy of a second visit, I met a man who didn’t care about the books on my floor. In fact, he celebrates all that stuff. And now we sit on the deck and look at the lake together. He doesn’t seem to care one way or the other about the Beatles poster. It’s just another piece of my life and what I’m about. I have to give Potential Man a little credit – he made me love and cherish my double wide by the lake even more, because it is mine and because it is part of who I am.
When I die, I don’t think I’ll be saying that I wish I had had nicer stuff in my house. I don’t think I’ll have regrets about living in a double wide by the lake. I think I’ll just be happy remembering all those events that are so well displayed on my refrigerator. I’ll be glad that I finally taught myself to Settle for More.