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I got some troubling news today.

It all started with Raoul and the house-cleaning debacle, which, happily, wasn't such a debacle after all. In fact, not only did the "cleansing" put me on a higher spiritual plane (and I say this with little irony) it actually ended with Raoul fixing the dishwasher (for the fifth time) and asking me out on a date. At least, I think that's what happened (he might deny the asking me out part). For the record, Raoul isn't French, or Spanish, or Mexican or any of the things you might expect. He's a lick your lips Catholic Boy from the Bronx via Little Italy in NYC and how he got the name "Raoul" is beyond me.

Anyway, once Petunia the pig and the parrot Raoul were taken care of (see last week...), I washed the Pepsi out of my hair and managed to get myself dressed. I put on my Juicy sweats, the ones that make my butt look decent, (not Jeffrey's ratty basketball shorts that I used to wear) and much to my surprise, Raoul (the handyman) made me dinner. He said it was no big deal but oh, my lord, the man can cook. He whipped up something called pasta all'amatriciana, which actually uses pig jowl in the recipe. (I'm not so in to cheek, so he substituted bacon, and of course we didn't tell my pet). It was delicious.

After dinner, he was cleaning up. I know what you're thinking — "To hell with Hot Dad, Hotter Handyman's in the house", but it is more complicated than that. I NEED Raoul. I am doing a re-model (this is not just metaphor, I am practically excavating here) and sadly, that is more important than double chocolate mousse (did I mention that part?) or sex (it's a MAJOR remodel) or even spaghetti with bacon that is perfectly crisp.

So I'm organizing my boxes (it's Jeffrey's night with the kids, by the way) while Raoul is loading the dishwasher (handyman clichés be damned, his own butt is pretty sick) and that's when I find it. Like everything else in my world at the moment, it's in a box.

The box has all sorts of things (it's a plain, brown storage box, nothing fancy) that I've apparently stashed. Photos of me in college (big 80s hair), old short stories I wrote (all fretful in that way things are when you're young), mementos of various road trips (used to hitchhike - VERY BAD - though better than Jane Fonda for the triceps) and then there was The List. It was simply titled: "Things to Do Before We Die." (There was a weird squiggle drawing on it, but I couldn't quite make it out. It kind of looked like two hippies having sex. Probably a side effect of being stoned, or too little sleep, or both).

A little background: When I was in high school I had four best friends. (You know how girls are, like wolves, they travel in packs and when provoked they'll bare fangs). We were compatriots and partners in crime (minor infractions like smoking pot and then clove cigarettes to cover the smell, driving our drunk boyfriends home after they'd vomit in our front yards, that sort of thing) and in that arrogant way of 16-year-olds, we had very specific ideas of what our futures would be. I may have neglected to mention this, but earlier that day I received a phone call.

Ryan (she was the oldest, born in January, we called her Sugar because she subsisted on a diet of Ho-Ho's and Twinkies), had just been diagnosed with cancer. She is 45-years-old. Invasive ductal carcinoma, to be exact.

Okay. So — breast cancer — not so funny. And lately, I've been pretty much getting by on my warped sense of humor. What else is there to do when your husband's slept with a concubine and then left the evidence behind for you to discover by "accident." You've gotta at least try and be in on the joke. Needless to say, this was messing with my plan.

Sugar is young (my age, which means more than it should) a sports fanatic, health nut and mother of a seven-year-old-girl. (I will admit, my somewhat frantic cleaning probably had as much, if not more to do with this news than with my previous erratic behavior). She was smart and funny and had the straight blonde hair I'd always wanted. She had a boyfriend who was so crazy about her when we were 13 that he ran around naked in the snow to prove he was in love. (All she wanted was a Mood Ring, but instead she got to see his penis). She was kind and compassionate and skinny (which meant her Levis fit better than anyone else's), but most especially, she was the initiator of The List. So, when I found it, I have to say, I was kind of shaken. Truthfully, I had forgotten about it for all these years. I had much more important things to deal with, like my cheating bastard of a husband and how to suck his bank account dry to fund my remodel. And that was just for starters.

But you know how it is. You're young, impressionable, Botox-free and full of plans. The world is your oyster (you've never even had a California Roll, let alone raw shellfish that is supposed to make you horny) and you have dreams. We were pragmatists, all of us, even then. I wore a lot of black (hard to believe, I know), Sugar NEVER wore dresses (she was like a mini Annie Hall), Lily was a future scientist (molecular biology, which I still don't understand) and Hope was the optimist we all wanted to be. (Her Dad was a Pro Football Player with two Super Bowl rings so you could see where it came from. She was used to seeing people's dreams come true). Anyway, one day we sat down and in between gulps of Tab and puffs of clove tasting smoke (we really believed they were better for us than the Marlboros everyone else was smoking) we made a list. "The Things We Have To Do Before We Die (Or Why are We Even Living?)" (We were studying The Method in acting class. We were a little dramatic).

But that was a long time ago. Now I am a grown up (relatively), a single mom with benefits (I mean, I can sit around every other weekend in my pajamas while Jeffrey takes the kids), Raoul whistling in the kitchen (I'm seriously screwed. Did I mention he plays the guitar?) and I'm on the floor with the list in my hand. And I'm staring at it, not quite sure what to do — because there are moments — and I'm sure you would agree p when the world stands still and for whatever reason, you just don't want to move. (Finding Jeffrey's secret cheaters cell phone was one. So was Mr. Handsome coming back from "take your kids to work week" and telling me the Concubine was moving in with his father. That's another story.) I mean, we were girls then, barely in our teens, with no idea of what being a woman would even mean. And now here I was, newly divorced, single, unrecognizable to myself in many ways, certainly a stranger to the girl I was.

I had been cheated on, I had danced on a pole, I had had sex with my ex, I had made big plans. I had kids and a mortgage and newly discovered alimony and by the way, my childhood friend had cancer.

Raoul could see me staring at the paper in my hand. I don't know what my face looked like at that moment, but I'm sure it wasn't pretty. He wandered over, wiping his forearms with a dishtowel. (Is there anything sexier than a man's forearms? I don't think so). "What's up?" he asked me. And I told him. "Read it to me?" he asked. And so I did.

The Things To Do Before We Die List:

  1. Never vote for Nixon. (This was the 70s).
  2. Climb Mt. Kilimanjaro. (Ditto.)
  3. Climb Mt. Washington in New Hampshire. (If Kilimanjaro is too far away).
  4. Have sex with lots of boys.
  5. Have sex with the one boy who will be our husband, walk away and keep him waiting until we are ready. (We were oddly mature).
  6. Go to college but don't study so much that we forget that college is really for having enough sex that we never regret getting married. (This turned out to be prophetic for many of us).
  7. Travel around the world more than once, or if that isn't possible, go to California. (Check that one off).
  8. Stop caring about the size of our boobs. (Eh).
  9. Keep a really big secret.
  10. Catch a fish. (We actually hated fish, but thought guys who went camping were hot).
  11. Have children, but if we don't, that's okay too.
  12. Love deeply, love profoundly, don't be afraid. (Remember, we were sixteen).
  13. Don't die alone. (This was a last minute addendum by Hope. She was the believer).
  14. Be a back up singer for someone famous. Go on tour.

I'll admit, the last one was mine. I've always thought that if I could be anything at all, I'd sing backup. I don't know what that says about me (like why wouldn't I want to be the one up front, getting all the attention and the really big check) but it always sounded cool. The list was a lot longer than that, but we edited it for brevity's sake. (And because we were having a sleepover the night we wrote it, and Lily accidentally clogged the toilet when she flushed all our cigarettes so that Hope's dad wouldn't find them. The bathroom flooded big time).

After I finished reading the list, Raoul didn't say anything for a minute or two. I might have looked kind of sad. I try and play it tough, you know, and mostly I am. But I wasn't feeling it right then. "You okay?" he asked. "Sure," I grinned up at him. "I love it when a man washes my dishes. Very sexy." "That's nothing," he said. (Or something like that, I honestly can't remember. Because it was weird, I was feeling sad and happy at the same time). Anyway, that's when I think he asked me out.

But I started laughing and couldn't really stop, and maybe he took offense, because he shook his head, got up and said he had to leave. (He'll be back tomorrow, though. He forgot his cell phone, and when I realized, I didn't call him until it was so late I knew he'd have to return).

I have to say, the list made me think about a lot of things. So much has gone on lately. Jeffrey, the concubine, my kids, the whole thing. I mean, if I had to write a "Things To Do Before I Die" list now, it would obviously be very different. (Well, most of it. I'd keep the sex with boys part, although don't get me wrong, they'd all be legal). I'd start with "Divorce cheating spouse and get on with life," which I'm proud to say, has already been accomplished. Now, in honor of Sugar, I'm gonna come up with the rest. It will take some thinking, I'm sure, but when the list is done, I'll tell you.

In the meantime, I'll stare at Raoul's butt (whenever I have the opportunity and/or he shows up for work). Because even when your past is in a box and the future is uncertain, even when there's divorce and cheating and your childhood friend has invasive ductal carcinoma, even when the world is a big fat question mark, when there's a lot left on the list "To Do", even then a menopausal mom can dream.

To get up to speed on Esme's musings and "Hot Flashes," check out "In the Beginning".

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