“You’re like a wood nymph. How magical you are,” he says as we stand on the small deck of the Nantucket cottage, drinking prosecco in the cold, December night.
I am wearing a wreath of ivy, berries and red ribbons, a one-of-a-kind Swarovski atelier necklace that I have never worn in the 36 years since my Swarovski client gave it to me, kitten heeled suede booties, a sparkly black blouse, and my oversized red-orange Land’s End down jacket.
It is the Nantucket Stroll weekend, and all these strangers are partying outside, freezing with great frivolity. COVID be damned. We are vaxxed.
The men wear custom-made Christmas suits. Some are plaid wonders. Others have matching pants and jackets adorned with Christmas trees, candy canes and Santas. The less prepared, or more frugal, wear red velvet capes, green bow ties and Santa hats.
The women wear holiday glam. Red and green velvets, sleeveless sequined halter tops with silk palazzo pants. One woman looks like a snow queen with her rhinestone tiara and long white satin dress with the white fur trim along the cuffs, collar, and hem.
The party is jammed with billionaires, lawyers, party planners, inventors, media moguls, financial wizards, teachers, retirees, and mysteries.
“So, what about you,” someone asks me.
“I am a wood nymph,” I say, deciding that I like this label more than others that are often used to describe me. Wood nymphs have much more fun at parties than doctors, lawyers, corporate strategists or even the writers and artists.
“Should we be worried,” my friend who copped the invitation to this party of strangers, asks me. “There are so many people squished together and no one is wearing a mask.”
“Life is short. We’re triple vaxxed. Let’s not worry tonight,” I say and move on to another interesting stranger. We are still in Delta territory; Omicron won’t be a thing for another week.
I am an introvert who generally loathes cocktail parties with strangers. Tonight, I feel exuberant. Out, dressed up, learning fascinating things from people way outside my usual social circles. Has my costume turned me into someone else? Or is it just the joy of being at a party after almost two years of isolation?
I see my two friends, with whom I came to the party, hovering nearby, edging closer to me. A guy is saying to me, “I bet you’ve made at least a billion.”
This is hilarious. Why would he think this? All I’ve done is ask him questions about himself. If only he knew I drive a Subaru and my former summer house was not a multi-million Nantucket “cottage” but a White Mountains cottage with no running water and an outhouse.
But it’s fantasy night. Let’s pretend night. I let him think I’ve made more than a billion.
My girlfriends move in. “We’re giving you the 15-minute warning. Then it’s time to go.”
Boo. They used to do this to me at college, too. Maybe they shouldn’t have played it safe tonight, sitting quietly by the gas fire with one group of people, dressed sensibly and spaced judiciously. Maybe then we could stay longer.
Finally, they tell this Cinderella wood nymph that it’s time to go.
We get back to the house, wash up and get into our pajamas.
“Good night,” I shout down from upstairs.
“Not yet,” they say. “Let’s have a cup of tea and debrief.”
I tell them about the guy who helped start Burning Man and who christened me The Wood Nymph.
“What is Burning Man,” they ask.
“Oh, my dear friends, you have to widen your world. It’s a big deal. On my bucket list.”
I tell them about the guy at the party who was the former chair of a famous museum, the intrigue and pettiness in the big money art circles, and the workshop the former president of RISD and I did at said famous museum.
“We didn’t think you knew anything about fine art,” they astutely say.
“I don’t, but I am a good facilitator and have found myself in some crazy worlds doing that kind of work.”
During the party debrief I realize how much I have missed leading a life of unexpected adventures. Of how much I have enjoyed saying “yes” to quirky people, places, and invitations. Of how wistful, and occasionally despairing, I’ve become during COVID. I like quiet but not predictability and confinement.
The atmosphere is tense on the ferry the next day, the mandatory mask requirement bringing us back to reality.
“Put your mask on. You’re endangering our health,” a patrician man says sternly to a hipster wearing a bandana around his neck.
“Hey, man, mind your own fucking business. I’m triple vaxxed.”
Back in my suburban mainland, I return to my cautious, dutiful life.
I test positive for COVID.
A month later I still can’t eat sugar or have even a sip of wine without getting sick. Sometimes my towels smell like cigarettes and my duvet smells like gross burnt chocolate. All impossible smells.
I keep my ivy wreath perched on my dresser. When I feel especially felled by COVID, I put on the crown and remember the party.
Fairies need to fly.