Tuesday, August 16, 2011

The Difference between Naked & Nude.

William Butler Yeats:
“Being Irish, he had an abiding sense of tragedy,
which sustained him through temporary periods of joy.”

Bare Introductions.

Here I was with my first naked woman ever, not a stitch on her, she kept squirming closer, and I kept jabbing paint into her eyes.
 “Or maybe, ‘Crippled Innocence?’ ” she suggested, “Maybe you could call my portrait something like that?”
“Uhhh, Yeahhh …” My lips and jaw worked around for a while, but only that one word edged out. Trying to think of something charming or eloquent to say is like digging around through cooling street tar with a straw wrapper. In a borrowed white tux. I’m guaranteed to make a mess of things.
Well, at least I’d managed more than a grunt this time; I’d dredged up one whole word. Though maybe I should have said Yes, Ma’am, rather than Yeah.
No; that’s too formal. Yes, that is a patently good idea, Ma’am, although I generally don’t assign titles to my various artistic renderings.
She flipped her hair away from the front of her shoulders. Freckles surfed the soft white swells of her shimmying breasts.
Stop! Don’t look down there! I jerked my eyes back up.
Say something, moron, maybe she didn’t notice.
Dang it; open your mouth. Say something. Anything. You know a ton of words; pick out any three. Everybody else can talk.
By the time I can think of anything to say, I’ve been rummaging around for days, and the other guy’s gone home.
“Hello; are you in there?” she asked. “You don’t talk much, do ya?”
I started crushing more paint into the canvas, shooting a quick sideways look at her nose. Then back at the portrait. I studied her neck. As I braked against letting my gaze drift any lower, my breath bottled up in my ears. I felt even more exposed than she was. Fully clothed, I felt like I was the one who was naked. That she could see I had nothing on under my armor.
And yet, there she was, standing right beside me; not a hairpin, not a Band-Aid; bubbling over with laughter she wasn’t even trying to hold in. And an occasional snort when she tried. I could have looked anywhere, everywhere, studied every one of her curves, folds, and follicles.
She watched the internal civil war I was waging on her behalf and found it hilarious.
I was naked; she was nude. They’d taught us the difference in Art History. If someone looks exposed, awkward, struggling to keep his guard up, he’s naked. He looks tight and unnatural, and we feel bad looking at him. He didn’t want to be caught there that way.
A nude feels cozy and free. She has no guard to drop. A nude has no inhibitions. If you let her, she just might melt yours. If some repressed artist paints a wind-tossed cloth across her privates, it looks unnatural and you just know she’d rather tear it away and feel the breeze between her thighs. She’s like sunshine and doesn’t deal well with clouds.
“Knock, knock, are you in there?” She’d caught me again.
Irish folks can’t hide our embarrassment. It blossoms like red wine through white linen all over our faces, our ears, our necks. She saw that, too. She tried not to laugh at me, but a little snort erupted. Then she dabbed at my shoulder with apologies. The touch of her bare hand sent quivers through parts of me I hadn’t noticed before.
She paused; her hand nestled softly against my chest. She looked directly into my eyes with feeling, like she wanted to say, “Oh, you poor, dear, baby.”
“You’re sweet,” she told me.
I kept slapping my brush against the palette until I’d heaped up a big blob of greenish – brown - purple. I searched the whole canvas for some obscure corner I could blend that ugly mess into, but had to give up and wipe the brush off on a rag.
She was quiet for a while, and I snuck another peek up at her. She was studying me with the strangest, most curious, the sweetest smile I could have imagined.
If I’d ever dared let myself imagine a pretty girl smiling at me.
“You’re kinda …” She paused, and it was as though she was attempting to palpate a cobweb. “You're kind of shy, aren’t you?”
I kept focusing in on her eyes, only the eyes. It took every bit of concentration I had.
“I think I like shy.” She contemplated the concept; her eyes, soft and unfocussed, seemed to ride distant waves. But then they drew down into hardness. “Guys I know are so fulla themselves,” she said. “Treat you like they own you. You’re their damned property. Like all you are is your tits.”
My eyes dived for an instant, as though her breasts had whistled for me. I sucked in a lungful and dragged them back up. Cripe, I wished she’d stop saying things like that.
I started slathering paint onto the canvas so feverishly her eyes must’ve stood out by a full quarter inch. Green Irish eyes with golden flecks; huge pupils that kept growing bigger.
The first few days of class, she had wandered the circle of freshman art students, gazing at each of our life studies quietly, but then she’d started settling in by mine. She had been moving about, studying our paintings, wearing nothing but a ratty, home-friendly robe I had desperately, achingly, wanted her to pull closed. Then this time, she hadn’t brought the robe.
The rest of the class had gone to lunch, but she’d slid in beside me and I’d kept painting, hoping she couldn’t see everything churning and broiling, and slamming shut inside me. It wasn’t just that I didn’t want to show her disrespect by looking at parts a woman would normally keep hidden; I was terrified. No one had ever tried to be my friend before.
“Crippled Innocence,” she said again now, studying the painting, “Something like that. Maybe you could call it something like that.” I had noticed she walked with a bit of a twist, raising one foot like a limp fish.
 “Uhhh, yeah…. Maybe,” I said, but then our eyes snagged for a moment.
“Mmmm,” she said, holding my gaze. It was like she was snuggling into the sound; an intonation, a melody that just eased out, halfway between a murmur and a purr. Like a woman half stirring from a sweet, delicious dream; burrowing more deeply into her fresh cool pillow, but not quite waking up.
One of her legs slipped behind mine. She leaned in, passing her arm slowly around me, her hand stroking empty air above the painting. She spoke softly into my ear. I couldn’t clutch myself together enough to catch actual words. I knew she couldn’t be thinking romantically, so maybe she was just being cruel, like girls had in junior high. She had to be just teasing.
The warmth of her breast drew close to my arm. Something akin to a purr or a grumble rolled through my own heart and lower belly. If I had tried to speak in that moment, it would have come out as a squeak.
Then we touched, and I was in no particular hurry to pull out of it, though I worked hard at acting like I didn’t notice. The hairs on the back of my arm brushed her nipple with each breath. I’ve probably never been so aware of my breathing.
She whispered, “Can I ask you something?”
“Anything,” I managed to squeeze out of the top of my skull.
“Why do they call you Gooseboy?” She brushed me again. Much more firmly this time. She lingered there. Held herself against me.
“Unhh owahh mmm?” was the best I could come up with.
My head swam as I tried again, but the “Unhh” only came out in a higher pitch.
She laughed; her breast swayed, bounced, floated along my triceps. I fought to pull myself together. My quavering voice did manage to force a few words out, splayed by pauses. “Mmm - childhood. Ugly - duckling - thing. Never grew into a swan.”
“Swans are nasty,” she whispered, her lips so close to my ear she could’ve bitten it. “I’m sick of swans. Get hung up on their looks, you’re gonna pay for being so damned stupid. Embarrass me in front of my friends. Like it’s me never says anything worth listening to. Yeah, right. So damned full of themselves. Damn … swans.” She stepped out from behind me, caught my eyes drifting down over her delicately hued nipples. The gentle white curves of her belly. Her shadowed slit of navel. “I like the little ducks in the back. The ones who don’t quite fit in. I just wanna pick ’em up, and cuddle them, and hold their little heads close to my ...” We tried to unravel ourselves from that imagery. “They’re the ones I want to feed.”
I drew in a breath and held it until it dawned on me I couldn’t form words without letting some of it back out. “Well … thanks … but I’ve got some stale bed …” I wanted to point back at my supplies with my thumb, but all my parts had frozen into position. “In my brackpack. – I mean, stale bed. Bread. In my – backpack. If I get hungry.” She laughed as I kept chattering. “I’ll just stand out by the fountain and toss it at myself,” I told her. “Maybe I’ll even fight over it.”
Her nipples started to draw in, tighter and darker. They rose out. Like lips wanting a kiss.
Guessing she was cold, I offered her the jacket from my chair.
She started prodding me with devilish grins, asking what made her look cold. She wouldn’t let me off the hook.
After a few minutes of teasing, she sighed and turned her head away. The muscles of her long, slender neck carried my gaze down to the notch of her clavicle. I studied her freckles, but didn’t try to paint them. I followed them lower, to where her skin was its absolute whitest. Her puff of reddish blonde hair looked so soft, and fluffy. I wondered if she brushed, or shampooed it. Her long, slender legs spread wider as she relaxed her left knee. I studied her sweet nubs of toes. The graceful arches of her feet. Feet had never struck me as sexy before.
But she had apparently turned away just so she could flip back and catch me savoring her, because when I looked back up, she was studying me.
I tried to force a casual smile, but it twisted out of my face like a grimace. I didn’t let her into my thoughts; didn’t let myself into my feelings. I wrenched for words. “I – I like that - color. Of your nail polish. It’s – it’s so - bright! Red. Bet you don’t have any trouble finding your feet in the dark!”
She broke loose laughing like she’d been saving it up in a sealed can for years. A free-spirited nude, like any true artist, seems always in a moment of birth.
I don’t have that painting anymore. I was told it was one of my best. That people saw strange things inside it. Almost mystical layerings of pain, and purity. And longing.
I gave it to the model. I don’t remember her name. I never saw her outside that circle of easels, and trunks filled with props. She’d bring sandwiches, and we’d sit through our breaks, but I never had much to say; I was terrified. Big bold lives and beautiful friends; beautiful women; were meant for other people. Adventurous people. Deserving people.
How could I have guessed back then that I’d one day be hanging out with naked presidents, notorious lawyers, and women so sexy men would lust for them in every language on the planet? I’d shove my way through a future where the bizarre and the miraculous became so normal I’d miss them when things ran too smoothly. I’d be attacked by ghosts, torn open by a hurricane, and come close to dying deep in a Mexican desert, all because I needed to meet God face-to-face if it killed me. If there even was one. I needed some answers.
That first model stayed warm and open for a few weeks or months, but slowly she grew a little sad. I was really, really good at closing people out. Which always left me horribly alone.
Our family didn’t talk about our passions or terrors, though, about what churned and ate away at us from inside. Dad said all we needed to know was in our little catechisms, or brightly colored Bible tales, but anything deep and hurtful; anything that didn’t make any sense, just wasn’t fair, and we really, really needed to come to grips with? Well, that was “Just one of God’s glorious mysteries,” he always told us, end of story.
Not for me, it wasn’t.
I waited for him a long time in the parking lot after class that Day of the Breast, hoping he’d remember to pick me up. He tended to lose track of time sitting in some bar, car dealership, or small business, waiting for owners who rarely showed. He kept trying to sell them pencils and rulers imprinted with their ads that they could then donate to area schools. Must’ve been awfully tough talking a funeral director into advertising his mortuary on book covers for the junior high, but Dad made a sale now and then. He never touched the dullest edge of success. He was on his third mortgage. Our used car was almost ours, and had been for a long, long time; since the previous one had broken down when it had still only been almost ours. Now his big purple chariot hung suspended with the rest of us in that dank gray limbo of almost.
I hated the way Dad’s face slammed white when bill collectors came to our door. He tried to hide it, but I was vulnerable to other people’s emotions and felt the stress going for his heart.
That day, after I’d discovered how a breast felt against my arm, I fumed for almost two hours standing there, waiting, but never called home to check. Who was I to think I counted? How many times in my childhood had he left me in the car with no books or toys as he’d seen clients in their homes? He’d just take the keys and tell me to stay put. I’d watch kids with puppies run by; bunnies, birds, and squirrels hop about in yards; but I hadn’t even rolled down a window. With nothing to play with but buttons on the dash, I’d push the cigarette lighter in and out. A couple of times I’d burnt my finger pressing its tip against the glowing coil. At least that had offered some distraction. So I’d been tempted to do it again.
I never complained, figuring that was my proper place in the universe; a hard wooden stool in an unlighted basement while everyone else ate ice cream in the park.
There had been times, though, when I’d almost felt like somebody’s son. Sitting side-by-side on barstools as he’d waited for small business owners. That fresh furniture polish and alcohol smell in the mid-afternoon, my little boy hands around a cold, sweating beer mug of root beer. Sharing that treasured dim light and quiet with my dad. The soft swoosh of the Ski ball disc along shining powdered wood; the spirited ‘Bing!’ as it bounced off the backboard. That disc, shiny silver metal with black rubber edges, had looked so inconsequential in his beefy hand; felt so sturdy and manly in mine.
Dad did show up at college that day. He hadn’t forgotten me after all. I was overjoyed, but held it in, shoving my relief back inside and clamping it down. I climbed in with controlled, respectful decorum. Passion wasn’t welcomed in my family. As always, he asked how my day went without turning to actually look at me. As always, I said, “Fine, Sir,” facing forward, my hands kneading sketchbooks.
Anyway, what could I say? A beautiful naked woman rubbed her breast on my bare skin, Dad! We were all alone and she slipped her leg around me. She had freckles around her nipples! Her woman’s hair looked so soft! Do you think they brush that hair down there, Dad?
Now where would that fit in among his Bible stories?
I was quiet for the rest of the ride as my father kept sneaking concerned glances. I searched for things to say, but nothing broke free. My eyes pressed rigidly forward. All those accumulated years and layers of feelings he couldn’t share, of words I couldn’t speak, all those ponderous slabs of angst, were like concrete hardening as it’s poured.
I suspect he knew he might be dying. He was in great pain, but never told us. Now I hate myself for closing off when he was trying to show he cared in the only way he could. He was just trying to get a few final words out of his son as I failed him again, as I hurt him even worse.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

The Men in her Life.

Paramahansa Yogananda:
“One whose heart is filled with the love of God cannot willfully hurt anyone.”

Chapter Six.

The Men in Her Life.

“Fucker skipped on you again.”
“Ray, please, Honey; not in front of your sisters.”
Charli looked around the table. The two older girls were stabbing at their portions of the pork foo yung like they wanted to tear its heart out. She turned in her chair to watch people from their neighborhood who could have pretty teapots and tiny cups, and their kids could each order something different. They didn’t have to pick one dinner and cut off little pieces. They could have food left over, and get to carry it home in white boxes. If they forgot them on the table, Charli would go over and get them. Sometimes people came back and asked where their stuff was, but the little oriental men would only look over toward her, but not say anything, so she got to keep it. She didn’t understand how people could not eat everything they had, or how the Chinese men could just throw food away. She’d want to ask if her mom could have some of it; but instead she’d just walk over, take what looked good, and carry it back to her family.
But now other kids and their parents weren’t even eating. If they weren’t openly staring at her brother and her mom, or studying Charli and her sisters, they were at least sneaking peeks.
 “Your dad just had to talk to one of the men he works with about some fossils; that’s all,” their mom said. “You heard him talking on the phone. He told us he’d be right back.”
“He always says that.” Pammie thrust her knife into a chunk of pink meat.
“Oh, Honey; but he will this time. He even told us to order dessert, didn’t he? He doesn’t always say that, now, does he? Hey, how about some of that nice green ice cream you like? We’ll order some of that, okay? Wouldn’t that be nice?”
Pammie twisted the knife until every piece of pork flesh was torn to tiny shreds. Francine just dropped her hands and stared at the table.
“You like that nice ice cream, don’t you?” Their mom seemed so distracted the kids couldn’t tell whom she was talking to, but they weren’t really listening, anyway. “He said there’s been a very important new discovery! Now, that’s exciting, isn’t it? Some big, scary dinosaur? Maybe he’ll bring us pictures.” She turned to Charli. “Here, eat, Honey,” she said. “Let me help you with that. Daddy will be right back.”
Charli lifted her purse up off her lap, and laid it on the table. Her mom stopped cutting the little girl’s food to fight back tears. Charli said, “Here. You can have all my money, Mommy.”
The sounds of scraping and poking against plates stopped at tables all around her. Charli tried to catch the attention of her brother, or one of her sisters, to suggest they all pitch in, but nobody in her family would look up.
“Fuck this!” her brother said. “I’m not paying for this shit!” He stood, and started shouting at waiters. “You hear me? This is crap! I wouldn’t feed this shit to my dog. Hell, I’d rather eat the dog than this crap!” He launched his plate. A customer across the room ducked just before it shattered on the wall behind her.
Their mother reached for her glass, but it only held water.
“Fuck this!” Ray shouted and slammed out the front door.
Charli climbed down off her chair and tried to follow, but had trouble with the door. She managed to shove and lunge her way through, then ran to where the car had been. Standing in the empty space, she called, “Daddy? Daddy! It’s your little Charli; it’s me. Don’t go, Daddy.”
Inside The China Pagoda, she knew, her mom would be ordering wine, but then wouldn’t know how to pay for it. Remembering the money in her piggybank, Charli ran the few blocks to their home, slowing to a stop outside the garage. It took her a long time to talk herself out of checking her daddy’s red toolbox. This time, she decided, she didn’t want to know.
She crawled in through the dog door. Walking slowly across the living room, smelling the dust and the sour odor of old food spills, touching each piece of furniture as she passed, everything hurt her so badly. It wasn’t right; it wasn’t fair; a home should have a daddy in it.
She climbed the stairs to her room, but then didn’t have to reach under her bed. Mr. Pigg was broken open all over her dresser. All her money was gone.
Little Charli just kept moving, taking short quick breaths high in her chest to keep from crying. In her sisters’ room, she dug through all their hiding places, but he’d taken theirs, too.
Heading downstairs, she made for the garage. The big red toolbox was empty. All the nice wrapped presents she’d seen in there were gone.
That poor tiny child could only afford to stand there staring, feeling terribly empty, for a minute or so, her little hands wiping back tears that had never actually broken to the surface. She knew her mom would be talking funny and blubbering by now. The waiters would be wringing their hands and all their neighbors would be talking about her family out loud and saying terrible, ugly things. Money or no money, Charli was going to have to get her mommy out of there.

Their dad didn’t come home that night. Ray became “Death Ray” again, breaking lamps and dishes, slashing at the cat with belts and fireplace pokers, leaving it cowering and spitting under the couch. Then he headed for the special school, to beat up on “retards.” Pammie searched the streets for Cambodian and Mexican girls she could knock down and kick because they “couldn’t even talk English.” Their mom passed out on the couch watching some old movie with James Cagney shooting and punching everybody, even his girlfriend. Francine finished up her mom’s wine. She was only eleven, but had been drinking for years. Charli decided to spend the night at Gramma Peggy’s. She took her Barbie with her so Ray wouldn’t come back and tear it to pieces.
When she got there, the garage door was closed, so she knew Grampa Ron wasn’t out there spending a little quality time with his one true friend, Jim Beam. The house itself was dark, though, which was strange; they always left “lights on for the burglars” if they went out. Charli climbed up into their olive tree to study things for a while, try to figure out what was going on. She didn’t like it; something wasn’t right. Everywhere she turned, the world scared her.
She didn’t hear Grampa’s radio in the garage, but didn’t see anyone moving in the house. Nestling her doll into a comfortable pad of leaves, she climbed down without it, and snuck up to the living room window like an Indian. Gramma Peggy wasn’t watching Gunsmoke. Their TV wasn’t even turned on. She stared in for a long time, but didn’t see anyone.
Charli slid through the night, working the wagon of garden tools over to the loose board in the backyard wall, propping the milk box up on it, and climbing through. She managed to drag a bench over to a back screen window so she could listen. Inside the house somewhere, she heard “Brownie the Mutt” whimpering. Listening harder then, she heard him scratching at something wooden. Something was wrong. Gramps never let him whine like that. He kicked and cussed the “damned ugly mongrel,” then swore harder because the dog was making him spill his drink.
Too scared to call out, Charli crept around, trying windows until she found a space she could squeeze through. A cast iron skillet lay on the dining room floor. A towel in the hall was soaked with blood.
She couldn’t take any more. The tiny child broke down into heaving bursts of terror, crying out,  “Gramma. Gramma! Gramma; it’s me; it’s little Charli. Gramma; where are you? Gramma!”
No one answered. Brownie the Mutt came to peek out from the bedroom for just a moment, then trotted back in to start scratching and whimpering again.
Feeling like every joint and muscle in her body, other than her pounding heart, had frozen solid and was holding her back, Charli fought for control, forcing herself to walk very slowly down the hall. She found Brownie staring at the closed bathroom door. Now and then he’d scratch at it with his paw. It took a moment for Charli to hear her grandmother sobbing on the other side.
“Gramma, Gramma,” the child kept calling.
It was a long time before she answered, and then very weakly. “It’s okay, Honey, Gramma will be alright. You just go home now, Honey.”
Charli stayed put. She kept crying, but wouldn’t step any closer to that door.
Then it all broke loose. She dropped to her knees, sobbing uncontrollably until she just couldn’t breathe.
That sweet, broken child heard the bathroom door open, but couldn’t stand up, run to her gramma, or even stop weeping. She felt the soft, gentle hand of the woman who’d practically raised her, the woman she’d always thought of as her real mom, stroking her heaving shoulders, and her hair. Then she heard her grandmother’s voice. “You just have to understand, Sweetheart; your grandfather doesn’t mean to get this way; it’s just the liquor.
“And anyway, he’s a doctor, or we wouldn’t have this nice house, or any food to eat.”
Charli, still crumpled over herself, stared at the floor by the blue glow of the nightlight, watching a big drop of her gramma’s blood spread out through the shared pooling of their tears.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

“Entertaining Naked People” Excerpt.

                        Blown Tires in Heaven.

When my siblings and I were kids, Mom and Dad used to take us on educational daytrips. One time they loaded up the station wagon and headed us off to picnic at Valley Forge, but Dad missed the first exit. A truck with a blown tire blocked the second. We ended up spending the night in Gettysburg, missing school the next day. For me, it was a wondrous, but agonizing place. Over the years, they took us to antique homes, forts, and buildings. In some, I tapped into lives that had been lived and maybe lost there. They just kind of reached out and grabbed me. But in Gettysburg I felt buried in the deaths. Even at full noon and a hundred years later, the fields were dark with the dying; strewn with groaning agony; with unending hours spent waiting for death to finally get around to these skinny, patched kids who felt so very, very far from home. It tore at me from everywhere, along with their terror, naiveté, and a palpable conviction of glory. As though in this bloody clash there was no right or wrong because each side had God firing, stabbing, and slashing right beside them. Maybe in some awful way, I thought, He was.
We spent the next night in Harper’s Ferry, Virginia. My pain was so intense there I could have found my way blindfolded to where they’d hanged John Brown. I knew nothing of his history; I’d never heard of the man, and didn’t know why they’d killed him; but his rage ate away at me for months.
In some old homes I felt fragments of lives lived, meals cooked, of babies carried, but then all too soon buried out back somewhere. I felt their bonding through adversities, and the hard-edged love that grew out of that. I felt their resignation as much as anything, and knew those times must have been awfully hard. Endless days of labor that beat at their bodies; weary evenings of trying to hang on. I felt people sitting around in dim light and heavy air.
Feelings chewed through me with such sweetly sad intensity. Like lingering nostalgia for days I couldn’t quite recall. Old lives and times seemed wistful, more real, alive, more steeped in buried sweetness than the lost and broken sadness of my now.
I took on the pain of others like festering sores draining the spirit out of me. At home, I hid in my room from the clash of emotions my family could hide only from themselves. When my arms grew long and strong enough I started pulling myself up onto the roof where I could lie back under the stars, praying for their vast peace to drain off some of the hurt.
Sometimes it worked; they welcomed me in among them and nestled me closer to God. Everything dissolved into pure, aching sweetness, beyond the furthest reaches of time and thought. How vast love can be when we don’t hack off a chunk and hoard it, call it ours, or chain it to someone; when it isn’t love for some thing or some one, just love.
But love got me trapped in their pain. If I stopped to ponder that, though, if I thought about anything at all, I’d get stuck in my head again, where all that beauty couldn’t reach me. If an annoying itch sent me back hunting for my body, then that was all it took; I’d chosen the physical, mental, emotional world over that which belonged only to the soul, and I’d locked myself back out of heaven.
I was only allowed brief visits, and couldn’t bring the bliss back with me. Trying to hold onto that soul piercing, excruciating sweetness was like tearing my heart apart; but getting dumped back into this pain-wracked world of anxieties, barriers, and failure was like it had died.
So night after night, as my family watched TV, I holed up at the other end of the house with my books. Deep in bedroom shadows, mythic heroes fought on, through pain and desperation, searching for what only they could see, as something unyielding cried out from their souls. I crawled through each passage with fingers and tears as King Arthur battled onward and inward, conquering and ceding back, sacrificing everyone and everything he cared about, driven like a madman to the point of self-immolation, ever trying to slash his way free.
For a tale of heroism, that one sure reeked of darkness. Heroes are supposed to be born for the job, all shiny clean and courageous. They eat their vegetables, thank their moms, and cross themselves twice saying grace. Good is good, evil is evil, and bad guys ride black horses. But with Arthur’s gang, everyone seemed to be thrashing against something ugly and menacing hanging back in his own shadows. Something painfully personal.
In the real world, obedience was pounded into our butts; discipline nailed each to the cross of his own life. I fought so hard to just shut up and buckle under, but I just couldn’t confine myself to this tiny and hurting world everybody else lived in. It got so it was like St. Michael slaying the dragon, with me as both the saint, and his dragon.
My heroes followed some deep hidden light through dark and horrid times, and I knew what drove them; I had touched that light.
I’d also tasted the darkness.
As I knotted myself over each grave, heroic tale, I felt it clawing free.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Chapter 3 - Memoirs. - What Lies Beyond the Grave?

From the I Ching:
It is early morning and work begins.
The mind has been closed to the outside world in sleep;
now its connections to the world begin again.”

Chapter Three.

Seeds Take Root Where the Light Can’t Reach.

Our front window looked out across a blood-drenched sidewalk onto a life-sized war hero, sword raised. Baltimore was “The City of Memorials.” Its people treasured the honorable, the heroic, and the unholy. I found all three in one graveyard that first week.
I should have been unpacking with Gary and Wadlow, but the fading light was calling and only I heard it. Weighted down since childhood with a dread of trying anything new, I needed to walk off some of that fermenting angst of beginning a new life in our first apartment.
My last night home, my family had watched “The Ten Commandments.” Dad had wanted us to feel The Lord’s Mighty Power as I headed off to take the world on.
Instead, I saw myself jumping blindly into the hands of that same Divine Overseer who’d forced Moses to take a life or death stand against the pharaoh, wander the desert for forty years, everybody abusing him, but then, after all that, told him, “Mood swing! Everyone can go in but you. You just have to stand outside and watch.” And that’s not even counting all those poor innocent horses He drowned. God was killing children right and left, but then told Moses he shalt not kill. Told Moses to lie to the Pharaoh, but then made it a commandment not to. Some great, inspiring flick that turned out to be. I was going to need a much kinder God to pray to, and one that was easier to understand. And if a bush started mumbling anywhere near me, I was just going to walk right on by.
Someone had to have gotten a bit drunk around some of those campfires and bollixed up a few of those stories. That Old Testament God seemed mean, violent, arbitrary, and vindictive, and now here I was, betting my whole life on His good graces.
And yet, I’d known a God who’d called to me gently as a child, soothed me when I’d felt lost, which had been pretty much most of the time. That magic spirit I’d known when tiny and innocent had loved Nature and all life. This wasn’t a God who’d go flooding us all out, even snuggly puppies, letting only one man build a boat. He wouldn’t make bets with the devil on how much we’d put up with. He wouldn’t have us swallowed by a great fish and keep us in there for days with nothing to eat, and no one for company but a puppet.
Or maybe that was a different story. Anyway, that God I’d loved since toddlerhood still hummed to me sometimes through the stars. He was everywhere, looking out from inside every one of us, but I still couldn’t find Him. Native Americans had sung and danced with this vast, very personal spirit. They’d honored their brotherhood with all life. So we’d dead-marched them off along the Trail of Tears and nailed crosses over their bunks in Bible schools, beating them until they accepted the fact that God only liked white folks.
But I knew He cried for them, too. Did He still whisper to them through their campfires? Could I at least listen in? I knew He was out there, waiting, but somehow I’d shut Him out; the God I loved would never have abandoned me.
Moving into our new place with two art students from back home, I found myself just standing, unmoving, in the middle of the floor, first in one room, then another, staring into emptiness, as the other guys hustled their clothes, toiletries, and school supplies in around me, grabbing all the best corners and drawers.
Finally, I just headed out and started walking. With a pair of socks in one hand that I set down somewhere and forgot to bring back.
I went for a long, meandering pilgrimage, sucked forward through emptiness. Along toward dank of evening, I came upon a crumbled knot of graves crying out with their neglect. Sagging marble steps led up into a sealed church as it gathered the twilight in around it. I never feel quite settled into a place until I’ve found a church with more spirit than words. It doesn’t even have to be a happy, hopeful spirit; I just need to know there’s more to it than stone walls, wood benches, and empty sermons. I need to feel clearly that God knows it’s there. That I could catch a whiff of Him inside, a taste of His simmering compassion. Feel Him sharing their sorrows, and feeding their joys. That He could find me there if He ever really wanted to.
Even if the doors are chained, and I’m locked out; I just need to know I can still feel Him.
I leaned against the cast-iron grit of huge gates heavy-laden with age and unanswered sorrows. Beyond them, ancient, worn markers were strewn through the weeds. I’ve always been drawn to untended graves. I grieve for those whose loved ones haven’t visited for generations.
One monstrous gate, hanging crooked on its hinges, wedged in hard and heavy against the other. I heaved against it until I could barely scrape through to stand amid scattered marble, bleached white, and crumbled to powder. You could tell they’d once been engraved in ancient script, but could no longer make out who’d been settled in beneath them, or when. I paid respect at each grave, knowing nothing of the lives they’d lived, or of who had once missed them. By now, even their beloved had been long buried and forgotten.
One slab had been laid across supports like a bench. Its vague, lingering worm trails, once honoring somebody’s life, merits, and worth, had been ground away by Baltimore’s uncaring rains.
A few yards farther in, tiny mausoleum sheds interspersed among the weeds. I edged between them and worked my way along a gutter, stepping down onto a flat stone wedged under one end to hold back erosion. Lifting my foot up from it, I saw words: “Age six months.” The child hadn’t even been named.
My heart shriveled. I’d stepped on the stone of an infant who’d never had a fair shot at life. Now I was disrespecting her in death.
More slabs and blocks trailed around behind, some from the 1700’s. One man, way in the back, inside a tiny fence scraggy with weeds, had apparently fought in the Revolution.
More tiny mausoleums faced the rear wall of the church; one with horrific carvings of skulls. One held, I vaguely recall, an early Maryland governor, or some such dignitary.
The back of the church was raised up from the ground. Tossed in among its supports were what looked like moldering bones.
My heart ached so much for these poor souls, neglected even after death, I turned away to head back, but managed only a few burdened steps.
I drew up abruptly and froze.
An old, worn marker, standing off by itself, grabbed at my heart.
It was Edgar Alan Poe.
He fit in so perfectly there. Maybe I did, too. His sorrow and pain ate through me as I stood there, head lowered. Can’t even death let us step away from our darkness?
Then, it was like he was scratching a warning into the dirt with his finger, and like he meant it specifically for me. Each of us has to work out his own salvation, he seemed to say, not wait around for sermons to wash him clean; for death or drugs to close his eyes. We don’t dare sit around expecting God to come roaring in with fresh troops to drive away the darkness we’ve walled our own souls up inside; buried alive like some of Poe’s characters.

I meandered home slowly that night, through the dark of a strange bloodstained city.
Poking through death and birth, I suspected they really weren’t so very different. Each was a matter of squeezing under pressure from dark into light. We need to be forced out, or we’d never let go. We don’t want to leave the confinement of everything we’ve learned to count on. Or hide behind. So how else can we be drawn out into that vast bright unknown?
What was I eking out into in Baltimore? Darkness, or Light? Or were they the same?
Approaching our apartment, my heart gripped up higher in my chest. I took mincing steps around dark brown ripples soaking the concrete in a wide spill out front.
As Gary tells it, someone had murdered a drug dealer. He says cops with clipboards had questioned us in our living room as we were moving in, but I hadn’t told them I’d gone out to break into a graveyard.
He says two black guys showed up at our place the next night, looking for drugs, and had felt sorry for us. “You don’t got shit!” they’d said. Not a TV, not one soda in the fridge, not a sock that we hadn’t worn thin.
I don’t remember any of that. Just the darkness of that unfading stain. It marred the sidewalk for months, maybe years. No one could scour it away.
I didn’t even try.
It was all that was left of someone.
I still carry that in my heart.
There had to be more to life and death than just that.

Chapter 2 - Memoirs - Vietnam.

   From Light on the Path:
When you have found the beginning of the way
the star of your soul will show its light;
and by that light you will perceive how great is the darkness in which it burns.”

Chapter Two.

Blood Makes Rich Fertilizer.

Dinner chat wasn’t as joyful as it had been once upon a time. Voices were quieter, more subdued. My brother and sisters took turns. They passed food sometimes in silence, in thoughtful pauses, or in pauses as they tried not to think. For long hours in the living room, Sharon thumbed through her childhood catechisms and Bible tales until their colors faded and dulled to thin grays. Kath put hers back on the shelf, where it got buried behind her Nancy Drew collection. Tim was kicked out of high school for cutting too many days.
I set up an altar in my bedroom, placing prayer books and my favorite pictures of saints on it. In a Philadelphia church I stood by the glass coffined body of St. John Neumann, praying for all my soul was worth. I bought a tiny crumb of his backbone and positioned it reverently on my altar beside the crucifix my grandmother had given me when I’d gone deaf for a few months, and the little rosary in a plastic pack I’d carried to church every Sunday back when I’d still worn red clip-on bowties. There were prayer cards from my grandfather’s funeral, and those of dead neighbors, like the little girl up the street who’d lost her battle against a blood disease she wasn’t even old enough to spell.
We spent way too much time looking down into coffins, never quite understanding why.
In the center of the altar stood a ceramic Mary in a lovely blue dress Grandma and I had painted sitting side-by-side at her tiny table. Mary had the most beatific expression on her young, untroubled face; a smile so soft and gentle you could disappear into it; especially by candlelight, wisps of incense smelling as I imagined a Tibetan monastery might. The St. Christopher’s medal my uncle had worn landing fighters on carriers in World War II lay at her feet. Crystals from my rock collection poked in along the walls in case they really did offer some kind of healing.
Visits to New York art museums were diverted into pilgrimages to St. Pat’s Cathedral, praying for hours, lighting candles, and leaving what change I could spare.
The frayed and gritty edges of everyone’s world were worried away by neighbors you’d never noticed until the air spilled over with the tragedy of their loss. How the war had taken them or their children; killed them, lost them, torn off body parts, sent them back brain-fried.
Or, in the best of stories, trailing heaps of pain-wrenched glory. Somehow, though, even those tales of heroism, those dim lights you searched for through psychological and spiritual famine, groping desperately through all that gloom, even those somehow seemed to just ping off the surface of the pain they carried inside them. They sounded so defensive; like the good parts were mostly just make-believe. Friends of friends poured out each loved one’s heroism with swelled chest, but always followed the script, those same exact words, every time exactly the same, as though they never dared vary one single word, go wandering off, thinking things through. Tales fell from hearts in heavy, wet tones of grief and confusion.
Even when rare moments of relative calm and clarity crept briefly through our days, they crawled in with head hanging through that most familiar of all tunnels, our sense of loss. Each new friend seemed only to step in and announce himself with his last breath. Why hadn’t we loved him earlier when there had been more time?
That overriding sense of loss was the crusted-over peephole through which you viewed the world. Dreading life’s relentless advance, but knowing your locks could never keep it out.
“Jack down the street was a gunner in Nam. Chopper took some flak. Forced ’em down, props all knocked loose and ridin’ low. Stood up into it unloading a wounded buddy. Lousy time to be 6’4”. First week there. You remember Jack. You went to school with his sister. Only a year or two ahead of you. Died a man’s death. God-awful how it always takes the good ones.”
Yeah, I remembered Crazy Jack. Used to steal my towel in the locker room. Cops picked him up three, four times for drinking and stealing cars before he was old enough they could hold him. Even rumors of a stick-up, but you know small towns. Joined the military to sidestep a prison rap, or so they said. And suddenly he’s my hero? Yeah, I remembered Jack. Jack and a dozen Jacks like him.
“Joe Whatsisname. Almost dated your sister. You remember Joe. Went completely bald when they blew up his brother and sent home the pieces. Joe … Joe … Uhhh - You remember Joe. Not a hair on his head. Only fifteen. That war grabs everybody. Even ones’t don’t go.”
“Yeah, well, I know a guy who …”
As the late 60’s gave in and died, and I trudged my way through my first years in college, even the old folks were growing up. Their World War II glories clouded over. We’d all been dragged out of our warm, snuggly innocence.
People seemed infested by life, that dire contagion, burdened by the stifling weight of it, until we could only force shallow, labored breaths. Each new day was just an old one playing through again, a dust-laden August, a storm always riding right on top of you that never quite cut loose a hellin’. It settled into your joints until they grew achy, too heavy to lift; tarring all hearts with a dark, heavy plaque. Days stuck together as walking and breathing grew tedious. Until even my bubbly sister couldn’t offer up a smile without a shadow lurking inside it. We trudged through life like molasses as our mighty nation killed our sons and broke our buddies, defending itself from skinny barefoot farmers with sticks, in some rice swamps, somewhere on the other side of existence, where you couldn’t tell the good guys from the bad. Some lost tiny nowhere that hadn’t even existed when you’d been a kid; when the world had been innocent and untainted. Back when Father Knew Best, Beaver’s mom fed his dad all the answers, and Annie Oakley never had to shoot to kill.
My dad, Tiny Tim, the fat jolly Irishman, had always been too big to buy his clothes in stores. When we’d been tiny, he’d have Mom make sports shirts for the six of us out of the gaudiest prints they could find, the females condemned to matching shorts. Newspaper photos from around the country showed us standing out at Kiwanis conventions; my skinny arms poking out of some grotesque print of green doughnuts, or purple and orange palm trees, all six of us dressed exactly the same. Dad loved the attention, with his purple station wagon, gaudy sports shirts, his booming Irish laughter, and infectious joviality.
He still wore the shirts. Few people saw them. He lost more and more time on the couch, his socks drooping, his face hanging low as he fought hard against his weight, against smoking; and, secretly, against a world that no longer seemed decent, no longer made sense; though he would never, ever, ever say a word against our always-honorable American government.
Two years later, after his funeral, after I’d dropped out of school and he’d died within a month, a broken man, Mom would find fingerprints dragged along the hall, as though he’d groped his way out to us, blinded by pain, but then straightened up and put on a brave face.
Mom had been hit by lightning as a child and been terrified of thunder ever since. Dad had found her cowering down behind a bed one time when we were bitty, during a loud, and terrifying storm. He’d told her to buck up and not scare the children.
Our personal terrors were not to be put on display.
In my two years at the local college, if somehow I managed to keep my grades just above flushable, it wasn’t from any excess of confidence, competence, or zeal. Mainly my academic scores kept me afloat, though not really kicking very hard. I still sucked at Color & Design Fundamentals, expressing myself best through black & white photos and paintings; in ink and pencil drawings that sometimes writhed in silent screams like the deeply troubled work of Kathe Kollwitz. Eighteen years later, my wife would take me aside at public events to berate me: “You’re wearing blue pants with green socks again. You embarrass me. You can’t ever get anything right.” Apparently I was colorblind. Before our next event, I’d try holding up pants, asking her which was the black pair and which the navy. She’d shrivel me with a look of disdain that would reek its way through to my core, but say nothing to help.
Charli would wage a long, bitter war to grind into my bones that the world was your cashbox. That faith was a childish weakness, a pathology best torn out harshly. That bright illusions grow up into disillusionment. But back in college during the years of the Vietnam War, I was still trying to see the world as an expression of light, without all the shadows, evils and grays. I was still trying to paint with colors; still holding God as the center of everything, trusting that God and goodness would always be enough. It had to be enough; it’s all I had.
My friend Yorke said the universe demanded more of us and we should demand more of ourselves. He stood out from any crowd, trimmed his Van Dyck to a finely honed point, kept his Ben Franklin glasses balanced on the tip of his patrician nose. He parted his hair down the middle like a 1920’s banker. Yorke cut a trim, sophisticated, if intentionally anachronistic appearance in double-breasted linen vests and silk jackets, often dressing in pinstripes. He drove a Ford Model-T with a New York cabbie’s license from the 40’s pinned to its visor.
He and his twin, Gordon, were all but indistinguishable from the neck up, but Gordon dressed more late twentieth century conservative. Neither would wear t-shirts or shorts, but Gordon could have blended in among Republicans at a luncheon discussing how to lower wages, take the vote away from darker races, and stamp out labor rights.
Yorke was political. I wasn’t. It hurt both of us deeply that soldiers were killing and being killed, but he tried to do something about it. He tried to stir up some campus activism, signed on for what few and meager protests a tiny handful of students managed to mount. There were never any marches, no sit-ins, nobody held signs; Bucks County was too conservative for anything like that. The fires of his passions singed him through to the threadbare fibers of his soul. The world, as it was, hurt him deeply.
My heart knew the same pain, but it wasn’t my nature to make a fuss, to stand up for or against anything. I think that kept us from growing closer, Yorke and I. His passions were more in-your-face. He lived them, despite getting blocked, abused, and insulted at every turn. I kept mine locked away, and he could never deal with that in me. I shouldn’t have been able to either.
Yorke closed himself off in a garage with his beloved Model-T one bright and sunny spring afternoon. He turned on the engine, and died.
Mom spent that hour searching our house, miles away; sniffing corners, asking if we smelled gas. She’d never met Yorke, he lived in another town, but she, too, could be painfully empathetic.
He wouldn’t talk with me again for years after that, though his ghost would continue to visit his brother in their Ford. I wouldn’t have a chance to understand, to put things to rest, until one evening, six years later, when I caught  him slipping away from a dark occult library and he’d finally stop in to explain things. But in the years immediately following his death, I still hurt for that resolution, carrying his fatal act of violence against himself in my fibers and tissues like a deep and very personal wound I didn’t dare pick at. I only knew that a friend hadn’t been able to take any more. That he’d taken the world’s gathering ugliness out on himself.
Some shared pain in me somehow understood. Some pain I didn’t dare stir.
As a photography major, I liked experimenting: smearing lenses, cracking or melting films in chemical baths; surprising myself with unpredictable special effects. One portrait of Yorke came out looking like he was dissolving into clouds. I was never able to repeat that effect. Months later he did just that.
His mom bought that photo at a student art exhibition. I never entered another show. Now and then I managed an impressive drawing or photo, and somehow squeaked through. Teachers managed to pull a few strings to let me tag along with four other kids who’d been accepted to an art college in another state; another world. On my own for the very first time as cities tore themselves apart in protests and race riots where I could be caught hiding the wrong political convictions, or wearing the wrong color skin.
I was terrified.
And as always, I hurt for my dad. He’d suffered enough even if he hadn’t let his family see it. He’d driven himself into debt to put his pathologically sensitive son through useless, impractical art lessons where I poured out passions that no one could see. If I didn’t make it, I’d fail him again, drag him down into my own morose sense of futility.
He had once tried to teach me survival skills, pushing me to try selling pencils or calendars door-to-door that some customer had stiffed him on. I was only about seven. At each door I’d just hung my head, mumbled, and walked away.
At most houses, I hadn’t even rung the bell.
I’d been born without a thread of aggression, couldn’t force anything on anyone; could never put my own needs first. So, failing art, starvation seemed my only moral choice.
I didn’t belong in a world like that anyway.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Losing Everything by Loving too Hard.

From my as yet unpublished autobiography,
"Entertaining Naked Folks":

From Light on the Path:
“… the light of the world … is beyond you,
because when you reach it you have lost yourself.
It is unattainable, because it forever recedes.
You will enter the light, but you will never touch the Flame.”

Chapter Sixteen.


Julie and I met when we “happened to” move to Olcott, an occult center in a tiny town, on the same day but from different parts of the country. It was St. Patty’s Day; a traditional day of joy, magic, and bizarre good fortune. Of leprechauns, pots of gold, and wicked curses put on those who try to own what’s not rightfully theirs.
We saw each other for the first time at a staff meeting that afternoon, across a circle of chairs on an outside patio. She’d gotten lost in her unpacking and showed up late, taking a seat directly across from mine. She was strikingly beautiful. Her soft, natural grace communicated class, intelligence, and that humble kind of confidence only the gifted can afford. Dora, the center president, was listening to other residents pipe in about purloined laundry soap and needing extra help in the kitchen. Then this stunning beauty walked up, took a good look at me, and paused. Cool spring breezes refreshed my spirits as they stirred her sunny reddish hair and the small silk scarf she’d tied so tastefully, almost casually around her neck. Then she sat down, still watching. I treasure the photo I shot of her in her green blouse our first minutes together. She’s studying me with such focused intent.
In a matter of days we opened our lives and bared our souls to each other. I started sneaking over to her building, then creeping back to my own just before sunrise. We could make love three times while drifting off to sleep all entwined, each trying to dig ever deeper into the other’s embrace, and soul. We’d wake up, chat about the dreams we had just dreamed together, then make love again. She’d snuggle back into her covers as I headed home.
She treasured long afternoon soaks in hot, scented bubble baths as I spread out my red checked shirt on her grass-green carpet like a picnic cloth, set out candles and plates. She could soak for an hour if she felt like it, but eventually she’d climb out, a rich, deep scarlet, her flesh plumped with moisture. I’d kiss away each lingering drop of blessed dew from her warm, pulsing flesh, let those caught in her pubic hair linger on my tongue. We’d settle down onto the floor, piecing through an intimate naked picnic and luxurious exploration. We made love with deep caring, and passionate appreciation, spent hours absorbed in honoring and treasuring each rich and wondrous nuance.
Olcott was a vegetarian, no smoking, no drinking; just meditating, doing paperwork, and studying kind of place. Once a month I’d have to sneak across the street to a Burger King to have it my way. Sometimes others would come along. Julie might ask for a whopper with extra sauce and onions, hold the burger. Sometimes they charged extra for that, sometimes they’d have to call in a manager first, and sometimes we’d get it with a side order of consternation.
One night, she snuck a bottle of champagne onto the grounds, though we’d never be disrespectful enough to carry it inside. We sat off under a canopy of trees, taking sips to toast each other. As we drew deeper into communion and caring, she shared every ache in her heart. It was a sweet, pain-wracked, unforgettable night.
Everyone in her Tennessee family was named T. J. Crenna: Tyler James Crenna, Tamara Jean, Tara Jenna Crenna … She sobbed her heart out through horrendous tales of her drunk and raging father forcing his tiny daughters to their knees. He’d held a knife to their shrieking, weeping mama’s throat, threatening to kill her in front of the girls. He’d driven every lesson home with horrifying, graphic descriptions of what he’d do to them if they didn’t mind him.
Somehow she grew up. She fled to college and married a football coach who abused her, told her she was insane when she didn’t want to be used in ways he used her. She bared her soul to me that night about imprisonment in the role of perfect housewife and token arm candy at faculty gatherings. About that Christian Tennessee coach telling her if, when, and under what conditions he might allow her to have friends.
Julie was fighting to escape the control of abusive men, so I knew I could never hold her back from anyone who wanted to love her, just as long as he cared for her gently. It would hurt terribly if I wasn’t enough for her and she needed to fly free, but nothing could be sweeter than the love I felt inside that blessed pain.
She cried streaks of mascara into my handkerchief and the shoulder of my white cable knit sweater that night. I never washed either again. I’d carry them around the country in a gift box with a pair of shoes she left behind when she moved on. With a menu, and a receipt from a hotel we stayed in when we took a trip together. A small collection of cards and notes and I Love You’s in her handwriting. A napkin with a luscious red kiss. A matchbox and a small incense burner. Through the decades that followed, whatever strange worlds grabbed hold and dug in, I could always anchor my heart in our love.
But even that night had to end. When I walked back into my building, Randy, a senior department head, was waiting just inside the door.
He was a great-looking young man with eyes like a hypnotist in some over-the-top 1920’s film. He got to know every even halfway attractive young lady in his apartment their first night there, but I sensed he took it as an affront that the most beautiful one had settled for me, though she would definitely have cramped his style.
I drifted in, smudged with mascara and floating on tenderness. He tried to shrivel me with a glare of rebuke. But I was in love and walked right on past.
He made a point of walking downstairs to use my photocopier the next morning. He tried several times to berate me for mixing alcohol with psychic development, but I kept blowing him off with smart-ass remarks about how I’d somehow manage to survive if my chakras spun backwards for a while.
Launching one final condescending glare, he strode out, willing himself to appear nonchalant and unbent. Inside he was marching on my head, grinding my face into gravel. Pitying me for my vast inferiority.
Julie and I rented a car to spend a weekend in Evanston. In and around Chicago, a couple of guys calling themselves Lettuce Entertain You, Inc., had opened a few theme restaurants, like Jonathan Livingston Seafood, and Lawrence of Oregano. We ate at Fritz, That’s It, where the menu sat in the middle of each table, wrapped around a toilet paper roll. I kept the whole roll for a while, but eventually just flattened out the menu and put it in my box of treasures under a handkerchief and sweater laced with mascara and tears.
We toured Fermilab Nuclear Testing facilities, where they were working out the underpinnings of our material world. On the other end of reality, we visited the Baha’i temple with its nine lovely gardens honoring nine great world teachers and the truths they brought. Progressive Revelation, they called it. Moses brought some of the truth, Jesus revealed more. Mohammed and the Buddha taught what the world was ready for in their own times and cultures. Sermons from any religion could be offered there, any holy songs sung, any great teacher, wisdom, or deity shared.
I sat in its center, exploding with passion like never before. Twining columns carried my eyes and spirit ever upward through an intricate calligraphy skylight as I flooded over with tears of joy, my heart and soul bursting with love. I’d spent my whole life searching for that oneness everywhere, in pain and in beauty and sometimes both at once. In starry skies, and sermons, and pictures of Jesus. It all felt so vast and yet so personal. So complete and intact, yet formless and flowing everywhere. Never had I felt my whole Being so alive, and yet numbed by the vastness and beauty of God’s love.
That night, in our hotel room, Julie’s tears of joy tore through my heart as we burned with a conflagration of bliss. And I knew that even genital love could be God love.
In July came the curtain incident. Raised in an era when women did all the housework while men mowed lawns and shoveled snow; I could keep things clean and tidy, but couldn’t sew. I barely knew which end of the needle to thread. After moving into a tiny room at Olcott with no door I’d bought a spring-loaded curtain rod and about seven feet of textured green material. I’d tried to sew a seam to slip the rod through, but after a long bout of back-aching, tongue-straining labor, had nothing but a big green maze of puckers and sags. So I fixed it to the rod in a ridiculous, wavering, only very remote semblance of a seam with paperclips, safety pins, adhesive tape, duct tape, packing tape, and whatever else I could scrounge up. When a section came loose, I’d go hunting for another kind of tape.
Five months into our romance, Julie uncovered her sewing machine and offered to finally and properly hem this poor frayed mutant with some dignity.
And so, one hellacious hot day in the cruel heart of summer, as I was wearing a sleeveless shirt, I grabbed the material off the rod and wadded it up under my arm, trotted downstairs and over to her building. By the time I got there, I had every kind of tape, adhesive, and scunge known to man, melted in wads through my underarm hair.
It took days of scrubbing with Borax and printing press cleaner to get it all out.
But Julie did a beautiful hem! And I got a lot of fine hearty laughs and Oh, you poor baby’s over the armpit mess every time I told another pal my classic tale of idiocy.
I still haven’t learned to sew, but I’m more careful now with what I wear when I’m carrying tape.

Later that summer, at our Lake Geneva convention, Julie went sailing with Randy. They capsized and she turned blue in the icy waters. She rushed to me afterward and the horror of it consumed me. We’d all nearly lost her; I felt so helpless and small.
Hours later, Randy gave me a look that could only be described as smug.
Inside my tiny cellar of worthlessness sprouted seeds of contempt and terror. Had he taken her out at least partly to get me back for slighting him? Was he showing me she’d still come when he summoned? Was whatever panic she had suffered less important to him than reigning uncontested and supreme?
I saw more clearly than ever before that she wasn’t mine and never could be. I would always carry the love; I could never lose that; but you can’t own what needs to fly free.
Not if you love her, you can’t.
She took a couple of trips with mutual male buddies. I sent her off with love and wished her joy. They’d been good friends for both of us, and I’m sure their time together was innocent, but even if it hadn’t been, she was not mine to control.
In our few months together, I threw not only my whole heart at her, but crammed every tid and wittle of my existence into worshiping each vibration of her being; into praise to the heavens for the very fact that she existed; until not even the wildest drug-induced dream could have held all that passion. Certainly, no delicate beauty seeded in a sadistic childhood deserved confinement in such hero worship.
She’d been imprisoned in a horrifying childhood had escaped only through marriage. Then her husband had crammed her into a tight locked box of dutiful wife and underling. Of backdrop at social events with his colleagues only. Where had Julie ever been fully Julie?
She’d finally escaped by fleeing to Olcott, where I’d bound her up in romance and adoration.
Julie started spending more and more time with a close friend who called herself Mike and had no real use for men.  I could feel a distance settling between us, growing jealous of every lost moment, but still cherished her too much to grip tightly. She’d been squeezed by too many men, and too harshly; so I could only release her as gently as I could manage through tears she never saw.
We still had many wonderful moments, but I wanted nothing in my future but Julie, while she was just beginning to open to life. I tried to step out of her way by shutting myself down so she could grab more of everything else. Each moment together we came more alive, while slowly a mute part of me was fading.
She took to spending days on end at Mike’s house. Mike encouraged her to move out and take up her education again. Julie’s dream-sapping husband had stolen her post-graduate college career. He’d let her finance his, but then reneged on his promise to return the favor.
Once Julie set her heart on that, so did I. She headed off to Kansas City under the care, protection, and generosity of a good-looking doctor, and no matter how hard I tried to let her go with blessings, I wept.
She sent me cassette tapes from Kansas City. “I’ve been thinking about you a lot; picturing what we’ve had together. But for right now, I’m experiencing things I’ve never had a chance to before: Being alone, living alone, going to bed and getting up whenever I feel like, and just sort of keeping company with myself. It’s giving me a chance to look inside, to be with my own thoughts more. To write, and read, listen to music; to dance, and cook, and think.
“Even doing eighty driving out here, I was in an altered state. I completely lost track of hours at a time. I felt like part of the landscape, the car, part of everything. It was a vast new feeling of wholeness, and quietness.” I wanted her to live in that wholeness.
Then, watching “Sybil” again had stirred up a lot of her old hurts. A little girl personality, Peggy, imagines the doctor holding her, but then starts crying. “She just can’t believe,” Julie told me on tape, “anyone could ever really care for her. That they don’t just want something, or want to make her feel good, but could actually care for her.” Julie wept, then, and it tore me apart.
She said, “I guess that’s still a real big part of me. Not believing I could be loved. My God, Honey, you show me so much beautiful love and affection, and I can feel it. I know it’s real; I feel that same love for you. But all this pain, this crippling, self-blinding pain is from years and years and years before I met you. It’s still there, and it still hurts so terribly.”
Tears I heard but couldn’t touch ate right through me. That such a sweet, gentle being would have all those years and abuses to work through. My God! I wanted to take her in, and rock her; let her feel that no one ever need hurt her again. From now on, there’d be two of us there to stand up against all the world’s bullies.
But she needed to face the first of them alone. The woman I adored, the only one who had ever completed me, was so far away and might never come back. And yet she needed that more than anything my love could have offered by holding her close inside it, letting her know I’d always be there. She still had to heal from those who hadn’t been.
She had the courage to step outside the protection and power of our romance to take that on alone. I could only love and admire her all the more for that.
Julie had had a real catharsis watching Sybil. She wanted to dig up, explore, unfold every bit of herself. She’d taken my chart with her to an astrologer, who had started by telling her I had creative talent, but things I’d been born with would keep me from being recognized for it. That I’d be doing a lot of traveling, working with different people and moving on. She told Julie we were each exactly what the other wanted, “But that I have a lot of trouble trusting you,” I heard her poor, choking voice tell me. “I know exactly what she meant. I always have trouble trusting in our relationship. It’s too perfect; too beautiful. Beauty this bright, love like yours can’t be mine. The glamour of our romance, the beauty of what we have; it couldn’t last.
“Ohhh, I want to make you mine! To show you I’m the very best for you; that you could never like anyone as much as me. But then I meet a beautiful, brilliant, very special woman, and I think, Wow, I can see Bob with somebody like that; really being happy, and I feel like I’m growing, just thinking of you with someone wonderful.
“I guess I’m trying to work through to where I can release you for that. I want you to have that.  – If you want it. You’ve just begun to come alive in your sexuality; your confidence. Your lack of confidence had always held you down before. But now to limit yourself to just me might deny you a chance to meet other people who could show you who you are.  I see so much in you, Honey! Sometimes maybe you think, ‘Well. She’s prejudiced. I’m glad she sees me that way, but that’s not really how I am.’ But if several women could get to know you, you could see common threads. ‘So I must be okay. I must be handsome. I must be a beautiful person…’
“I’m not encouraging anything. I’m just saying it’s important for our future to not deny yourself anything for my sake – for our sake; not at this point, not right now. Something in me says, If he’s given himself freedom to look around, he’s been with other women, and he still chooses me, then I’ll see it’s true, but I’m afraid I might not trust your feelings toward me. That maybe what we have is just so far and above anything you’ve ever had before, I just seem like what you want.”
I tried to send her unsullied blessings for every new growth, discovery, joy, and freedom her poor tortured heart could handle, while my own was festering and bleeding out. It all sounded too ominous. My deep-seated “I suck” kept turning her every selfless word against me: See? You weren’t good enough to hold on to such a bright and wondrous beauty! She’s had enough of you and wants to move on. She’s just being polite, trying to let you down easy, but she’s had enough.
“I’ve been thinking about how Ron always got really upset about ‘Why, if we’re married, would you be willing to even talk to another man?’ It really bothered him. So I don’t wanna treat you that way, Honey; I know how that hurts, so I don’t want to hurt you by holding you back. Don’t shut yourself off for me like I had to do. I love you too much to do that to you. I’m still trying to get over his rejection. How I deal with relationships is coming very slowly. Trying to experience different kinds of people, and test out different things.”
There. She said it. She wants to date other men.
“I so terribly fear that some time much later, once you and I have committed ourselves, and we’ve more or less moved through this tremendous romantic pull between us, and the glamour, and the excitement; I’m afraid, maybe you’ll start looking around; maybe have an affair or two. I have no moral feelings against that.”
Well, why the hell not? I sure do.
“I love you. - So much! I keep searching for seeds of things that might cause problems later on. I shouldn’t … I know that. I also want to give myself the freedom to find out who I am; to become who I might become, not lock myself into any one particular slot too soon.”
How could I listen to all this love, to her self-sacrificing heart, and feel so terribly, terribly hurt? Between the lines, was she was telling me I should find some other woman because she didn’t want to be with me? I couldn’t imagine ever wanting or loving anyone but her.
“Oh, Bob, we share so many wonderful things; such a tremendous spiritual oneness. Little bits and essences from past lifetimes we shared are just now coming together; what we have is the heart of our spiritual journey. I keep thinking about our love. And our happiness. And our fun. And our – SEX!” She laughs. “Laughter, and our jokes, and nicknames, and our walks and special places. And laying together, talking, and cuddling closely. And I feel so happy.
“Ohhh, I love you, Honey. I pray that you’re happy. You’re so beautiful, Bob! So beautiful! I need you to help me not clutch at you, or wanna possess you. If I can face you being with other women, it’ll be a major breakthrough for me. I’m trying so hard to release you to your own growth; not try to hold on to you in any way out of fear of losing you. You’re able to do that for me in such a major, major way; I have to be able to do that for you, Honey, or we’re not gonna be good for each other.”
But I hadn’t let her go; not really. Everything in me was tearing itself apart even trying to.
“I love you an awful lot! I’m so glad we’ve met again in this lifetime, too. I’ll never forget meditating together and seeing so very clearly how you’ve been so important to me. In several past lives. So tremendously important to me. Meditating; picturing you so clearly before I even met you. And then, there you were. - We meet again at the perfect moment, when we both need so badly to feel our special love again. And there you were! You know that has to be karmic, Honey. I’m so grateful for you, Honey. I just think you are really … Amazing!
“I love you dearly; I wanna be able to do it with the same unpossessiveness, generosity, and compassion you love me with, Honey. Thank you so much for everything.
I love you!”

From “Living in the Light,” by Shakti Gawain: “… I was going through a place that all of us must pass through at one time or another – what the mystics call piercing the veil of illusion. It’s the point where we truly recognize that our physical world is not the ultimate reality and we begin to turn inward to discover the true nature of existence. … we usually feel emotionally that we are hitting bottom, but as we actually hit the bottom, we fall through the trap door into a bright new world – the realm of spiritual truth. Only by moving fully into the darkness can we move through into the light.”

I made arrangements to move out and head back to my own part of the country. I started training a new resident, Isaiah, as my replacement. He was learning to run the printing press one morning when my thoughts faded to incoherence and I had trouble forming sentences. I grew confused. Nausea welled up within me that I knew wasn’t my own. I was flooded by an overwhelming realization that Julie was in trouble, hundreds of miles away, and she needed me.
I told Isaiah what was going on, said I was going up to my room, and didn’t know when I’d be back.
By then I was living in a room with a door. I shut it behind me, left the light off, and lay down on the bed. The darkness was deep and rich with her beauty; and with her need.
The nausea hit hard. I drove right through thick, dull colored fog to grab hold of her, buried myself in her stupor and confusion, looking around at nothing solid or recognizable. I knew she was lost, wandering blindly, groping, and frightened; that she didn’t know where she was, and saw me as her anchor. I interpreted that as her being in surgery and starting to slip dangerously away. Fighting off my terror for her, I sent her only positive, supportive, thoughts, telling her with all the focus I could force into my mind and heart, “I’m with you, Honey. I love you. We’ll be fine”. I told her not to panic - to just trust in us, and I’d carry her out of it.
She responded almost immediately. It felt like we were pushing for the surface of some thick murky lake. I had no sense of time, but it seemed only moments before our heads broke the surface and we were clear.
And then, just as suddenly, it was over. She was safe. It was like awakening from a kind, refreshing nap. For several long minutes I felt around for her, and for that other realm we’d just moved through together, but it had closed me out. I was back in my room. She was gone. I was sure she would now be okay.
Down in the print shop then, Isaiah asked no questions.
Julie phoned from Kansas City to thank me that night. We had no money for long distance calls and may not have chatted in weeks. She said she’d had minor surgery; then the doctor had left her alone. She’d tried to get up too soon, had radically over-reacted to the drugs, and fallen to the floor. Disoriented and terrified, she had reached out to me.
And I’d heard her.
She had felt me come into her.
Once she’d found her way back to the bed, lain down, and felt safe again, she’d thanked me in her heart, and our connection had dissolved.
It was sad, but always beautiful to hear her sweet voice again.
But her surgery had been a tubal ligation. So I was supportive, but had to pull away a bit inside. It’s not like anything really changed, and yet everything was different, completely and forever, and all in an instant. That moment, and all time before it, was never coming back.
I knew then that it was all over.
Except for a love beyond all imagining.

Several Months, and One Chapter Later:

From Light on the Path:
“… do not be deceived by your own heart.
For now, at the threshold, a mistake can be corrected.
But carry it on with you and it will grow and come to fruition
 or else you must suffer bitterly in its destruction.”

Chapter Eighteen.

Every Good Flower Deserves Manure.

Julie found work at a methadone clinic for street addicts. To get to classes, she had to park in a high crime area and walk in, terrified at every step she was about to get mugged. I wanted to pull her out of there, or move in myself, but she wanted to step out into her life, and her terrors, alone. As I tried to send nothing but love, I felt only panic, depression, and loss. Every night, her family’s rejection clawed at her in nightmares. Was it wrong wanting to hold her through her darkest hours until she had nothing to feel in the night but adoration? Did I really have to stand back and let them overwhelm her? When I spoke of marriage; she couldn’t handle the concept; but I couldn’t handle not having her beside me, to love every night through forever. She knew I was hurting, but my way of giving her space was by telling her those were my necessary growing pains and I’d be big enough to handle them.
Oh, why couldn’t we just have faced our battles together?
We couldn’t afford phone calls, so we sent the same cassette back and forth. A mere recording of her sweet soft voice told me, “I listened to your tape last night, and I just went crazy. It was like being with you again. These past few weeks without you have been almost impossible.”
Then why were there so many miles between us? Thin strips of tape could stretch only so far, and we were in so much pain. I had no one to hold. I couldn’t even tell her, “Goodnight, sweet loved one,” and “Good Morning, Lovelight.”
I had to hunch over a cheap Radio Shack recorder to learn she was battling anemia and hypoglycemia, having big problems with scholarships, being threatened by addicts. How could anyone just sit through those terrors from so far away? I wanted to fly out there and hug her and find a job for both of us. She said she’d been on the pill for five years and maybe that’s why she was having such health issues. She didn’t ever want to have children, hence the tubal ligation. How could she mention so casually that she was going to find others to have sex with? I loved her terribly, and everything inside me, everything she told me, hurt.
She said “I know how strong your feelings must be about my dating another man. I really respect you so much for how you can consciously direct your feelings into being so unselfish.” How cold and empty it sounded when she put it that way. Who wants to be respected that badly? Who even wants to be conscious? Directing my emotions was exactly what the psychic had told me I had to stop doing for my own sanity. It had never been harder to subdue passions with intellect. It became impossible. I did not want her with another man.
And yet, if she could find even small breaks from what hurt her, I’d destroy myself to set her free.
I didn’t tell her that. I just swallowed all the hurt and told her, “Sure. I understand.”
She told me, “That takes an awfully big person.”
Well, the bigger I was, the more room for all that agony.
I fought the need to slam the tape deck’s off switch as she rubbed it in. “He’s excruciatingly good looking. Very, very handsome. He’s very, very nice. And gentlemanly. And kind. He’s very friendly. I really enjoy dating him when he’s in town. I like him a lot.” I prayed for her every happiness, but it felt like a shrapnel missile to the heart that she could be so casual about sharing the details with me.
She said, “I’m being asked out quite a lot by a lot of guys, but I’ve refused. My time alone is important to me. I won’t go out just to be going out.”
But she was so beautiful they would keep asking. What chance did I have? It was over.
“But with him it’s like a friendship. We talk, and joke, but don’t take each other too seriously. But as for what’s most vitally important to me above all, what you and I share, he just thinks I’m weird, and we’d end up polarized. It’s not based on anything substantial. It will probably just wear itself out.”
My heart, mind and soul were in chaos. The constant thunder of adoration roared through clouds I couldn’t deal with. The tape said, “My feelings toward him are very, very warm. But it’s nowhere near the nature of our relationship. With you and I there’s a great deal of potential. We share passions, interests, the driving force of our life. So don’t put this in a category with our relationship. I love you dearly, Honey.”
I sent her my own tape, trying to play it cool. “I got four letters today from my sweet love. Some real extremes of emotions there. But you don’t need to apologize. You and I have always been able to vent our feelings, and get things out. I’m perfectly okay with that.” But I wasn’t. “If you can’t get them off your chest with me, how could you do it? Whatever it is, write it down; I won’t be hurt.” Was I lying, or dangerously naive?
I could hear her fighting back the anger locked and quivering in her voice as she said, “I get so frustrated by our letters getting to each other so slowly!” I told her, “I know. I know. I’m writing you four or five times a day. Neither of us has money for phone calls, but I couldn’t possibly love you any more. That’s been burning so hard since I don’t know when.”
She wrote, “I’m amazed at how well your healing classes are going. I am so proud of you.” I wrote back, “I don’t think anyone’s ever told me they were proud of me.”
I wrote, “People talk about how lovely you are, and I just beam! I spend a lot of hours sending you love. I just can’t conceive of my love for you ever moving on to someone else. I’m trying so hard to work past clutching at you, not wanting to let go. I’m sorry I sound so possessive.” I struggled to tell her I was glad she was dating, to not hold back, but the words never came out feeling real.
Tears splotched her handwriting, and lipstick sealed each letter, but you can’t hug a tear. And when you keep trying to, again and again, slowly the lipstick will fade.
That winter hit everybody at Olcott pretty hard. It snowed at least once a week, and never reached above freezing. Large bushes were buried as ice kept rising to swallow everything. Confined indoors, working and living in the same small spaces, with the same people, no money, no movies, no entertainment or unwinding. Those of us who lived like receptacles for the moods of other’s sucked it all in. I dove into my deep, wracking feelings of rejection and loss. There was no way to climb out. I tried to shut my emotions down so Julie would only feel love from me. but failed miserably. I had no way to spare that poor, vulnerable lady the extremes of my passions polluting hers. Neither of us could deal with the throes and storms of depression I plummeted down through as I shared all my weak sides with the woman I’d love forever. I told her, “My love for you gives me the power and drive to conquer everything – even myself.” But self-destruction would have to be the first step toward reconstruction.
Her voice cracked on tape, wracked with caring and frustration. “I don’t want you to feel so bad you may have hurt me because you haven’t. I over-reacted. Just because you feel so strongly you want to marry me when that isn’t where I am right now, it doesn’t make you, or your feelings, wrong. Maybe it’s me.”
We were both trying so hard to be understanding; why did it feel we were digging ourselves deeper into separation?
Her tape said, “I don’t want you to be miserable. Oh, I don’t want you to hurt! I don’t want you to hurt! I don’t want you to hurt! I guess I need to be able to allow that, too, but I hurt when you hurt. We’re both feeling so awfully isolated and alone. Anything we try makes things worse. What’s missing in our lives seems so obvious. It’s so very lonely now, for both of us. No one can live up to what we need. No one! We have each other; we know that. If I focus just on the love I felt …” Felt? Past tense? “… but our needs aren’t being met. So we flounder around in these seas of emotions we can’t break free of.
 “Oh, Honey, I’m gonna cry! I wanna see you; I wanna talk to you right now! Oh, I love you! I almost called you three times tonight. I keep thinking I can use a friend’s credit card, and just call you and then pay later. But I shouldn’t do that. And, anyway, it was ten at night, and by the time someone at Olcott picked up, and then found you …
“Honey, I don’t want you to hurt. I understand what you said in your letters that whatever you’re feeling, you have to pull yourself up through it. Not be dependent on someone else. I know what you mean; I’m in the same place. It’s vital to my self-concept to know I can go it alone. Be able to pull myself up. Once you’ve pulled away all the props and superficial things holding you up –you’re left with nothing but yourself. Then, if you pull yourself through it, you have confidence you never had before. I guess that’s what we’re both caught in now. Learning to fall back on ourselves. - And we’ll do it! I know we will.
“This one sided communication we have to endure is really bothering me. With no immediate feedback, we have no chance to clear up misunderstandings.
“It’s not easy, is it, Sweetie Pie?
“But you get here on the day after your sweet birthday. So it’s just two weeks and two days until I see you. Oh, Travis, Oh, Snookums. Sweetheart, I love you so much! Bob, I love you!   I love you, Honey! I want you to feel that.
“We’re in a real uncomfortable place between us right now.  I think there’s a lot of misunderstandings or something. I’m feeling like something’s closed down between us. Whether it’s from your reaction to what I said, or maybe my insensitivity to you, or something I said, or what, I don’t know; but I feel like there’s some kind of barrier between us right now, that only being together can get rid of. But I’m sure we can, Sweetie…
“I love you very much, Honey. Just remember that, okay? Be good to yourself. And keep feeling my love around you during the day. Know that it’s true; it’s real. And I’ll be sending it to you constantly. I love you, Sweetheart.
“Good night, Honey.
“Bye bye.”
And that’s it. My last recorded words from sweet J-love.

On December 29th, I arrived in Kansas City. Bursting with joy to see me, she charged across the airport into my arms with the brightest smile I had ever seen. My joy reached its peak in that moment. I couldn’t keep my eyes off her for an instant along that whole drive back from the airport, and we kept pulling over to the road shoulder for hugs and kisses and soul-warming cuddles. We stepped in through the door to her apartment, dropped luggage, tore each other’s clothes off and made long, passionate, heart-bursting love on the floor.
But then later she told me she was dating. She had needs.
It felt like someone had slammed a log through my chest.
She walked around her apartment nude and cheerful for the rest of that day and the next while I fought to be okay with completely releasing her to her fulfillment. To let her open to all the joys, beauty, and love she could ever call into her life. She had certainly paid her dues.
Should I have been less disciplined and self-sacrificing? If we’d made love one more time, and I’d held her, and told her I didn’t want her to go, that I’d stay if she wanted, would that have changed things? Did she not really want me to pull back and let her walk away?
No, I’d been a maudlin, pain-wracked freak over this whole thing; I had not managed to hold myself together at all; and in trying to hide as much of that as I could from her, I had cut off our honest and healthy sharing. She’d heard nothing from me but moaning and false bravado for so long, I’d have kicked me out, too. Who could ever want to be with someone who could sink to such dire depths of depression?
I just could not rally my spirits from that blow. She stayed cheerful. And nude. Sweet and beautiful. And nude. She lay down right in front of me on the floor, her delicious butt tasting the cool apartment air below my face as she wrote out notes for me to pass on to friends. She squatted nude by her stereo to put soft jazz on she thought I would like. She sipped tea nude.
It felt cruel.
I left early. My brother was a reservations clerk for Amtrak, and got me onto an all-nighter back home. Kids around me folded their seats back, played cards, invited me into games and chats, but I had to throw every bit of willpower I had into damming up the tears. I wanted to weep, but for much of that trip, anyway, I think I managed to hold most of the sobs, groans, and convulsions of grief in. But still the other kids pulled away.
I dug myself into a cavernous depression I couldn’t crawl out of.
I’d lost my dad on the night after my twenty-first birthday, and my love the night after my twenty-seventh. Christmas; that most magical, blessed, and hopeful of nights; is not what it once was for me.
I would dearly love to end this little story by telling you that some years later, Julie and I ran into each other in a laundromat in some ragged town in Middle America. That we took right up where we’d left off, got hitched, and everything’s been all peaches and roses ever since.
But we didn’t.
I might even be willing to give this tale a heart-wrenching twist, telling you I ‘d finally tracked her down on her deathbed after wandering my own desert for thirty-some years. That I told her there would have to be more shared lives ahead so I could love her for ages to come.
I really did believe that for years. It was the driving passion of my life. Maybe I still hold out some hope.
In this tale, I’d have her smile up at me through both of our tears; tell me that through all our lost decades she had nursed that same dream. That now she could finally die, having heard our one dream in my voice.
We’d make a pact: “Let’s meet each other earlier next life. And let’s not blow it this time. Let’s get together before all the bad stuff hits us.”
We’d agree to meet younger, and at all costs hang onto it.
But that never happened.
Somewhere out there, she may or may not still be. I pray she’s been healthy and happy. In my heart she is still joy and light. Giggles and cuddles. Hot soaks, blue eyes, and picnics on a shirt. That soft, sweet Tennessee voice.
Enough love to have made all my years of wandering, before and since, worth the struggles.
But this really isn’t fiction. This is my life.
And I can’t tweak the ending.