…And Now For Something Wilder
Summer’s loves and losses
I’m a true Cancer baby–I cry at the drop of a hat. Joy, grief, shock, shame, love. Name any emotion, and I’ve got a cry for it. My storytelling mentor Mary Batchelder Sinclair often invoked the African proverb that a soul was not healthy if it hadn’t cried in two weeks. It was a way of holding space for tough times and an invitation to vulnerability. It’s a principle I live by.
I’ve been known as the cry baby of the pack. When my family moved back to Vermont after a year’s trial in Florida, I was nine years old. My cousins who’d remained here told me I’d changed; I didn't cry as much any more. Florida had hardened me.
I’ll always be sentimental about summer, the reprieve from school, where my days were less rigid and more my own making. I’ll always be sentimental about adolescence and the loves that form us as we edge into adulthood. I’ll always be sentimental about the American West and prairielands and cowboys. Man, I cry listening to Willie Nelson tunes.
I cried through Something Wilder by Christina Lauren, which I finished reading last week. Fucking twist my heart with a rusty spike, smash it over jagged rocks and toss it into a canyon, why don’t ya, ladies? The elements that pull at my heartstrings were mashed into a stew as hot as the chili the besties Nicole and Lily cook up for their tour guests. On this particular tour, one of the guests is Lily’s old flame, Leo, the love she’d spent the last decade trying to forget. Along with his pals on a trip that he didn’t plan, he’s faced with spending the next week encountering and reconsidering feelings he’d thought he’d stashed away like Butch Cassidy’s booty.
The sexual tension is insanely palpable. It crackles like lightning. The characters are taut, quivering and alive. The story is full of surprises, barely believable yet confoundingly realistic. And yes, there is a happily ever after. It’s a romance after all. This novel doesn’t seem to follow the expected three-intimate-scenes outline that most mass market romances adhere to, so deftly was it written. That first kiss is drawn out until halfway into the book. And boy, what a relief that was. Rough, angry, and the way one would expect a punishing fever to feel.
When I was younger, I thought I’d want to work in the school system—it was the only way I knew I could take the summers off. Summer was (and remains) my favorite season. I’d loll around and read every book in the library. There was nowhere to be. The best fruit was ripening and I could walk barefoot everywhere. After much thought I realized that not working at all better suited me. Because I’m sentimental, I aimed to be a penniless writer living in a sparsely furnished garret in a forgotten part of nowhere. And I wanted to love relentlessly.
My lovers drifted in with the seasons, and summers were full of them. During the college years, familiar friends returned. Thereafter, trysts were slotted in between tours of duty, diplomatic assignments, residencies, teaching schedules, and other constraints. I opened letters with foreign postage. I wrote cryptic poems. I learned over time not to equate sex with love. But love them I did. My boxes of yellowed poems are testament to those headlong days.
It was for the longing that the book tore me. My eyes welled because my heart knew what it was to want—to scrape at the honey of love until, bitterly, only the jar remained. To want promises. To stubbornly make one’s way because that’s all there’s left to do.
After closing the book, I pawed through a project box I’d brought down from the attic earlier this year-–old writing that I wanted to revisit. The year was 2000. I had returned from San Francisco; I was still mourning my babe, and I was unmoored.
By some fault of fate, I was living in Mary’s house then while she was in Turkey delving into Sufism. My roommates were the kind of sensitive men who had children and futures to dream about. I was a confused girl-child barely making my car payments. I’ll always be fond of that house, where an ancient mulberry tree in the backyard caused me to risk my neck for its fruit. Where I took my coffee on the porch, shaded by its broad leaves. Where Mary had once served me tea and warm brownies with ice cream.
This post is for my paying readers. Most of what I write here is freely accessible, but some things will only be for those who dare. Below is one of those poems. I’d written it as a performance piece. I remember quite clearly reading this at the People’s Pint. (If you’ve supported my writing recently, you’ve been comped a year’s subscription as a thank you.)
The close of summer will always be my most bittersweet part of the year. Packing up camp gear. Putting the flowerbeds to rest. Knowing goodbyes are close but never wanting to utter those final words.
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