I think of the children who will never know, intuitively, that a flower is a plant’s way of making love, or what silence sounds like, or that trees breathe out what we breathe in.
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It seemed so corny: love at first sight. Well, it was corny; when I first saw him, a halo appeared about his head. Even though in the sometimes hazy daze of the new age such manifestations of light are called auras, it was no such thing. It was a halo. My prince had come, although I didn’t believe in the romance of fairy tale aristocracy and still don’t. This meeting, though, was beyond belief systems, however deeply ingrained and feminist-oriented they were. This man glowed and he glowed for me. The healthy shine of his prematurely gray hair probably helped focus my attention but it was much more than that. It was beyond lust at first sight which I’ve experienced many times before as a sensation more sharply centered in the nether regions of my body, i.e. between my navel and my crotch. When I walked into the room full of people unknown to me, everyone disappeared from my perception except him and I felt his presence in every cell of my being but especially in my heart. Luckily, though not actively seeking a new love, I was unattached and open to it and so was he.
Have we lived happily ever after? Well, no, but that’s not the point of life and neither are Prince Charmings and Sleeping Beauties. Falling in love, like a large rock thrown into a deep clear pond, accelerated the stages of beginning to share a life with someone but it hasn’t changed the basic process. I still need to know (and don’t) that he won’t abandon me emotionally when I rev up, when I’m intense, as my father did when I was no longer his cute little girl. He needs to know something also and I don’t yet know what that is. I want children, a family, and he doesn’t and, in moments of despair over my possible lost children, I feel cheated as if the laws of nature have sneered, “You can’t have both. Accept this love you were given and quiet your aching ova.”
When my eggs dance and I contemplate moving on and out of this relating, the way I fell in love adds a queer kink to the other more common reasons for staying together despite difficulties, despite differences and obstacles. Yes, we do help make each other happy. Yes, we are basically compatible, at least on the “good days” which are most of the time. Yes, our love-making is superb. Yes, our souls soften life’s journey for each other and I could stare at his face each night for the rest of my life. Yes, I don’t want to be alone or possibly on a sexual treadmill looking once more for another compatible love or settling for “someone who will do.” And yes, I’m scared of finding no one. But beyond all this, I don’t want to deny my destiny. The force of our meeting seems to be telling me that I’m meant to be with him and lucky to have found him and accepted him when I did. Romantic schmaltz or acceptance of karma? Or neither. Or both. Life is predicated on change but the strength of my knowing I loved him upon first meeting him, and in some way always had, speaks against movement.
Cliches abound, “time will tell” being the primary one. I believe that falling in love as I did only happens once in a lifetime but, before it happened, I thought the only path love took was one of growth and nurturance. The point is that I don’t want to fall in love again; I want to stay in love. Soon after we met I told him that I must have done something particularly wonderful in a former life, perhaps helping thousands of old ladies across the street, to deserve such luck in meeting him. Most of the time, I still feel that way. But I’m not a little girl anymore and I would like one of my own.
Yesterday, the day after I wrote this, I returned to the city after a country vacation with my father. My lover and I, soon after greeting, engaged in a major altercation more accurately described as a hurting than a fight. Our time together was over within the space of an hour. We pulled apart, it seems, because we were fearful of not having the same life goals, especially regarding children. But we were just as apprehensive about wanting each other as much as we do and the ensuing act of commitment that makes us face. I’m not sure why we came back together; my mental processes haven’t caught up with my heart. All I know about whatever decision was made is on a gut level. It feels right. It feels good to stay together. My roommate told me, “Well, you survived a test,” when I expressed wonder at how solid and strong I felt. After similar turmoil with other lovers, my emotions would have swung wildly between confusion and dissatisfaction, from anxiety to anger. I still feel those things but they’re only whispers in the dark.
So the powerful undertow in the aftermath of rushing, falling, jumping in love has been a feeling of having unwittingly discovered something delicious and continually nurturing. There’s a smile that sits in my chest as large and insane as the Cheshire Cat’s. It’s terrifying. If I’m wrong, my mouth is wide open. I’ll drown quickly. Well, so what? There’s some lesson to be learned from the power of attraction. I’m listening, ears as wide open as my mouth but with an occasional kick at fate to make sure it hasn’t solidified into the rock hardness of a narrow and fearful mind.
Recently, I fell in love when my man’s first love came. His teenage love of 23 years ago. His love, sensual at least, forever.
She wrote, asking him to come see her; she’d pay. He said no. I said no. He said, “Let’s ask her to come here.” I said yes. (Gulp. Did I say yes?)
She came. New vibrations came with her. (Why did I feel like it was my first date?)
For three days, we were an equilateral triangle. I found that when I leaned in, interested, curious, that they leaned in, touched hands, caressed. If I drew back they drew back. Shut up, go to sleep, see you in the morning.
I said, “What do you want?” She said, “Him. At my place, alone. Once in a while.” I said, “That scares me . . . maybe I could adjust to that . . . I’d rather you came here.” She said, “This is your place. I’d feel uncomfortable . . . maybe I could adjust to that.”
I found I liked leaning in rather than drawing back. The sensuality, the excitement enveloped me, included me. I leaned in. And in, and in. Though I did so carefully.
I wonder how far we can go, propagating love and trust rather than competition and suppression? I would gladly fall in love like that again — with any number of people. A vigorous new private (public too?) world built on leaning in, drawing back, leaning in, together. Equilateral triangles, squares, pentagons, hexagons, heptagons. . . .
I was smarting with the final pangs of a confusing relationship when a man joined our small working team. Scared of my propensity to get too close to people, I was glad to hear he was living with a lover, glad to find him physically unattractive. For weeks I tolerated his eager friendliness with amused detachment. I allowed myself to enjoy his company and gloried in my safety. When I realized what was happening it was too late.
We were sitting in a restaurant, just chatting. All of a sudden, facing him over my glass of orange juice, I was struck. I heard myself saying foolishly, “You have very nice eyes, you know.” It was like the moment in the Odyssey when the goddess suffuses the hero with youthful beauty (his hair clustering in dense curls like the blossoms of the hyacinth. . . .) It was a transformation. Before, there had been a somber-looking everyday acquaintance. Now, there he was — graceful, desirable, the mystery and power of his being shining out at me in the lure of black-fringed eyes laughing and triumphant. I had fallen and I knew.
More than a year and many excruciating insights later, I still crave those eyes as if by his permission I might enter their radiance, be swept inside and hidden by a batting of those heavy lids, never to return from the ultimate adventure of plunging to another self’s depths. Love. The pages of this magazine are teeming with the word in all its many aspects. Love? The pain of my unreasonable yearning tugging at mind, body, and soul, I find myself forced to wonder, to question ceaselessly. Sometimes I rage against the humiliation. Sometimes I whimper for pity. Sometimes I plead. Sometimes — often enough to keep me going — I am blinded by glimpses of bright light, invited to the center where it all makes sense, where opposites meet in eternal bliss. And then I say yes. Yes to this ridiculous fall, to the hopelessness, the torment, the doubts. Yes to mistakes and fears. Yes to this experience of stark loneliness. Who knows how far from my real goal I would have strayed unless, mercifully, I had fallen, once more.
Durham, North Carolina
I fell in love in the spring. I fell in love with a best friend who had years ago been my lover. It was an attachment I naively assumed had long since passed. I was already loving my lover’s best friend, who was also my best friend. So much for the illusion of simple platonic relationships.
That summer, in an attempt to avert the impending chaos, I went to New England for six weeks. When I returned home, my new lover was still struggling with his recent divorce. He desired and fought our relationship with equal desperation. My other lover was confused and alone. I decided to move away and begin something new for myself. This seemed the only alternative to a choice between two people whom I loved and who loved each other. My greatest fear was that we would all lose. I moved in autumn, began my new life of independence, endured winter’s storms, and saw each of them every other weekend. Much time and energy was spent with no solution to the dilemma.
Finally — spring again — I decided that I would stop running away from the problem, put myself in the middle of its turmoil, and stand my ground until it played itself out. Here I am with love’s hurricane blowing tenderness and rejection, warmth and insecurity, independence and need, understanding and jealousy, tranquility and upheaval with gale intensity throughout my summer. I see both of them now individually. They rarely see each other. The time has long since passed when any of us can pretend that the old trio is comfortable together. One of them has completely thrown his life into his work while the other is beginning new relationships. I am still trapped in the violent force of the storm, contending with the ecstasies and traumas, hopefully battling my way to the calm of the hurricane’s eye.
Cynthia Lynn Calderwood
Taylorsville, North Carolina
The last time I fell in love I didn’t know these things about myself: I am jealous like a priest-confessor on the trail of a mortal sin; I’m blind to my emotional limits; “I ain’t too proud to beg, Sweet Darling” (The Temptations); I do not understand self-destructiveness; I could write to my beloved saying: “With tears I say goodbye to you, the joy of my life. I will search to replace the joy, though there will never be someone to replace you. We could be having days together, like we had last weekend, all of our lives. I’d like to know why not? I need to know why not?”
The last time I fell in love I didn’t know these things about my beloved: she didn’t mean it when she said her career came first — what came first was her self; her silence did not mean agreement; she is the kind of woman who knows more about you in one week than you will ever know about her, but she’ll never tell you what to do; she was looking for a relationship held together by shared pain and did not wish to be satisfied; falling in love was her escape — she looked to be saved in our relationship; she confuses her openness and vulnerability for her lover’s.
The last time I fell in love I didn’t know these things about relationship: to fall in love is to repeat the only form of escape from reality which masquerades as progress and growth (other forms of escape — drugs, sex, catatonia — have other masks); monogamy can be more than gamey — it can be enjoyable; love is blind; love “is a compound of anticipation and gratitude. When either of these ingredients is absent love is dead.” (A.E. Coppard)
Or, as Thaddeus Golas put it:
“The pain is in the difference in the behavior of two people, not in the behavior of either one alone.”