So it’s another marathon weekend with Parker, with Friday stretching into Saturday afternoon whereupon I found myself on the top of Roan Mountain taking a nap on the grassy balds. We lay across the North Carolina/Tennessee state line (also the Appalachian Trail) and cooked in the sun for an unmeasured length of time and I felt more relaxed than I have in weeks. Driving down the mountain, we ate goat cheese and crackers and sang overloud to Soundgarden and Rusted Root, wind screaming through the open car windows, fall colors flying by us like kites. And I felt like I could fall in love; that it would be a lot of work but that it could actually happen.
Which of course means that Sunday morning, when I heard a mysterious knock at my cabin door and shouted from the sleeping loft, “Come in!” I was entirely pleased to see Parker – again. I was still half-asleep when he shed his shoes at the top of the stairs and flung himself into my bed. Finally, with his bright green eyes next to mine, I remembered a passing conversation we had about “maybe, possibly, coming by to go to Quaker Friends Meeting with you on Sunday.”
I love going to Friends Meeting, though I rarely go because worship occurs at the same time I meditate with the sangha in BigCity, NC if I have time enough to make the drive. And if I don’t have time enough to make the drive, it’s because I need to do homework all day, in which case I don’t go to Friends Meeting either.[And as an aside, it occurs to me that I have an irrational reaction to most Christian-based activities. This is something I see in myself and am not especially proud of, even though I have come a long way since my earlier, seething skepticism. In college I had friends who were part of a Christian group called Intervarsity, and they helped me get over some of this – just by their way of being and through their openness to discussion. Here in the mountains, the Quakers and I have lived and worked with so closely for four years now help me in similar ways. And Friends Meeting for worship is in silence, a form that I can relate to and cherish and therefore feel welcomed by. For what it’s worth, I believe most spiritual practices boil down to the same truth.]
The point is this: Parker is complex and hilarious and already I can tell he is tortured, to a certain degree, by his own brilliance (though he would never put it that way). It takes work just for us to communicate directly with each other – but for some reason it’s work we’re both willing to do. Hours upon hours of conversation have already ensued. It’s the kind of relationship where you learn more about yourself through the other person than you were ever anticipating – though I realize how premature that statement sounds this early in game. But relationship; even he used that word today.
And most importantly, I have been trying to approach this with a different presence of mind. I’ve learned my lessons and I’m done with the casual and I’m sick of games and on and on and on. But after Friends Meeting, we’re back at the house giving each other moxa treatments (Chinese medicine) and planning to go on an afternoon walk, when something shifts.
I can suddenly see myself in this bubble of an experience and I’m already putting so much on the line. My vulnerabilities seem to pour from me; it is the most meaningful way in which I can engage in the world. On the other hand, Parker uses humor and intellectualism to get from one moment to the next. He only occasionally reveals vulnerabilities but mostly he is just in the present moment, not reeling and spinning and dealing with all the discursive, habitual stuff I feel I’m trying to wade out of and before I know it, we’re having a “state of the union type conversation” (to quote John Cusak in High Fidelity).
I’m open to the possibility of finding the one, the right person, someone for all time. That’s barely on Parker’s radar, he says. (I try not to shrink away from the whole world when he says this, though I can feel something inside of me crumple.) When I am physically intimate, I am expressing myself very clearly and directly, and I use this method, well, frequently. Intimacy is a mixed bag for Parker, he says, at times it’s exciting and right on and other times it’s wholly confusing and even unwanted. Furthermore, it interferes with his spiritual practices. (Here we go…The world knows I’d never make it with a celibate man.)
We’re thick into the conversation now and Parker can feel me reaching, wanting; there’s no way around it – I am open to the possibility of love and I tend to wear that possibility on my sleeve. This feels like the crucial moment – the one where I’m honest and vulnerable because that’s the only way I know how to be, and the one where he will walk away, feeling overwhelmed by all that is me, feeling unsure about who that girl was that he’s spent so much time with already, anyway.
But it doesn’t quite end like that – somehow, and I’m not sure how yet, but we out somewhere on the other end of the conversation and there is some tenderness it’s all out there on the table. He owns nothing of what has happened so far except to say that it’s all an experiment. He’s got an anybody’s-guess-is-as-good-as-mine sorta perspective. When he leaves me with a kiss and hug then whoosh, out the door, I cannot tell if we’re saying the same thing in very different ways – or if we’ve just confessed that we’re in wholly different places and we’re misleading each other and well, it all needs to hold up for a while.
What made me this way? I refuse to harden my heart, but it seems as though that might be closing all the doors around me. I cannot be other than I am and the thread of hope inside me that tells me I’m not the only person this way is growing more and more thin. I want to believe that yes, other people are die-hard romantics, the sort of give-it-all-ya-got type of lovers, the never-coulda-lied-even-if-I-wanted-to types. That somewhere out there, maybe even in these mountains, there’s a match. Someone not afraid to love.
I hear you. I’ve been there. Leaping into the river, surrendering to, trusting in fate. It’s exhilarating, liberating, and strangely even a bit empowering. At least until you’re quickly snapped back to reality when you slam up against a tree branch, or choke on a mouthfull of water.
Don’t confuse my realism with pessimism. That risk, that danger is what gives the experience its energy and power.
I see two ways to look at the scrapes and bruises. Look at them as badges of honor and as fond rememberances of the wild ride. Or look at them as warnings and remember with fear the harrowing journey.
It’s perspective. And Katey, I’ve not met many people who are so accepting and unafraid of the obstacles and painful encounters of life.
As I stand on the bank and shake my head in disbelief as I watch you sail downstream, I say, “Congrats. And good luck!”
Oh Katey, your writing and attitude towards the world infuses me with some hope and brightness. Please never harden your heart!