Advice from the Elders

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Nearing the end of my stay at Imnaha Writer’s Retreat, I stayed up late with Famous Writer and Regionally Famous Writer. Both are women I admire for their careers and talent as much as their varied life experiences. They sat there on their respective couches, slowly sinking into the cushions as the day progressed, and by nighttime the entire house had quieted except for a small circle of light in the living room around the three of us. I call this night “the night I asked the elders questions.”
Famous Writer hoisted herself up on her elbows, changed her glasses, and shut the top of her laptop. “I’m ready for bed,” she announced. But there was still wine in her glass and mine too.
“I have a question,” I told her, then looked at both of these wise women and sighed. I recalled one night last October at Weymouth Center with similarly mature and established writers, also two women, who had so much to offer me just by their very presence. Then I proceeded to ask Famous Writer and Regionally Famous Writer whether or not it was possible to grow into a complete person if I never ended up getting married or having a life-partner. I wanted to know, for instance, if I’d be considered selfish later down the line and if I’d feel lonely, regretful, unsatisfied.
To a point, they agreed: there’s no love like the love you give to your partner or your children. But more importantly, they steered me clear of quantitative questions and toward questions about intention: “You can do both if you want to,” said Famous Writer (meaning I could be married to a partner and married to my writing at the same time). “You can even do all three—kids, husband, books.” Then she thought for a moment. “But you have to really want it. Do you want it?” she asked.
I nodded, choked up. “Yes,” I finally said. “I want it.”
“And what will happen,” Famous Writer asked me, “if you fall in love with S?”
I laughed, nearly choking on my wine. She’d met him earlier in the week when he came down for a visit with his mother. “Boy, you get right to the point!” I said.
“I always do,” she said, smiling when she said it. She, the Famous Writer who is famous not just for her words and imagination, but for the precision with which she is able to imagine and shape her characters’ most internal, human desires. In other words, this writer understands the human condition unfathomably well, rendering her question to me about my love life all the more poignant.
A few days later I was at Arrowhead Chocolates, where I work (for fun and for pay) on Saturdays to make espresso drinks and sell chocolate. S came into the shop and I made him his favorite drink, then gave him the mixed CD I’d told him about earlier in the week. We visited briefly before he had to go to work at the pub. I screwed up an espresso order, dropped a spoon, and repeated myself at least twice during the course of this several minutes. S laughed gently. “I told you,” I said, eyeing him. And it’s true—I did tell him: being around espresso, chocolate, and a man like him in a closed space was nearly enough to do me in. I felt so over-stimulated I nearly forget to breath.
S left with a hug and a wave, then the owner of Arrowhead looked at me and said: “Who is that? He loves you, you know. I can just tell.”
“Loves?” I blushed, stuttered. “That’s S,” I said. “And the past month with him has been, well, pretty fantastic. But all winter it was just casual, almost strained,” I said. “Then something changed.”
“Well, you know, you don’t have to leave this summer,” she smiled at me. “You could work for us. We’ll give you the hours.”
I looked at her with raised eyebrows. “You know I can’t do that,” I said. “I’ve got this two year tour, a 10-week commitment in Michigan, the whole—”
The shop owner laughed. “I know you do. But you could come back next summer. Or if you don’t get a fellowship. You know,” she smiled again. “If you wanted to stick around and see what happens…”
Showing 4 comments
  • Mary

    I need to show you the story I wrote for the most recent anthology. It's called The Men I Left Behind. You are me, ten years ago, although my traveling reasons were different.

  • Shannon Huffman Polson

    I love it. I'm revisiting WIlla Cather who didn't seem to think that was true…and I definitely believe that it is! (all three :-))

  • Cosima Franke

    I miss you Katey. I'm going to shoot you an e-mail very soon. Finals will be over expect one after tuesday. 🙂

  • bethannfranz

    It's something, when a man loves you… If W sees that, I'd trust it. Whether or not he is right for you will unfold as you "stay the course."

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