A Hard Time of It

At breakfast New Year’s morning following the South End’s annual Alcatraz swim, a mutual friend told me she’s having a hard with it. Sorry to say I’m glad she is. I hope she has a hard time with it for a very long time. Like forever.

Even bolters must have a conscience.  Even bolters must know when they’ve hurt someone.

Even bolters must sometimes regret in the deep armored recesses of their dark hearts that they cast off a man who loved them.

Even bolters must fear dying alone.

I’m glad to be leaving her orbit. Her distance, denial, and disassociation are wounding.

I’m not glad to be leaving my life here. Not glad to be leaving Adam. Not glad to be leaving close friends. Not glad to be leaving the South End. Not glad to be leaving Cow Hollow. I’m having a hard time with it.

But I’m glad to be moving back to New England, familiar and new at the same time. I’m not at home Out West.

Yesterday afternoon we went to see Greta Gerwig’s new film Little Women, set largely in what purported to be Concord and the Massachusetts countryside, so beautiful. I’ve many memories in those towns and hills of the Berkshires. I had a life there, too. The architecture looks right to me, the way California houses however elegant never have. The golden hills have never sparked joy the way the Hudson flowing past Midwood does, with the blue Catskills in the distance. Or cresting Silver Mountain Road, with the Southern Berkshires meeting the Hudson Valley in the distance. Or the Maine coast cut out of rocks and pines and shingled houses.

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I’ve experienced two romantic kisses in my life—kisses that filled my entire body with bliss, kisses I remember, will always remember. Kisses that lifted me from my body. Out of the thousands of kisses I’ve given and received these two remain etched in gold.

One on a cold snowy December night in front of the Red Lion Inn in Stockbridge, Massachusetts. One on a warm spring evening in front of the Balboa Café on Fillmore Street in San Francisco. Many, many years apart. One marked an end, one a beginning.

I think of that night in the Berkshires, when love and fear gripped me equally, when opportunity opened and closed in a kiss as tender and sweet as d’Yquem. I think what might have been had I been braver;  I think because it reminds me of her of the loveliest of love poems by Kenneth Rexroth, set on a New England afternoon in another season:

We lie here in the bee filled, ruinous

Orchard of a decayed New England farm,

Summer in our hair, and the smell

Of summer in our twined bodies,

Summer in our mouths, and summer

In the luminous, fragmentary words

Of this dead Greek woman.

Stop reading. Lean back. Give me your mouth.

Your grace is as beautiful as sleep.

You move against me like a wave

That moves in sleep.

Your body spreads across my brain

Like a bird filled summer;

Not like a body, not like a separate thing,

But like a nimbus that hovers

Over every other thing in all the world.

Lean back. You are beautiful,

As beautiful as the folding

Of your hands in sleep.

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The second kiss opened and blossomed. There were summers, and autumn afternoons. Our hands did fold in sleep.

 

         See. The sun has fallen away.

Now there are amber

Long lights on the shattered

Boles of the ancient apple trees.

Our bodies move to each other

As bodies move in sleep;

At once filled and exhausted,

As the summer moves to autumn,

As we, with Sappho, move towards death.

My eyelids sink toward sleep in the hot

Autumn of your uncoiled hair.

Your body moves in my arms

On the verge of sleep;

And it is as though I held

In my arms the bird filled

Evening sky of summer.

I wonder if she remembers, too.

Maybe I should have married those women. Maybe those two kisses ought to have been a warning, a signal signifying how a romance begins. And if it doesn’t, don’t go there.

It didn’t go there.

I leave San Francisco tomorrow. This has been my last full day living in California. I had lunch with Josh, and dinner with Kevin—two close friends, both friends for life. In between I walked around the city, thinking about being new here eleven and a half years ago. Thinking this was where I would stay.

Life didn’t turn out that way.

It’s okay.

The winter will move to spring in a different place. There will be snow, then sunshine.

She will fade. She will never disappear.

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