I am in (or, on) retreat — but the world comes tumbling at me, or, Tweeting at me, or texting at me, or, something. Whatever it is, it has prompted me to share another piece of my novel, LIBERTYTOWN, near the end of the post. Love and Light friends. Love and Light.
Aftermath. Day 3.
There is such quiet out here in the middle of nowhere, my location undisclosed exile, Aftermath, where I’m once again rest-curing. Such quiet. It seems inconsonant, but it is during these separations from my daily routine, in this absence of custom, in pursuit of hermetic solitude, when the intricate web of connectivity and synchronicity asserts; Simultaneity of thoughts, emotions, communications from the world outside come at me, almost assault-like, in a way that seems beyond coincidence.
Such concurrence of messages from outside the borders of Aftermath (or, whichever sanitorium I am occupying) are what long inspired my certainty that there was a Goddess, an Other, a greater, ruling, planning, purposeful Power of All That Is behind, beneath, beyond everything. Of late, I have come to consider such belief akin to the mythological ravings of Pythia, drug sniffing Delphic oracle. I am faithless. I mean, look at the world. One example: openly gay Jeff Calhoun is directing a musical about the Duck Dynasty family, a production for which the famously homophobic, bigoted family has casting and creative control. Why?
The world makes little sense. Such disconnect. So, when there come to me harmonies of being, I still — despite my determined agnosticism (Not atheism: it is too final, too all decided, and what my loss of faith gave birth to was a certainty that certainty was usually a mistake; Always Leave Room For “Else” and “Other” and “Maybe”) — perceive in those harmonies a possibility of a message from some greater, wiser something. I stop, listen, ask, “What can this mean?”
Thus (not, “thusly”), I was given to listen for some message when in the past 24 hours the following all occurred:
- I was feeling terribly lonely and made an excursion from Aftermath to the grocery store, where, confronted by Marshmallow Santas and Karen Carpenter singing on the piped-in music, I collapsed into a weeping-heap. Collecting myself, I kept running into a pair who seemed to be mother and son, the latter of which was terribly beautiful and kept staring at me as if he knew me, or, I imagined, as if he saw the pain of my Santa-Carpenter lonely-ache and wanted to assuage it. So many times did our paths cross — 3 times in aisles, next to each other in check-out lanes, and, finally, when I went to my car, these two were parked directly in front of me — it seemed so much some “plan” that I surreptitiously took his picture. Plus, he was beautiful. (It seems apt that the pictures are all blurred. But, that is another story.) And then;
- A friend, M, with whom I regularly share intimacies about our lives but with whom I have not shared physical proximity for six years, initiated an exchange to do with learning to accept solitude, substituting love-of-books for human-romantic-love, and how we both missed tender, human touch and interaction, how we longed for the casual caress of someone with whom we shared our real names and more than a few hours (or minutes, depending on the mood) of our lives. And then;
- Another friend, the non-corporeal, fictional person, Duchess Goldblatt, with whom I have become intimately involved via Twitter, posted this link to a piece by Leah Reich on Medium, called The Beginner, [click HERE for the link to the beautifully composed essay] which also dealt with touch and kindness and connecting and longing for the same. (And I won’t go into how filled with envy I was that Her Grace linked the essay and called Ms. Reich her friend. We, subjects of the Duchess, all yearn to earn her favor. I am quite confident in her fondness for me, she has even honored me by dubbing me with a sobriquet. I won’t be sharing that. It was a private moment.)
All of these events coming to me, at me, as if this conundrum I am working through — my accepting that I am, at foundation, by nature, by dumb-luck and circumstance, destined to be alone and am mostly happy about and okay with that, while, at the same time, even as I crave the quiet and solitude of my visits to Aftermath (and other self-imposed sort of sanitorium visits), I also long for human touch, connection, the casual tenderness of friends — in person, IRL friends.
So, I should not have been surprised that as these happened, I found myself in the editing/cutting process of Chapter 10 of my novel, Libertytown, at which point the main character, Parker, finds himself grappling with the same issue — touch, connection, tenderness and the lack of all three. I remembered that another dear friend — and, coincidentally, one who I have not seen in person, or, much in text, in ages — told me that it was here in the novel she came to love Parker, here where his troubles became for her very clear, where his humanity shown through, where she could not let him go and began to worry for his end. So, if you like, here is another excerpt of Libertytown, my un-sold, un-agented novel. Enjoy.
LIBERTYTOWN: THE NOVEL (excerpt from Chapter 10)
Hearing this adventure, Matthew cannot understand my current celibacy, and that nagging voice of his about my lack – as if I were daily turning down propositions from suitors – makes me confront my loneliness.
“Don’t you miss sex? I mean, it sounds like you used to have a lot. Like, with anyone. You must miss it, right?” he asks.
I wonder if he’s missing it himself. I know nothing of his history but that he claims to have one, and nothing of his nights away from me but that some are spent with Fallon. He seems entranced by my remembered adventures in explosion and touch and loss of control, and encourages my stories, especially those of surprise, the unexpected, zipless fucks I learned from a too early reading of Erica Jong.
I don’t suppose I would turn down a liaison should it present itself; some fervent, fevered groping and grasping, gasping, thoughtless, breathless sex. But, that isn’t what I miss.
“What I miss, Matthew, is tenderness.”
The truth of this is a cruel discovery. I start to cry. Again.
“Shit, what’s wrong?”
I wish I knew. After decades of never having my hair cut, I now find myself at the salon every three weeks. It isn’t vanity, nor a desire to be fashionable, but, rather, I long for the touch of the shampoo girl. As she gently wraps the cape around me, leads me to the reclining chair and adjusts it, turning on the massage function, carefully placing the towel under my neck as she lowers me into the indentation in that beautifully shiny onyx colored sink and begins that careful first wetting with her, “Is the temperature ok?” To which I always respond yes, no matter the degree, because I don’t want in any way to indicate that the ceremony is less than perfect. There follows the gelid rush of cool, pine oil scented shampoo, soothingly undergoing transmutation from gel to foam through the alchemy of her three-minute kneading of it all through my hair, into my scalp, her burgundy nails occasionally making ever so brief contact, a little scratch, and I’m lulled, so happy to be held by someone rather than being the one doing the palpating, and I start to drift into sleep. I fight it, I want to experience every moment of this ministry and I am sorry to feel the first rinse, knowing that up next is the tingle inducing conditioner, a hint of lemon scent, or is it lemon verbena? Verbena, Sister Michael Immaculata taught me, was used to stanch the wounds of Jesus. Later I learned as I became more heathen, it was also purported to repel vampires, but I am thinking too much, drifting again, outside the moment, missing my life for all these tangential distractions, I just want to be here. Now. Feel her hands, here in every contact between her fingers and my skin. When she finishes, I am always fighting back tears as she towel pats me and helps me rise from the no longer vibrating chair.
I blame Matthew.
He has become increasingly tactile as we’ve unpacked and decorated. He will gently, mindlessly run his hand up and down my arm as we speak, throw an arm around my shoulder, hold my hand. How long it has been since someone has been so easy, so casual with me? How long have I gone without these gently possessive caresses rested on my knee? How long since I was tethered by the touch of another to a place where our souls met and we both knew we belonged, were wanted? How could I have explained any of this to Matthew?
One day on what had become another of our rituals; the lunch escape from what we’d begun to describe secretly as the grind of Embrace; he asked me to go with him to get his hair trimmed. I watched as the shampoo girl ran her hands through his impossibly joggling mysteriosity of dark, tight spirals shot through with improbable threads of golden blonde and I envied. I envied him the sensual energy she was spending on him. I envied her his surrender to those ministrations. I went to the counter, that moment, and asked if anyone there could cut my hair. Matthew, hearing my request announced that my hair hadn’t been touched in decades, and so only the owner would brave the chopping.
“Are you sure?” Matthew asked when I instructed her to cut it all away, to shave the sides and back and leave just a few inches on the top.
“I’m ready. I’m too old for hair this long. It’s time.”
Perhaps I meant it. Perhaps the thought had been roiling, ready to surface, and reached fulmination in that moment. More likely, it was that I wanted what they’d had, that shampoo girl and Matthew. I wanted to be renewed, somehow.
“Hope I’m not like Samson,” I smiled, “and lose all my power.”
“He’s always quoting bible shit. Scarred by Catholic schooling.” Matthew speaks. I laugh. Matthew’s excuses for me make me feel loved. It had not occurred to me until he began offering his peculiar brand of exegesis of my narrative that I wanted to be explained.
When we walked into Embrace after my shearing, Therie started to cry.
“How could you have cut your hair? You never cut your hair! You didn’t even say anything to me.”
“It’s his hair, Therie.”
“Matthew, just – just shut-up. Parker, you’ve had Jesus hair since I met you. I’ve never known you any other way than with long – oh my goddess – this is…it’s just a shock. I’m going to need time to get used to it. I don’t understand why you did this.”
She left the room. Fallon and Matthew both looked to me for reaction. I said nothing. The warm glow of having shared an experience with Matthew, the gentle touch of the shampoo girl, the feeling that I’d managed to let go of something which no longer served any purpose, all replaced by guilt. Which was followed by fury. Which sneakily fed into the story Matthew and I had begun telling about why we were coming to hate Embrace and all its demands, all of which, I began to fear, were the result of storylines to which Therie was clinging and for which I no longer saw happy endings.
Now, as this boy-man who, when we met, could not be touched, sits next to me on this Marcus couch where last I made love, and has reached across the space of the two very different lives we have led into this space here, this now of who we are, reached out to me across these tangents of my past he requires of me, gentled his hand on my shoulder, his arm around me, rubbing, stroking, increasing his intensity as I weep at my inability to explain, weep at the ludicrousness of this now, this now when I can tell him in detail about Bernard‘s dick, when I can regale and recount and entertain and give away parts of myself, but can only choke on my silence when trying to explain the anguished, aching loneliness I feel when having my hair shampooed, the terrifying, horrifying fear that the only stories I have are in the past.
“It’s all right, Parker. It’s all right. I’m here for you. Don’t cry.”
When he discovers I’ve only the currency of the past in which to trade, these slightly tarnished, tawdry, tabloid stories he enjoys, will he be appalled by the emptiness of my life? He, with so much ahead of him, will grow tired of spending his best hours with someone whose only offering is that which has passed away. Will I be subject by him, or the Universe, to righteous obloquy for this rebarbative, melancholy parturition in which I have indulged? What am I hoping will result? Who am I hoping he will be? What can he gain from my poor example? At life. At love. At sex. He cannot bear the burden of my need for tenderness, I am required to keep it veiled, obscured, and once again am loved by someone – loving someone – who will allow me only so much space, who will love me only as long as I obey the occult rules I must discern without acknowledging, whose tacit condition for loving me is that I fill him as he needs to be filled and that must be enough for me without reciprocation. I must not ask. I must not need. I must not expect of him that he respond to my humanity.
This is why I am crying. This is why I don’t answer him when he asks.
And when he goes, as, inevitably, he must, how will the shampoo girl be enough for me?