Archive for June, 2007

Playing With Fire

Monday, June 25th, 2007

It is nearly midnight. The logs pop as I take my poker and stir up the coals once more before the flames die out altogether. Once enough embers are glowing, I hastily add another log to the fire. If the fire dies out, the evening is over. The sparks cascade heavenward and light up the surrounding fireside area. The light from the newly flaming log is enough to enhance the view I have of Michael. He is sitting directly across from me, and Gene has told me that Michael really likes me. I was fifteen at the time and not quite sure what that really meant.

It was my duty each evening at dusk to get a fire going in the common pit outside of the reservation desk of my family’s campground. As the night wore on, customers would come and go, just chit-chatting, or perhaps checking up on their kids who were likely sitting out there with me. Marshmallows were always available, and on occasion, someone would bring the required Hershey bars and graham crackers for s’mores.

By about ten each evening, any younger kids and any other campground guests would trickle back to their tents to go to bed. We always had guests who stayed for longer periods of time, and many for the entire summer. The teenage children of these guests were my inner circle. Michael’s family were summer residents.

Looking through the flames, I could see his long blonde hair shadowing his face. His bangs would separate in the middle and his eyes would mirror the flames that danced between us. As the summer wore on, Michael’s designated seat would move clockwise around the circle changing every few nights so as to not look suspicious. After about two weeks, his seat was right next to me.

The innocence of this nightly ritual is long lost, but the memory of the first kiss is still sharp in my mind’s eye some twenty five years later. Soft youthful lips. Hands not knowing where to go so they remain at our sides. A brief kiss, then it is time once again to give the dying embers a stir so that another log can pile on to warm the midnight sky as sparks cascade heavenward.

Patience and Respect

Friday, June 15th, 2007

When feeling nostalgic about high school, there are few people I would want to come across on a spiritual plane. John is one of them.

John was a student at Camelot, St Francis’ home for troubled youth. The youth of Camelot were all boys, and many of them had been assigned there for various criminal infractions of their youth. It’s a good bet that the infractions imagined by their classmates were always considerably worse than the actual. A boy from Camelot had a certain rep to live up to, and he either did or didn’t rather immediately, usually hammered out on his first day at school. The path a newly registered Camelot boy traveled, was of course usually governed by Camelot boys with more tenure. The more tenure a Camelot boy endured, the more risque he was perceived by all. For some it was respect, for some it was fear. On occasion, a new Camelot boy was considered a wuss right out of the box. As he stepped down from their bus the first day, John was shoved and one of those more revered said “Out of the way, faggot,” a brief comment which told volumes.

Having witnessed John’s arrival fresh off the bus, it was with ease that I approached him in homeroom, because his treatment from his Camelot peers deemed him, in some nondescript way, safe. John was glad to have someone talking to him, and that it was a girl was a bonus. He knew nothing of the facts of small town school and the particular fact that I was from Wilmington, effectively the other side of the tracks. Of course, John had his own tracks to contend with. We talked of everything and of nothing all in the same breath, all of the time.

As different as we were being boy and girl, we were equally similar, somehow of the same cloth. At least this is how it felt to me. John and I could often finish each other’s sentences and we were totally comfortable in companionable silence.

Soon after arriving at school, John was dating my friend Sharon. She had an entire bad girl wannabe personna, and she was dating John before she learned he was a boy somewhat less than bad. He was at Camelot because he was a runaway, repeatedly leaving his home for some misunderstanding between him and authority, if I remember correctly, a new stepfather. His Mother’s answer was to turn to the church, and her church advised sending John to Camelot for some retraining.

At the time, Sharon and I were best friends. I was often at her house overnight or for the weekend, and we thought we were as worldly as any two small town girls could be. She was a year ahead of me in school, but we had lunch and a math and english class together. She would fill in all the details of the many snippets of time she could catch with John, but he was fast losing her interest. John, on the other hand, was fast labeling Sharon a tease. It was an interesting position for me, having the confidences of both of them and I worked hard at never giving either’s away.

That is how tenth grade went, the three of us linked in an obscure way, though never the three of us together. Over the following summer, John went home to his family, and I was busily tasked at the campground my family owned. Sharon and I lost touch and I fell in with a new group of friends. John and I wrote w few times back and forth, and when school began in the fall, our junior year, we were tighter than ever.

A few times during the course of the school year, John and I had the occasion to find ourselves on dates of a sort. We never thought of them as dates and we never planned them specifically, but as the president of my church youth group, activities I suggested had a certain weight, and I often planned our activities to coincide with those scheduled for the Camelot boys.

Thursday night at the roller skating rink was Log Night. You bring a log for the woodstoves which heated the rink in the winter, and you got in free. Thursday night was also the night the Camelot boys went to the roller skating rink. My friends and I would be skating the night away from 6-9, and when we were lucky, Jim or Judy were the parents driving us. Both of them would sit in the rink snack shop with a book paying absolutely no mind to where any of us were. John and I would have a lot of fun with our friends rollerskating, playing foos ball and other games at the rink, but never really officially dating. It was all deliberately planned, but it was all so very innocent, too.

The first and third Saturdays of every month were movie night for the church Youth group, and not at all coincidentally, movie night for the Camelot boys. (The church youth group had it’s best membership when I was president, and to this day, no one realizes why.) I remember quite vividly meeting John at the movies to see Friday the 13th. The first one. That must have been 1981. We sat there watching the movie in the dark, very much away from any of our friends. He did the old stretch and reach and suddenly, his arm was around me. When I turned and gave him a questioning glance, he kissed me. I was 17, and though my virginity was long gone, I was still pretty innocent in many ways.

The following summer, John’s family vacationed at a campground around the corner from ours. He called me for directions and said his mom would drop him off if my folks could bring him back later. I agreed to this without even asking because I was so excited at the prospect of seeing him. I knew that if not my parents, I would find someone who would drive him around the corner when it was time.

I finished up my daily tasks and let my mom know a school friend was in town for the week and could see me that day, that he was coming by and we would stay around and just hang out. I told her all my work was done, and she said that was fine.

I ran and changed from my work clothes into a rather revealingly low cut top with nothing but spaghetti straps over the shoulders. It was pale yellow, and I had a very dark tan. The shorts I chose were Adidas running shorts. They were very short. Very. Short. I put on a little mascara, looked in the mirror and was satisfied with the result. I looked good, and I thought even John would have to notice.

When John arrived, I was so happy to see him, I just wanted him to myself. The only way that was going to happen was if we took a boat out. I was all set to be the one piloting the boat, but John’s chivalry took over and insisted he row. We started off in the right direction, up river, and I would take every opportunity to lean forward and give John the money shot. The shirt I was wearing was not one that a bra could be worn under, though it did cover up what it was supposed to, barely. I wanted to tease him along in the manner I had not yet consciously realized he had been teasing me. As my teasing flirtation escalated, John started a little teasing of his own, turning the boat down river toward the dam. I really wasn’t afraid we would get too near the dam, but more-so, I was afraid someone would see us and tell my father I had a boat out in that direction, even though it was clear I was not the one in control.

We spent the rest of the afternoon doing who knows what else, and as twilight approached, my dad said the ride was now or never. It was too soon for my liking, but I had little say in the matter. The suburban was running and John and I both climbed into the back seat. John was looking out the side window when his hand reached over and held mine. That was the second time I gave John a questioning glance, and had we been anywhere else but the back seat of my father’s car with my father driving, I think he would have kissed me again.

The campground we were driving to was just 2 miles away. We were almost there when my dad pulled the car over. There was a van parked by the side of the road and a woman ran out not fully dressed. The men, there were 2, were obviously
high and the woman seemed very scared. John and I stayed in the back seat of the suburban and my dad got out to see if she needed help. He told the men to stay where they were and one of them had an empty bottle in his hand. They started to come around to see what the old man wanted and my dad pulled his gun. As he tells it he was really afraid that he “was going to have to shoot one of those poor bastards”. I think it is the only time he has pulled a gun on a person, certainly the only time I ever witnessed. As you can well imagine, when we got to the campground, John could not get out of the car quick enough. Though he never let go my hand, his eyes were big as saucers. I also didn’t see him again that week his family was in town, very likely because of this incident.

I didn’t know it then, but John was not to be returning to Camelot for our senior year. Either his step father was out of the picture, or the family reached some sort of understanding. I was saddened by his absence, but we continued our innocent flirtation via the mail. It was always very easy to talk or write to John. We shared a companionable existence and I still value the friendship we shared at that time.

More than a year later, John resurfaced in the flesh with no warning It was toward the end of the summer after our separate graduations. I did not know it, but John had gone into the air force. I hadn’t heard from him for a while, and out of the blue, a man in air force dress blues walked into the campground while I was at the reservation desk. He was so totally hot. I was sitting there in a stunned silence as we just stared at each other for what seemed like several minutes. The man’s grin just kept growing bigger and bigger. When it finally became a full smile flashing teeth, I knew in an instant it was John.

I opened the counter gate, and gave him the most genuine crushing hug I had ever given anyone. I was so glad to see him. And Oh, what was that other feeling? Did I say he was totally hot?

My heart was racing in my chest. then my mind was racing even faster. I wanted him and I was going to have him. I took him to the room in the trailer that I was using for the summer. After hanging a bed spread over the curtains that were just a little too sheer for my liking, I got him mostly naked, all the while telling him how sexy he was and how much I wanted to fuck him. I am sure he was the first man to hear that from me. I had never been so blatantly direct before. We didn’t fuck because we had no protection, at least he had some sense about him, but we had a lot of fun otherwise.he was only in town for the day so that was all I saw of him.We talked of dreams and the future and what we thought it held for both of us. We were in touch for a while after that, but as it happens, we lost touch after a couple of years.

I didn’t know it for a long time afterwards, but on the day I saw John in uniform, the day I met John, the man, I learned about patience and respect. John was so deliberate with his uniform as he undressed. He truly respected the clothing and all it stood for. He carefully folded his trousers with the creases in tact. He shook his crisply pressed shirt so any wrinkles it might have gathered could be eased free. Even his boxers were neatly folded over the back of the chair.

More than respect for his uniform, he had respect for me. For my desires. For my ability to bring forth life. “There’ll be another time.” He told me this so gently, yet there was no swaying the decision to behave responsibly.

There never was another time for us, but I still feel John’s presence in my soul. He is the kind of friend that this human life is all about.

Grace in Motion

Thursday, June 7th, 2007

The Carnival

As I drive home from work at night, I hit an overpass once I have gone from 59 to the Beltway that allows the night sky to become animated with uncommon color. There are flashing bulbs of every color and design matched only by fireworks. I love the lights of the carnival in the night sky. I love the carnival at night.

When I was 16 or 17, I went for a girls night out with my best friends at that time. I think there might have been 5 of us piled into Colleen’s Maverick, Colleen, Tina, Eileen, Paula and myself. It was the end of summer and we were out to just have a grand old time. Someone had procured a couple of eight packs of Miller Light ponies, and we were on our way to the county annual carnival by dusk.

I remember the five of us actually all fitting in the seat on the Tilt-a-Whirl together. It was a celebration of sorts because Eileen had finally relented and accepted me into the group of locals. I don’t remember the five of us being exclusively social before this time. We were a pack of local girls out for the first time with none of the boy/friend regulars, also part of our group. It truly was unique to be out doing something with none of the boys figuring out where we were and just showing up.

There were mass quantities of cotton candy, funnel cakes, corn dogs and let’s not forget, beer. Someone’s cousin was working the beer concession so of course, there was more to drink than what we had on the way there. We stopped on the side of the road as soon as the night sky was filled with the lights of the carnival rides to drink the rest of our beer stash and dispose of the empties before unleashing ourselves for our night of fun. It was also the night of my first and only drunken tattoo.

As we took a break from the rides to stroll around and cruise for hot guys, someone suggested we play some carnival games. We went booth to booth and threw darts at balloons to win posters, played ring toss to win goldfish, and the best of all, thew softballs for record album cover mirrors. I remember bringing home Steve Miller Band and someone else scoring Fleetwood Mac. After a fresh round of beers, we came across the tattoo tent.

The tattoo itself wasn’t a bad choice . I got it on my left shoulder and it was about 4 inches high. There was a tiger with a sash across it where in my drunkenness, I took everyone’s suggestion to heart and I put my boyfriend Michael’s name boldly in black scripted letters. The tiger itself was vivid orange striped with black and behind the tiger was a red heart. Then the sash saying Michael. It really was stunning and I felt like such a rebellious bad girl. Truly one of the group for the first time. This was followed by more alcohol, more food, and more riding in the sea of colored lights. It really is one of my fondest memories of that era.

The next morning, I got up as usual and had campground chores to do. First there was the bathrooms, then the firepits and trash, then lifeguard duty for the bulk of the day. It was the lifeguarding where the drunken tattoo became a questionable choice. As my father finished cleaning the pool, He and I passed through the pool gate and I still had a hooded sweatshirt on over my bathing suit. I really was not consciously trying to cover the tattoo, I truly hadn’t really remembered getting it.

Michael and his dad returned from fishing and hit the pool at about 2 in the afternoon. I had been lazing around sunning for a bit and chatting it up with Stephan, one of our summer residents and a good friend and confidant. Stephan was a couple of years older and he and I developed a thick sibling like bond almost instantly when we first met the summer before. He asked about the new ink and for the first time that day my eyes went to my shoulder. Shit. I had been parading about all day without a clue. I touched it gently and instantly had the memory of the ink flowing off the artist’s brush onto my skin. Yes, brush, not needle. Thank God it wasn’t real.

So Michael and his dad came in for a dip. As soon as Mr. Wheeler swam the length of the pool, he got out of the water, dried off and told us kids to have fun while he went in search of a cold one. I knew he was also in search of my dad for some bullshitting. It was after fishing ritual. What didn’t occur to me was that he had taken notice of my tattoo.

Not five minutes after Mr Wheeler’s exit, I hear my dad on the speaker in the tree. “Inside, now” was all he said.

Out of the pool, towel around my waist, hoodie back on, I ran across the parking lot to the office.

“Let me see it.” I had never really seen my dad pissed off. Certainly not at me. If steam could have blown out his ears, he would have looked like many a cartoon venting frustration. I really was puzzled as to what he was talking about. This only infuriated him more as he yanked me into the back room. “The tattoo.”

I told him it was fake. He wasn’t hearing that at all. He wanted to see it and he wanted to see it immediately. My hoodie was off in a flash. My dad touched my arm. At that point I thought he was ready to beat my ass, something that had never in my lifetime happened. He was reaching for the first aid kit and he rummaged through it for something. Finally he comes out with an alcohol wipe. I knew this would take the tattoo off, and Michael who was still at the pool hadn’t seen it yet.

I got my dad to give me the wipe and I proceeded to take off the tip of the tiger’s tail to prove to him it was fake. My dad was instantly relieved and I was again his little girl. “Go” was all he said.

Mr. Wheeler was sitting at the counter drinking his coke and chuckling as I ran out the office door. I shed my hoodie and towel as I went through the gate and dove into the pool and came up in the deep end standing between Michael and Stephan. Michael and I had been a couple for about a year at that point and he had never kissed me in front of anyone. He was shy and protective. We were naive enough to think none of the adults knew and only many years later was this illusion shattered. Michael, after hearing the whole story leaned in close and hugged me. He then turned my face up to his and kissed me. I looked over his shoulder to see Stephan smiling and swimming off. Michael and I spent the rest of the afternoon sunning ourselves.

How does this relate to the theme of cultivating grace? The thread that continues through this from beginning to end is one or innocence. Never throughout this experience was there a shred of contrivance. Life was being lived in every moment from a point of purity. Grace in motion.