October Surprise

Joe Manchin – Photo credit – Washington Post
Kirsten Sinema – Photo credit – AP
Atlanta Braves – Photo credit – The Guardian

Most of the October surprises I know about have entered the American lexicon as either political shocks that alter the outcomes of primarily presidential elections or underdog baseball teams that wind up winning the World Series. Generally, I wander through Octobers making sure I remember birthdays and anniversaries, a few of which I’d like to forget, like my wicked witch mother-in-law’s. Some months seem to have these clusters of events involving other people’s memories rather than ones personal to me.

Additionally, my Octobers are spent hunting for the best fall colors dripping from the many trees in my city, or noting what’s still blooming in my garden and comparing this year’s plant survivors to those of the past. This has been an unusual month. I’ve been exasperated and furious about the logjam in Congress where these two contrary senators are clogging up critical bills and squandering the opportunity to make significant changes which will benefit millions of people. The level of dysfunction has been torturous to watch although I’m constantly reminded that traditional politics have never been my go-to place for optimism anyway. At this point I’m more desperate about not hurtling back to early 20th century mores, along with hoping the ostriches ignoring the severity of climate change, will wake up and do something before the planet is reduced to ash. I search for respite where I can find it. And I also muse about my life’s journey. How did I get to here from there? I wish I could remember everything. While poking around in my memory, I started having vague recollections about having an important turning point happening in a long-ago October. I chewed on this notion for awhile. What happened 50 years ago in October, 1971? I was just past twenty. I was still convulsing emotionally from the humiliating on again – off again relationship with my first grownup love. I’d been taking a mental beating for a couple of years and was pretty jaded for someone so young. As a chronic journal writer, I have all the painful evidence of those times in writing. Every now and then I think I should burn it all, but I don’t. Those pages are my truth, uncomfortable as they often make me feel. As I mulled over that time, I had one of those “aha” moments. I’d met Michael in August of 1971. The mysterious mind-meld that occurred on that night we attended the wedding of a mutual friend is now, and has always, made me feel inadequate in finding the language to describe the remarkable instantaneous fusion that happened to us. My need to build on that friendship was immediate and profound and happily was reciprocated by Michael. And then I remembered the significance of late October all those years ago. One night, I sat alone writing, marveling at this remarkable serendipitous meeting which had shown me a new way of feeling that I’d thought was impossible and out of my reach. Because I had mysteriously landed on the right point in time, I was able to locate the page I’d written quite easily.

I have all our most sentimental letters, notes and emotional mementoes in a big binder that’s readily accessible. Sure enough, that’s where it was, in its logical place.

I’m a much better writer now than I was back then. Decades back, I hadn’t learned that less was better, nor that being overly-dramatic wasn’t necessarily the best way to convey emotion. And those run-on sentences. Groan. I’d recently taken a class in Romantic English poetry and was busy with Wordsworth, among other poets, and I had a particular obsession with his ode on Tintern Abbey. Frequently, I feel a strong sense of embarrassment at the profoundly sentimental style of these pieces, but yet I realize that knowing my life had taken a new direction at the exact time when it did, and being able to express that change at such a young age certainly has value. I think that identifying big transitions when you’re just a kid is kind of wonderful. I remember my original intent in writing this blog was to leave a record of my experiences for my kids, ones that pre-dated their existence. So here is such a moment in its unvarnished, embarrassing original form.

Me – 1971

I’m listening to music and as usual here comes the barrage of feelings. But with a heightening joy at achieving an understanding, a relationship beyond the rampant superficiality floating everywhere, a connection that is omnipresent, omniscient, not so much on specifics but on the sensing of my pain and problems, my happiness and expectations. This relationship transcends the physical, traveling to remote areas of consciousness, and with that utter, intuitive knowledge and depth, comes total relaxation and an easiness filled with pleasure. The strength of it, its passions bring me close to ecstatic tears.

And I know that finally I have reached an ultimate plateau with someone where petty differences, disputes and opposing views are immaterial. This before “the presence that disturbs me with the joy of elevated thoughts,” and now I understand you almost entirely, William Wordsworth. Though you reached your version of heaven by communion with nature, with the earth, while I have with a human nature, I truly understand the euphoria I have so long ached for and almost gave up on. I’ve seen a plain face, at least at first sight, the same as anyone’s on the street. And a body like others I’ve seen, a glance of acknowledgment, simply of an existence, nothing more. A face and a body which now are beautiful, exceptional and so meaningful that my once casual glance now sees a soul, fully written in eyes and facial expressions, a slouch, a hand patting a dog. A soul so close to mine it feels all my knowledge, lingering in my direction but an instant where we bask, momentarily in total freedom.

We are not lovers, except in our minds. I don’t know if we’ll ever share ourselves in that lovely physical passion, but how suddenly irrelevant. For there I know him too, his gentleness and tender heart reaching out, innocently, despite his past pains, to that pure clean place in love. His pain, the onslaughts on him hurt me as equally as they do him, and within myself, I arm for battle to fight those foolish blind people who cause so much misery as they twist in their own confusion. I love you, Michael.

So there it is, my youthful missive from 50 years ago, written to this magic man with whom six months later, I would jump the gap from just friends, to friends and lovers, as we’d remain until his death in May, 2017. The writing is imperfect but I’m glad I saved it. The beginning of our life together, recorded for posterity. As the saying goes, the rest is history.

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