The Body Electric

Dancing with my sister – Thanksgiving, 1976. Age 25.

For the second time in a few months, modern technology has allowed me to look back in time, to really see what was, instead of just remembering. These fuzzy still photos are actually snapshots of old movies that I was able to have digitized from old Super 8 and VHS tapes. Seeing me and my family in motion, listening to our voices, is quite different from simply looking at a picture. The energy of who we were then is still palpable to me. While sifting through the images, my thoughts turned to Walt Whitman’s poem, “I Sing the Body Electric,” first published in 1855. I read his famous collection “Leaves of Grass” ages ago but this one stuck in my head. The first stanza goes like this:

“I sing the body electric, The armies of those I love engirth me and I engirth them, They will not let me off till I go with them, respond to them, And discorrupt them, and charge them full with the charge of the soul.”

I danced so much with my sister and my mom that I was never quite as comfortable with anyone else.

I don’t know if Whitman knew anything about the actual science underlying his idea of “the body electric.” EKGs that measure the strength and timing of electrical signals which pass through the heart were still decades from being invented. But it’s common knowledge that electricity is everywhere, conducted into our bodies through air, water and earth. There’s that feeing of static electricity, a sudden, fleeting unexpected shock. I still remember describing my first lobsided kiss from Michael, a moment that initiated an electric sensation in my body. I still feel electric currents as they mysteriously shift through my body. When I’m working in my garden, hands covered in dirt, teasing roots apart before I snuggle them into what I hope will be the best place for them to thrive, I experience tingly feelings that fall into some category between throbs and endorphins. I feel connected to an undercurrent. Like when you touch a wire or a machine and there’s a subtle hum under your fingers. Outside when I’m digging or weeding, listening to music as I work, I frequently feel like the combined energy of Michael and me that we poured into our yard, is filtering its way right back into me, through my feet and my hands. So peculiar but also comforting and perfect. We learned in school that the law of conservation of energy is that it can’t be created or destroyed, but rather converted into another form. I don’t pretend to understand how all that works but I know what I feel. The mysteries of life.

Sitting with my niece, my uncle and my cousin at our family dinner.

That Thanksgiving in 1976 was the first one I spent as a married woman, but I sent Michael off to spend the holiday with his parents while I stayed with my family. We’d been together for over four and a half years but our wedding was took place that May. I was really annoyed with the lack of intimacy and traditions in his family of origin so I staked out my independence by insisting on enjoying what was always a favorite holiday in my comfort zone, with my people. Eventually we wound up hosting our Thanksgiving dinners with my family and our friends for the rest of our lives together.

Back in those days, I always felt uncomfortable around his parents who thought I was too fat. When I look at these photos it’s hard to believe the dissonance between what I felt and what was real. I never experienced the dreadful negative effects of dysmorphia like anorexia or bulimia back then but I certainly struggled. I writhed internally and rarely talked about my negative feelings to anyone. But I remember and can still feel myself in that psychological stress. All these years later and I still vibrate with that version of me.

Talking with my young nieces.
Listening to dad

I can clearly remember my dad giving me advice on how to become an economically sensible person during that November afternoon. I listened to him as earnestly as I could, all the while thinking that I wished we’d had these conversations years earlier. I’m afraid that my cavalier spending habits were pretty socked in by that time in my life. Talk about feeling the electrical currents humming below the surface. My issues as a twenty-five year old became my lifelong companions. Over time, I’ve just gotten better at managing myself and forgiving myself for my imperfections. The connecting threads of all that mental energy still exist, both in “the then”and “the now.”

Dad and me.

My grandmother had already been a widow for seven years in 1976. Of course we didn’t know at the time that she only had five Thanksgivings left in her life. In 1981, Thanksgiving was held at my house, which was the first and only time she came to see me in my home. My daughter had been born in August and I was eager to step up to the fully adult role of host for the favorite family gathering. Because I lived in a community much smaller than Chicago, when visiting my hometown, grandma thought she might be going back in time. She asked me if people still got around in horses and buggies where I lived. I was mightily amused. I also vividly remember her telling me that she never slept. When I tiptoed into our parlor on Thanksgiving morning, there she was on our sleeper couch, head thrown back, snoring peacefully. I feel that moment in my body as I write.

My sister with her boyfriend – they married in 1980.

The 1976 Thanksgiving took place at my brother’s house. But everyone also visited at my parents’ apartment during those days. My male cousin and my uncle, both integral parts of my childhood, are long since dead, as are my brother, my parents and my grandmother. My sister, my female cousin and I are now in mid to later life, still connected to each other as well as everyone long gone. The pink housedress my grandmother is wearing in the photo is one of the few physical items I have from her. In perfect condition, it hangs on a hook in my bedroom where I can always see it. Aside from an old table cloth, the only other parts left of her are the sounds of her voice, the smell of her cooking and the hallway in her apartment building, and the feel of her kisses on my neck, a combination of a caress and her inhaling the scent of me. Still vibrant in my mind and body.

My cousin
My closest uncle, my mom’s youngest brother.
My cousin and my eldest niece
My brother and my grandmother.
My mom, clowning around with grandma.

And then, fast forward to a different time, the camera out of my brother’s hands, instead in Michael’s. We are in 1989, a chaotic year for us in which he was elected alderman in our city while wrestling with a herniated disk which eventually required surgery. And both my parents, who’d moved to our town three years earlier, now diagnosed with their individual cancers within five weeks of each other. During those years between 1976 and 1989, we’d had gotten ready to start our family and now had our kids, seven and two years plus, the kids we were really prepared to parent. These photos capture their personalities, our daughter already showing her attitude and our son his concentration, his tongue always sticking out while he was focusing on whatever was before him. I feel the electric hum here too, the presence of love and acute awareness, captured and preserved.

Our son, ready for his adventure.
Out comes that tongue.
The energy of our daughter.

And suddenly we were moving toward the end of my father’s life. Through these photos I can feel Michael’s deliberate attempt to freeze these moments for the future. The look on my mom’s face, the face of the survivor. My kids at my parents’ place, knowing they were in a solemn time but not really sure of what was happening. My dad, resigned, sad and trying to stay connected to his grandchildren, knowing that time was getting away from him. He was never a really demonstrative person, the quiet person in the family. He was present but also wanting to flee into his bitter premature fate. I can sense all that, all those feelings, deep in my bones.

Mom, a few months after her breast cancer.
Our daughter and son
Dad with our daughter.
Dad and our son.
The family at our house about a month and a half before dad’s death.
Our daughter
Our son wearing my dad’s sunglasses.

In this last photo, I can feel Michael’s love for me, making sure he caught this exchange between me and my dad, as I tried my best to keep dad in the moment, both for him and for me. These are powerful images that are somehow still kinetic, conveying so much charged emotion. I use the word charge deliberately to continue the emphasis on “the body electric,” perhaps even more aptly, the electric energy field that surrounds everyone, whether we know it or not.

In many Native American cultures there is an emphasis on the interconnected relationship between nature, the earth, and all creatures, living and nonliving, to the great soul of the universe. I can’t say with certainty that I know anything of that magnitude to be true or not. But like the filaments in a lightbulb which enable its incandescence, I feel the pull of forces which tether me to sensations beyond accurate description but which nonetheless are powerful and visceral. I’m quite comforted by them. I don’t expect to ever fully understand how things work but for me, the awareness of my body electric is a good thing in a world so challenging and often dark. I hope some of my ties through time, distance and even death, keep helping me stay illuminated in the worst of times. I am still energetically flowing along.

How About a Dull Day?

A nice dull day – sitting in a chair in the yard, watching the dog, the growing things and whatever animals drop by.

The other day a friend of mine posted the following message on her Facebook wall – “If there were no aggravations in life, life would be dull and boring.” I thought about that for awhile. Did I agree? Not really. First, I can’t say that I’m ever bored. Most days I’m more likely to be frustrated because I can’t find the time to pursue all the interesting activities out there in the world. I’ve got my outdoor interests and my indoor ones, pretty convenient for someone living in an environment when outside conditions can be challenging in at least two seasons if not more. But dull? I understand dull. For me dull means unexciting. Rote. Something you can do without much thought. I definitely have a place for that in my life. The past couple of days have been chock full of hassles. Truly, a little dull would be a fine alternative. I can explain.

A not-too-great photo of my car, born in 2003.

I’ll start with my car. My car had been on the road for five years before I bought her. She’s twenty years old now. I bought her for durability, reliability and long life. I’m not one of the people who really cares about vehicles, aside from their ability to get me from one place to another. I drove a lot of beaters in the early part of my driving life, ones that generally cost $300 or less. When they died, I said thanks and moved on to the next one. My dad drilled it into my head that cars were a wasting asset that wound up worthless in the end. I heard him. I only had one new car in my life, a Chevy Celebrity station wagon with a way-back, a seat in the rear that faced traffic from behind. We bought it when the kids were young. They loved to sit back there, waving at everyone and having great adventures. However that car was awful. The “service engine soon light” came on at 10,000 miles and stayed on until we got rid of it at 80,000 miles. Everything broke at least once. No more new cars for me. My next car was a used Toyota Camry which I drove for 217,000 miles. My kind of vehicle. And then came this Honda.

The 1992 green Camry.

Back in the old days, before cars got sophisticated and computer-laden, Michael routinely disassembled and reassembled our vehicles. Our dining room table often had a couple of containers filled with carburetor parts soaking in smelly fluids. He always explained what he was doing and over the years, I picked up a lot of knowledge about cars. I developed some confidence about identifying their issues and always am glad to feel somewhat competent about understanding the essentials of how they work. That’s been a great comfort, especially since Michael died.

One of the first notes Michael ever wrote me from 1972 – advice about how to deal with a car.

So a couple of weeks ago, my aging vehicle started acting strangely. First the interior overhead lights started turning themselves on and off at odd times. Then a warning light that indicated the door was open when it wasn’t started flickering regularly. What really got weird was when my horn started honking when the car was locked. I figured there was an electrical issue, some sensors going haywire, always a challenge to diagnose. But I looked up all the symptoms anyway and found a part called a door jamb switch that seemed to be a likely culprit for all the weird happenings. So I called the local Honda dealer, figuring they would have the mechanics most likely to rapidly make the repair. When I arrived to drop off the car, I mentioned my research to the service manager who told me that a full computerized diagnosis was necessary before jumping to conclusions. Okay. That wasn’t unreasonable. After a day of analysis I was told that indeed, a more expensive computer panel needed to be replaced, to the tune of $565. Well, that’s certainly less expensive than buying a different ride so I approved the special order and brought the car in on Friday for the repair. When I called late in the day to see if it was ready, that same service manager said yes, but… he then asked if I’d seen a memo he sent which had an additional recommendation – the replacement of the door jamb sensor. That would cost an additional $211, installed. I hadn’t seen any memo. Now that’s what I call an “aggravation.” I told him we’d discuss that recommendation when I saw him.

When I went to pick up the car, I was presented with a labor bill for $164, bringing the total of my repair to $729. I asked to see the service manager and told him that I was going to be extremely displeased if this expensive repair failed, instead of the mechanic having tried what I’d asked him to do in the first place. And I also said that I wanted to see how well the first repair choice worked without paying for something else. I can’t say I was surprised when I drove about twenty miles before all the original problems resurfaced. Now, tomorrow morning I have to call Honda, initiating the complaint process for trying to recoup what I spent, as well as getting an actual lasting repair done. I have to say that I view this kind of annoyance as a big drain on my energy. All it does is take time away from doing what I really enjoy. A dull day in the garden would have been just fine with me. Instead, I’ll be hassling with my car and a service manager who will probably be sorry we ever met.

Innocent trip to the farmers’ market which went a bit awry.

The morning after I picked up my car I went off to the first farmers’ market of the year, hoping to find a hydroponic tomato which just had to taste better than the pale imitations carried by grocery stores during the winter months. Alas, for the most part, produce was still pretty sparse, not surprising after our exceptionally long winter. What I did find, however, was a woman with whom I worked for about eight years back in the late seventies and early eighties. The two of us were a classic mismatch and to be frank, I ultimately got to a point when I told my boss she’d have to choose between us as I couldn’t bear working with her. She wound up getting fired but still found her way to a better work life than she had during our time together. We were never unfriendly but we’ve rarely seen each other over the past thirty years. When I greeted her, she sort of exploded with emotion, telling me that her husband, a person I never met, had died six months ago. She said she was trying to figure out how to live like me, as a widow, and then began talking about where she’d donated his remains. In the midst of all that she blurted out that I was the best person who worked in our office which needless to say, felt incredibly odd as I was instrumental in getting her fired. What an uncomfortable experience. I certainly didn’t feel like I was having an average vegetable-buying outing and couldn’t wait to escape this awkward conversation.

Me at my office in the early ‘80’s.

After the farmers’ market, I stopped by the dry cleaners to pick up my winter comforter. I pulled into the drive-through where I described my item to the attendant. He retrieved it and as he came toward my car, started to describe why it was never a good idea to use a pea-shooter or any other weapon to hit the eye of a customer, whether or not that customer was wearing soft contact lenses. What? I tried to keep a bland face and kindly said, “it sounds like you’ve had a rough day.” He responded by telling me he was always talking to himself, asserting control over his hostile impulses. I had no idea what was happening with this person but in today’s crazy violent environment, I have to say I was even more eager to leave there than the farmers’ market.

Time to buy some flowers at the local nursery.

My next stop was one of my two favorite flower nurseries. At this time of year I’m looking to fill in empty garden spaces to create a cascading blooming effect that requires as little attention as possible during the coming months. I call it defensive gardening, trying to avoid being a weeding drudge by limiting room for them to get opportunistic. I’m always happy to find a few new plants and would have been delighted to be where I was, except for the fact that as I was getting out of my car, I noticed a funny mark on my big toenail. When I reached down to check it out, the entire nail came off in my hand. That was a disgusting and unexpected surprise. I’ve had painted toes for over a month so whatever caused this to happen was hidden from view. I don’t know why I couldn’t feel any warning signs of underlying damage. But whatever – I just added this moment to the odd and annoying list. I was glad I had a bandaid in my car to cover my tender and unattractive skin. I went and got a few plants anyway.

My last task errand of the day was getting my second bivalent Covid booster, now available to people sixty-five and older, as well as those who are immunocompromised. A good friend of mine recently contracted Covid and after weeks is still contending with long-lasting negative effects of this challenging virus. I want to avoid this if I can and so I got my shot and went home to contend with the headache, slight fever and fatigue that I’ve had after every vaccination. I thought this was a fitting end to an annoying couple of days. As I said, I’ll take dull and ordinary any time. On to tomorrow’s challenges.

The Lusty Month of May Redux

April 30th, 2023.

Well. Another year gone by. Years have passed since the time when Covid debuted and turned the world on its head. May is coming. Once again, I am awaiting for May 1st, my 6th wedding anniversary since Michael’s death. Fern has been gone for almost 36 years – our birthdays, 10 days apart, are also approaching this month. These two people apparently will be my constant shadowy companions until my life ends. But I’m getting ahead of myself. I feel just as I did the first time I published this blog in 2018. I expect I’ll publish it with edits for a long time. The whole of it sits curled up in me, compulsively enlarging as May approaches, with an insistence to be expelled once more into the universe. I returned to it again in 2020 – that version is below.

Over the years I’ve managed to build the best version of myself for traversing my 8th decade on this planet. I’ve changed as has everything around me. Except that is, for my absurdly blazing passion for Michael and the gaping abyss that exists where Fern should be. As I write this, I look at my garden‘s rewards, the ones I receive for continuing to create life from what was once simply mud. So once again out to the world this missive goes, amended by time, yet still alive and vibrant despite everything.

May 1st, 2020 – Lusty Month of May introduction

As is the way of the spinning world, my wedding anniversary has come around again, despite the coronavirus pandemic. And on this day, in my little corner of existence, I reflect on this third year of celebrating the date without Michael.

I have every single note that accompanied every single flower that I received from him each May 1st for 40 plus years. The habit of marking history by saving all of them is a great comfort to me. I am emotionally more healed this year than I was last year, and I’m sure that I’ll continue to manage my longing for his company with more ease as time passes. For as long as I’m still here, that is. I was lucky to have a partner who thought of what my life would be like without him. He left me treasures that sustain me, along with his constant inexplicable presence. He promised what I would feel, emblazoned on the note that was silkscreened onto my mourning quilt that he had commissioned, made from pieces of his clothing. 


This year, I will finally listen to the CD’s he made for me in 2014, when he wasn’t sure how long he’d survive. We were so lucky to get three more years. Love Songs for The Lovely Renee – can you imagine a more wonderful gift? I’ve only listened to them once – maybe I can get through them this time. Meanwhile, I wrote The Lusty Month of May in 2018, one year after Michael died. I re-read it and found that it still resonates. So here it is, all my feelings about May from back then.


When I was in my late teens, I went to see the film Camelot which was based on a stage musical. The movie premiered in 1967. The title of this post is a song from that film, composed by Lerner and Loewe. The story was emotionally stirring and made its way into our cultural lore as emblematic of life during the Kennedy administration.
Of course I
knew that the romance and the tragedy merely skimmed the surface of politics, life and love. But I sobbed my way through it anyway, leaving intellect aside to just feel all the feels. I remember.
And what did May really mean to me? As a youngster it meant a surprise May basket, stuffed with candy, and a dance around the maypole at school, entwining pastel crepe paper streamers as we skipped under each other to avoid tangling.
I have a May birthday. So did my childhood friend Fern who was born 10 days before me. But even though we were bonded in time, she was a Taurus and I was a Gemini, which somehow meant we could account for our very glaring differences.

C11321A6-6F69-4427-907D-FFC82C0BE59EAnd May was also Mother’s Day month which back in my youth, meant waking before dawn and assembling a breakfast for my mom with my siblings. A breakfast which we usually picked at until there was virtually nothing left for her. She just wanted to sleep anyway.

MAYDAY-CST-050214-003.JPGWhen I got older, May 1st became the celebration of labor and a new bond that I felt out on the left wing with my political friends. I learned the words to the Internationale, although I’m not sure I recall all of them now.


And then suddenly, I was twenty and in real love. After a four year “let’s-make-sure-this-is-going-to-work period,” Michael and I chose May 1st as our wedding date. The lusty month of May indeed. As we got ready to actually do it, we looked wonderingly over the balcony of our hotel in Chicago and watched the May Day parade roll down Wacker Drive, thinking how odd it was that we weren’t down there marching, opting instead for a traditional institution. And yet, there we were.

Fern died 30 years ago and although I think of her regularly each year, her birthday is always a difficult time for me.

When Michael died last year on May 28th, four days after my birthday, I realized that the joy I always associated with the lusty month had now gone sour. Instead of celebrations, these dates which marked such significant events will at best be bittersweet. For now, as I face down my first wedding anniversary without Michael, soon to be followed by my first mother’s day without him and my mom long gone, I realize that those moments are just the beginning. Next will be Fern’s birthday, followed by my first birthday without Michael and then, the biggest one, the first anniversary of his death.
It feels like a lot to me. I know that maybe some day, the pain from all of these landmarks will lessen. I’ve had anticipatory grief, trying to prepare for May which is now finally upon me. I am flooded with memories of our wedding scrambled in with the final weeks of Michael’s life last year. There are too many stories to weave into a blog post.
I woke today and felt internally wobbly. I managed a few chores and went swimming, happy that my usual crew wasn’t at the pool because I wasn’t sure I could keep myself together. Then I went home and gardened for awhile, listening to music, crying and imposing a state of silence on myself. For this year, I need to go through these first few days and nights alone. And I settled on what I needed to say, to let free the memories seared into my mind and the thoughts I’ve been journaling as I’ve navigated this year.

First, there are our wedding vows that we wrote so earnestly all those decades ago.
Me: I stumbled about in the labyrinth
Pained and troubled by a bleak confusion.
Imagine my joy when a light in a far corner was you.
Me: Michael, with you I will reach for an ever-growing integrity in living.
Michael: Renee with you I will strive for an equal sharing of love, responsibility and trust.
Me: With you I will share my thoughts and emotions in honesty.
Michael: Together we will work for individual growth and development that we may each find meaning in our lives.
Me: Together we will struggle to make beauty, dignity and mutual respect integral parts of our relationship.
Michael: Together we will search for a fulfillment of our ideals.
Michael: Through the darkness of my mind, I search for what I see is true.
I stood alone without belief-the only trust I know is you.

Now those seem so trite and corny, not exactly standard fare, but reflective of who we were and how we tried to live, we twenty-somethings.

3794115A-9A4E-4C5F-9247-E568A4B1C586And then there was this note I wrote to Michael in July, 1997 which I found when going through his papers after he died. Already 25 years into our relationship, it still moves me and was oddly prescient of how I still feel today.

“In my head, I see your profile
Because I’m next to you, as usual.
Thinking of what we’ve done.
With more to come.
It sneaks up on you.
Year after year.
The great love of your life.
Your best friend.
The blurry lines between you and me and me and you.
I made the right choices. I did the best for me.
Right now, our children are coming home from a trip, haven’t seen them in six days or so.
Haven’t seen you in four hours.
I miss you more.
Will you be coming to sit on my bed in the middle of the night if you should die before me?
The way my mother says my father comes to hers?”

I have no memory of writing that but here it is, in black and white before me.

Every year, Michael gave me roses on our anniversary. The tradition started with one for each year but after awhile, that got too expensive. He always wrote a little note on one of the cards that are lying around when you go to pick up flowers. I have all of them. In 2014, he had just finished 18 rounds of chemo before our anniversary. The card below came that year. And he certainly kept his word as he did impossible things to stay alive.A05D13AA-00CB-4E9A-A3B0-BAD2BB588D1A

This is what I wrote a few days ago, assessing where I am today, approaching this intense month.

Anniversary Love – For Michael

You are every note and every lyric.
You are every story and every poem.
You are light and midnight blue.
You are every petal and every stalk.
You are the field, the mountain, the glade, the ocean.
You are serenity and rage, peace and tumult.
You are constant and transient.
You are daunting strength and trembling weakness.
You are my comfort and my desolation.
You are satiety and starvation.
You are the beginning, the middle and the end.
You are the past, the present and the future.
How could both your presence and your absence blot out everything?

Have I left anything out?

The lusty month of May. I hope I have the strength for it.

Hello from Age Twenty

That’s me on the right, during my trip to Europe with one of my closest childhood friends and college roommate. In Switzerland. Age 20 – 1972

Ever since last November, when I got decades of journals from my long-deceased friend Fern’s lifetime of recording her history, I’ve been in a paralyzing writing slump. I got those journals in a surprisingly circuitous way. Long ago, I resigned myself to the idea that I’d never see them. When we were in elementary school, we were both prolific writers, reading each other our journal entries on the phone at night. At least most of our entries. For the most part, during the thirty years we were friends, I can’t say that ones we omitted were significant enough to come as a big surprise to either one of us. When she died, I was frantic about whose hands they might fall into, knowing that they harbored dark family secrets. I tried hard to get them from people I didn’t know and ultimately, made my peace with the fact that I couldn’t protect Fern’s privacy. Thirty-four years later, they wound up in the possession of a mutual friend of ours, someone who knew I’d been desperate to find them. He sent them to me and shortly after Thanksgiving, I opened the door to the past.

One box of Fern’s journals.

I really didn’t anticipate the feelings these journals evoked. As expected, I didn’t learn much from them that I didn’t already know. Before I started them, I was having conversations with the friend who acquired them for me, about which university might house them, along with Fern’s other writing, her poetry, short stories, two novels and letters. But instead of thinking about which of the three educational institutions she’d attended for her degrees, I was instead flattened by the sense that her most personal writing should never be exposed to public scrutiny. Initially I suppose I thought that a collection like hers would likely be of value to future readers. Libraries are full of the papers of more authors than I can count. But that isn’t how I felt at all. Instead I felt that I couldn’t imagine anyone gaining insights or benefits from reading the journals. Despite my knowledge of the dark parts in Fern’s life, I still felt like a nosy intruder, a gawker slowing down to witness a bad accident. For her few family members who are alive, I anticipated nothing but pain if the journals were exposed. And all these thoughts made me think long and hard about my own stacks of journals. How would they impact my family, or any of the people who’ve unknowingly made an appearance in them? Should all that information become public?

Lots of blank pages these past few months.

I’ve been stuck in front of blank pages for awhile now. However my avoidance behavior has begun to wear me out. During the past couple of days, I’ve started digging into some of my oldest journals. I want to see if anything recorded in them is really worth saving, other than their intrinsic historic value as documents of a life. Anyway, I’m always motivated to take a look back at my writing at this time of year. Almost to this exact day, it was 51 years ago that I showed up on my friend Michael’s doorstep with my suitcase in my hand, announcing that I was moving in with him. To his question, “where are you going to sleep?,” I replied, “in your bed.” And that is where I remained until his death in May, 2017. I do relish the memory of our transition from a close friendship into our life partnership. I’m pleased to say that I found a letter I wrote in March, 1972 that I never mailed. I was amazed to discover that the internal dialogue I had with myself back then, as I struggled to make sense of my emotions, was a good indicator of the person I still recognize in my current life. I guess I was more mature for my age than I recalled.

My passport photo taken in November, 1971.

“The brain finishes developing and maturing in the mid-to-late 20s. The part of the brain behind the forehead, called the prefrontal cortex, is one of the last parts to mature. This area is responsible for skills like planning, prioritizing, and making good decisions.” National Institute of Mental Health.

A little background…in January of 1972, I’d tossed caution to the wind and taken off on a European adventure with two of my girlfriends. During the previous year, I’d been my own sad story, chasing relentlessly after my first real love, Al, who was absolutely opposed to being in a committed relationship with me. In the summer of 1971, while we tortured each other with frequent break-ups and short-lived reconciliations, I met Michael at the wedding of mutual friends. I’d heard of him before but somehow our paths had never crossed. That wedding was a drug and alcohol-fueled wild event. I had attended on my own while Michael had come with his current girlfriend who ultimately left the party. I spent most of the evening with him and another friend, feeling relaxed and enjoying myself, a welcome relief from my usual psychodrama with Al. After that night, I went to visit my parents for a few days. When I returned, all I wanted to do was find Michael to continue getting to know him. I’ve never been able to adequately describe the powerful instantaneous connection we both felt after just a few hours together. Over the next five months we spent all kinds of time in each other’s company, squeezed in between school, work and our primary romantic relationships with other people. I’d never experienced such a rapid development of trust and intimacy with anyone before him. We were strictly platonic but within about two months I was feeling mightily confused about pretty much everyone in my life.

My travel documents for Europe.

That’s when the Europe plans firmed up. All I wanted to do was get away from everything to clear my head. Driving along the Pennsylvania Turnpike in total darkness with my friends, I was thinking rapidly about all that I was leaving behind. In a moment of perfect clarity I realized I was in love with Michael. When we stopped for the night, I impulsively called him to share my revelation. He responded with the comment, “far out.” The next day I boarded an airplane in New York and flew away for a couple of months. Ah, the courage or perhaps the foolhardiness of youth. Of course during my trip, while I experienced the magic of carefree travel, I also experienced all the doubts and fears which can follow an impulsive declaration. Here is my unvarnished and unmailed letter from that time. An interesting view into my 20 year old brain.

Old City Geneva, Switzerland, the place where I composed my letter.
The original handwritten letter, never mailed.

Dear Michael,

Today was beautiful, sunny rainbows in Geneva. Lakes, rivers, parks everywhere, it’s oh so clean and lovely. I really appreciate the warm weather – it’s been cold in lots of the places we’ve been in but somehow summer is trailing us now. The best part of this place is “The Old City,” antique churches w/walls of tiled pictures, and gorgeous stained glass. Also there are swans, ducks, pigeons and gulls everywhere – you can get way into birds here.

I need you really badly right now, I want to talk to you so you can help me sort out my feelings. I’m happy and content here but there’s a lot on my mind and I think that the imminence of going home has something to do with my urgency for communication. I’ve thought a lot about people, all kinds, and relationships, too. I’ve met so many on this trip and each one has added an extra shade to my perception of what it’s all about, and me, in regard to it all. I’m so sure of myself, what I am and I don’t want to have to change again. There’s so much I left behind, I don’t know how it’s going to shape up when I return.

Letters are generally a screwed up way to communicate but I can tell what’s behind the words. One thing’s for sure, Al’s gone, out of the picture, I care about him but I never want to be with him again. God, it was sick, wasn’t it? The Dennis thing too has had its ups and downs, even through the mail, it’s all so strange to me.

As you can probably tell, I’m beating around the bush, or rather around my head. What can I say to you? I’m afraid to come back. It’s all back there, whatever any of these feelings are, and I don’t know how I’m going to walk in and pick things up. I’m so afraid of you – I feel vulnerable and though I know you won’t intentionally hurt me, I’m anticipating trouble. It’s hard to describe.

I wish you could’ve gone through this trip with me. I’d really like traveling with you, I know it – we’d just sort of blend together like we always do. I want to love you very badly, mostly because I already do and the absurdity of it all is pressing on my mind. I keep thinking how I’d love for you, me and the dogs to jump in the car and run away forever. Shit.

I keep feeling that I’ve made everything up, that I’m just fantasizing. I don’t know how I got into this mood, I don’t know why I’m telling you all this insanity. I think I’m lonely. Well, why not just be honest, for Chrissakes? Why should I keep implying things when I can just tell you straight? What all this incoherent nonsense amounts to is actually very simple.

According to all indicators, I’m most probably in love with you and by pretty easy calculations, have been for some time. Unfortunately external circumstances have been a problem and as a result, I never, or my feelings never had a chance to know if it could work between us. So my explosive confession of love to you from Pennsylvania while on my way out of the country and then nothing but dreamland from afar. It’s crazy, I still have unresolved feelings for Al but I’m hanging on the edge of a precipice, you, you’re stuck inside me and I turn there, to that spot, all the time, especially when I’m deep in my emotions or when I’m in a pinch. All the time. I don’t trust myself in this, or you in this, or this itself, I’m dying. We never stepped over that line. Why aren’t you here, why aren’t I there, why did I leave and does it make a difference in reality?

I want to sleep with you, dammit, do you understand? We’ve never even kissed. These are tough things to write, but they’re really true and at least it would resolve something. Michael, I want us to love each other.

I’m almost ill right now. This letter is insensible, unreasonable, hyper-emotional and full of sexual frustration. What do I know, my experience is pretty limited. I hope you don’t get upset reading this; this is actually positive and nice somewhere beneath the turmoil. How do you say you love someone when the subject has been carefully evaded and concealed for so long? That’s why it would be better to talk, look and touch, clear the air, the confusion and figure out the differences between fantasy and what’s really happening. I know you’re a mess too, trying to keep get it all down, being uncertain, unsure. What a drag. Can you possibly write me and tell me what’s going to happen??!!??

Have a good vacation, please write to me in Frankfort before you leave. I’ll see you in the beginning of April. I love you, don’t be uptight about it. It’s still just the same as it’s always been between us. Reny.

Well, things worked out. I’m glad I saved this letter, despite all my misgivings about journals.

1972 to
The end.