My life was filled with magic as a child. The wondrous never ceased. California for instance was magic. My Dad took me to Hollywood once and it was hot in the winter and full of movie stars.

It was magic that Jackie Santelli just happened to be skating with the little kids the day my dog fell through the ice and he was the only one there who could rescue her. And when I went to my favorite secret spot — a damp patch of sandy dirt under the bridge by the shore of a little stream that barely trickled its way across a few stones, and saw it as a kind of paradise — that I knew was some kind of magic.

But the most magic thing of all was the Love box.

My mom died when I was very little so it was just me and Dad growing up together — that’s what he always said, “I’m growing up same as you” he’d tell me, especially when he’d said or done something he thought was stupid.

“You’re never really all grown up,” he said.

Anyway, there was this Love box. When I was little Dad said the Love Fairy used to leave it — a nondescript, simple box about the size of my hand-span. It always fit neatly into my hands no matter what size my hands were. It had the word “LOVE” written across the top of it in very plain letters, like the generic stuff you find in the supermarket now labeled “BEER” and “BREAKFAST.”

Inside the box was a sort of glowing color; that’s about all I can say for description. Try as I might I could never totally focus on it; it seemed to dance and gleam just beyond my eyes. It was all sorts of different colors at different times. Each box was always different — and yet the same.

And my Dad always said, “Now honey, try to keep it alive.”

And you know over the years I tried everything I could think of. I put it in the refrigerator, I kept it on top of the radio, I sprinkled water on it, I set it in the sun, I said prayers over it and the Pledge of Allegiance To The Flag. I tried checking on it every day and then a hundred times a day. I tried ignoring it completely, setting it in a corner of my closet and then sneaking up on it later to peek inside. I put hamburgers and bits of toast in the box and one time I put my stuffed elephant, Wacko, inside. But even though my methods grew more sophisticated as I got older, it never worked. Inevitably one day I would open the box and the light would be gone, leaving nothing inside but a sort of a smear.

“Never mind,” Dad would say, “The Love Fairy will bring another one.”

And sure enough, one day there would be another one and I’d start all over.

Then one night my Dad died. It was Thanksgiving night, and I knew really that I should be thankful because he’d been sick for a long time and in a lot of pain, although he hardly even complained. I knew I should be thankful for him, but I cried more tears than I thought a person could ever contain. The night after his funeral I didn’t want to go to sleep because I didn’t want to wake up to a world grown so suddenly and devastatingly empty.

But I did sleep of course, eventually, and in the morning I woke up so abruptly, sat right up in bed and opened my eyes so fast, that I was back in the world before I could remember how empty it had become. And there right at the end of my bed was a Love box.

My heart jumped when I saw it — a little leap in my chest like a fish flipping out of the water to flash for an instant in the moonlight. I realized that with my Dad gone, I had somehow thought that I would never see another Love box again in my life.

But there it was.

When I opened the lid, suddenly the light just poured from the box, dancing right through my body and expanding into the room, and through the walls and into the trees, and then the sunlight caught it and I squeezed my eyes tightly shut for a moment. When I opened them, the box was gone, the light and color were still humming all around me, and a piece of paper lay on the spot where the box had been. It was a note from Dad. It said:

“Honey you know how we sometimes used to laugh about the tricks that life can play on us? Well, the Love Box is one of those, and I guess it’s time now to let you in on this trick that’s been played on you for so long. Now don’t get mad because you were fooled — we’re all fooled sometimes, you know, it’s nothing to be ashamed of. The love in that box — you never killed it and it never died. You tried so hard to keep it alive honey, bless your heart, and you stuck right with it no matter how many times you failed. I knew the time would come when you would see for yourself, as you can right now, that you didn’t ever fail. You just squeezed a little hard that’s all, with all that trying, and it slipped right out of the box. It didn’t disappear. Sometimes it went and sat in your garden — remember how thrilled you were with those marigolds you grew out back? Sometimes it came right in your window on that sunshaft that used to fall on your face and wake you in the summer. Sometimes it sat on the dog, or hung underneath your chin, and tickled you into one of those big lit-up smiles. But it never disappeared, it just moved around.”

I put the letter down and breathed hard for a minute. Tears and laughter were both mixing together in my throat and I made a sort of gasping sound and the dog looked at me funny.

“It’s OK, it’s OK” I said to her — and to my Dad and to the window framing the trees. My face felt wet, but I know that I was smiling. Now that I had learned the proper name for magic, the world was not so empty anymore.

Renais Jeanne Hill
Seattle, Washington

The only thing to teach is how to fall in love, what to do then to make it last. To make it a lifetime thing. To teach how to find out more about the beloved. To build something with the beloved, within the beloved. To teach all this before love ever happens so that when love comes, be it of caterpillars or dead painters or wood and nails or computers that talk back, the feeling doesn’t dissipate into a hopeless infatuation — “it must be wonderful to do that, to know about that, but I can’t” — but is a release of power like real love that leads to knowing more because you know where to find it, to cherishing and building in this love because you know that someone can tell you how to do it and you keep looking until you find the one who can.

(Anne Herbert, former assistant editor of CoEvolution Quarterly, turned these words into a “Quote T-shirt,” available for $8 postpaid from CQ, Box 428, Sausalito, California 94966.)

Anne Herbert
San Francisco, California

Lately Melissa bothers me. I hate it that she drinks and smokes and that she doesn’t do meditation. Her manner seems artificial, show-offy. I’m sure she’s seeing all my faults too.

Sometimes we laugh about it. Last week she asked me if I liked her parents, and I said, “As much as I like you.” I meant it as a compliment, but she gave me a look. “Actually, much more than I like you,” I admitted, and we both laughed.

Later, we held each other in her car and I said, “We’re not doing too well,” and she kissed me with little kisses and agreed.

I guess that’s the best we can do right now.

New York, New York

His fear is being smothered, s(mothered). Even as he looks like he is going toward her, he retreats. She feels his resistance in the moment he courts her. But he knows his resistance has a magnetism to it. She panics, moves toward him, but he moves back. She is humiliated by moving toward him. She can’t help it and she resents it.

Is he only afraid of being smothered? I think that under this fear is a worse, unacknowledged fear: he is afraid she will abandon him. He is not so afraid that she will possess him, but that he will not be able to possess her. (All property, adultery laws, all practices to “protect” and subordinate the woman result from his fear of her flight.)

When he commits himself to her, he feels his fear; he is humiliated by moving toward her. He would rather appear to be resisting her. Still, he needs her so he moves to her. Then he holds her so tightly, overwhelms her completely out of his fear of being without her; now she must bolt.

She usually does not flee publicly. She is no more able to admit her desire for selfhood than he is to admit fear of being abandoned. She abandons covertly. She disappears from him, slips out of his grasp — goes into her inner life, has clandestine affairs, burrows into children, undermines. Or when she learns she would also like to have a self, she doesn’t know how to get it. She uses him to kick off from, she establishes her self in defiance. When he reaches for her, she kicks him. He feels her phantomness and her rage.

He tries to hold on to her, but now what he uses to bind her to him also smothers him, and he is in a rage with her for harnessing him and it is his harness.

On the surface, even as he tries to possess her, he wants to look as if he’s in retreat. Even as she tries covertly to establish a self, she remembers she is supposed to be in a relationship. He retreats, she panics, is attracted by his resistance, moves toward him, tries to bind him on the surface even as underneath she moves away. She has forgotten altogether that she wants for her own sake to connect with him. He has forgotten this as well. He is smothering now; she has sacrificed herself. He is abandoned; she is moving away. They are both humiliated; they both feel rejected. There is one bad drama going in one direction, and one bad drama going in another.

But each wants to be independent and allied. Each feels unsafe and undeveloped alone. Each is not sufficient unto him or herself. Each would like to be a sovereign country making a binding treaty to establish a united nations, to acknowledge interdependence, maintain common open borders, trade, provide mutual defense, exchange, share history, culture, future. They would like this treaty, without shame, to be binding on them and on their future generations. She really wants to know that he won’t imperialize, colonize her if she shows him her treasures and opens her borders. He really wants to know she won’t join another federation after he reveals himself, that he can trust her to be loyal without having to invade her. He wants to know that she will develop her own culture and resources without attacking him and his history and culture in her press.

And if they carefully acknowledge their unacknowledged needs, if each tries not to humiliate the other for the need and desire to connect with, to love, to be loved by, if he can say, I’m really afraid you’ll abandon me, if she can say, I’m really afraid you’ll possess me, if he can say, I make it easy for someone to abandon me, if she can admit, I make it very easy for someone to possess me, if he can stand it when she says, I won’t abandon you, if she can trust him when he says, I won’t possess you.

If they can try to move in this direction we have a chance.

(Reprinted with permission of the LA Weekly.)

Deena Metzger
Topanga, California

Although I’ve no green thumb when it comes to gardening or tending plants, I know certain basic facts: sunlight and water will sustain growth of almost any weed. Affectionate concern, I’ve been told, in the form of prayers or soft music may achieve extraordinary bloom. So it is too, I believe, in the matter of keeping love alive.

Once, in my youth, I thought love could be measured by sensual gratification. After nine years of marriage and seven years of divorce and another illegal union, I realize how false was that opinion. Don’t I still love my former husband in my fashion? I left him for a consuming passion which was spent in less than a year, and yet I am still here with my current amour, bound by an inexplicable, oddly educated devotion and dedication to the growth of a relationship that can only be described as lovingly alive. Why do I stay?

What is it that keeps us lovingly together through seasons of change? Perhaps it’s the wisdom of maturation and something called “maybe-I’m-growing-wiser.” Nothing is perfect, not even the weather. I learn to accept flaws and imperfections, to be more respectful of my family, friends, strangers — living each day as though it were truly the last as I begin to appreciate the bittersweet gift of this mortal existence.

I have changed, hopefully for the better. I am more generous, thoughtful, less self-centered and have learned to bend and be more kind, and to be less critical while not giving in totally to strong winds that push and pull.

I practice compromise, surprise and trade-off. I get up earlier to walk the dog and make a lunch in appreciation for an errand I’ve been spared. I’ll be congenial at an unwanted holiday gathering as I recall my partner’s goodwill when my parents have visited. I’ll surprise with a gift for no occasion. I guess keeping love alive is a lot like finding meaning daily, providing reasons for waking every dawn.

Rochelle Lynn Holt
Westfield, New Jersey