The kind you’re born with, the kind you choose, the kind that teach Catholic school
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Whenever my three-year-old, Les, had his friend Gary over to visit, they loved to play house, but always argued over who would get the starring role: Mom. After all, who in his right mind would choose to be Daddy, who went away in the morning and didn’t come back till dinner time? Mom stayed home and pushed the roaring vacuum cleaner, loaded the dishwasher and punched its buttons, ran the mixer, the toaster, the iron. She had all the fun.
We lived in a tract house on the edge of a small Idaho town, and my husband worked long hours in an industrial plant miles away. Every day I sat and stared out my window at the desolate sweep of prairie. (I would eventually be diagnosed with depression.) Meanwhile, Les and Gary, going contentedly about their housewifely projects, knew this to be the best of all possible worlds.
Kansas City, Missouri
The summer I was twelve, my friend Belly and I spent every minute of the day together, from the time I finished my oatmeal in the morning until it got too dark to continue playing baseball with the boys at night. Her name was really Shelley, but I called her Belly because her tummy was round and stuck out a little. She didn’t seem to mind.
Belly’s house was two doors down and right next to the railroad tracks. When a train went by, we would yell to the man in the caboose, “Throw me some chalk!” and he’d throw us sticks of fat white railroad chalk, the size and shape of a penis (although we didn’t recognize this at the time). We covered a lot of ground that summer, venturing far from our neighborhood. We often rode our bikes seven miles to the public swimming pool, where we donned matching plaid bikinis and lay on the hot, smelly concrete, vaguely aware of stares from the black and Hispanic boys lying next to us. Other times, we sold cucumbers door-to-door, caught grasshoppers in jars, or explored the immense, dark boxcars at the railroad yard.
That summer we also taught each other “the game.” (I think it was Belly who came up with it.) We went up to the hot, dark unfinished attic, locked the door, took off our clothes, and stood looking at each other’s breastless, hairless bodies. Then we lay down on top of one another and rubbed our bellies together, thinking that was how to “do it.” There was no kissing or petting, just the innocent pursuit of a new physical sensation, like diving off the high dive or eating mangoes for the first time. And there was no guilt or shame. The game was just one of our many fine amusements during that long, hot summer when the world existed for our pleasure.
The summer after I dropped out of Purdue, my mother decided to sell our house, situated in a decaying urban neighborhood, and move to rural New Harmony, “Site of two attempts at communal living,” according to the sign at the town limits.
One evening, I walked across the highway to the convenience store and found the clerk in a frenzy: a man had just driven off without paying for his gas. Fortunately, the sheriff was already in hot pursuit. Five minutes later, the sheriff returned and said, “I found him. Says he just forgot to pay. He’ll be around in a minute.”
Urbane and fatalistic, I stayed to witness the poor clerk’s disillusionment when the thief failed to come back. But I was the one in for a surprise: the man returned, paid his bill, and apologized.
New Harmony, Indiana
Having found Utopia, I have a few tips about how to reach it:
You can’t get there until your parents (no matter how much you love them) are dead, your children (no matter how much you love them) are grown, and you and your life mate have at some point said, “I love you,” from the heart, without any ulterior motives. (Good luck on that last one.)
You can’t get there unless you are getting paid for something you would do for free, which probably means you’ll have to retire. But you do need money, so first get a handle on your finances. If you can’t earn more money, spend less.
Having a good, companionable dog helps, so get one if you can. Also, two or three true friends. You have to get rid of the false ones. (Go ahead. You know who they are.)
Finally, you have to accept your own faults gracefully, without trying to convince anyone — including yourself — that they’re virtues.
For me, finding utopia has been like swimming a long way in rough water and finally reaching the shore — either that, or this is a mighty big whale.
Farmers Branch, Texas
As I crowded into a van with eleven strangers to ride into the Canadian wilderness, I wished the trip were already over. A child of microwaves and MTV, rootless, cultureless, and jaded, I was unprepared for what I would find.
Over the next three weeks, I paddled a canoe through lakes and rivers, ate healthier than ever before, and plunged into unknown territory. I experienced something I’d never known: a sense of community. We gathered in a circle before meals, and I grew to respect the food I put in my mouth. I learned to live in my body, to feel all the dizzying ripples of the water, to love and respect the people around me, to see myself as a part of nature.
My first night back in civilization, we went to Pizza Hut for dinner, and I found myself crying in the bathroom; I had seen how easily the moon was eclipsed again by neon.
I awake to the aroma of coffee and cinnamon. In the bathroom I find the toilet seat down, the tissue roll full, and the toothpaste properly squeezed and capped. I brush my hair and it falls perfectly into place.
When I enter the kitchen, the kids have already left for school, and my husband kisses me and leaves for work. On the table, a bowl of melon wedges, enormous strawberries, and fat blueberries sits beside a plate of cinnamon muffins drizzled with honey and a steaming cup of coffee. After breakfast, I pick out the perfect outfit for work, and with only a touch of mascara, I look radiant.
The car starts, the gas tank is full, and no tires are flat. On my way to work, the traffic flows smoothly, and every light turns green as I approach. I enjoy my day, my boss compliments me, and time flies.
I return to a home even Martha Stewart would envy. After kisses and hugs all around, I sit down with my loving husband and enjoy a gourmet meal created and served with smiles by my honor-student children. Afterward, I look through the mail — no bills.
Then it’s off to the gym for an especially invigorating workout that leaves me glowing. On the way home, I stop for some groceries. Every shelf is stocked, every aisle is clear, and the checkout lines move quickly. I arrive home just in time to greet the prize patrol from Publishers’ Clearing House.
Lois J. Whitehead
Here’s my plan for Utopia: You move to a forested, bucolic California hamlet, snag a job driving a skip loader at the local pulp mill for sixteen bucks an hour, ski Mount Shasta, fish the Klamath (steelhead jerking like crocodiles on your high-test line), get naked in the Marble Mountains, and spend long, luxurious winters by a stone fireplace reading E. Annie Proulx, drinking fine dark lager, and living large on generous unemployment checks until work starts up again in the spring.
Here’s the reality: The mill goes bust, so you end up substituting for the school custodian whenever he’s too stoned to make it in to work. The town is bullied by a deranged, one-armed sheriff-mayor who collects antique dolls. Logging trucks barrel by your bedroom window eighteen hours a day (mostly at night). The main drag is a dirt track littered with snarling mongrels and horseshit. The only grocery is a mom and pop store that closes at six. The locals hate (hate!) any guy with hair down below his ears. And, worst of all, with so much free time for contemplation, your girlfriend soon discovers what an asshole you really are and flies back to Michigan.
And, oh yeah, you’ve sold your Cherokee (and your skis) to stock up on canned chili. And as for the fish — well, the fish aren’t even pan-sized, and they sure don’t cotton to your breed of worm.
Santa Cruz, California
When I was seventeen, I read Robert Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land, and it changed my life. Everyone in my close group of friends had read it, too, and together we decided to create among ourselves the atmosphere of free love Heinlein had imagined.
At first I was uncomfortable being so close to people, but gradually we became like a family. Some of us were physically intimate, and anyone who desired limitations was considered unenlightened. The pressure to abandon society’s norms was high. I let myself enter into many relationships at once, spreading my “limitless” love around. I became very close to the young guru of the group, and crossed the border into a same-sex relationship, feeling nervous, but enlightened.
As the group grew older, some of us (including myself) went to college. I thought I could persuade the people I met at the university to live by the same philosophy of free love, but that wasn’t the case. Suddenly, I found myself forced to live by different rules, and realized I was addicted to alleviating my incurable loneliness with many loves. When I could, I visited my old world, where there was always someone with whom to share my evenings.
By the time jealousy surfaced in the nest, I was more outsider than insider. People turned petty and vindictive, and the real world intruded on the fantasy. I was forced, finally, to grow up, to choose one partner, and to develop a mature relationship. What I once had viewed as the ideal way of life I now saw was merely an adolescent fantasy of never having to be responsible, an illusory protection from the pain of becoming an adult.
When I was fifteen, I hung out at the Last Exit, a coffeehouse frequented by long-haired, scruffy hippies who sat in the smoky room and played cards for hours. I wore flowing skirts, pretended that I wasn’t middle-class, and thought everyone I met there was wise and hip. When a heavyset man in his forties with a long, graying beard befriended me, I was flattered. He had been all over the country and loved to talk while we played spades.
One day, he and I walked to a park and smoked pot behind some bushes. I waxed philosophical about the problems of the world, but he seemed only half interested. When I brought up the subject of utopia — no more pollution, everyone living peacefully — he interrupted and said, “I’d be in utopia right now if you’d give me a kiss.”
It was the first of many disillusionments.
My maternal grandparents immigrated to the United States from Hungary at the end of the nineteenth century. Grandfather did very well, and in 1911 he and Grandmother moved back to the old country for good to enjoy their wealth, bringing with them two American-born children: a boy aged four, and a girl (my mother) aged three.
Grandfather died long before I was born. I knew him only from photographs, and my grandmother’s tales of their time in America. In my childhood in Hungary, her descriptions of the New York City skyscrapers seemed as fantastic as the rest of her bedtime fairy tales. I wanted to believe her, but the older I got, the more I doubted the truth of the tales.
Although born in America, my mother lost her citizenship when she married my Hungarian father. As the storm clouds of World War II started to gather over Europe, she tried to regain her U.S. citizenship, writing to an American relative to ask for a copy of her birth certificate. For a year, letters went back and forth. Then war broke out, the letters ceased to arrive, and our hopes of emigration were dashed.
During the war, I was sent to Auschwitz, and then Buchenwald. Once again, America became the center of my hopes. Would it intervene against Hitler? Would American troops open a second front? Would they arrive in time to rescue us?
When the war was over, I was the sole surviving member of my family. I made a new home in the Holy Land that was to become Israel, and I established a new family. It wasn’t until 1964, at the age of thirty-five, that I visited the United States. As the cab I took from the airport approached Manhattan, I got my first glimpse of the New York City skyline — skyscrapers, giant skyscrapers, right out of Grandmother’s tales.
I used to think that if I just worked hard enough, was diligent and sincere enough, I would eventually be able to sit back and enjoy a perfect life, my own personal utopia. Recently, however, I looked up the word utopia and found it defined as “a state of excellence existing only in theory and imagination.”
I wish I’d learned this sooner. Maybe then I would have stopped trying to mold my children into what I thought they should be. Fortunately, they eventually found their own voices, but for a long time I couldn’t hear them. I was too busy striving to be the ideal mother, wife, housekeeper, and career woman. My goal was to have wonderful children who never argued, a terrific marriage, and a spotless home.
My utopian vision never materialized. My marriage dissolved, my children developed problems I couldn’t solve, and I struggled to both work and keep house. I was terribly disappointed when I realized there was no orchestra of lush strings positioned just out of view to provide an inspirational soundtrack for my life.
It took me a long time, but eventually I realized that life goes on, heedless of my need to perfect it. Life is the mundane: paying bills, raking leaves, celebrating birthdays, working, playing, crying, laughing. Instead of allowing an unrealistic picture of the future to distract me, I now accept whatever is happening as perfect for the moment.
Barbara Le Lievre
Fort Bragg, California
On the first day of school, I met a girl named Ocean in my art class. She said she lived at Utopia.
“Utopia?” I repeated, not sure I had heard her correctly.
“It’s a place,” she said. “Why don’t you come over after school?”
So I did. We walked down a long dirt road until we came to a barn with many stained-glass windows, surrounded by a garden of corn and wildflowers.
“We each have our own dome,” Ocean explained. “Mine is over there, on that hill. My parents live in a bigger one by the creek. The barn is our community house; we have pancakes there on Sundays.”
I thought of the cramped room I shared with my brother, who snored a lot.
“Would you like to spend the night sometime?” Ocean asked.
“Sure,” I said. “Any time.”
Castro Valley, California
We went outside to see whether the grass needed mowing. Our yard was lush with forest green clover. We sat down among it, and searched for one with four leaves. Then we lay on our backs and looked up at the sky — a shade of blue one finds only in Caribbean waters and deluxe Crayola boxes. The breeze cooled us, the sun warmed us, and we inhaled the fragrance of fresh clover. The kids were fed, the rent was paid, and I felt well loved. What could be more perfect? Just then, a neighbor stopped by to say that we really needed to find a good weedkiller.
Sue Ann Lane
Every winter, as the sun paints long blue shadows over the snowdrifts outside my window, I think of chickens. Looking out at the old barn, I see a dandy chicken coop, and I imagine myself putting up a wire fence to enclose a dozen fat hens — regal pullets, chosen for their beautiful feathers and plump, egg-laying bodies — and one grand rooster, his comb crowning his tiny head with crimson fire. Their yellow feet would scratch for bugs in the dry summer dust. In the cool of the evenings, I would sit on the grass outside the pen and watch the pecking order being established. On dewy mornings, I’d walk down with a basket to gather the warm eggs. Then, in the afternoon, I’d use the eggs to bake a yellow cake while humming a tune and dancing around the kitchen, thinking, This is my heaven.
This dream streams through my consciousness in golden rays, like the sun, like iridescent feathers, like beaten yolks, filling me with hope.
At the tender age of nineteen, I married a hippie artist in my hometown of Kansas City, Missouri — not the most hospitable place to live that particular lifestyle. (It was around the time of the Charles Manson murders, and my father was certain I was going to end up in the news, too, due to my tragic choice of a husband.) There were only a handful of other hippies in Kansas City then, and we knew them all.
One night, my husband and I were driving around aimlessly when we spotted a caravan of unfamiliar hippies at a downtown gas station. They were driving three trucks with makeshift houses on the backs. Unable to resist greeting these kindred spirits, we pulled into the lot. There were ten people in all, ranging in age from fifteen to fifty. Their leader took one look at us and said, “Where have you been? We’ve been looking for you!”
The next thing we knew, they were following us back to our house to spend the night (although we didn’t remember inviting them). They unloaded their gear — pots of beans, bedding, bongos — and within minutes our house was filled, the bedrooms all confiscated.
My husband and I ended up in the dining room with a teenage bongo player and an ill-spirited hippie who communicated, with a minimum of words, that he believed in free love and that I was the current object of his desire. When my husband stepped in to point out that we were married, the guy showered us with insults about how unhip we were.
New York, New York
As a child in the early sixties, I learned about the future in school from textbooks and Weekly Readers. The future presented to me there was a happy paradise of video telephones, superfast transportation, outer-space and underwater cities, vacations on the moon, synthetic food that would be “more nutritious” than natural food, total cleanliness and sanitation, longer lives, and robots to do everything humans didn’t want to do. One ubiquitous image showed people living under huge, transparent domes — not only on planets that lacked oxygen, but also on earth. They told us this would create uniformly good weather, 365 days a year. “What about snow?” I asked my teacher, who responded that everybody preferred “good weather” to snow, and hurriedly went on to something else. I was confused. I liked snow. Thus came my first disillusionment about the future.
We children were told the world was moving inexorably toward a glorious future of endless possibilities, where machines and chemistry would enhance the life, liberty, and happiness of humankind. What we were not told (and what perhaps our teachers did not realize) was that the applications of science would result, not in more liberty, but in greater energy consumption per capita, greater separation from nature, and more intervention in natural processes. We were taught that the standards for medical care, product design, and community planning would be determined by impartial scientific investigation — not by the profit-seeking imperatives of big companies, as they were in reality. We knew only that, in the glorious future, science (the word technology would be introduced to us only years later) would serve humankind.
Ironically, the ideas I was taught about society moving toward a utopian future made me believe that society should get better. Even though I now see society’s development as more circular than linear — and realize that no problem is solved once and for all, that each generation will have its own pressing issues — I can’t abandon the idea that we should strive to make the world a better place.
Mount Kisco, New York
Penny and I parked the car about five miles outside the city, in a spot surrounded by fir trees. We made love in the back seat, the only sound the faint popping of gunfire at a rifle range about a mile away. My wife was probably at home in her studio. Penny’s husband, who sometimes punched her shoulder so hard he left bruises, was working at one of his gynecology clinics.
When I got home, my wife noticed the excitement in my eyes, but didn’t ask any questions. She already knew about Penny. Nor did I ask if she had seen her boyfriend lately — if she hadn’t that week, she would the next.
Our marriage eventually ended after twenty-one years. A few months ago, for the first time since the seventies, my work took me back to that city, and I called Penny, whom I hadn’t seen in almost two decades. We arranged to meet. Though her face had aged, her body was almost exactly the same. She told me I still looked good. When we made love, it seemed twenty years was erased. It wasn’t until I got back to my motel that I noticed the bruises; I hadn’t even felt her biting me.
I began to wonder if the old days hadn’t been a sort of utopia. Although I hadn’t been faithful to my wife — something that later on became very important to me — we had loved each other despite our infidelities. And there had been Penny. (It wasn’t until a third woman entered the picture that things began to fall apart.) Life had been better then because there had been more love, because we had stretched our capacity for love in all directions until it was beyond our power to control it.
I remember studying Thomas More’s Utopia in my high-school English class. (Or was it history?) I was filled with recognition and hope as I read about More’s ideal society — until, that is, my teacher explained how More’s concepts could never work; they were too idealistic. Deflated, I conceded that utopia was an impossible dream.
In my heart, though, I knew that utopia could exist. In my utopia, people would not be judged by clothing labels or the whims of fashion; no one would laugh mercilessly and tease others about their looks; groups would not exclude people simply because they were different. My utopia wouldn’t be perfect, but it would encourage everyone to be decent, truthful, and kind.
As I look back at my dream now, I find that I have tried to achieve that utopia in my life. I care little for the fleeting trends of fashion, choosing instead to wear what I like. I am sensitive to others, and include them whenever possible. I strive to be truthful in all my dealings with the world. (Yet a part of me still craves acceptance. I wish I could be more open and honest about my unconventional beliefs, but I still need my parents’ approval, even if it means not being true to myself.)
Although More’s vision was shot down by my teacher’s logic, the dream that arose out of my painful teenage desperation has borne fruit in my adult life. If you listen to the experts, decency, truth, and kindness may indeed sound like impossible ideals, but I can tell you that they work.
Carrie A. Smith
I live in Philadelphia and work in the psychiatric emergency-services department of a large urban hospital. My brother is a rabbi in a small Orthodox community in California. In his last letter he related to me this story:
In his community, there are two homeless schizophrenic women. Both refuse hospitalization or medication. They drop into people’s homes to eat, and occasionally to sleep. People speak to them on the street and give them money in the guise of payment for small goods or services. When it’s cold or wet, the community pools its resources and manages to get them off the street until the weather improves. If they aren’t seen for a while, people ask after them. “They are our people,” he wrote, “and although their mental illness still seems a terrible burden, at least they aren’t marginalized or anonymous, but feel, I hope, that they belong.”
His story reminded me of Warren. Warren is a paranoid schizophrenic whom I see about once a month. When he comes in after being on the streets for several weeks, I give him a blanket and a sandwich and let him sleep in the waiting room, though I have to wake him when the room gets too full. The emergency-room staff has reported me to my boss, saying that I am “only encouraging him.”
To my knowledge, I am the only person in this city who cares whether Warren ever eats another meal. The shelters are closed until winter (the mayor is saving money), except to women and children, or men with medical problems. If Warren ever stops coming in, I will ask after him, but I will have to assume he is dead. Today we sit on the wall outside the hospital, and I give him a cigarette. He tells me he is scared because he keeps seeing angels. “Why is that scary?” I ask. “Aren’t the angels pretty?” He says yes, they are beautiful. He is scared, he says, that their wings might get broken.
In this world, even the angels are in danger.
I’ve always wanted to give my life to a spiritual path. At twenty, I considered entering the convent. Later, after college and graduate school, I tried women’s circles, Buddhist meditation, chanting, witches’ covens, and other practices. Finally, just when I thought I had explored all the possibilities, I found yoga and joined an ashram.
For a decade, I resided in what we wryly dubbed the Yoga Hilton. Three hundred fifty people lived together cheek by jowl. For the first five years I shared a tiny room just big enough for two small bureaus and two beds. I had almost no money. It was uncomfortable and frequently challenging. Yet it was as perfect as I could ever imagine it being.
I took the precepts my teacher espoused and put them to work, trying to live life as if it were a yoga posture. And I changed. I opened my heart. I learned to love. I looked at the trees and saw the bark, the branches, the leaves with an acuity I’d never known before. I learned kindness toward myself and compassion for others.
My relationships at the ashram called on me to show my feelings, to risk confrontation, to risk intimacy, over and over again. Every day we worked together, ate together, lived together. We could not go home and complain about each other — we were home.
It was the most glorious time of my life.
In the late sixties and early seventies, I lived in two rural, hippie communes where people spent their days naked in the sunshine, and did hatha yoga and sweat lodges together. (In California, we steamed ourselves with bay laurel; in New Mexico, it was sage.) We participated in darshans and group meditations and peyote rituals. We planted gardens, built an adobe pueblo, and raised children. At night, we sang and danced around the campfire, got high, and made love under the stars. There were moments of bliss, hours, even days. Sometimes I was convinced that this was utopia, if only we could hold on to it. But we held on too tight, plastering rules and regulations onto our vision, telling ourselves we couldn’t maintain it any other way. Before, we had accepted everyone; now our motto became: “We will accept you until you prove unacceptable.”
Now, when I fly somewhere, I look down at the land divided into endless squares, the crisscrossing highways, the scabs of industrial development, and the sewers that our rivers and lakes have become. I envision skyscrapers tumbling down, grass growing up through the pavement, bridges sinking into the water. I see national parks returned to the wild herds, high grasses growing on the lawns of the rich, dams breaking, rivers resuming their natural courses, and fish returning to spawn in fresh water. All of the people are gone. Wolves and coyotes walk through the ruined cities, calling to their mates by the glow of a moon unobscured by smog or electric light.
My new vision of utopia is the end of civilization.
In the spring of 1982, I heard that Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh and his disciples were creating a spiritual community in Oregon on a dry, unfertile ranch known to the locals as Big Muddy. There, the environment would be treasured, nuclear families would be nonexistent, love would flow freely, and the community would provide for everyone.
I arrived at the ranch pregnant, unmarried, and full of hopes and desires. I imagined that, as in an Israeli kibbutz, each person’s children would be considered the children of all. Instead, I found that, while free love (with rubber gloves and condoms) was acceptable, pregnancy was not. Female disciples careless enough to get pregnant either aborted discreetly in Portland or, as in my case, were told to leave immediately.
My nine-year-old daughter, Julia, is writing a story titled “Fiona and the Everlasting Slumber Party,” covering pages of her notebook with the lovely, loopy cursive she’s mastered just this year. I interrupt to ask what would be her idea of a perfect world. She barely hesitates: “One without cars. We’d bike everywhere, and it wouldn’t smell, and all of nature would be happy.”
I pose the same question to Ezra, who is six. “One where Mommy would never die,” he says, “and where I get to roller-blade whenever I want.” His twin brother, Noah, looks up from his dessert — banana with cinnamon — and says, “Mine is where I could have ice cream and candy all the time.”
I sit at the kitchen table and think: For me, it’s them, just the way they are, in this house, on an afternoon like today. And, although I know this should make me feel happy, I suddenly want to cry.
I grew up in a family of eight, in a home where people yelled at each other often. Rarely, if ever, did I witness a conflict resolved by rational discussion or respectful disagreement. On the contrary, all our arguments deteriorated into personal attacks. The sensitive one in the family, I would inevitably run away and find someplace safe where I could bawl my head off — usually the spare bedroom of a friend’s trailer. There, I would contemplate going to Vegas to become a stripper, or to Alaska to gut fish. Of course, I never did. Instead, I would avoid my family for a week or two, then resume contact, hoping that this time there could be peace. Occasionally there would be, but it never lasted.
Years later, living on my own, I told my counselor that I panicked whenever I heard my roommate pulling up in the driveway because I was worried he would be in a bad mood. I felt that he, like my mother, had the power to determine the atmosphere of my living space. My counselor told me it did not have to be this way, and she asked me to describe the kind of home I really wanted for myself. At first, I made general statements about wanting to live in a place where people got along. She pressed me for specifics, and explained that, if I was able to articulate exactly what I needed, it was within my power to create such a place.
Not long after that, my roommate moved out, leaving me short on the rent. After many unsuccessful attempts to find a replacement, I learned that an old friend of mine named Molly had rooms for rent in a house her mother had left her. I gave up my apartment and moved in with her.
Living with Molly and the other women who rented rooms from her was hard work. The first year there, I spent a lot of time working in the yard, pulling endless weeds, determined not to resort to using herbicides. (I told Molly that someday we would write a book together titled Weed by Fucking Weed.) Molly was overwhelmed by the responsibility of caring for the house, which needed lots of labor-intensive work that she wasn’t qualified to do, but I accepted the challenge with enthusiasm. I needed some weeds to pull, some cabinets to refinish, a basement floor to strip and paint. I needed to wonder whether I would freeze my ass off in the winter. I needed to dig around in sewer pipes and do my laundry with an antique wringer washer. I needed the experience of doing things differently, and doing them for myself.
Over time, I have come to recognize our house as the kind of place I described to my counselor. Nobody yells. The television is never on. I can cry whenever I feel like it. We eat dinner together once a week, have heated debates, and laugh a lot.
Rebekah J. Smith
Hermosa, South Dakota
After waiting around for her all week, I find out Jessica’s parents won’t let her go, so I end up going by myself. I get lost along the way because driving is new to me. Everything is new. The parking lot is full of painted buses and pickup trucks, and there are strange people all up and down the path — long-haired men, women, and children, all naked or in partial states of dress. “Welcome home,” they say. I pass tepees and tents, and even a fire circle. The paths are bald and muddy from all the people scampering about.
Later, Pooh and I swim in a pond thick with mud from all the bathers. Monica suns herself topless. Robin reads the I Ching to me. I find a waterfall with Doug from California. Then it ends, and everyone packs up and moves on, as if it were never more than a dream.
Many years later, I hike back to the spot alone. The land bears no trace, not even a whisper of what happened there. The meadow is alive with bees swarming on red clover.
Asheville, North Carolina