Monday, September 05, 2005

"I had the time of my life"—Something Magical Can Happen When a Person Stumbles Onto The Unexpected

Recently a friend took a detour into the exciting realm of intense feeling with what has to be one of the most fun things that could happen to a person during this time of year—a summer romance. He shared some of his thoughts about those feelings with me. With his permission, I share them here.

He writes:

"About a month ago, bored with work and desperate for a change of scenery, I escaped to the beach for a few days of self-imposed exile. Before too long, however, I was tired of all the solitude and tranquility and was ready to pack it in and head home. Then, I remembered why I'd come. I was forcing myself to relax, to do something different. Instead of packing the car to leave, I hopped on my bike and rode to the beach. After all, I'd been only a mile from it for two days without even once stepping out onto the sand and into the water.

It was late, and the small mid-week crowds were already making their way back to town. I parked my bicycle, trudged through the sand and surf to the far end of the beach, found a quiet spot, unfolded my towel, pulled out my iPod, and watched the waves rush up to me, crash, then recede again. A couple walked by, he holding her hand, with their heads turned to the sea. A man with headphones and a portable CD player was dancing solo on the packed sand. Two dogs chased a piece of driftwood into the waves.

Out of the corner of my eye I saw a man approach and wander further down the beach. He looked back and smiled. I noticed the glint from an earring on each of his ears. Tall and lanky, he collapsed onto a towel, and just as quickly got up and lumbered down the beach, head turned to the surf.

I chatted briefly with another guy who said he'd started coming to this stretch of beach because the one closer to town was too rocky. The city, he told me, had attempted to replenish the beach after winter storms eroded it, but instead they'd managed to do nothing but fill it with rocks. Anyway, he remarked, he liked the solitude here. Soon he said goodbye and my own piece of quiet returned.

It was hot and humid and beads of sweat started to roll down my neck. I tugged off my shirt and ran into the waves. On that sultry day in August, the water was frigid and a shock to my system. It occurred to me this morning, walking along that same beach under cloudy skies and beaten by a cool wind, that the temperature of the water seems to run counter to that of the ambient air. This morning, the water was warm and protected me from the breeze.

But on that day last month the sea was cold and the surf rough; the waves were relentless and tossed me a few times. I heard a voice speak to me from somewhere nearby. It was the tall man with the sparkling ear lobes trying to talk above the sound of crashing waves. We floated near each other sharing small talk until my teeth began to chatter and a wave threw us together.

A few minutes later we were sitting on his blanket. We talked a little about the area. It's new to me, I said. He told me it was his second season in town and that he was a traveling nurse whose next assignment was taking him to Connecticut. The sun was sinking low on the horizon. He asked if I'd be interested in seeing it set near the lighthouses in the bay of the neighboring town. We made a detour to a World War II lookout tower from which young soldiers searched the waters for enemy submarines, now open to beachgoers.

At the top of the tower, as a few kids listened to their shouts echo in the stairs below, we leaned against the railing, peering at the sea. He told me he was trying to get over a fear of heights. I wanted to step out onto the ledge to get a better view of the scrub beneath the tower and wondered how anybody so tall could be the least bit afraid of heights.

The sun set spectacularly behind a long-since obsolete, but charming, lighthouse. We drove back into town. He took me to a local cemetery to see how ancient grave markers had been preserved in the fabric of a contemporary brick retaining wall. Then we went back to his place, showered off the sand and sea salt, and went to dinner. Finally, at midnight, he took me back to my friend's house where I was staying. The day I thought would end many miles from the beach and in another state was ending instead right where it started.

A month has passed and the tall and lanky man and I have communicated regularly by e-mail ever since the week of our first meeting. We've also seen each other a couple of times, and spent this long Labor Day weekend alone together and with our friends.

I often think how remote seems the possibility of meeting the "right" guy, somebody who I might consider the "one." I'm not suggesting that I've met him, yet. But after spending many moments talking with this man, reading his thoughtful pieces of e-mail correspondence, and meeting his friends this past weekend, I am prepared to say that he is the "kind" of guy I could imagine loving, the type of person to whom I could say, one day, "I love you."

It's a scary place to be emotionally, and always has been for me. Relationships are so tenuous. Love, faith, trust—these words are, for me, the verbal equivalents of Mount Everest. I've never been confident I could reach their heights. And I've lived many years under the impression that they were things nobody was capable of offering me. The thought of accepting those gestures, and more precisely believing in them, renders me as panic-stricken for oxygen as those intrepid climbers must find themselves on their way to nature's highest summit.

I'm trying to live in the moment in this new place, and mostly I'm doing it. But, it seems just as natural to wonder every now and again how far I might be able to go emotionally with this fine person, should opportunity take us there.

For the time being it's been a lot of fun. I've laughed a lot. I've surprised myself by how demonstrative and affectionate I've been with this person. I've even been able to sleep, actually shut my eyes and drift into unconsciousness, while inviting the embrace of this person without the slightest discomfort or hesitation. When he told me, after our first night sleeping together, that he was afraid he might have pushed me all the way to the other side of the bed in finding his favorite resting position (on his back), I had to laugh. After what seems like a lifetime of sleeping alone, I too have my own favorite place in a bed. And last night, when I woke briefly to the sound of his muffled snoring, I was happy to know that he too seemed equally comfortable sleeping with me.

For a long time now, I've thought that the state of "falling in love" was strictly the province of youth. I'm happy to know that I may still have the capacity for these very deep feelings. One thing we learn on the road from youth to middle age is the difference between infatuation and love. I'm clearly infatuated with this person. Nobody knows where it's headed; if anywhere beyond the special times he and I have shared during the past month. And maybe it takes the fun out of it to speculate. Better to look back on those events with fondness, and a little bit of longing.

In the film "Something's Gotta Give," Diane Keaton plays a character that never gave the possibility of love a thought. She finds it, of course, because as everybody always says, "it'll happen when you least expect it, when you're not looking for it." Late in the film, having pushed aside all her fears of intimacy only to have her feelings hurt and her heart broken, she says, "You can't hide from love for the rest of your life because maybe it won't work out...I let somebody in and I had the time of my life."

Summer is officially over. First meeting, then having the pleasure of getting to know this man was the perfect end to a season that always seems to me like a celebration of new friends, beach walking, dolphin sightings, long evenings, warm nights, and the sounds of cicadas outside a bedroom window. I’m not sure what happened to my own fears of intimacy, but my defenses are disarmed. All I can say now is, I let somebody in and I had the time of my life."

Photograph by Wesley Taylor