Written By: sherridaley - • •

My friend Susan fell in love with a man from India about the same time I fell in love with a man 15 years my junior.  Susan and I breathlessly shared confidences and personal terrors, although I was smug in my conviction that my love with Z. would most certainly outlast her love with M.H.  After all, an age difference is nowhere near as difficult as the cultural and social combat zone an interracial couple has to duck through.

For four months, I was happier than I had been in years.  Z. was mad for me.  We’d meet in the City and have a late dinner and coo at each other over wine at Elaine’s. Then we’d try to drive to his place in Brewster, NY, but invariably, we couldn’t make it home without stopping along the way to make love in the front seat of the car.

In Brewster, we woke early and went to a nearby green market and drank hot cider and fed each other sugar doughnuts.  Then we’d walk around town until we couldn’t stand it anymore and we had to go home and make love again.  For hours, we’d loll around on the carpeting and read poetry and newspapers out loud.  I worshiped his peacefulness. I longed for his balance.

He’d cook, and I’d read.  We bought each other CD’s and tore out magazine articles we thought the other might like.  He wrote poetry; I wrote magazine articles.  It was a match made in heaven.  Secretly, I felt sorry for Susan who was uneasy and worried that it wouldn’t work out with her and M.H.

So imagine my stunned disbelief when Z. – some four months later, at a trendy martini bar in the theatre district – announced that our personalities were too different, that our relationship was getting in the way of his writing.  I was, I don’t know, he said, too overwhelming. The sex was too much, the whole thing was too “edgy”, too — “much.”

I cried way too loud and hard for public and the waitress brought me handfuls of Kleenex and linen napkins and Z. got the check and that was that.

When I got home, I threw up, embarrassed that at my age, more than 50, I was behaving like a schoolgirl. I was spared making those late-night weeping phone calls because he disappeared.  Poof. His phone number no longer worked, my letters were returned to sender, and I had  (barely) too much pride to call his parents in Maryland, who were, I figured, probably nearly my contemporaries.

Time went by.  I got over it. I quit throwing up.  And then he wrote me.  Nearly three years of silence and I get a letter from Elkins, West Virginia, in his crawling, lilting script that edges around the page and dips and floats and becomes little illustrations and blossoms of words.  “I have finally realized what love truly is,” he writes, and my heart fairly bursts. “… even though it may have seemed a one-way street – you giving to me – in time, the great Soothsayer painted yellow rings around the heart and touched love out of love.”

OK. Make what you want out of it.  I thought that it meant after all that time, he had decided that he loved me after all. I wrote him back — to a P.O. Box.  (Red flag? I didn’t see it.) What are you doing in West Virginia? I asked.  I can’t wait to see you!

He wrote me back.  The letter practically oozed out of the envelope, the first few sentences harmless enough — about what he was writing, the peace in the mountains, his connection with the Great Spirit out in the woods where he was living. Sorry it took him so long to write back, but he only goes into town about once a month. Other than that (Here, it starts to get strange.) he lives in a pup tent about 6 miles up the side of a mountain, where he writes his poetry and reads and communes with the Great Spirit. He has given up sex because it stands in the way of the true spiritual love of Nature.  He lives in the woods, celibate, eating trail mix and writing verse about bears and spiderwebs.  For the last three years.

I can’t breathe. I stare at the letter and think I may have made this up. Then, tantamount to slowing down and peering at a highway accident, I write and ask can I come visit.  He says yes.  He knows a nearby bed & breakfast where I can stay. He reminds me that he is celibate.

This is where I should have got professional care, but I don’t. I pack a bag and drive ten (10!) hours to West Virginia. I have at this time officially lost my mind.

All the way there, I am losing confidence, faith, and credibility, in that order. My friends and family back home won’t even talk to me.  I am on a solo mission.  I am going to visit a forest monk, a madman, a poet.  I have no idea.

Z. is waiting for me at the B&B when I arrive, standing outside in his khaki shorts and hiking boots.  He has a full beard and he is thin and sinewy.  I want to throw myself into his arms and bury my face in his neck. I want to make love to him until we both faint, but the space around his body screams, “Don’t touch!”  I stand about 6 inches away, and he takes me into a chaste hug.

I want to get back in the car and drive home, but it is like picking a scab.  I can’t stop.

I put my bag in the room upstairs while he made smalltalk with the proprietor.  Then we take a walk around the sweet little town of Elkins.  As usual, we talk about books and music, philosophers, poetry, things we hate, good food, and the way things smell and taste.  Pretty much things are the same except he lives in the woods and I am normal. I think I am normal. He introduces me to his friends: a calligrapher, a weaver, a restaurant owner, a musician.

I want to die.

He tells me about the Great Spirit and the balance of Earth and Sky.  He tells me he is going to try to live in the woods throughout the winter this year. Before this he rented an old aluminum trailer (no heat, no electricity, no running water).  This year, he thinks he can do it in the pup tent.

I can’t think of a thing to say.

He tells me about the flash flood last year where he lost everything.  He climbed a tree and watched the water tear away his tent and his little gas stove and boxes of books and matches and bags of dried fruit and almonds.  He hiked around afterwards and recovered what he could, dragged it all back.

He is 40 years old. I ask him what his family thinks.  He tells me that they are making peace with it.  I nod.

After dinner, I buy a bottle of wine and retreat to my little room at the B&B with a book.  Z. drives his old beat-up car up the mountain.

In the morning, I decide to leave before he shows up, but Z. is oblivious.  He shows up, all bright and eager to show me his paradise in the woods.  He has brought no one else there. No one.

It takes us nearly an hour to get there, counting the barefoot hike through the grass and moss, and it is beautiful.  Breathtaking. Trees as tall as the sky; moss like thick carpet, thicker than carpet; a pool just bathtub size fed by a clear mountain spring-fed stream; fleshy yellow flowers; low-growing herbs that send up deep fragrance when you step on them. The sun powers through the trees and makes shards of light that cut all the colors into pieces.

In somber contrast, his little tent is dirty and it smells bad.  His bedding is grey, but I still want to pull him in there and make love. He shows me his little stove and box of books.  He says he needs a new flashlight so he can read.

On the way back to the car, we stop at a stream and sit down. Z. recites me a poem that he wrote about a bird and a bear.  I think that if he would touch me on the arm, I would explode into hundreds of pieces of plastic.  Then I think that if he had asked me to stay and sleep in his dirty tent, I would have stayed.

When I got back in the car to drive home, I set my hands at the 10 & 2 position on the steering wheel and decide I will not cry. What the hell was that? I think.  What the hell was that?  Somewhere in Pennsylvania, I stop and buy a bottle of wine which I drink out of a paper cup the rest of the way home. while I keep thinking, what the hell was that?

Susan and M.H. are still together.  They have a terrific relationship.








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