by Marie A.
A personal reflection on love under the stars- literally.
For John, a prayer
The following is a true story, but with most names changed to protect the innocent and guilty alike. You know who you are anyway.
I am cursed to fall in love under the stars- or at least under shooting stars; meteors; Spanish meteoros- however you say it, an inadequate word for a phenomenon as otherworldly as love itself. These fleeting, disintegrating fragments of wonder from broken comets and, literally, star dust and detritus, seem inextricably and inexplicably bound to my ability to feel connected to the men in my life. Consider, if you will, the following:
Flashback to 1999; the Leonid Meteor Shower, November. I read about them in Discover magazine, and wanted to see them. Made arrangements with my best friend, Jennifer, my fiancée, Drew and my acquaintance, Vincent, to camp at Hickory Run State Park for two nights to catch the show. Jennifer dropped me off in a blinding snowstorm and abruptly left me to fend for myself- leading to an incident where I almost succumbed to second stage hypothermia while trying to reach the privy. Lesson learned- pee just outside the tent in inclement weather. The first night was Hell- I spent it curled in a ball shaking with cold under layers of blankets, waiting for Drew to wander back from work. No stars that night in the howling snow and wind- just cold. An interminable night.
Ah, but the following night- clear as a bell. Vincent showed up, expecting to meet Jennifer, who never actually returned. Providence, however, does indeed move in mysterious ways, and I’m not referring to the city council in Rhode Island’s capital. We were prepared for the cold that night, with a layer of carpet remnants on the ground, one zero-rated sleeping bag apiece, and wool comforters to keep off the frost above. Hats, and gloves and scarves and hot chocolate. Me in the middle, Drew to the right, Vincent to the left, all of tucked into our cocoons. The shooting stars began firing at sundown, intensifying as the night wore on, magnified by the crisp air and silent skies. Frost descended on our scarves and made lazy trailing patterns where our breath didn’t melt them away. I sent forth my spiritual essence to wander and play with the streaks of light that graced the sky now, horizon to horizon. I practiced letting my soul free to travel with them, whither and from they go, the way a friend had inadvertently taught me just a few short weeks before, in one of my life’s most poignant love lessons.
Three months earlier, I had watched the Perseids with this same group and two others- at a different state park, a warmer night, down by the lake, the stars reflected in its inky surface. I lay next to a young man so full of vitality and promise I thought I might implode from his very proximity. I fell head over heels in love that night- not so much with him as with his spirit, and what it stood for- everything that was missing from my life, like adventure, and future and hope and courage. My body was overcome and filled to bursting with desire; not for his physical body, for he was way too young, but for what lessons his own budding sexuality could offer me, downtrodden in spirit as I was from being engaged to the wrong man. A man who wanted me to be less present in the world, take up less space, and walk small so he felt less powerless. It was as if my young adult friend with the very old soul gave me permission, for the first time, to “Reach out and take your rightful place among the stars- catch hold and let it take you- don’t worry, no one will laugh at you if you try”. Daring me. Challenging me- he was a very challenging person, who passed through my life briefly but left an indelible mark. Like some of the meteors we gazed upon that night- brief in duration but leaving a trail of shimmering glory when they crossed the sky. That night, I sweated and shook and fell profoundly in a kind of love I had forgotten even existed. My own spirit quivered like a bowstring as I observed my friend just breathing in and out. It soared keenly, falcon-like, when I watched him settle into a peaceful sleep. I resisted reaching out and touching him with every fiber of my being, fighting every urge of nature with an equal moral urge that shouted, “NO! Don’t break the spell. Hold it in your hands and heart and let it fill you. Be uncomfortable in its presence, let it dare you. If you touch him, you will die”. Every time now I wonder if have the willpower to restrain myself from some dastardly earthly desire or another, I think back to that night, and wonder if there ever was a woman who showed more restraint than I did on that extended evening, displaying a morality profound only because of its inaction. Absolutely nothing happened, except, well, for me the earth moved. A little. If you’re reading this, you know who you are, damnit, and I know you’re laughing at me. So be it. I never forgot the lesson, and for that, my young friend, I thank you.
Coming forward again to that November now, it’s easy to see in hindsight how much I distrusted myself, and went back more than once to the comfort of the man sleeping to my right beside me; who loved me but feared me, and, by fearing me, trembled before life itself. Who wanted a safe existence and decisions made for him. Who I discovered screwing my best friend when they thought I was asleep. Whose loud snoring now, and complete disinterest in the sky show, made me tired to my bones. The way I’d been tired for over a year through his unfaithfulness. Fortunately, there’s nothing like a meteor shower to remind you just how fleeting and small life really is. In a fateful moment, I glanced over to the left at Vincent, who was watching the starry trails with fierce intent, and realized, under the starlit sky, that I’d never really looked at him before. With his open, curious gaze now intent on me, I was struck suddenly that he was feeling exactly what I had been 3 months prior- he saw me the same way I’d looked upon my young adult friend beside the lake. I tried him on for size in my mind, and found my numbed body awakening, and not slowly, as if from stupor, but all at once, as if springing uninjured from a trap. Every streak of light across the sky, as we counted the meteors, was stoking my own inner fire. This time, it wasn’t my spirit that came alive as much as it was my body, and its inner recesses of carnal spirit and female ancient wisdom. I longed to press my body against his strong chest, to be held, to feel the warmth encircle me and shelter me. I ached to wrap my thighs around his waist and hold him in ecstasy. I trembled all over with frank physical desire for this virtually unknown man. Again, I restrained myself, permitting him only to boldly take my hand in his (my fiancée was sleeping on the other side of me after all) But oh what power there is in “just” holding hands! The unbridled energy flowed through me with a jolt, reminding me at once of everything that was wrong with my life.
The rate of meteors’ falling intensified, and the night was lit up at times in their incandescence. We remained motionless, entranced in their spell as we simultaneously wove a complementary one, silently, of our own making. For me, I was feeling the sheer effect of awakening kundalini that night, that distinctly female life force that ebbs and flows with power and delight throughout our lives. I knew without a doubt that the final end to my disillusioned engagement was drafted at least in outline form that night, and it was a moment of exquisite joy. It was, in a word, liberating, and I fully understand the raw sexual power that can bring two attention-starved people together in an inescapable confrontation. I fell asleep facing Vincent, and awoke with him staring wordlessly into my eyes, reading my every desire as openly as if written in manuscript form and placed into his hands with a splash of the sultriest perfume. Of course when I reached to kiss him Drew awakened, none the wiser, and broke the spell. Thank the heavens he never realized what had transpired. It was another month before Vince and I were freed to grant our mutual wish, again, sleeping under stars, watching for meteors, and delighting in the soulful presence of the other. Our love was always tinged with that raw energy, open to the demands of higher powers, and always maintained the essence of that innocence and humility wrought by sharing those moments of pure natural beauty with each other in the witching hour.
What on this green earth ties my love to the heavens? I had searched far, wide, and in all the wrong places- mine and everyone else’s, it seems- with great longing; to fill a void I did not realize existed until I made love to another man under the comforting familiar presence of the Perseids, three years later. I realized with a flash, in that moment in August, 2002, what it was I was really looking for. For as much as Vincent and I had perfect physical chemistry, and I do mean perfect, he did not make me feel safe, and distance eventually separated us. I was struggling to free my voice when I accidentally awakened my body again. Cruelly, I found the perfect man, and made wonderful love in a starlit field under the prodigal display of another meteor shower, just weeks before heading overseas on assignment for two years. Once I left, I was never to experience his touch again. Lying in his arms that special night, I realized that I had come full circle, in finally consummating a love so deep and pure I had held it like a fragile jewel in my heart of hearts for some 14 years. As Daniel traced his fingers lightly down my spine and laid me down on a fur wrap set in the cold dew, dropping his lean body on mine to kiss the hollow of my neck, I was finally able to let go of my unrequited first love and fully embrace the one in my presence. It had to happen under the meteors, you see because that’s where it had started for me. I fully realized the power that comes from concatenating the liberation of one’s mind, awakening of the spirit, sheltering strength from the heart, and the bonding with another human being’s soul. For the first time, perhaps ever, I was free, and exactly where I needed to be. He held me, and I forgot the difference in our ages, professions, and experiences. I was one, and I understood bliss. I was, for the first time, safe, and simultaneously powerless in his presence and powerful in the universe. I understood perfectly the concept of surrender. I haven’t actually felt like that again with a man since that moment. Perhaps I am still waiting, after all. Walking away from him to fulfill my dreams was one of my toughest moments ever, and I still wonder if it was worth the cost. I meditate on it under the stars today when I need to remember I am a woman of power and grace. All I need to recall for comfort is that night when his body and soul melted perfectly into mine, and the world faded away except for our heartbeats.
There were other meaningful starlit excursions for me: Kevin, my freshman year of college, a veritable force of nature, dancing with me under the stars and in the rain. Joachim, born in Kerala India, braving the cold Adirondack winter night air to stargaze with me, always fighting with me whenever we tried to determine our place in each other’s lives. He’s married now, living on the West Coast. Adam, who wouldn’t learn where the Big Dipper was, let alone search with me for the elusive Southern Cross- I should have taken that as a warning in and of itself! For him, any inquirious gaze to the heavens was a mortal sin. Now there is Ray, who filmed the total eclipse of the moon from what is now our back yard. He’s not so much into meteor showers, however, but there’s still hope for him. Ken, the bumbling fool, who remained completely unmoved when the Northern Lights lit up the sky with the strength of daylight- again, a hint in the wrong direction I should have heeded before it was too late. Excursions with girlfriends, like Cindy and Dani and Pam, to stargaze, redolent with their own different kind of power, and life-fulfilling in their own ways. I am thankful for the placement all of these treasures have taken in my life, and from them have gained much wisdom.
No story of my doomed love under the stars would be replete, however, without a final homage to the man who started it all for me- my greatest unrequited love, the savior of my adolescence and young adulthood, my warrior, and my soul companion: my dear friend Jack. It is said that your first love is the most powerful. Mine was perhaps more so due to circumstances; the bitterness of a particularly nasty divorce, taking on adult responsibility too young, and being a victim of emotional incest and blackmail and rape. Camp was my haven from insanity; for one blissful week every year I was more than myself, I was a counselor to the young, I had purpose, my presence meant something. Over several years, Jack became my tutor and mentor, and in a strange reciprocation, I became his. We were friends, with eight years separating us. One year, I don’t remember which, I realized that he always gave ME his name tag at the end of the week, despite all the other girls swooning over his beautiful eyes. He inducted me into the secret woodcraft society (Shadow Patrol), a boys-only group until I joined. The next season, I realized with a shock I had waited all year for his hug on the last day of camp. The following year, we started watching the Perseids together on the last night, camped out by the fire ring with Dan and George and Steve, others of the Shadow Patrol if around. It became a yearly ritual. We lay, laughing and telling stories and dreams; on whatever we had on hand- carpet remnants or tarps or blankets or garbage bags. It didn’t matter. The year I turned 16 at camp, he kissed me the first time. I was both terrified and elated. The year I was 17, he tried to tell me he was in love with me, and wanted me to be more than a camp girlfriend, and I was unable to respond. I had just recovered from being raped, and couldn’t give my trust at that time to any man, even him. He held me, and the crushing pain inside me went away momentarily, for just that night. In that compassionate moment of kindness, he became more than my friend- he crossed the line into soul mate. I never told him why I had to push his affection away, though, and I’m not sure he understood. It is one of my few regrets.
Each year after that, we waited breathlessly until that last precious night, and found a way to hold each other under the light mist, or the stars, or the meteors, or whatever else we had to accompany us in the celestial manner of being. A little kissing, a lot of stillness and holding but never more. We never crossed any physical boundaries of no return, as much as we desired to. Each year, he made the empty place disappear for just a few hours; enough to sustain me for another year, nourishing my fragile soul from the inside while the meteors challenged my mind to expand, and grow from the outside. He gave me courage to fight for my very sanity and rightful place in the world. He praised my skills while honoring my body. He’s the first one of only three men I have ever danced with. Did he ever realize what he meant to me? Probably not, because I never even admitted it to myself, until it was too late.
Jilted the first of many times by Drew, in my junior year of college, I begged a day off work to go see Jack, for the last night of camp, for our ritual under the shooting stars. I told him everything- I even proposed to him that night. He was strangely reticent, and said nothing. Nothing! My entire being was screaming in agony. I pour my heart out, and he says nothing! I had been completely mistaken! I didn’t know what I was doing! All these years, I was just a cheap diversion. I wasn’t marriage material. Worse, I was deluding myself, I didn’t know how to read people. I was a fraud. At the core, the mantra that browbeats all women, “I’m not good enough”. Dejected, I returned to school to reunite with Drew, and give our already lackluster relationship another try. At least it was something- I was so afraid the feeling of nothingness would consume me alive without it. I wasn’t strong enough yet to face the world alone.
Jack never betrayed my heart- it turns out he had just gotten engaged to another girl, who he liked but did not love, and kept his promises to her, promises he keeps to this day. He has been a constant companion and friend in my life. When my spirit or his needs encouragement, we visit in our dreams. He opened my eyes to mysticism. His dream hugs restore rightness in my world; he is still my warrior. That is how I envision him- war paint and buckskin and all! We have kept in touch in the real world, making small talk, celebrating birthdays, sharing milestones and accomplishments. I’m never sure how much to tell him, or not, so I play it safe, not wanting to lose him a second time. I realize now with perfect clarity that I am constantly seeking to relive those feelings of safety in the arms of my warrior, with every new man I bring into my life under the greatest auspices of hope. The meteors’ power bring me closer to the truth in my own heart, and, because of my memories with Jack, put me in a safe place to make a comparison, fair or unfair, to what Jack meant to me. Still means to me. Under the same judging light of the stars, I relived its spirit with my young friend; I beheld its untapped physical power with Vince, and I touched its truth and purity that one time under the stars with Daniel. Sometimes I see glimmers of it with my current partner, but typically his presence is much more reserved, and thus safer. I wonder, if that feeling were suddenly fully present and sustained in my life, would it devour me? Would I disappear? Would I combust, and like the Phoenix, reawaken with a flame that didn’t fall to earth in a fiery blaze? Would my soul be able to expand to take it all in? Could I change the world? Am I doomed to only feel loved when the stars are out?
Just last year, I finally had opportunity to see Jack again in person, and spend some time talking to him one-on-one. I was surprised when he chose to talk about our unrequited feelings. I listened carefully as he described his life in a loveless marriage. My heart goes out to him. I have been in loveless relationships, in wrong relationships. Always, the wrong ones were with men who couldn’t be bothered to look towards the heavens with me for more than a brief moment. I think it says something of my expectations- perhaps I want no less than a man willing to face the Creator head-on. Are people like us set up for disappointment, I wonder? Anyway, I described some of my path to Jack, my recent years; including challenges, heartbreaks, dreams, and successes. He listened thoughtfully for a few moments and then said, in a voice I could not decipher, “Well I’m sure now I made the right decision”. He went on to tell me that he chose to let me go, as he didn’t feel he could ever keep up with me, or match me. He didn’t want to hold me back, and now felt validated for feeling that way.
I have thought about this long and hard for almost a year now. For one thing, it was a relief to know that the feelings were at least reciprocated- until he spoke those words, I hadn’t actually been sure. I have been successful in some ways beyond anything I ever imagined. I have also sunk to the depths of pain in other ways, and fought my own battle out of the living hell known as depression. I have been deeply and profoundly lonely most of my life. Would he really have held me back, like he envisioned? I want to look him in the eye now, and say to him, or shout so he listens, so he hears, “But it isn’t really your choice to make for me, when the stars literally chose you for me!” I want to shake him. I want to cry. I want the years of emptiness to well up inside me and leak out, so I can be filled again. There’s a lot I would have given to have been able to spend these years with a man like him at my side, encouraging me to take my place among the stars that brought us together. If we burn out, it just means we had the courage to once actually be on fire, as the old saying goes. Unlike the meteors, our own inner flame can be restored by the right kind of love. Until that love takes permanent residence in my life again, I have a special rock that Jack painted for me as a reminder of its existence. I have fleeting moments of perfection witnessed under the stars with other men who shared part of the journey with me. I am truly blessed by the knowing that the depth of my devotion can be tested by a simple excursion out under the shooting stars. I hope one day I’ll be able to catch one of those falling stars and bring it Home with me, where it belongs. Most women are not lucky enough to know where to look. For me, well, I’m extraordinarily lucky, I have been many times blessed, and, well, the Leonids are coming up again…