Audio version read by George Atherton – Right-click to download
He comes out of the motel bathroom and sees me: sprawled across the second bed with a pillow over my face. Of course he leaps right on me. And acts like he’s going to smother me. Squealing with delight, I push blindly at his head, smacking and choking him. We’re both laughing. He quits … eventually.
We settle back – in our separate beds – to wait out the snowstorm, drinking the mandatory weak beer and enjoying the break from ordinary life. The break ends tomorrow. We’ll spend the last day skiing and then drive an extravagant five hundred miles back to the boring routine that made it all possible.
Why do you unbuckle your belt when you pee? He’s flummoxed. Briefly. He answers casually, explaining the nuances of a button fly. I let my thoughts drift around and inside that fly, enjoying this involuntary attraction, reliving our ridiculous games, not regretting feeling smutty. Earlier today while he was showering I had similar thoughts and quickly got off through my clothes, taking cover behind a duffel bag and not bothering to close the curtains or stop when a maid walked past and glanced in the window. I finished as he did, just in time before the door opened.
A book opens as I pick it up. It’s The Air-Conditioned Nightmare and I start reading the words in front of me, words that describe the awful sameness of the American landscape, particularly its roadside motel rooms. To share the coincidence I read it aloud and shudder. How come no one notices how ugly our lives really are? We’re so caught up in the stories we tell each other that we ignore the reality under our noses. We have inherited this way of being; the terrible dream is now ours to propagate as-is or transform. Repeatedly I remember and forget, remember and forget. We all do. We are in this together.
Our next round of getting physical comes soon enough: thanks to a flaky air conditioner, as it happens. He has spent a while playing around with it and finally has it working. All he seems to do is play around. He does it so well. Irresistibly well. And it mostly works. On me, anyway. Feel that, he says, holding his hand in front of the vent. I can’t reach. So that I can, he lifts me up bodily. For some reason I melt. These silly gestures of his do that to me.
A lust for life burns hot inside me. Life must triumph over the greed and carelessness that our civilization enables: razed mountaintops and vacuous butchery, countless species and cultures gone extinct, proselytized abuse and devastation and waste and illness and misery. Yet even in the eye of the storm with accelerating death and destruction all around – and to this our own existence (selfish genes!) contributes, owes itself to and is in jeopardy of – we still must find joy.
When he and I make love we follow a precise yet undeclared pattern of debauchery that reaches a climax who-knows-where. From our first meeting we have naturally behaved boldly toward one another, tumbling and wrestling and groping and reveling in reckless exploits like fools. He is like a juvenile tiger: rough but tender, aggressive yet gentle. He embodies the whole, a reflection of life as a whole: endless paradox and interconnectedness.
If humanity survives, it will be because we finally have learned to love life.
So far I am a revolutionary among my peers in my love for the living, in this radical and fierce passion for the informed action that sustains life. The day has not come when the majority adopt this burning paradigm, but it is coming. It must be, because for some of us it is already here inside our heads – and if we can change, so can the rest and therefore so can the world.
Those of us who have changed are the intermediaries between the wisdom of our ancestors and our kin in the community of life and the pure, arrogant folly of the civilized – also our kin. Just as no one doubts the earth to be round, to revolve around the sun, no longer can we imagine ourselves separate from and superior to the world. Changed minds will incrementally create the new reality and make our culture’s sweeping delusion of human superiority – and the worldwide suffering that delusion causes – obsolete.
He ravishes unpredictably, exercising restraint enough to be subtle and intriguing: taunting, cornering or pinning me, complementing tendencies I didn’t know I had. Simply wondering about his next move is gratifying enough for me not to ask outright and risk spoiling our real or imagined rapport. I am addicted to the uncanny way these encounters arouse within me an acute awareness of death – of the sacred within the profane, of the mystery within the living.
Change is nothing to be afraid of. Nor are other people anything to be afraid of. They are just like you and me: created by our culture and just as inconsistent, filled with despair and filled with hope, all at once. We got ourselves into this fucked-up state. Our culture, that is, made a huge mistake in thinking we could break the law of life. But we can change. It wasn’t always this way; we – as we are – are not the last word on humanity; this is not how it has to end; there is another vision-culture to be in, one that fosters life.
He is a ravenous lupine savage degenerate crapulous nerdy dirty athletic intimidating moody aloof provocative volatile endearing absurd and brilliant animal. A wonderful partially civilized hybrid whose unabashed primitive qualities I duly admire. I must generally resist my urge to touch him while welcoming or initiating these exceptions, periodically crossing some unspoken boundary as if even such relatively minor contact with his peculiar combination of traits transmits a critical exuberance that amplifies the capacity for wonder and awe without which I would expire.
My devotion to the world as a whole has reached a tipping point: I would instantly give up every comfort if that meant things could turn around. If only this were enough: I hereby renounce industrial agriculture and the catch-22 of a car and a job and cheaply manufactured goods and medical doctors and sugar and growth and the protection of the state and computers and phones and the opera and indoor plumbing and road trips and tennis shoes … in a word, civilization itself. I do this in exchange for nonmaterial wealth: lightheartedness, harmlessness, mental health, real freedom and survival.
We each do what we can.
Lauren Alnwick-Pfund is a recent graduate of College of the Atlantic with a degree in Human Ecology.