Medicinal Embrace

“I hate when someone cuts me off, and then flips me off as if my very existence provoked the act.”

She nods, not lifting her eyes from the words on the screen, and mumbles a “hmmm…”

“But the worst part is that I get so angry about it, cursing out loud, speeding up, trying to make eye contact to give the person the stink eye and stab them with my utter disgust. Why would I even care? Why would I make myself so worked up?”

Still bathed in the glow of the screen and not looking up, she responds distractedly, “I don’t know.”

“And I immediately check myself and wonder how I could lose my cool like that, let someone just take me out of myself into the hate zone. My thoughts get ripped from wherever they were to this horrid place some stupid stranger took me to–with my permission. It frustrates me that I cannot resist…cannot NOT react.”

She looks up from the computer, and turns all the way around in her chair, 180 degrees, and faces her now–she with her back turned who rummages through the refrigerator as her complaints dissolve into questions that perplex the vegetables she picks up one by one–broccoli rabes, Japanese eggplant, and summer squash–examines and then shuffles to the far side of the shelf.

“Then my reaction to having reacted like an ass, an overly angry ass, is even worse, just berating myself for being out of control and habitually reactive. I mean I just want to let these things pass without getting my adrenaline pumping—just once. But the whole thing is just one big ugly pattern that I can’t change….ingrained, like….a disease…Have you seen the…? I think I put it…

Oh! I didn’t hear you sneak up behind me. Aw baby, that’s so nice…you’re so toasty warm. Just what the doctor ordered mmmm…”


A Sudden Slant of Cynicism

“We toggle the gas pedal of politics between zealotry and apathy,” she complained. “One day we parade in protest for rights, wrongs and indifferences of some group, some perp, some activist, some governmental faction that failed or should not even exist, and the next day we go home and order up Chinese, bitching about how long the delivery service takes to go two city blocks.”

Her dilated pupils betrayed the calm cynical shellac of her words.

I wanted to reply with something equally poised and stunning, but my mind was stuck on crystals. Sometimes I get like that, in a mental tic. I read that quote by Stendhal earlier. 

What did Stendhal know about the process of crystallization, of solutes and nuclei, when he  teased out the strands of love, a taxonomy of four–the usual suspects like passion, ego, appearance, and lust? Something like that.

“I call ‘crystallization’ that action of the mind that discovers fresh perfections in its beloved at every turn of events.”


We submerge others in the playground of our projections, our imagined lovelies that just get lovelier–because we want it so.


Sylvia Plath wrote plainer (“I think I made you up inside my head”).

“I believe you,” I replied to fill the lull of exhaustion her statement left. “So what are we going to do to change the world? Order lunch?” 

I chuckled.

She stared through me, and my thoughts squinted, wondering what lay behind me.


A Touching Tale of Healing Touch

Evan was not my first love. My heart framed in poetry books, I sought love early. By fourteen I had had my first heartbreak and by sixteen, I was initiated to the world of embattled sex my mother fear-burned into me:  woman as fortress and men as invaders.  


It was the 70s and free love was the slogan but not the practice. I was not the only young woman who paid the bodily price of losing what I did not understand I had–self-love, real love. 


So when I fell in love with and married a French man a few years later, love was permeated with heady visions of Romantics like Byron and Wordsworth, but sex was informed by the attitudes of Plath and Sexton, hardened and cynical. 


In my mind, love and sex were distinct and only the former was indispensable.


I loved Jean-Marc, but we were not so much “in love” as we were good friends. To me, that was more important. 


Besides, it was clear I was not his physical type. He had had a girlfriend when I met him in college, a French goddess of natural beauty, as if she emerged from the heather, golden smooth skin delightfully coating her delicate bones and showcasing her eyes of sea blue. 


She was the essence of what I deemed poetic femininity at the time. And I was nothing like her, not delicate, soft, supple, petite or graceful. I wasn’t French. I was New York, bookish and big. 


But several years into our marriage, I grew thinner, more athletic. I struck a lean, tall figure with improved grace and balance from running and tennis. I had transformed the book worm smoker of pubs and diners around New York to an outdoorsy athletic competitor in California.


When I separated from my husband, I was in the best shape of my life, 28 years old with a hard body everyone noticed but me. 


That is when I met Evan.


Evan taught me to love my body. I met him after my husband confessed that he was in love with someone else, a friend he had grown up with in France. Even though that relationship did not pan out, both of us needed time to sort things out. 


In reality, the separation between us occurred long before, had been growing inside me. Jean-Marc’s vision of me affected my own. I was a rebound, the consoler and good friend when the goddess dumped him one New Year’s eve. 


I was no beauty, but I was comfort.


His eye for aesthetics and style were distinguishing features of my attraction to him but also the very features that attracted him to others, beautiful, lean, olive-complected men I later came to find out. 


So why did I choose someone who could not love my body? Over the years, I have considered that question. 


Perhaps the body-mind division I fixed early on, prioritizing the intellectual over the physical sublimated my bodily emotions–etched the picture of an unlovely woman in my mind.


But I imagine, poor body image grew out of many seeds: my parents’ relationship, genetics, cultural dictates, social influences and my own love relationships. 


Though Jean-Marc and I shared a love that made us grow in the comfort and safety of that umbrella love of young adults, he could not love me intimately, the way a lover sighs at the sight of his beloved’s nakedness. And we couldn’t talk about it for the pain and the guilt. But the elephant in the room nearly crushed me. 


Eventually, I was flattened. I no longer had desire–until Evan. 


I fell in love with him in a cafe in New York. He spoke soothingly about presence–being present in each moment–and though I had read my zen and Heidegger, I was witnessing the words rather than thinking about them. 


He warned me beforehand and then he touched my hand and said, “You’re a writer; describe the experience of my hand.” Of course I didn’t know what he meant; I only said I wanted to be a writer, and I was off balance with his touch.  


So I described how I felt uneasy with a near stranger’s touch. To which he asked, “Does it feel warm? soft? rough? Can you feel the arced tips of the nails unforgiving yet pleasantly smooth?”


I hadn’t even thought of the physical sensation. I never did. All passed through my mind first and the physical was always sublimated, denied or ignored. Probably why I rarely saw a doctor, going about my business trying not to think of what ailed me.


Later, his first touch of studied tenderness opened my eyes and aroused passion I buried long before I knew its heat, its colorful flavors. He touched me, what was before his eyes, not a projection of me. 


And then he took me on a tour of the secret vales and rich verdure of my body. It blazed real love.  


Love–true love–is presence in touch; it needs no longing, fantasy, style, grace or poise–merely acceptance in being. 


When I embraced my own beauty, uniquely my biological experience, replete with singular angles and curves, scars and splotches, I learned to be heart-wise loved by someone who could love me–all of me–and confirm I was worthy of another’s hand softly sweeping the hair off my brow. 


My feminine, I learned, was desire—being—in touch.  


How can we ever know how others sense the world? The question should evoke a yearning to find out without the hope of ever doing so. However, it is the practice–the focused being of and with others–that matters. It’s how we connect, avoid loneliness, while maintaining our own integrity.


It is how we find love, real love.


Touch led me from interpreting the world to experiencing it. Getting out of my mind, possessed with others’ formulations of love and sex, and into the moment–breathing presence; it brought me the fullness of acceptance, as a body, my body, with someone else’s.  


No, Evan did not teach me acceptance by his touch; eventually, I was able to receive his touch by my own clarity–of space, moment, nearness of another’s presence becoming my own.  


He taught me to “see” like the scientists and philosophers and lovers we are–empirically, intellectually and emotionally.  


I wasn’t rushing headlong into someone else’s story for me. I had learned to better integrate my body and mind, which took examining inherited perceptions: those of my mother, husband, authors, and culture.  


It took practice to own my body. It still does.


And being in the precise moment recalled by someone’s touch–healing in its grounding.


Evan lies next to me now, his pillowed head in the shadow of mine. I am reading, elbow-propped, turned away. 

We are prone, bare, having just settled into bed for the night. Humid heat of a New England summer makes flannel impossible and silk torturously sticky. We sleep this way most nights four seasons long.

His body is serpent shape mirror of mine with inches of space between us, creating the comfort of a cooling air canal. We are art in symmetry.

His hand, open palmed, smooths across the contours of my hip, waist and shoulder, smearing heat like oil upon the line of curvy seas in the imagination of his hand–port to starboard to port again. The slow rhythm of his caress lulls my lids to half mast as the warmth and tingling skin sensors combine, dance me to lullaby languor. These are the moments.

I stop reading to softly lower my head to the pillow, ever so slowly, avoiding the slightest ripple in the water of his soliloquy wave. I hold my breath the whole way down.

Releasing, exhaling in measured silent wisps of warm air through my teeth and the pebble O my lips make, anchor hits bottom, the sync of his hypnotic oar undisturbed; it continues to brush the still of my anatomy’s ebb and flow.

I breathe just enough air to live, causing not so much as a flutter-by in the sheets. If I fill my lungs too deeply, selfishly, I will signal sleep’s onslaught, killer of this powerfully peaceful moment of breath, body and hand. No dream could be better than this. I own it–to the coral depths of fibrous memory. 

The Other Fox and Turtle Tale


A fox came upon a turtle who lived in a yard on the edge of the woods.
“Tell me, friend, why you seek my company,” the dusty, ancient turtle inquired with slow, suppressed suspicion.
It was late afternoon, tea time, and the sun, having given its all, began its climb down the other side of the arc.
Ingratiatingly, the reptile continued: “I admire your beautiful coat of rust and white, your distinctive inky markings that do outshine my own, and so am flattered by your attention and affection. But what can a turtle, slow and plodding, offer a field sprinter such as you?”
The fox replied with penetrating black eyes moist with the effort of sincerity and focus, deciphering the turtle from the browns and greens of the grassy earth:
“Your steadiness and deliberate consideration captivates me and calms my restless spirit. In truth, I have no use for you. I feed myself in game sprier and more tender, a daring and delight to hunt and digest. Your sloth and shell provide no sustenance, no amusement at all.”
“Then how is it you come here day by day and ask me about the climate on this side of the fence and where my keepers go? The master keeps no hens and the cats chase the rats, so no such offerings reside here for your devise,” the turtle in heartfelt curiosity prodded.
“It is a mystery. I cannot comprehend what you are and how you continue to be. Your design and reason for being in the grand scheme of the sun makes no sense to me. Who do you sustain? Why do your keepers find pleasure in your dwelling day to day in the grass, in the dirt, lying in the shade, at the pond or in the ground? And you, you have no mate. How shall you procreate? The sense of it escapes me, and so I come to ask and watch to see if I might understand what in this world you might be. Until the satisfaction of right reason comes, I am compelled to include you in my daily rounds.”
With that, the turtle was satisfied on each piquing point, and so withdrew a poking, bobbing head and four feebly clawed feet inside a sturdy shell, breathed one last long sigh before settling in for a long afternoon nap.
Signaled by this deliberate retraction to such a quaint retreat, the fox also withdrew to the green of the woods, disappearing into the rust of leaves and bark of the redwood sea–until the next late afternoon most assuredly would bring their acquaintance once again..

Sketching Six Faces of Love


She liked to flirt. Facebook was a deep well of satisfaction to her; there were so many “friends” to engage with from the superficial to the delicious. Friends from the past to the present, all over the country, were potential intrigues. She loved the game of it. Her charm and wit, the salacious comments kept men interested in her, especially with the weekly updated profile photos that boasted her tight jeans and sweater, smart blazers and slacks, or formal dresses and flashy make up, all with her best angle to delight and lure.

It was all a showcase, all for fun, mostly. It gave her options. Some of her friends lived in the neighborhood, or relatively so, shifting the flirting game to a goal. She could land a date, and sometimes she did, though mostly dates did not work out for one reason or another. Reality is always less photogenic than the portrayal in pictures and emoticons, pithy remarks and funny cat videos to express true emotions. Face to face, something is missing. Besides, the thrill of the chase is gone.

One time, she did hook up with someone who kept her interest longer than a month. He was obviously into her, wanted to do things, go places, and he filled a void of too much time to spend on Facebook. She got out in the world with him to movies and cafes, a show or two at the playhouse. They talked a lot and things appeared to get close and firm. When they slept together, it was passably good for a first time, which is always awkward until familiarity sets in and comfort and daring are permitted, the kinks worked in or out, as the case may be. It looked promising–for him. He was getting his heart settled in after those first adrenaline thumping real life meets when he did not know how the fun cyber banter would translate to flesh and blood. But he was falling–some. She was having fun–with him and her facebook admirers, always keeping her options open.

She was an answer to a call. He had been married for decades to the same woman, a kind woman of great heart and spirit, the mother of his children. M was still his best friend, but intimacy was never their connection. She came out soon after the kids were born, and they came to an agreement to keep it together for the kids. Each pursued interests outside of the marriage, the catchword being discretion. He never thought to engage fully with anyone, only looking for casual sex and some fun. After all, his primary responsibility was to his family and his work. But a man must live while taking care of business.

He always thought he had the best and worst of all worlds, and being the optimist, always looked at how much worse it could be. Sure, he yearned for intimacy at home, to live with someone to lie with and embrace each morning in the warmth of the blankets after a good night’s sleep or awaken in the middle of the night and reach over to find comfort in the presence of another warm body–a touch of romance. But they had stopped sleeping together long ago. Still, stability stemmed from the solidity of his friendship and cooperative care for their children, which went a long way in his mind.

She, on the other hand, was addicted to highs and lows. Her most memorable relationships were those with huge passion and jealousy, wild nights and raging fights. Longing to be possessed and desired beyond comprehension, she daydreamed of consumption, her lover’s devour. For the cold in her fingertips could only be warmed by the heat of romance and hungry sex. It had always been this way. The picture of longing, a gaping hole to fill, she was addicted to beginnings, the newness of things, like relationships and shopping sprees, the smell of a new car. How to prolong the thrill was the quest, string it out into the longest possible moment of days and weeks. Some sizzlers did last some months. But all the while, she kept feeding the fire with sparks from other heat.

And he knew that he was attracted to her heat, her fascination with fire and its sparks: the liveliness of her darting, wide-open eyes and the broad toothy smile that beamed joy. The curves dressed up in conscious care to cry out to him worked notice. Taken by colors she radiated and the music she invoked, he knew the draw. It was the antidote to boredom, the missing passion. He felt the trap and wanted to surrender nevertheless. If he could maintain the consciousness that this was fun, he thought, to keep his heart open and protected at the same time, he could extract what he needed from her, fuel the engine. He wanted more than sex. He wanted time and connection, but just enough.

He wasn’t a fool and treated himself well for the most part. Yes, life was a series of compromises. Life is such. But he had a healthy amount of gratitude and a talent for compartmentalization. His philosophy: everything in its time and place. No one gets everything from one person, he often told others. Instead, he takes what he needs where he finds it, and the rest is all him. He knew that his fulfillment was his own work, making himself happy–with himself.

And in all, he was indeed a contented man, treated himself well enough and was unafraid of risking temporarily his equanimity, or even his happiness, seeking connection from others when necessary. Recovery would be assured: he meditated, exercised, slept well, and ate wisely though not unrelentingly healthy, splurging on a chocolate eclair or a decadent meal with an outstanding bottle of wine from time to time. Good to himself, he was good to others. Life was all about balance.

They were both searching but approached the search from opposite ends of the spectrum of comportment. Their common ground: need, pleasure, sharing, excitement, connection, and release. Both were looking for validation, confirmation that they existed for someone else beyond utility and the facticity (or delusion) of moving meat sacks. They sought to change the imagery they were caught up in, alter the lighting to project a more enticing angle.

They needed their egos fed as well as their libidos, lost in the sigh-ful faces of pleasure’s remove on the screen of each other’s fantasies. Touch, with its healing electricity, could bring them back to their humanity, their presence before another being with breath and pulse, warmth and light. Recognition of commonality, acknowledgement of existence, loss of time, surrender to another, all in momentary amnesia of who, where, how and why they were is what each sought. This was all they had in common, and yet, it wasn’t enough.

Flash of Stillness: Playing Patience at the DMV


Some virtues are beyond me. Patience, for instance, ever the teacher, lover and nemesis, eludes me today. As I sit in the hard plastic chair in the DMV, watching the screen to confirm the number announced courteously by the subtly enthusiastic electronic female voice, “Now serving number G095 at Window 13”, I sigh in exasperation. My number is G0172. It’s the second time in a month and a half that I have lost my driver’s license, and apparently the punishment is laid before me.

I want to pluck my eyeballs right out of my head at the thought of this wait in the stupefyingly catatonic government issue slate blues and grays of this Kafka-esque muffled, stifling prison. Too many dull civil servants shuffling paper among chair slumpers and leg shifters, all emitting muted boredom, disgust and defeat. No one appears to be content–merely a large aggregation of bodies connected only by will to the call of the numbers.

My daily practice of late has been precisely about this: finding contentment wherever I am. But not just the ordinary contentment of gratitude for a life lived in relative comfort and safety. For example, this may not be the best experience a late Friday afternoon has to offer, but at least I am not being held hostage in a bank. I will eventually leave this drone of hushed activity, having completed the exercise in obedient compliance with temporary license in hand.

And it is not mere at-oneness, presence within the space I am led to by attention to breath. That place is familiar to me as I have beckoned that presence to practice yoga on particularly distractible days, to preserve my sanity in extreme adversity, situations beyond my control such as waiting in a hospital room for test results, and to create–writing within the clasp of close observational sensation and thought.

No, the kind of contentment found in voluntary partial confinement among these resigned soldiers of complicity is not mere surrender; it is much more focused, pinpoint. It is the kind of contentment that comes in very small packages, minute actually, perhaps down to the cellular level. This cellular ease is squeezed out of a stillness and silence within that can hear the seduction of the computerized voice tapping into specific sensors in my brain, sliding across synapses that fire the corresponding response: chill. I hear the voice, calm, soothing, and yet infused with the transparency of its purpose. It’s experiencing and knowing all at once, an ultra alert moment of bathing light.

These moments of hyper awareness, like visualizing sound vibrations traveling across cilia in my ear canal to produce tones, reactions and information, store savory bits of future antidote to the haze of an overslept day just like today. They entertain and calm me when bored or anxious.

There are seemingly insignificant moments I can remember as mere hair’s breath of time and movement recorded so finely to capillary’s considered caress. I close my eyes in the echo of “Now serving…G108…” and summon one such scene of long ago to the black screen of my eyelids and I am there:

Walking out the door in a hurry, late for work, I don’t even notice as I rush past him. Evan near misses but manages to clasp my elbow on the fly. “Hey,” he says huskily. He has just awakened and struggles slightly with sleep-shorn disarray, a waver in his stance. Stopped, the momentum of my intention and determined pace is still rushing on ahead of me as my body is stilled before his eyes. “Hey,” he says again still clasping my elbow, my attention now filling my eyes that have been locked into his by the soft insistence of his gaze. He raises his free hand to my face and rests his four fingers, thumb-less, palm down, under my chin lightly. I feel the warmth of his morning hand and his embracing time. “Have a fine day.” The sound of his touch lingers. My racing pulse of wheeling stepped-to thought slowed in the honeyed silk of stilled breath and moment, somehow I sense I will.

I open my eyes, once again to the dimmed fluorescent daylight of the room. The 90s throw-back television screen flicks to G112 as I recover the speed of my breath, regulate it to the pace of the room’s still life painting of humans in suspended animation. Leaving behind the image on a slo-mo memory reel, I feel the filmy residue coating my mood–a clear outlook reset. The furrows in my brow have smoothed out, not merely caved into my face. The tension lines around my mouth are slightly faded.

Returning to the room, I imagine the civil space of 10 inches between my loudly sighing, glum neighbor and me, hitched to the same row of five chairs connected respectably, tolerably separated to allow both detached misery and connected commiseration in accordance with the building’s function. I will myself to blanket that distance with warmth like the heat of Evan’s hand emanating an atomic wave of empathic static connection.

Can he feel it? I have tuned out all voices, human or electronic, and squinch my sight with open eyes, twisting the last drop of intention from the tube of my will to touch him with an invisible hand. I turn to look at him, retreating from my straight-ahead-vision of the shaved head and neck of the body in front of me, but I only catch his departing blurred frame. His number, G118, is up.

Fortunate for him. Fifty-four more numbers to go. Twenty-five numbers in 90 minutes. Lots of time to practice patience and play at staking the heart of the energy vampire in this room. Luckily, I have a full flash drive of micro memory moments to fuel my efforts. Heck, I have time enough to remember where I lost my driver’s license in the first place.