You're Free? OK, Now Stay That Way

11/17/2011 09:02 am ET
  • Sara Davidson Author of "The December Project," "Loose Change" and "Joan: Forty Years of Life, Loss and Friendship with Joan Didion."

This is part of a serial, "Sex Love Enlightenment." Previously: Each time we draw closer, Billy pulls away. But there comes a moment when I know: I'll be fine, whether he leaves or stays. When I feel that, I'm free. To see all posts in chronological order, Click Here.

Ahhhhhh, but that expansive sense of freedom doesn't stay fixed. It's not a state you reach, hoist your flag and dwell there forever. It's something you taste and cultivate and, over time, can inhabit more frequently. Like all experience, it's impermanent.

Billy wants to move to a different part of the country. He's lived in Colorado all his life, so he's eager to try a new region. Maybe New England? As it happens, before meeting Billy, I signed up for a 7-day retreat at a meditation center in Massachusetts. We decide to fly to Boston together and spend a week exploring the coast, from Gloucester to Provincetown at the tip of Cape Cod. Then he'll drop me off at the retreat, do some serious property hunting, and we'll meet at the Boston airport to fly home.

The problem is: We had a fight the night before leaving, and I became so frustrated I yelled, "Shut up!" I was startled by the intensity of my rage. How the hell had my newfound sense of freedom and detachment been knocked out? I apologized immediately, but Billy turned his back to me in bed and refused to speak.

On the flight to Boston, we exchange nothing but small talk. We don't get around to discussing the problem till late that evening. I spend a lot of time apologizing for my part, but his body stays rigid, locked. Like he wants to keep fuming, nursing his righteousness.

In the morning we try to make love, but our hearts, literally, aren't in it. We drive south, listening to music and not talking much, and I think, Why do I want to be with this person?

When we reach the resort where he's booked a room, the views make us gasp: sand dunes, ocean and sky bathed in that lambent gold light that draws painters to the area. Like many people who have money, Billy is frugal and loves to hunt for deals. He found a coupon online for a free room upgrade, so we're given a suite with glass doors opening to the sea, a fireplace, sunken tub and thick terrycloth robes.

At dinner we eat fresh caught lobster infused with sweet butter, corn that's so sugary it's like candy, and heirloom tomatoes dressed with 18-year-old Balsamic and white truffle oil. Even Billy can't stay angry through this. We walk along the ocean afterward and put our arms around each other. Tucked under fluffy white linens in our room, we listen to the rising, cresting--shoof!--of the waves and, at last, all's right with the world.

The next day we drive to the Province Lands, a preserve of sandy forest and freshwater ponds which Mary Oliver has claimed as her terrain, just as Willa Cather claimed the prairie. I've brought a book of Oliver's poems, and we hike to the site of one, Blackwater Pond.

We set out a picnic--lobster rolls and Pinot Grigio--and read it aloud:

At Blackwater Pond the tossed waters have settled
after a night of rain.
I dip my cupped hands. I drink
a long time. It tastes
like stone, leaves, fire. It falls cold
into my body, waking the bones. I hear them
deep inside me, whispering
oh what is that beautiful thing
that just happened?

The words haunt us. "Waking the bones." "What beautiful thing just happened?" After making love that night, Billy says we should give titles to our sessions in bed, because each has a distinct flavor. "This one," he says, "was the Mary Oliver."

A few nights later, we find a movie theater that's playing "Shine a Light," Martin Scorsese's film about the Rolling Stones. In my 20s, I had a case for Mick Jagger, big time. I flew to Denmark to cover a tour the Stones were doing in Europe. I was wearing a long, lavender nightgown as a dress, with my hair ironed straight and falling to my waist, when I found myself face to face with Jagger in the hotel elevator. I trembled, this was my chance, I'd had endless fantasies about him, and here he was in the flesh, but I froze. What came out of my mouth was: "I... uh... really like your music." Eeegods! That was dumb! I wanted to shrink and disappear. But Jagger smiled, said "Thank you," and asked if I wanted to play poker with "the boys." Suddenly I'm sitting on the floor of a hotel room with the goddamn Rolling Stones, who think I'm a groupie, and I'm wondering what they'll do when they find out I'm a reporter.

All this comes rushing back to me as we watch the Stones perform, three decades later, on the big screen. Out on the street, Billy does an uncanny, spot-on imitation of Mick, skipping across the stage, swinging his lank arms and jutting out his chin. Back at the resort, we have a raucous time in bed. Billy calls it "the Mick Jagger."

The week flies to a close and Billy drives me to the retreat center. "I wish you wouldn't go," he says. "You've already been to one, didn't you learn what you needed to? Why do you have to go to another?"

I tell him the learning is ongoing, evolving. "It's the same with people who go to church every week..."

"I never understood that either," he says. "After years, you'd think people would get the message."

I try another tack. "I go because I love to go. Some people love to fish. You wouldn't ask them, why do you keep fishing? Didn't you already catch one?"

"Oh," he says. "I get that now."

We hug goodby, he drives off and I prepare myself to drop into the rhythm of the retreat: meditation, breakfast, a talk by the teacher, lunch, more mediation and walks--all in silence. On day 4, I'm in a rich state of quietness, walking out of the meditation hall, when Billy steps in front of me, putting a finger to his lips and saying, "Shhhh." Startled, I take a pen and paper from my purse and write, "Why are you here?"

He says he was driving by and thought he'd stop.

"I'm happy to see you," I write, "but I want to finish the retreat." He asks if he can join us for the day. "Sorry, they don't permit that." He takes a room in a motel nearby, and the next morning, as I'm walking with the group in silence, he appears again in my path.

"I just want to tell you, I won't be flying home with you," he says. "I found some properties I'm really excited about, and I'm gonna stay longer. I'll see you back in Colorado."

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PLEASE LEAVE A COMMENT. Why do you think Billy shows up at the retreat? Is there a poem, a piece of music or a place that awes you? Is there one you might associate with an interlude of love?