The Kiss

I mostly don’t remember my dreams anymore. When I was younger, dreams wound out in vivid detail, some of them becoming stories with strange twists and turns. I regret the loss of that talent or torment or interface with other worlds.

Last night I dreamed a dream I remember intensely. Sadly much of the detail melted away as fast as I dreamed it. But what I remember echoes through me, a repeated experience of great emotion and yes, questionable meaning. I had arrived in a place not familiar, a small wooden frame house with a high porch that I entered as if someone welcomed me there. I stood in the narrow living room, well lighted in the afternoon sunshine, facing a man I once loved.

I still love him, love him in that way we can with those we never completely knew, never joined in the flesh or struggled through the ups and downs of an intimate relationship. I can’t actually discuss all the ways I did know him because how we met and what discourse we participated in over a period of years actually would identify him and would undoubtedly create problems.

Not for me. The situation for me was entirely different than his and even more so now. He’s still married, still in a position of importance in his profession, and esteemed by a great many people. And justly so. He is a truly Good Man.

But then, of course he is. He’s made it the objective of his life to be a good man, and has done admirably well in such a difficult pursuit. In my most fevered moments in our acquaintance, I highly resented his determination to be good. I was not then and am still not, a ‘good’ woman. I’m also not a ‘bad’ woman, but that’s beside the point. And another story entirely.

In the dream, he stood before me in this small well-lighted room, a place with pale blonde  furniture, what there was of it scattered around the place. Behind him, a small table built of a light colored wood sat surrounded by its four chairs. A patterned cloth draped over the table at an angle so that the cloth corners dropped onto the chair seats on each side leaving the table corners bare. The cloth pattern featured faded yellows and greens on a cream background, and these were the same colors as the upholstery on a small couch near us in the living room and perhaps an overstuffed chair, although these were items that I didn’t examine closely.

And why would I? The object of my attention, my full and astonished attention, was him, this amazing good man who for reasons never made clear in the dream, welcomed me into his arms. Whatever I had been carrying, if indeed I carried anything, dropped from my hands as I accepted his invitation.

His chest felt warm and strong as he pulled me into his embrace although now, in trying to remember, I can’t envision how his chest looked or what he wore. Perhaps a dark suit over a white shirt with an open collar. The image seems to have evaporated into a misty phantasm so that nothing below his neck remains concrete in my memory. I regret that this is so, because in real life his chest like the rest of him satisfied, even more than satisfied, the requirements of robust manhood. Not overly muscled. But lithe. Strong. Pleasing.

Tight against that chest, I felt his warmth and his affection. That he grasped my face with his hands and lowered his mouth to mine surprised me, pleasantly so. I had longed for him to kiss me almost as long as I knew him, and it was an act that had always been refused on the grounds of his marriage and his fidelity to his role as a Good Man. The kiss rapidly kindled a deep need, apparently, in both of us, and the gentle touching of lips transformed to a passionate embrace of open mouths and tongues.

In the dream, I worried that his wife would see us and be unhappy about our transgression. He looked away without letting go of me, as if peering out the bright window to see what he needed to see, and then returned to me with his hazel eyes crinkling in a smile, that reassuring smile I’ll always remember, to say I shouldn’t worry. Then he kissed me again, this time softer, more reassuring, more comforting than erotic, and for a long time I marveled at the sensory wonder of that touch of lips, how soft his were, how deeply my lips buried against his.

I can see his face, still, and his wavy hair and the crinkle of his eyes when he smiled. He had a terrific smile, which would have been even more wonderful if it had been reserved for me, but of course it was not. It was his professional smile, probably not simply reserved for his many acquaintances and clients in his work, but his smile for everyone. Probably even the smile he gave to his wife and child. But I wanted it for myself. I wanted to be special, not an acquaintance or a client but me, a unique and mysterious element of his life that set me and us apart from the rest of his life.

Maybe I was. He told me, more than once, I was special. To him. That he loved me. But it was agape love, not physical. Transcendent. Nothing infuriated me more, that he insisted on that. Only once did he let that curtain slip, if it was a curtain. Maybe it was only once that he lost control. Or only once that he felt anything more than his perfect good acceptable kind of love.

He did kiss me. We embraced over the console of his sports car, a fevered touch of lips and then more until we were both sinking into the erotic in ways that I had come to expect in my life, ways of freedom and basic human honesty and pleasure. I don’t know what he expected, whether he planned that moment as a brief ration of the forbidden or if it caught him unawares in the midst of trying to help me, pull me back from the brink of despair. I don’t know if those few moments, really only a few, of what some might consider an almost innocent touching of lips, and then slightly more as the kiss deepened and our tongues spoke the silent language of desire, whether those were the only moments in his entire good life that he deviated from his intended path.

In the dream, he wasn’t troubled by the kiss. He was fully in the moment, focused on me, on holding me in his arms and savoring what we exchanged. His objective, it seemed, was to reassure me, convince me of something important, that he cared, that he had always cared, and that what we had would never be diminished or lost.

I don’t remember anything else, and it seems this must have been the main event of this longer scenario that faded into mist like the yellow and green patterns on the tablecloth. I woke up telling myself to remember it, afraid that like most of my other dreams it would slip away into nothing and that when I tried to retrieve it, it would vanish from my fingertips. By some miracle, the memory remained. And even now, as the day drifts again into the early gray evening of a rainy late February day, the image of him, of his hazel eyes and the curl of his hair and the angle of his jaw and the sensual curve of his lips, remains clear in my mind.

What I feared most when I woke up, when I showered and dressed and made my tea and sat at my desk, was that somehow this dream marked his death. That in the night as I slept, he had passed into the ether and from that brilliant space had joined with me for one last moment of expressed affection. I searched the internet for news, hoping that surely if he had died, there would be an announcement, a notice, for he was well known. There was nothing of his death, only other news of his accomplishments, press releases, his position on boards of directors and other such ephemera.

Perhaps he did not die and the dream rose from the depths of my memory, my loneliness, if indeed I am lonely, for I do not consider myself lonely except in the strictest terms of that condition. Yes, I am alone. I am not lonely. Perhaps something of my current endeavors or books I’ve recently read have opened a path to that phase of my life so that all the unresolved angst of my desire and his restraint has found a path to my present. It’s been forty-five years, but then, some things are never forgotten.

Or perhaps he did die and this morning was too soon for there to be obituaries and notices and mourning. I will watch and wait.

And I will savor the dream.

Winter

She speaks for us all, confessing to the check-out clerk with an excited laugh that if it’s going to ice, she’d better get ready. Milk, bread, chocolate bars, corn meal—her choices are different only in detail from the rest of us standing in line, in a store so jam-packed that even the stock boys work up front wearing jackets over their aprons and sacking supplies that will keep us secure when the weather moves in. Cars and trucks crowd the parking lot, some left running with the plumes of their exhaust whipping sideways in the freezing wind.

Men wait holding meat, bananas, coffee, restless in insulated tan coveralls with the legs unzipped over their heavy clay-soiled boots, their hair packed down against their heads where knit hats had been. Uneasy in a role usually filled by their wives, they joke, catch up with old acquaintances who also stand in line, promising to call soon, men not accustomed to being off work at one p.m., hurrying home to family before the sleet starts.

The cold comes first, thirty-five degrees when I started to town in the morning, twenty two when I return home, fifteen by three. Wind rocks the great oaks side to side, piling stiff dead leaves in new arrangements at the corner of the woodpile, at the steps. Twelve degrees at dusk, the clouded sky pale pink and white, the countryside settling into frozen night.

More wood on the fire at midnight and two a.m. I shiver by the fire. The house creaks.

Five-thirty a.m. by my bedside clock, the tick-tick of sleet against the windows wakes me. I indulge in another hour of fitful sleep, comforted by heavy quilts and cats at my feet. Plans of all I could do race through my dreams, the albums not finished, correspondence neglected, the watercolors so long set aside. Roads coated in ice mean a day without visitors, a day at home tending the fire, tending myself.

Dressed in sweaters not worn for five years, in long socks and with no regard to appearance, I sip hot tea at the window. Only a small shift in the light signals dawn, lifting the dark blue cast of the air to a lighter shade.  Barely visible deer move slowly through the woods, pawing at the ice-coated duff.  Tiny crystalline flakes of snow filter into the sleet, thickening the white of the downfall, obscuring trees at the fence line.

Four degrees.

I build a fire in the wood-burning cook stove. A kettle of water with cinnamon oil steams while I craft my list of things to do, tasks that seem too petty or cumbersome for normal days when open roads and obligations burden the hours. I simmer apricots with honey and ginger and fry half-moon pies, edges evenly crimped with tender fork lines. I sketch scenes, the road to my house, the long-familiar contoured hills, and let watercolor swirl on the heavy paper, a skyscape of gray and blue, fields tan, oaks silhouetted black.

Freshly washed clothes hang by the blistering stove whose greedy heat soon pulls out all moisture. With satisfying frugality, a pot of vegetable soup thick with garlic and a pan of beans decorate the stove top, cornbread in the small sooty oven. Every few hours I rush out for more wood, lingering coatless in the sharp scent of cold and wood smoke, large flakes of snow tumbling down into my hair, resting on my eyelashes.

The winters have not been accommodating in recent years, failing first with abbreviated snows, then disappointing even in temperature. In the onslaught of global warming, the Ozark hills have increasingly remained accessible in deepest January, when a few decades earlier our steep, curving roadways had been reliably impassible for at least two arctic weeks of the year. We grew up expecting that at times chosen by Nature, no one would venture out. The guy with the local wrecker service would make enough money to last until June.

In this mid-South clime, we don’t get winter enough to justify the county’s expense for snow plows. It suits us better to schedule school years with extra days for snow. It pleases us to find ourselves unexpectedly confined to the house discovering long lost treasures at the back of the closet, reading magazines, standing at the window as midday lightens the sky to a shade barely more luminous than the snow lying thick on the ground.

Lately, with the warming climate, there has been little winter at all. Days have run together, no time to reflect, restore, sleep in the afternoon. We long for the cold, the ice, roads we could not drive, jobs we could not attend.

Welcome then this celebration of ancient instincts to stay in the cave, content with the provisions we have hoarded, the firewood we have stacked near the door, wrapped in the warmth we have made. Embrace this triumph of man over the elements, a proof of our adequacy in a time when little else seems so clear.

This piece is excerpted from my collection of essays, I Met a Goat on the Road–and other stories of life on this hill. Published 2013

I Met a Goat on the Road

A visiting guinea? A ‘possum in the dining room? What strange and wondrous occurrences can one expect while living on an Ozark mountaintop for over forty years?

These lyrical adventure stories feature chickens, raccoons, bugs, dogs, cats, and natural critters of this woodland home. Throw in a few neighbors who shoot copperheads or remodel the dirt road. Ponder the passage of time through a philosophical lens of wonder and delight. The seasons bring summer heat, winter snow, pouring rain, the power of fire. Lessons learned, questions posed–who has lived and died on this land? What is our responsibility to this place, its creatures, each other?

Come meet the goat on the road.

Amazon buy link