The County


There is something first love about you. I am 18 again and it's summer and you're the handsomest, most earnest boy in the County.

There’s no urgency, in fact, you are so free of the primal scales I'm normally drawn to, that your normalcy almost feels out of my league. Something inside me, something young and cautious whispers 'Don't advance too quickly’.

It's Saturday evening and you are the waiter at the winery who serves our table of friends. We are celebrating B, my roommate; he’s crying tears of joy, or perhaps relief, knowing he is loved by many at 40, and especially by one. You approach the table as he weeps and say you're moved. I'm the girl trying not to want a glass of wine to cheers and be part-of. I'm a wearing a long, white, mostly transparent dress with my bathing suit underneath. I'm feeling a bit off. The bathing suit cords are lumpy. Why am I always so exposed? There are dark indigo clouds off in the distance, the sun shears through them cutting halos of light onto glistening wheat and summer grapes.

There hadn't been a kiss yet. You hadn't yet pressed your lips warmly to mine in the steam of the Hay Loft. You hadn't yet draped your muscly arms over your friends' shoulders to brag about kissing the hot girl, I hadn't yet run outside to announce “that HOT, young waiter just kissed me and got my number!" to their cheers, late into the sober night.  

I'm 18 again. Except I'm 36 and coming into a beauty I still don't understand. 

I wait all day Sunday for your message and have to hold my own hand through some discomfort. I don’t tell anyone that my mind's racing a bit, and you don't feel like a jerk, but I wade into the notion that you might be, that my radar could still be off. The whole house is rapt by the possibility of my all-night evening with your bod.

"He feels pure," someone says.

You text late. You later tell me that your day had run away on you, you were a bit hungover, you didn't think I'd still be into hanging out. I am sober. There are awkward moments in the group where I lack the lubricant of drink and I have to leave for a minute, reconnect with myself. But even with all these adult personalities mingling together in one big house, it manages to be a place of incredible grace. We are all safe. 

I contemplate how to tell the guy who knows all about Chardonnay that I don't drink.

You call me to make pickup arrangements (just like the old days on the farm!) and the intention behind your voice is so crisp. You warn me that we'll be taxi-ing around some drunk people. There's a friend from high school you need to see. You feel younger and it's OK, elements of your style and vocab say "small town " but they're familiar and instead of threatening my grownup self, these details are cotton fluff from a young, majestic tree. 

I return home to the prairies a few weeks after we meet. Driving up to my mom's house, a memory from age 13 resurfaces. I've run away from my mother's house to go live with my father and I'm back for Christmas riddled with guilt. Before I left, I rummaged through all her private letters and documents, ripping them up, then tried to hide them in a garbage bag in my abandoned bedroom closet. She found them and called me, yelling into the phone, "I hate you," I yell back. I hate that she wanted other babies. I hate that women divide themselves. I hate that we're wired to give too much and never be enough. I want to punish her for wanting more and I want her to suffer the loss of me. 

And I am so sorry.

I am sorry for being the awful, selfish child, and now grown woman some months after sending her a terrible text of mean things (in an unfurling of the hot fury of my early youth from my bones, in the sober winter when I began to thaw). I let it all drain out so it could leave my body. I didn't want to hurt her. I want her to be happy. I did take the girl out of the small town and it's fine that the small town never left the girl. My life all belongs to me now. 

You, the boy from the County, and I go to a bar and come upon a table of visiting chefs from the winery. You demonstrate your perfect French. You are torn – you want to please your drunk friend and the visiting chefs so we fumble around a bit until you decide to leave. I'm starting to feel you're delaying spending time alone with me. We drive back to the old house where you bunk for the summer. The drunk louche in the back seat comments on a girl, "She's always fucking texting me long texts..."

You squirm, anxious that the drunk might reflect badly on you, that you'll look like a bunch of winery douchebags. 

"I don't mind long texts," you say. 

And yet there we are driving to your house to have a one-night stand, something transactional. Which, frankly, probably occurs pretty regularly for you, a hot, young man in the County—and used to be a regular occurrence for me too. It's strange I'm doing this after so many safe and lonely nights but it's the youth and the heat and your body. You're my next book, my next poem, a work of art. You could be one night, you could be one life.

Hours later you and I agree that one cannot seek inspiration for its own sake, but create the right conditions for it to come along... And weeks later, as it's officially winding down, you say, "We don't even know if we're compatible" after I confess that I'd probably have your babies. I find it completely absurd that I let men into my soft body, right in, take their sex in my mouth, without knowing if we're "compatible". Maybe, just maybe, with thoughts like these I'm finally entering your normie league. 

But tonight it's hot and I'm willing to take the risk, enjoy the crispness of your kiss, painfully peel myself from one night, a night vibrating with aliveness, you say, pointing to the bugs, listening to the sleepy croak of frogs. I ask you to kiss me again. You press your lips with careful purpose, sweetly you press.

"I came back to my hometown to be a grownup..."

This is something you express in a variety of ways: the pull to care for yourself (you'd been on a 3-day birthday bender) and yet continuously finding yourself doing what the boys wanna do while catching up to the man growing inside. "Feels right when I'm taking care, working out," you say. 

And, for once, everything about you had nothing to do with me. Even your inspired beauty had nothing to do with me. It wasn't a reflection of me. I was separate. Neither of us could be possessed or consumed. 

We talk aliveness. Math. How the heart and the head can talk to each other if enough space is permitted. "I don't trust my usually picks the wrong people," you say.

"Yeah that takes time," I reply, puffing on a cigarette.

We make love. It is slow and close and sweet. Feeling. So country. After you say, "Hey, I like you with no clothes on," which makes me giggle. I tell you you're beautiful and "...obviously physically, but more in're 'good'..."

"I don't know if I believe you..." you say back as we drift into half sleep.

This is where we are now. You're exploring your goodness, unpeeling, following, fraught, racing along, loving your parents, teaching in French, wishing, afraid of feelings 'cause you've been burned.

But there are your brown eyes staring into mine, fearful and clear.

I lay there after you've come, after we've moved to the couch from the squeaky futon, after you've turned the light off but then back on again to look at me, and think about how I could marry you and walk the path from boy to man by your side, on the border between charging headlong forward and sometimes falling back. I could just walk near you for the next few years, maybe next summer we travel to Indonesia, you come to Montreal, I come to your small town and meet your parents, you come to my book launch...but, but that's not me anymore.

The mind spins but the mind does not possess me. 

It gets chilly and I shift around. We put on underwear and t-shirts and snuggle in closer under blankets. The windows are open and sounds of night grasses and snakes and arachnids drift in. Earlier you said, "I tell the truth in my journal; I'd be so embarrassed if someone read it..." I don't tell you that my whole book is a live journal, and laying beside you, that soft skin, I must hold my hand through the pain of longing to keep you, even if just to imbue you with the premise of "One Hot Night in the County": the last chapter of my first book. One long, hot, cold night; sex slow, bodies, birds, bees, let it go; this is how I give you up, tear my naked from yours and let you be like water in a crystal glass, still, clear, pretty, alone.

Perfect. You are a perfect stranger: unfettered, untouched, unsure. Un.

I tried to pull the perfection out a little longer, stretch it all the way to city. God keeps saying "Ssshhh" and "Do Nothing". So I give it back, the whole thing, all of it, over and over, the pain of too much beauty.