This column, published in the Autumn 2002 edition of Sagewoman as my response to that issue’s theme of “The Sea,” tells a personal/archetypal story that illustrates “perfectly” the strange dichotomy/union of Venus and Neptune that I have explored/endured all my adult life (and mentioned cryptically in the last post).
“We were partners in a new myth of Adam and Eve” — until we weren’t.
by Ann Kreilkamp
August, 1970. I am 27 years old, recently separated from my husband and trying desperately to free myself from fear. I have gotten myself a boyfriend (I’ll call him Tom) on whom I project all my unrequited longing for love. (That first husband didn’t count. He and I were in combat from day one, and he always won— until I left him, and he snapped at me, accusingly, “You have balls of steel.” Though shocked at his intended insult, I was secretly thrilled that he should see me as strong when my knees were actually quaking.)
Three months later, Tom and I were lovers, and “co-dependent” (though our generation had not yet named it that). I needed him, and he needed me to need him. I held on for dear life and he, in his strength and manhood, held me close. I saw him as my father and he saw me as his little girl. The relationship “worked” in that we were both caught in certain roles the culture sanctioned for men and women.
This was my energetic reality, even though ‘60s feminism had already seeped into the culture. For several years I had been in a “consciousness-raising” group of women and had devoured all the feminist tracts, like Doris Lessing’s The Golden Notebook. And I had proved my feminist credentials by leaving my husband — not because he beat me or was unfaithful, but for more subtle, feminist reasons: he didn’t respect me, he didn’t treat me as an equal.
But these new understandings take time to sink in. And sometimes we have to plunge back into the murky waters of the past before we can come up again and stride yet further ahead. Certainly this was true for me then. Only months after separating from my husband, I was in another relationship where I was not an equal, and this time I loved it. For in this relationship, I was what I needed to be then — the little girl, lost and vulnerable and scared and needing protection. And Tom played out the role of good father: unlike my husband or my father, he was openly caring and affectionate.
We often went down to the beach at night to walk with his arm around me. And though I was scared of the dark, I felt safe in his shadow and grateful for his strength to lean against.
All this changed one August night. We had “dropped acid” (LSD) for the second time that summer. (The first time was in July; while making love I had hallucinated my father’s face superimposed on Tom’s and had thus become at least somewhat conscious of what our relationship was about. That, I would say now, was lesson number one.)
Again we were making love, and this time we both swooped into a dimension for which there are no words. All I can remember is that it felt like we were dolphins sailing through the ocean of the cosmos, bursting into creation, over and over again. I know this sounds crazy, but those days were crazy — real, too — and that experience was one of the milestones of my life; both for the blissful eternal abyss we had unwittingly (if momentarily) surrendered to, and for what happened next.
Thus I come to the point of this story. I got up afterwards to go to the bathroom, to discover an astonishing amount of fluid flooding from my vagina. This was more than semen, this was at least eight ounces of orgiastic residue, a chemical transformation inside my body which mirrored the intensity of the sexual/spiritual experience we had just encountered. I was ecstatic.
I went back into the bedroom to tell Tom about it and, to my surprise, discovered a woman there. Nancy lived in the next bedroom with David, both good friends of ours. (We were all members of a large summer commune in Manomet, Massachusetts). Nancy said that Tom had come to their door and asked to see David, who had taken him downstairs to the kitchen. I was nonplussed. Why? I asked her. Because Tom was scared and confused, she said.
Tom and I were philosophy students, and his specialty was Neitszche, his “eternal return.” Somehow our sexual experience had thrown Tom into feeling that he was going round and round to nowhere, into an eternal return of no consequence, where nothing happened except that everything kept happening again and again, always the same. David was trying to bring him back to reality.
The disjunction between our responses to this joint initiation into endless creation was profoundly disconcerting to me. Suddenly our roles had reversed. Furthermore, I was upset that in needing help he had preferred David to me. Suddenly I blurted out to Nancy, “He doesn’t realize how strong I am.” I had no idea what I meant.
We went downstairs to find David and Tom in the kitchen, with Tom bent over like an old man, head down, solemnly stirring water into frozen orange juice. David had directed him to do something mundane in order to bring him out of his terrifying loop and back to us. But Tom was still scared.
Seeing him in this state was extraordinary. The contrast between us could not have been more profound. In a commanding voice that arose from some unknown place within me, I announced that Tom and I were going to the beach and I would get blankets.
As we started down the 100 wooden steps to the beach, he was huddled next to me, wrapped in a blanket, my arm around him. No flashlight. Just the stars. He kept saying that he couldn’t see, or he couldn’t make out what he was seeing. We were alone in the dark with only seagulls and the gently lapping sea.
We started to walk down the beach. Every so often he stopped, trembling, pointing to some vague mass up ahead, and asked what it was. I had no idea, but made something up on the spot, like “Oh that, it’s just a log with a bucket on it.” (In the morning, I discovered that all my imaginary explanations were true.)
Finally, I told him we were going to lie down. I took the blanket off his shoulders and spread it out on the beach. We both lay on our backs looking up at the night sky. I was again ecstatic, my eyes seeking the stars, spirit lifting, shooting into the heavens in resonance with all those times as a girl when I had dragged my sleeping bag out into the back yard.
Abruptly and disconcertingly, my reverie was disturbed. Tom suddenly sobbed, threw his arm over his eyes, and said that he couldn’t look, it was too overwhelming. He turned over and spent the rest of the night on his stomach, eyes closed against the vastness. The contrast between us could not have been greater; I was seeking to go beyond the beyond and he was avoiding it.
As dawn broke, golden rays illumined thousands of silvery rivulets as the lowest tide of the year rushed to meet the far-off sea. The sky was golden, reflecting into silver. The end of the night was the beginning of the world.
We arose, and, hand in hand, faced east and squished through the soft damp sand to meet the sea where the gold globe of the sun was rising through it. We were equals. Night was done, Tom was no longer afraid and I had found my strength, my true being. We were Adam and Eve, partners in a new myth. Gold and silver streamed through us for one long perfect moment.
Later that morning, a voice inside me announced that our relationship was over; that this perfection had ended it. I refused to believe it, and went on to spend many years in a search for a perfection that would not end, not realizing that once something completes itself, it moves. That change is eternal. That even the tide, that day, would turn and rush back in, engulfing me and the world in all the emotions we always seem to drown in, gasping, sputtering, hoping next time it will be different.
Now even my prayers have changed. I no longer search for perfection but for wholeness. I seek to center myself with awareness, so that I may encompass both my strength and my vulnerability, the tides in their coming and going, the eternal return of the ocean to itself, always changing, never the same.