I felt eyes between my shoulder blades, burning through my blue dress, and I turned around it was her. She looked like Meryl Streep, like a constellation that hadn’t been named yet. Her hair was short, I don’t know what she was wearing, but when I saw the soul of the one burning my skin, I quickly turned away from her, staring straight ahead in fear and recognition.
This is sometimes how love comes to us. First it burns us in the knowing, the soul recognizes the soul, and it can happen anywhere – in a restaurant, a train platform, in this case in a company training in a stale hotel room on metal chairs in Baltimore.
I was having an affair then, and the relationship was against company policy and probably all moral policies, since he was still married. This was the year before my first Saturn Return, before I gave everything away except my poetry books and drove 3,000 miles from Baltimore to California, crying to bad country music on AM radio.
But this isn’t a story about me with the wrong man, this is a story about Terri, the woman who tried to be my friend while I rejected her. I wasn’t good at keeping the secret of my affair, so I declined every offer she extended – crab at the waterfront, a tour of Baltimore neighborhoods, weekend trips to Washington. I didn’t answer my phone, refused lunch dates, ate at my desk so I wouldn’t run into her.
All this time, her eyes still burned through my skin. During this time, she was asking my soul to remember.
One afternoon, I had a wisdom tooth pulled, and I fell asleep in my living room with bacon cooking on the stove in my apartment over the waterfront, in the old cannery building and my kitchen caught on fire. My roommate was furious with me and my series of letters she found in the trash.
Dear Jill, sorry your clothes smell of smoke.
Dear Jill, sorry everything in the apartment is green.
That’s when Terri called, after the fire, and this time I answered. She offered for me to live with her and her dog Shaker, for as long as I wanted to stay.
I finally said yes. Yes to leaving the cool neighborhood where I could walk to the newest crab houses and the glittering harbor. Yes to John Waters Baltimore, and yes to love – to sitting on the front stoop with Terri in the evenings, next to old woman in curlers smoking and gossiping.
For the next year I laughed so hard talking story with Terri, I might have cracked a rib from the joy of it all. When we laughed for too long, punching the hardwood floor, her dog Shaker would join in, barking until we stopped.
Terri married my brother, my other best friend at the time. She was the last person I saw in my rear view mirror as I was headed to my new life in California – bent over laughing in the alley, waving me into my new life.
Shortly after, they both moved to California, too.
I’m telling you this story because I have had marriage proposals over the years, but the the proposal I remember the most are the unexpected proposals from friends, the friends who said, “you come, too.”
It’s not that we are looking for love in all the wrong places, or in the wrong people, it’s more like we stop seeing all available to us through the thick clouds, forgetting the clouds will clear and love has been beside us all along, just maybe not exactly as we expected it to come.
A year after Terri died, she walked into a bookstore where I was buying books with my daughter. She had on her favorite wide leg oatmeal colored pants, comfortable shoes, and that slow way of moving.
I put my toddler daughter on my hip and followed Terri as she turned the corner, my soul in recognition.
I called out to her, but when I turned the corner, nobody was there.
My daughter reminded me – mama, Aunt Terri is dead.
I was standing in the middle of an aisle of self help books on love and grief. I laughed, because she was still extending her hand to me.
Love and soul connections never end with death.
Love almost always shows up when we least expect it. Sometimes all we have to do is wait for the clouds to part and say yes, yes, yes.
An invitation to write: the Union
When I think of Union or a marriage, I think of all the unions in life – not just the marriages of man and woman, or man and man, woman and woman, but the long marriage we have with our children, our caretakers, our friends, our parents the care and tending of all, as if with each person we love, to take spiritual vows, we are at the altar of life, and we are saying “I will care fo you, I will love you, I will be there for you, until one of us dies, and then I will watch you from the other side, I will be the wind that whispers your name, the hum you hear before you fall asleep, the small touch of understanding on your arm. As if to say, our souls will be together again in body again.
We are all in union with each other, and like a long marriage, it’s not easy – it wasn’t meant to be easy, but it was meant to be filled with joy, long moments of ease, understanding a laughter.
Your Story – Write for thirteen minutes
- Write new vows to someone you are in a deep union with today, including yourself.
- Write about a proposal of any kind that turned into a deep union with another. (It could be a wedding proposal for marriage, a job proposal that led to a relationship, an invitation for friendship)
For a deeper memoir exploration through the Hero’s Journey, take Laura’s 12-week workshop in a workbook with STORYquest, the Writer, the Hero, the Journey.