> jumping into life.


On the way to Camel's Hump, the Winooski River runs strong and fast. This is a season of water, this time between the dropping of leaves and the full turn to snow. When rain comes the roots are inert as stone, with no chlorophyll bring sugars into the sap, no tiny stomata pores to exhale oxygen and water both and work the xylem vacuum. The rain flows through and over the half-frozen ground, pours itself into rivulets and streams, down waterfalls that turn to sheets of ice at night, pours down the muddy and treacherous trails, down the tire-tracks in the dirt road, pours right through each crevice in the mountain itself and into the river and into the lake.

Rain is rain; mountain is mountain; rock is rock; river is river. Right?

The river runs silver and black. The sunlight speaks winter; the rushes and reeds are grey and tawn. This feels like winter to me. Only the larches show color now, their yellow needles spraying with every wind. Tiny ridges of snow line the bare branches of birches, maples, willows, oaks. I cannot tell them apart. The sunlight has melted the edges of the snow and lights each liquid curve until the trail is a blaze of jewels. We stop and breathe and breathe until the cold seeps in.


So. The story.

It'll be three years in December since we met. My biology class was held adjacent to his geology class; my class joined his for a guest lecture about I have no idea what. I saw him across the room, and that was that. Seriously. I stared at him that whole day and for about two weeks longer, and then when I saw him at the bar on the last day of classes, I made him buy me a drink and then took him home. We've been home ever since.

So. Three years since we met. Since it was a love-at-first-sight affair, that'll be three years that we've been in love. There is that ugly gash in the middle, of course, but I never stopped loving him. He never stopped loving me.

A year ago this week I proposed to him, on one knee, with a ring I bought in the Dallas airport. That was an early step towards closing that space between us; he said no. Or, more accurately, he said not yet.

The other day, my mother asked what it's like to live with him, and I didn't really have an answer. It's like living with myself, mostly. Not that he is like me, or that our domestic habits are the same, or that there has been no conflict over the doing of dishes or the sweeping of floors - far from it. In fact, we fight over dishes more than anything else. It is like living with myself because it feels fundamentally natural, fundamentally comfortable.

I do not ascribe to the idea that partnership is the highest ideal of the human condition; in fact, I think it's a damn shame and damaging that it is so often portrayed that way, that so many young adults (and adult adults) focus all their energy on finding a boyfriend/girlfriend/lover/mate and don't take the time to get to know themselves. I think it's a damn shame that I spent so much time myself casting nets and regretting them, thinking I could only interact with men by seducing them, thinking I could only interact with women by competing. I think at least half the reason my months in the monastery were so relieving/reviving/revelatory was that I had chosen to be celibate. That year of celibacy, imperfect as it was, broke into pieces many of my assumptions about myself. I discovered the incredible freedom of opting out of the whole game. Not snaring, not sniping. I discovered that I didn't know how to cultivate platonic intimacy with men; that if I didn't act on my attractions they shifted rapidly and radically; that if I didn't self-identify as sexy, I didn't quite know who I was.

It was terrifying and wonderful. And at the end of it, I moved across the country to propose to the man I loved.

When I say love at first sight, I'm not being glib. I would have married him our first night together. And when I say loving him is like loving myself, I mean that it is hard and I have no choice. We talk about being voodooed, bewitched. When I say I was a widow without him, I mean it.

I flew out from California a year ago this week, to see if we were still us, and we were. We went on a hike up a nearby mountain and talked about our future. We decided I'd move out in January and we'd try to build a life together.

A year later, we went on a hike up the same mountain, to the view at the top, and he pulled a ring out of his pocket and proposed.

I said yes.

The ring was my mother's, given to her by her father when he returned from a tour of duty in Iran. The stone is alexandrite, the national jewel of Czarist Russia. It changes color: lavender in incandescent light, blue in the sun, deep blood-red under candlelight. It is supposed to increase my intuition.

In this case, at least, I think my intuition served me pretty well.


I'm not usually a jewelry kind of girl, and definitely not a gold-and-flashy kind of girl. But I will make exceptions.

We're engaged.


My best friend is in the Army.

She joined right out of high school, got a medical discharge after two years, then joined again last year. Part economic draft and part pride.

We talked last night for the first time in a while. We've been best friends since second grade, and we were pretty different even then. Our families and personal histories have always made a good contrast: her's pretty rough, generally, and mine looking pretty much like it was designed by Norman Rockwell.

If we met today, I'm not sure we'd get along. But nearly two decades of friendship seems to carry over: we understand each other in a thorough and unique way that so far is greater than our differences. She likes the reaction she gets from telling her friends that her best friend is a hippie--"No, really! She doesn't even shave!"--as much as I enjoy telling my friends that my best friend is in the Army.

My best friend is in the Army.

Last night she told me that they gave her the vaccinations for smallpox and anthrax; they gave her a grenade launcher and top-secret security clearance; they gave her shipping orders for the end of November.

The end of November, this year.

She's a linguist, Military Intelligence; she's one of five translators for 5,000 people and the only female. She tells me she'll be safe.

"The best way to start a fight in Iraq is to have a woman in a public position of power," she said. "They'll keep me on the base."

We don't talk politics.

She listed all the dates she'll be missing: Christmas, her first wedding anniversary, her birthday, my birthday, her husband's birthday, her second anniversary, another Christmas, another birthday. All of 2008. Most of 2009.

She wants to start a family soon; her husband's getting a dog while she's gone.

Can I say it again? My best friend is going to Iraq. At the end of November. She's in the Army.