Monday, September 26, 2011

Alison of the Barren Desert

Here’s a little romantic interlude, fundie-preacherboy style.

One Sunday back in them infernal days of SoCal drought in 1980, when I was a nineteen-year old righteous preacher-boy fundie doing his fundie preacher-boy thing, I met a lady who was about eight or nine years’ my senior at a church luncheon after services.  What broke the ice was while we were gathering grub at the buffet, when she voiced her opinion that she had thought other denominations were equally valid, and I had told her that she was wrong, because they were all false churches.  She must’ve been impressed with my forthrightness or something, coupled with my being a spry young bony lad with almost-confrontational intensity, that we had somehow hit it off. 

She told me her name was Alison (I figure since this was thirty-one years ago, the “statute of limitations” is up, so yes, that was her real name), who was visiting with her folks (her folks didn’t do church).  She was all the way from Connecticut, apparently from a wealthy home, and had that Connecticutesque accent and ways of saying things that charmed me.  Her energy was vibrant and warm.  She had long dark hair, brown eyes, and was quite pretty.  And highly educated, intelligent, and articulate; I think she was a school teacher, although I might be remembering that part incorrectly.  She had fit the dark-sister anima mode that I had been seeking, so a connection got made on subtle levels.  We started resonating together right off the bat while we lunched.  She was only staying the weekend, so she and her folks were taking off the next day. 

After lunch she took me to the condominium where they were staying, I met her folks, and we made a date for the evening: a movie and dinner.  Her parents were very happy their daughter had met me, and were excited on her behalf.  Alison looked very happy too, and that made me glad.  Being an empath, I immediately sensed that she had undergone some kind of adversity just recently, but I didn’t ask. 

That evening I drove to their condo; I chatted briefly with her parents and we were off to town (Palm Springs).  We went and saw Martin Scorcese’s Raging Bull of all movies, a rather macho flick, but we both liked it.  We then went to a restaurant that was on the restaurant row, a cozy place with its back turned toward the San Jacinto Mountains, toward mystical Tahquitz Canyon; we said a prayer before our dinner, not giving a shit about what other smirking diners thought.  We conversed non-stop.  The conversation was sometimes light, sometimes not.  She had told me that she suffered a nervous breakdown, and that she was recovering.  I sensed no heaviness from Alison the whole time we were together, even when she spoke of her breakdown.  I sensed the residual stuff more from her parents than Alison herself.

We went to my apartment that night.  I don’t remember how that happened, but it did, and I had thought that I had made a mistake.  I was a righteous preacher-evangelist boy, so I didn’t do premarital sex (any more) … I wasn’t afraid of my self-control, but I became aware that I might have inadvertently led Alison on.  Alison was attractive and I was very fond of her, and it was obvious she felt the same way about me.  And when the crucial moment came, we were standing in the kitchen when she spoke of wanting intimacy, and had said that she was too afraid to initiate it.  I remember the following words she spoke, verbatim: “I feel so inhibited.”  She stared into my eyes.  I stared into her eyes.  We stood that way, silent, for several minutes.  I just stood.  Like stone.  Didn’t budge.  Didn’t even lift a finger, literally, to comfort her.  Nothing.  I might as well have been a statue of St. Francis of Assisi. 

I drove Alison back to her parents’; she was quiet, and her energy had dropped.  She was dejected, and I had let her down.  When she opened the truck door to leave, she moved toward me and kissed me on my lips.  I didn’t flinch.  She said goodbye, and I think I did as much.  I never saw Alison again.  She wrote me a postcard from Connecticut a month or so later, and it made me glad; I wrote her back, I think, and that was pretty much the end of it. 

I recall this with my current understanding.  I had thought that I was strong, of strong faith, and so forth so on.  I was authentic, yeah, I was the real deal.  But was I able to comfort Alison, this delicate, lonesome person who had been recovering from a breakdown, who reached out for my affection, wanting some warmth, some kindness, some basic, healing, physical contact?  Was I strong enough to do that?  No, I wasn’t. My so-called "faith" was far too fragile for that, so I tenaciously grasped onto my staunch, dogmatic convictions, shut out everything and everyone else, thinking that I was saving my soul and hers’, all the while not realizing that I was still lost, and yet to be found. 

Dedicated to Alison