Tag Archives: romance

Long Ago: Community Entry #26

May we open ourselves to the gift of self-expression with empathy and courage.

As you may know, I am spending a few months in the dormancy of winter, working on a book. And, like last year at this time, I am offering my blog to you. Last year we looked into our Breaking Points and found community and grace in grief and vulnerability. This year we are looking into our past, and finding the weaving of community that stitches us to our present. I will be posting these pieces at These Here Hills. Their authors will be happy to receive and respond to your comments.  Here is the blog post I wrote about this subject.

Contest submissions closed. Winner will receive a scholarship to one of my upcoming Haven writing retreats in Montana, announced mid-February…

Now I am further stepping into the wilderness of Montana and the wilderness of writing. If you’d like to create haven for your creativity…come to a Haven Writing Retreat here in Montana. June, August, and September retreats are now booking and filling fast.  Email me for more info:  Laura@lauramunsonauthor.com

I HAPPY, by Ani Bell

You like me a lot.

That’s what Brian (pronounced Bree-ahnsaid to me on New Year’s Eve, nearly nine years ago. We were salsa dancing at an outdoor club in Samara –a hard-to-get-to coastal town on the Nicoya Peninsula, Costa Rica. 

You like me a lot.

Hands on my hips, smile on his lips, a direct gaze connecting his brown eyes to my blue.

You like me a lot.

I was — for once — speechless. A confident, strong, thirty-eight-year-old woman – yet a twenty-three-year-old Tico rendered me unable to connect two articulate words together. 

You like me a lot.

I felt I’d landed the leading role in a silent remake of ‘How Stella Got Her Groove Back’I opened my mouth to speak, but nothing came out.

You like me a lot.

His words were cool water splashing my face, electricity shock-coursing through my veins. I was stunned. I’d never encountered a man so self-assured, so straightforward, so bold. Or so right. It was true. I liked him a lot.

Once I could breathe again, I managed a chuckle, looked into his eyes. Si,’ I mumbled — proving my continued inability to construct a sentence. Just as well. The instant the acknowledgment left my lips, Brian’s came to meet them. And meet them. And meet them. And meet them. His friends stopped dancing to watch. 

Thus began one of the greatest love affairs – & most unexpected learning lessons — of my life.

Five minutes after that incredible kiss, worry set in. Mi dios!  What was I THINKING?! A twenty-three-year-old?! Seriously — besides thatSure, Brian was exotic & smoldering & sexy & had a head of long, crazy-curly hair any supermodel would covet. But he was twenty-threeWhat — besides a sweet-hot tropical fling — could he bring into my life? He was twenty-threeWhat — besides how to speak Tico-slang — could he teach me? He was twenty-threeWhat — besides sweaty-steamy-beach-sex — could he do for me? Did I mention he was twenty-three?

Being so close to the equator, I can plead heat-induced dementia. Being on vacation, I can plead being-on-vacation. Being single & thirty-eight (& no dummy), I can plead sweaty-steamy-beach-sex. 

At the time, I probably did plead those things, & I’m sure What-Happens-In-Samara-Stays-In-Samara occurred to me more than once whilst considering the pros & cons of a romance with Brian.

But the real reason I said, ‘Si’, was because I felt a connection to him that surpassed sex –even the sweaty-steamy-beach variety. I felt a connection that circumvented language & cultural barriers. I felt a connection that magically transformed the fifteen years between us to mere seconds. I felt a connection I couldn’t explain. But he could.

The night we first kissed, walking home along a deserted stretch of beach, I asked, ‘Por que`?  Why me?’ I hadn’t yet made peace with a holiday dalliance, especially one involving a markedly younger man. Brian stopped walking, took my hands in his.  ‘You have big energy,’ he said. Well, I silently mused, THAT’S original!  I thought I’d heard every pick-up line in the book, but this one certainly takes the tortilla.

Instead of attempting to translate cynicism into Spanish, I opted for confusion. No entiendo.  I don’t know what you mean.’ ‘Big energy,’ he repeated.  ‘You have big energy. First I see you, I say my friends — I marry that woman.’

‘Marry?’ I squawked. ‘No.  No.  No marry.  No marry!’ Fear turned me into a wing-flapping parrot with very bad grammar‘You no mean marry!?  You no mean marry!?  No marry!  No marry!’ He grasped my hands again, attempted to calm me. ‘Marry.  Yes, marry.  I say marry.  No because you beautiful. No because sexy.  You have big energy.  Good vibration.  I see it.  Light around you.  My friends see.  I see.  Good energy.’

Even with Brian’s broken English, understanding began to blossom. I stopped squawking & started breathing again. He smiled, encircled me with his arms & said, ‘We have connection.’ I didn’t know what to say, but I knew what to feel. He was right.

There was an energetic connection between Brian & I that had little to do with sex or romance or wanting to wrap my fingers in his crazy-curly hair. We were old souls — & we’d recognized one another.  I’d felt it from the beginning, but hadn’t known how to convey it in words or whether he’d grasp the concept even if my Spanish were sufficient to do so.

But he was twenty-three. I couldn’t fathom what I’d get –besides sweaty-steamy-beach-sex –out of a relationship with a twenty-three-year-old. I fell for him nonetheless. How could I not? We genuinely liked one another, danced well together, talked easily & openly, laughed a lot.

One afternoon in bed, lying in the crook of his arm, I reminisced about the New Year’s Even he’d been so brazen as to declare, ‘You like me a lot.’ When I told him I couldn’t quite believe he’d had the huevos to say such a thing to me, he looked perplexed. I was fairly sure I’d used Tico-slang correctly. [Translated, ‘huevos’ literally means ‘eggs’, but Ticos use it more as a colorful description for ‘man-eggs’ -- if you get my drift.] But Brian appeared flummoxed. Between his broken English & my shattered Spanish, it took ten minutes to unravel the miscommunication. When we did, I laughed & screamed so hysterically, my landlord poked her head in the window to make sure I was OK. I was.We’d discovered, when Brian boldly said, ‘You like me a lot,’ he’d actually meant to say, ‘I like you a lot.’

Realizing his gaffe, he smiled shyly, said, ‘Lo siento.  I sorry. I no mean say that.  I mean say — I like you a lot.  Oh, man!’ Then he kissed my cheek murmuring, ‘Lo siento, lo siento, lo siento.’ I assured him there was nothing to be sorry for. He liked me a lot. I liked him a lot. We have connection.

The next day, after a first-ever surfing lesson (big waves, bigger wipeouts), we sat on the beach laughing at how terrified I’d been at the prospect of encountering sharks –which I was convinced wanted nothing more than to chew me to bits, JAWS-style. Truth to tell — I had no plans to become shark-bait on my vacaciones, & if I hadn’t trusted Brian & already seen firsthand what a gifted surfer he was, nothing could’ve lured me into the deep waters of the Pacific. But it was obvious the ocean was his home, & he was born to surf –perhaps even born to teach others how to surf?

As the idea erupted in my brain, the life coach in me shifted into high gear. I realized Brian could turn his passion for riding the waves into a lucrative way to earn a living. Genius! I shared my inspiration, described in detail how brilliant Brian would be to quit his job at Hotel Giada, start a surfing school, maybe ask his cousin to help run it. Thrilled for him, I thought of the money he’d make, the independence he’d have, the exhilaration of success at his young age.  I chattered on for two or three minutes before I realized – Brian wasn’t chattering back.

Halting my dream-scheme in midsentence, I asked, ‘Well, whatdya think?’ He kissed my cheek, seemed to struggle for words. I assumed the language barrier prevented him telling me what a ridiculously talented coach I was, that he was busy translating glowing words of praise from Spanish to English. I sat patiently, awaiting the accolades to come. He kissed my cheek again, smiled. 

Ani — your idea, I thank you,’ he began. ‘Is good idea.  Is bueno.  I thank you.’ He squeezed my hand, continued, ‘Is good idea.  Verdad.’ His eyes locked with mine, guileless. ‘But my work is be happy.  And I happy.

You coulda knocked me over with a palm frond. He went on, ‘I understand your country is good to success. Is bueno.  Is good for you.  But my work is be happy.’  He shrugged his shoulders, a light in his eyes. ‘I happy,’ he repeated, the smile on his face confirming his words.

It was true. He was. Even working long, hard hours as a waiter. Even catering to tourists who could afford to vacation in Costa Rica, but seemingly couldn’t afford to tip. Even going without the conveniences I took for granted –owning a car, an overstocked grocery, air conditioning. Even living with his mother, his father, his sisters, his brother — in a home with little privacy. On an occasion when I asked if he wouldn’t prefer to move out of the family casa — get his own place – he searched my face for answers, bewildered.  

Why I want leave my Mom?’ he inquired. ‘Um, maybe to have privacy, be on your own?’ I offered. ‘Oh, no, Ani — I love my Mom.  If leave my Mom, I no happy.  Nooo happy.  I happy with my Mom.’ I couldn’t argue with that. He was. I knew firsthand.

The morning after Brian & I first spent the night together at ‘my place’ – a rental casita located a few houses down from his own — he awoke early, jumped into the outdoor shower, crawled back into bed squeaky-clean, a half-grin on his face. 

‘Come, Ani.  No sleep.  We go.  We eat breakfast.’ Receiving no response, he reached under the sheets, threatened to tickle me if I didn’t get a move-on. I closed my eyes, mock-snored as loudly as I could, ‘Conk-shuuu.  Conk-shuuu. Cohhhnnnkkk-ssshhhuuuuu.’He wasn’t buying it. ‘Aaaaanniiiii,’ he coaxed, ‘is time awake!’ ‘Cohhhnnnkkk-ssshhhuuuuu.’

Trying a new tactic, he put his lips to mine, puncuating his words with kisses. ‘Aaaaanniiiii!’ KISS. ‘Is time,’ KISS. KISS. ‘Breakfast!’ KISS. ‘Cohhhnnnkkk-ssssshhhhhhuuuuuuuu,’ I replied against his lips.

Assessing the situation, he played the sympathy card, sighing, ‘I have hungry.  Think I die if I no eat, Ani. Think I die if I no eat, ahora!’I opened my eyes, made a funny face. Giggling, I said, ‘You look bueno to me!’ He whistled in exasperation, started grumbling in Spanish, faster than I could translate. 

One thing was apparent —  the way to a man’s heart really is through his stomach, even in Costa Rica. I laughed, told him I’d cook something muy delicioso as soon as I had energy sufficient to lift my head off the pillow. He rolled his eyes, said, ‘No, no, no.  My Mom cook! She want meet you.  We go.  Is late.  She wait.’

Suddenly I had no problem lifting my head off the pillow.  I bolted upright — speechless again — mouth agape. My heart danced a merengue, my mind twirled to the pumping beat: I’ve spent the night with a twenty-three-year-old, & his mother — who happens to be a mere six years my senior – wants to meet me & cook breakfast!? 

I found my voice. ‘Mi dios, tell me you’re kidding! Tell me you’re joking!  Tell me you’re not serious! Por favor, tell me your mother isn’t waiting to cook me breakfast?!’ I pleaded.

‘She wait y she cook. Pero no eat if we no go ahora,’ he said, pulling me into his arms.

‘Oh, God, Brian — I can’t walk into your family’s home the morning after we’ve had sex & expect your Mom to cook for me!  Are you loco?!’ He handed me my flip-flops.

I pulled the sheet over my head. ‘No way.  I’m not going.  I’m NOT going. She might try to poison me or something.’

‘No, no.  She no poison.  She no poison!  She cook with love!  Have big, love energy in eggs, gallo pinto.  You see.  She no cook bad energy except when she mad.  When she mad, I taste difference.  Taste muy malo. Last time she mad with Papi, I no eat nothing for two days!’ In spite of Brian’s disturbing attempt at reassurance, I got dressed, trudged the dirt road to his family casa, A Dead Senorita Walking.

 A howler monkey in the low branch of a mangrove screamed bloody-murder.  ‘You can say that again,’ I mumbled, feeling sick. Brian held my hand the entire way, had the grace not to mention how slick & sweaty it was. Smiling, oblivious to my dread, he walked into the house, pulling me along behind him. We entered the kitchen. There she was. This woman — quite nearly my contemporary — whose son was falling for me. My mind begged the question —  Oh, Blessed Maria, what have I done to deserve this?! But my heart already knew the answer – I’d slept with a twenty-three-year-old.

Brian kissed his mother on the cheek, lingered in a hug, gestured my way. He seemed so proud & happy. Dizzy with fear, I hung back in the corner, leaned against the stucco wall, bracing myself for the tirade to come. Silencio. I wondered if I’d comprehend whatever curses she’d hurl my way, thought I’d be lucky if I didn’t. I said a last-minute prayer. Oh, God — please protect me and forgive me for my sins.  Please let this Mother Hen spare me and let me go on living another day on Your Great Green Earth.  And if she does and if You do, I promise to never sleep with another twenty-three-year-old again!  And if I do, I promise not to show up at his mother’s house the next day for breakfast.  Ever.  Again. Amen. 

I resisted the urge to cross myself, took a step forward, resigned to my fate. With a rigid smile plastered on my face, I waited. She closed the distance between us in two steps, kissed my cheek, & took me into her arms.

‘Hola, Ani!’ she crooned.  ‘Mucho gusto.’ I’ve never felt so welcome. Or so relieved. The meal — rice & beans & eggs & plantains — was cooked with such Big Love, I tasted it. I understood why he never wanted to leave. I understood why he’d miss his Mami if he did. And I understood why he was so happy.

A week later, an illness hit Brian fast & hard. Feverish, swollen glands, aching all over, he was barely able to get out of bed. Afraid for him, I advised a visit to the doctor in a nearby village. He said he wanted to surf instead. I pushed him back into the pillows, covered him with the sheet, mopped his brow with a cool washcloth. I thought he was delirious.

Bri, you need a doctor.  This is serious,’ I warned.

‘No, no, no.  I need surf.  I need medicine.  Surf my medicine.  I go surf.’

Once again, I found myself speechless in the face of a young man whose wisdom defied his years.   I wanted to argue, force him to see things my way, coerce him into seeking a professional so he’d be healthy again. But since I’d underestimated him more than once, I held my tongue, decided to trust.  Maybe the love he felt for surfing would heal him? Weak but determined, he labored out of bed, got dressed, kissed me ‘adios’.  From a sore throat, he croaked, ‘Hasta luego!’ over his shoulder as he ambled down the dirt path to the beach.

Somehow I knew he’d be well in a few hours. While Brian went in search of surf-medicine, I curled up in a hammock, watched colorful parrots flitting from lime tree to mango, back to lime again. An iridescent blue butterfly fluttered onto my hand. I smiled, burrowing deeper into the hammock & into my reverie. I thought about all I’d learned in six weeks in Costa Rica, how I hoped to carry the lessons with me back home to the States. I thought about how a twenty-three-year-old taught me more than I ever dreamed possible. I thought about how love finds its way through words, through food, through cultures, through the joy of dancing & surfing & passion. And about how love found its way through two old souls born years & miles & countries apart. We have connection, I thought. And I happy.

That’s My Story,

ANI

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Fifty Shades of Grey– My Two Cents

As featured on Huff/Post 50

So—zeitgeist being the social tattle-tale that it is, I admit that I recently succumbed to the book phenomenon of, yes…50 Shades of Grey.  I’m fascinated by the collective We and what We want to read.  I once wrote an essay that I never dreamed would get published, and the darn thing went viral and landed me a book deal.  I’ve wondered over and over just why that was.  Because if I could bottle the reason, I might be able to pay for my kids’ college educations.  Not that I’m holding my breath.

On the off chance that you haven’t heard of these books, they would be considered, for lack of a better term…well, smut.  Or as it says on the back of the books, “Erotic Romance/Mature Audience.” Not that there’s anything ultimately wrong with smut.  I just am captivated by the fact that so many many people are so unabashedly hungry for these books.  I wouldn’t be surprised if one or all of them were on Michelle Obama’s nightstand.  I have not been captivated enough however to succumb to their charms…until recently.

I don’t usually read smut.  The closest I’ve gotten is Anais Nin in college and maybe a Danielle Steele or two way back when.  In fact, I’m never reading what Everybody Else is reading and maybe that’s on purpose.  I didn’t even read the HARRY POTTER series, never mind anything with a vampire in it.  I read stuff that has my teenager roll her eyes:  poetry and s***.  Not that this makes me better or worse or anything other than just busy and a sucker for poetry and s***.

HOWEVER, a friend recently sent me the 50 Shades trilogy as more or less, a challenge—a dare to be part of the living breathing collective We.  And given this captivation, I decided to take her up on it.  I’ve spent the last month reading these books with disgust and fascination, watching my literary IQ plummet.  Why are these books catapulting like little innocent darlin’s into our mainstream?  Why was the flight attendant on my last plane perfectly content to be reading Book One from her command in the jump seat, full frontal— nary a book cover?  Remember Fear of Flying?  I read that book with brown paper carefully cut and taped around its cover.  Have we no shame these days?  I guess that’s the point, right.  To not have shame.  But seriously…this book is everywhere.  I mean, come on!  Number one, two, and three on the New York Times bestseller list?  Why?  WHY?  As a book author, and as a woman, I had to investigate.

At first I was tempted to scour every last article about it on the internet, but instead, I thought I’d go straight to the source.  From the ladies locker room to the baseball stands, from grocery lines to airport gates…I’ve asked woman after woman what she thinks about this book’s explosion into mainstream America.  And most of them had the same thing to say.

I’ll try to streamline it here:  People want to know that they’re not alone.  I think that’s why we read books.  In the case of 50 Shades, I really don’t think people are going crazy for it because of the sex.  And there’s a lot of it.  (I actually ended up skimming the sex scenes they were so ubiquitous.)  It seems that one of the primary places women in our culture feel alone is in their feminism. This threw me for a loop!  Who knew?  I hadn’t really thought about this before.  According to my research, somewhere along the way, once we got the vote and equality in the work place (though some would say we still have a long way to go in this arena), sexual liberation, and physical rights to our bodies etc…we got stuck.  Stuck in anger.

Anger is good.  It moves mountains.  But being angry at the fact that now we can and do “do it all” in so many cases…feels like a double standard.  And we don’t like that at all.  Take chivalry for instance—we’re supposed to be offended by it.  But are many if not most of us privately wanting chivalry and not feeling like we should admit it?  Hmmm?  Guilty as charged.  How’s that working for us?  Is it?  Do we really hate having the door opened for us, ala 50 Shades’ male character, mega-millionaire Christian Grey?  Do we really despise being seated at a table?  Doted on.  Protected. I don’t know about you, but I love those things.  I feel thought of, respected, and dare I admit: taken care of.  That’s the dirty secret and perhaps part of our anger and I think the baseline reason for the mania around 50 Shades.  When it really comes down to it…what woman doesn’t want to be taken care of?  I can’t speak for men, so I won’t try, and besides, I doubt many of them are reading these books.

I think that E.L. James had a pretty major trick up her sleeve in conceiving these books.  Maybe more so than she thinks, though I haven’t seen her interviewed.  She takes us so far out of our normal realm (that is, if you aren’t into BDSM– Bondage, Dominance, Sadism Masochism), that we can see with new post-feminist eyes that, heck—what’s wrong with our partners providing us a personal trainer to stay fit, a personal chef who cooks us healthy food and makes sure we eat it, beautiful couture clothes, and a great job?  A house we love.  Seriously?  Bring it.

But what drives the reader and the plot, in my opinion and in the running poll I have recently taken, is the dark side of the story which has to do with the “punishment” facet of Grey’s sexual tastes.  The question of pleasure and pain somehow having something to do with each other is new for most people.  I frankly just don’t get that piece and I don’t really want to do THAT research. So I’ll leave it to the therapists out there.  But what I saw in this trilogy was a strong, smart, (even though her vocabulary was appalling—there should be a drinking game called “Oh my”) woman who refuses to stray from her values, even and especially with the pressure of a wildly attractive, successful, powerful man who wants to be her Dominant.  As the book progresses, and a surprise love for each other blooms, she (Anastasia) becomes curious about the dark side of Christian’s past and his sexuality.  And while he agrees to refrain from his usual sexual practices, Ana agrees to let him hit her out of curiosity, but more to see the extent of this man’s darkness.

In the middle of the act, when it becomes too much for her, she fails to keep up her end of the bargain and tell him to stop.  Horrified and understandably so, she leaves and he comes undone because that’s the deal—there are Safe words in BDSM for a reason.  He sees it as a breach of trust.  And this is what is fascinating to me in such a twisted way:  Christian sees the punishment component of what he does in his sexual “playroom” as a way to push limits to, in the end, find…yep, trust.  ???

I can’t imagine letting or even wanting someone to cause me physical pain.  And I certainly can’t imagine that it would somehow bring me to a place of trust.  But then again I have no research in this department.  It’s a gamethat I won’t be playing.  It does however, have me (and millions of readers) wondering about our limits in general, and especially trust in intimacy.  As I was telling my teenaged daughter, any sexual act requires a lot of trust and vulnerability.  And it can be scary to be so trusting because we know damn well that we very easily could get burned.  E. L. James has us looking at trust in a whole new light which gives us new eyes.  With half the marriages out there failing, you can bet that the lack of or loss of trust weighs in somewhere at the top of the list of reasons why.  And what’s interesting about this section of the trilogy is that Ana did not trust herself to know her limits.  A tough pill to swallow when you consider yourself a smart, strong, feminist– which is how her character is packaged.  We’re mad at her just like we’d be mad at ourselves.  As much as we want to hate Christian for hurting her, it’s ultimately something she signed up for and a game she didn’t play well.  Confounding isn’t it.  A double bind.  And so we read on…

Given all this, it’s no small surprise that I spent the first book with my arms crossed, “rolling my eyes,” but as I moved into the second one, I began to see that the protagonist, though she doesn’t ultimately succumb to being a Submissive, was really the one in charge all along.  And what drives her is her deep love and curiosity about this man and his dark past.  She enters into a war with herself.  And what she comes to find is that the more she is “herself” with Christian, the more he sheds his anger and brokenness, and can step into authentic love.  It would look from the outside that he is rescuing her, but really it’s the other way around.

Do I believe in their love?  Yes.  I do.  I won’t give the ending away, but I can say that the mother in me wanted it to end in marital family bliss.  The feminist in me (and maybe the angry feminist in me) wanted it to end similar to my favorite scene in the book:  where Grey drops to his knees in submission in a crazed moment—the love of his life leaving him, so used to control, so knowing that his usual behavior is not going to work with Ana, wanting her beyond any feeling he’s ever known and having no ability to buy his way into getting her…seeing no other choice but to relinquish all control and drop to his knees.  Oh my…that was one powerful scene.  In other words, part of me wanted the third book to end with Ana as the Dominant, holding a riding crop in her hand.

One more note:  for all its “f***ery” it wasn’t really that gory.  I was expecting gerbils and Girl With the Dragon Tattoo craziness.  It was way more “vanilla” than you’d expect, given the way the author sets us up.  And that too drives the reader to endure its scary-bad writing.  Yes, scary-bad.  We’re just plain curious about the whole “playroom” and this darker side of sex. That’s right– even you, Peoria.  Even you.  You told me so in the grocery line.

In the end, it really was a love story.  And it really didn’t promise to be one.  I liked that about it.  And something tells me that…this is not the end.  Will I read Book Four?  Will I see the movie?  Heck.  I just might.  I believe that when a person is that dark and that damaged, it can and usually does come back to haunt them.

Now it’s back to poetry and s***.  It might take Keats to undo the done damage to my literary IQ.

 

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