So . . . it was as if the door to my room opened and an anonymous arm thrust itself in, handing me a golden pelydryn. Thanks very much. I never had access to anything like it before. I used that power to get stronger, and lived in its golden haze for weeks, floating on the thrill of discovery. But the glow wore off and I became discontented, pulled up short by the notion that while I thought so much of that man in that photo, he wouldn’t think much of me, much of my life. He would walk right by and never notice. I wanted to be better than a survivor, holding on hard but dangling unseen. I needed to stand up tall enough to look him straight in the eyes.
I took myself in hand and did a number of things. First, I rejoined HRI and soon after that sent off my first letter to the president of the United Arab Emirates, politely requesting that a journalist arrested and held incommunicado, most likely as a result of her newspaper columns, be released—fussing with it at work, painstakingly writing it over and over. I slipped it into the mailbox with trepidation and great faith and sincere desire to ease the suffering. I couldn’t sleep that night thinking of that far-away writer in her four-walled cell.
I got stronger, no longer needing food for entertainment and comfort. I took long walks lost in fantastic thought, became much more active and dropped the extra pounds, getting down to my fighting weight. I cut my hair. I had interesting stuff going on in my head and it showed; I started to look good. People started to see me. Sitting at the front desk of the collection room, I looked up from inspecting a young man’s satchel. He smiled at me, skinny and slightly weird, his glasses askew. No matter, I grinned back.
This eruption of energy affected the balance of power in the house. Oddly enough, Karen used to irritate me more than Meredith, but now my tolerance of them reversed. But the major upheaval was with Jean. I was less intimidated by her and she knew it. She waxed nastier day by day, ridiculing any little movement I made toward enlightenment, using sarcasm to keep the sheep in its pen. But she couldn’t control the upward spiral. I became more involved in the life of the house, staying up later, whirling the knobs, flipping the switches, and it became a livelier place, clicking and snapping away on anxious contagion, frustration, expectation, and sugar rushes. We often made brownies on the spur of the moment. Someone would suggest it and who was going to say no? One of us usually had butter, sugar; someone had milk that was going bad, Karen always had chocolate in some form, and I generally had flour, the cheapest thing. Jean, if home, would make coffee. Caffeine heaven.
Still this was not enough. I was ready to read the signals. They were there, I felt, just below the surface; if I looked, they would reveal themselves to me. Like staring into what you think is still water—focus long enough and you’ll see something move. They’d always been there and I returned to a listening state.
I bought a tape player at the Co-op, and like a child entering a fairyland, stepped inside of Cutler’s. Not hip to half of what was going on in the store, it was fun, thumbing through the record bins; not totally with it but definitely in the mix. I bought two tapes and rediscovered the lost melodic rhythmic world. Its warmth melted the snow, brought on the spring. Unbridled thoughts meandered floatingly through my mind as I reacquainted myself with my lost sexual self—reclaiming it in day-dreamy afternoons up in my room—a sensual reawakening. At times the strength of these desires, the emotional yearning, was overpowering. Anything could bring the feeling on: a song, a glance from someone on the street. It made me wonder how I’d gone on so long without it. Once, on my way home from work, I almost followed an interesting-looking man onto his bus, but then thought better of it. I started thinking about making love again, making love to a man like the man on the number 86 bus, making love with a man like Ross Fowler. Wouldn’t that be something? It had been so long. It would be like heaven.
After I’d been traveling with Michael for a bit, I had gone on the Pill. I wasn’t a hundred percent certain about it, but had increasingly sensed from hints that it wasn’t just a private matter, but a growing concern in the camp, especially with Dr. Raynes. The father was not comfortable talking to the son about such matters and so was uncharacteristically mum. I believe they tried to get Mrs. Raynes to find out what protection I was using via some girl-to-girl chat, but she never approached me on the subject. The man around whom this concern swirled, the one needing “protection,” couldn’t be saddled with fatherhood at this point in his career, and Dr. Raynes would never consider pregnancy an accident, only a conniving attempt at social security. That stung my pride, so in the corridor one day during the post-game press conference when he finally asked me under his breath, “You’re being careful, I’m assuming,” I gritted my teeth.
“Yes, of course, the Pill!” I exclaimed purposely too loud, daring those around us to look our way. Angered at having to ask such a question, the doctor nodded his head grimly and walked away. Not a particularly devout man considering his upbringing, his son and I could do it till we couldn’t do it any longer, could do it standing on our heads as far as he was concerned now he knew it was “safe”—as long, of course, as long as it didn’t affect the boy’s match stamina. The patriarch had done blood duty, defended the temple against the marauders—saving his son from himself was Dr. Raynes’ religion. As for myself, having lied in such a spectacular fashion, I now had to make an appointment with a doctor.
When I left Michael I threw those pills away. Now I was thinking about it again and felt I should be prepared. But not the Pill . . . a diaphragm maybe, well maybe the Pill. It was time to have an exam anyway, so maybe I would just inquire. Would they give me a hard time because there was no tangible husband, boyfriend? Would they think I was . . . what? Delusional? ‘Well, I plan to be sexually active,’ I pictured myself telling the nurse as I sat stripped and paper-wrapped on the doctor’s table. Yes, that was the truth; I was planning on being sexually active, spiritually active, politically, sensually active. As I sat in the front of the bus on the way to my appointment, I kept repeating this mantra over and over in my head. I looked at my fellow passengers, stoics crushed together across the aisle, ‘I plan to be sexually active,’ I silently told them.