There is one purpose to life and one only: to bear witness to and understand as much as possible of the complexity of the world - its beauty, its mysteries, its riddles. The more you understand, the more you look, the greater is your enjoyment of life and your sense of peace. That's all there is to it. If an activity is not grounded in "to love" or "to learn," it does not have value.
We meet Dan and Holly at a parking lot in Saugerties, one that seems to jut out almost into the river. We have been assured it will be a half mile hike to the lighthouse and that we should plan to swim. I assumed these would be discrete activities, but there has been so much rain recently that the path is often swallowed by the overflowing banks of the Hudson.
The lighthouse is not, as one might imagine, a lone tower rising from a rocky islet so much as a bed and breakfast that is inconveniently located. Large ships do not navigate this section of the Hudson with regularity and it is not too difficult to notice one is approaching a shore, though there is a large light not currently activated. Dan and Holly know the lighthouse keeper, because they are the sort to know lighthouse keepers on a first name basis.
There is talk of this being a picnic, though it is a notional concept. Amber and I bring homemade popcorn and a few cans of seltzer and Dr. Pepper, Dan has a glut of Taco Bell, Holly absorbs sunlight. We sit on a wooden porch directly on the water as the winds seem to accost us from all angles. Amber works with the wind to coat herself in spray sunblock. I spray it on my hands and try to rub, which she seems to perceive as counter-intuitive, but not all of us are elves whom the elements love.
It is one of those days I will cherish, the swimming in the muddy Hudson, Amber turning reeds into (nonfunctional) musical instruments, someone's Labrador lifting massive rocks with its jaw to toss elsewhere. Today exists in an improbable world, a place hidden away from proper time, somewhere I would not have thought to venture alone. It is neither too hot nor too cool out of the water and I adjusted to the Hudson in shivering moments. It was more perfect that I could have written it.
After a few hours, Dan and Holly need to see about selling what remains of the books they are not moving to the new apartment an hour south. Amber and I return home to shower and make a quick dinner, a one pot pasta dish I'd seen online. Everything is so fresh, Amber will not allow us to get packaged basil when she could just have me buy her a basil plant to love (one whose leaves she will surreptitiously munch on in the coming days). It feels as though today has been a perfect forever already.
In the evening, Dan and Holly join us to go to a tiny art-house theater, the sort that sells homemade cookies in lieu of popcorn and charges through the nose for the privilege of experiencing their black-and-white movies, to see Joss Whedon's rendition of Much Ado About Nothing. We've spent all day with them, but it isn't enough. We end up at a diner until well after it closes, picking at the massive pile of disco fries the waiter brings Dan in lieu of a side dish, talking through stories, memories, and opinions.
It is a day that is unrepeatable and amazing. It will be the jewel of my weeks off from work, closer to a screenwriter's Platonic ideal of summer than anything that actually happening in my regular life, and I realize that much of it for me owes to Amber's presence.
Amber has changed. If I may be permitted to paraphrase John Green, her change was like falling asleep or in love: gradual and then all at once. She says one of the biggest differences she sees is that she does talk to Holly and Dan, something that would have been impossible before. There will be times when she is suddenly struck by the fact that she isn't awkwardly hiding in silence, as was her habit with most people before, Daniel and me excepted.
When I met her and for a year after, she was painfully shy, painful not only to herself but to those around her. I was so used to those I loved being a bit showy, something that caused my family to label prior exes as "arrogant". I loved Amber then, there is no doubt, but I did not feel I fully knew her. So much of who she was, what she thought, why she did what she did was kept within her for fear - genuine fear - of sharing it.
The moment that made her realize something was wrong was shopping for Valentine's Day. She'd read a post before about how a sign of an anxiety disorder was biting one's lip. She came home from buying a few groceries for our lovely night together exhausted and chewed up. It occurred to her that her level of introversion was not natural, that so much of her life to his point had been directed by social anxiety disorder, and that she was done hiding from herself.
She went to her doctor and was prescribed an SSRI and a beta blocker to keep her heart from reacting badly. These didn't change her, at first. She told me simply that she could tell when she was beginning to feel anxious, only her nervous system wouldn't react as much. Her heart wouldn't race, she wouldn't tense up. For the first month or so, I noticed only small things. She would talk a little more and more freely. She would criticize if something was done wrong. She would share her opinions with me, would not immediately shrink when I presented a choice to her.
Now, as she splashes about wearing a pink bikini in the Hudson making a syrinx out of rotted reeds and seaweed, I feel I see nearly full time the woman I fell in love with, the woman my soul knew she was. Where she was almost bashful to present an abstract nude to me on Valentine's Day, she has since vastly improved her skill during a nude figure study class and is soon to have a gallery show of little beyond unclad figures, several of which are modeled after her. She has developed a passion for gardening and homesteading, figuring out holistic ways to help her plants grow and making cereal from scratch. She is open enough with herself to cry when deer attack her plants. Since having discovered the nuance of anarchy as a political system beyond the popular perception of chaos and Molotov cocktails, she has done hours of research and become politically active, something I didn't think was a part of her when we originally met. "Nothing spoke to me, so I had no reason to be. When I found anarchy, there was finally something that made sense to me. And the best part of my realization as an anarchist is that I'm no longer afraid," she said, though not all at once.
Though it is not her reason and could not be, I find that I love her even more because she gives me more access to her inner self. She gives me the joy of unabashed summer days at her side, throwing popcorn at gulls as we watch Dan and Holly frolic in the Hudson, discussing the developing political unbalance and our favorite books. I love her because she is less and less frightened to allow me to see all there is about her to love.
Soon in Xenology: Teepee. Amber's show.