I sat in the car as it idled, and let the windows down to invite in the nocturnal symphony waking up in the field fenced off before me. Moments earlier, the sun had slipped past the edge of the earth and left the sky behind me awash in rapidly fading hues of orange and pink. Almost as if she were avoiding an accidental run-in with a former lover, the moon now peeked cautiously up over the opposing horizon and I watched her full-bellied ascension over the darkening landscape. Stretched to the repletion of her boarders, she burst with the pregnant anticipation of a woman on the verge of motherhood, glowing and determined in her purpose. The combination of the sun’s recent departure and the heaviness of the air colored her face in a rosy luminance. Called a Strawberry Moon, she was made even more remarkable as her arrival this year fell on the summer solstice. Though the daylight had held her at bay for an exceptionally long phase of time, the night now made way for her stunning debut. She held the world captive at her feet.
Warm air wafted in the windows as I took in her performance. Her last appearance had taken place nearly a half-century before during the summer of 1967. It was the same year that the Haight-Ashbury district of San Francisco found itself filled with a sudden and large-scale influx of long-haired, uninhibited hippies, my free-spirited mother among them, seeking to free their minds, free their bodies and free society from its iron grip of outdated beliefs. It was an assemblage of lovers, of boundary-pushers, of drugged-out idealists largely disillusioned with the path laid before them by generations past.
Growing up, my mother often talked about the friendships she made while dancing in the moonlight to “The Mamas & the Papas.” I loved listening to the stories she spun while trying to reconcile the bath-robed woman before me who poured my cereal and packed my lunches as the same one who, at twenty, hitch-hiked across four states and wore flowers in her waist-length wavy hair. It had been called the Summer of Love, a widespread collective call for peace, understanding and transcendence for all who craved this type of freedom in their lives.
This evening, as I sat alone and captivated by the same spectacular moon that had shone over my mother during the summer that most defined her youth, I was becoming aware that this summer would be the Summer of my Undoing.
When I was twenty, I fell in love for the first time. He was clean-cut and olive-skinned and when he spoke, optimism poured out of him like a late-August monsoon in the desert. He was most unlike the other boys who frequented the same nicotine-stenched sober meeting halls that I did. His presence there was not motivated by a prolonged and soul-crushing trip to the end of his integrity, as mine had been. Rather, his motivation began by bedding a recovering addict who stated she could not marry a non-sober non-Jew, so he simultaneously started attending 12-step meetings with his classes on converting to Judaism. Their relationship fizzled, as did his interest in conversion, but he figured not drinking could only help him in the long run. So every Friday night, we sat in the same meeting halls, catching glances at each other across the room and listening to dry drunks desperately convince themselves they had kicked it for good this time.
“I like what you shared tonight,” he called out to me one evening over the crowd of alcoholics spilling out into the parking lot. The evening air was cool and still, but his words ran over me like a warm breeze.
“Uh, yeah, thanks,” I said, stepping past the line of cigarettes being lit around me and feeling a bit light-headed from the second-hand smoke and sudden quickening in my chest. “I don’t actually remember what I said, but it’s good to know someone got something out of it.”
He chuckled and the light from the half-moon hanging above us glinted in his eyes. “Well, if I’m being honest, I don’t really remember either, but I liked the way your voice sounded as you spoke. Quiet but direct. Very calming actually. I don’t know if you noticed, but Harry stopped twitching for a full five minutes after you finished.”
I laughed. Harry was what we referred to as a ‘wet brain.’ Even though he had picked up a six-month chip several weeks ago, he still appeared to be some combination of perpetually intoxicated and hungover. I’d have thought Harry a liar if not for the fact that he was transported to and from every meeting by a van emblazoned with the logo “Sobriety Saves” along with the information of a local half-way house. Personal experience told me those places only let you back in if you can pass a breathalyzer at the entrance. If Harry was still living there, he was as sober as a man who had downed Jack Daniels for breakfast, lunch and dinner the past thirty years could be. Some of us just take longer to dry out than others.
“But seriously, Liv. You do have a lot of insight to share. How long have you been coming here?”
“I’m coming up on a year and a half, I think, but I was in and out for a while before that.” I answered, momentarily confused about how he already knew my name before remembering my introduction as “Liv, the alcoholic” during the meeting. “How about you? I mean, I’ve seen you around for a bit, but never actually heard you speak.”
“I’ve got a little over six years. I used to go to the 7 o’clock group on 3rd, but my ex-girlfriend acquired that one in the divorce decree,” he joked, running his fingers through the dark folds of his hair before extending his hand towards me. “I’m Sam by the way.”
I took his proffered grasp and as our skin met for the first time, my stomach somersaulted with excitement and I thought I might throw up. How similar the effects of intoxication feel whether imbued from a sudden rush of endorphins or several shots of Everclear. All at once, the strangest sensation washed over my body. I’d heard it said that when you meet the one, you just know. In that moment, encircled in a haze of smoke and anticipation, I knew I would marry Sam.
Our love affair began in the same way I imagine that most do, an all-consuming fire of passion coupled with the fog of infatuation that blinds even the most reasonable of victims. I was happy to ignore the decade of difference between our births and he was happy to look past the sordid history of a person who spent more of her senior year of high school in rehab than actually attending classes. He didn’t look at me the way the people who lived with me through that part of my life did: disappointed, disgusted, and braced for my next failure. When I looked at Sam, I saw safety, security and path that led very far away from where and who I’d been. The most remarkable thing about him, however, was that he loved me back and, for a broken woman like me, that one thing alone appeared to be the solution to the problem of myself that I had been looking for. Sam’s love felt like an open window in a dark and stale room and I basked in the fresh air and sunlight of his adoration.
But, as it turns out, love can be an unjust god, favoring the demands of the heart over the hesitations of the mind. Now, fifteen years later as I sat watching the moon, I was acutely aware that the sun only shines for a predestined amount of time before the night takes over.