On the porch we gather – old friends and new, sages and comedians – no more than one degree of separation woven into the fabric of our town. “The Retired Teachers Brigade” meets each Thursday after four o’clock, in the sunlight, on the porch. Real life with patina.
We pour words of truth – revealing the interior spaces of our lives – then drink another glass of wine. Oh, there is little that gives comfort, like a session of porch therapy.
I first moved here as a student – in recovery from an earlier life. With degrees and a job in hand, I left, and then returned. I married and spent decades of domestic life in this prairie town. Now I’m back again. This is my womb.
I barely spoke to, or saw anyone; a rare zoom call when necessary for the covid years. I read fiction and current events. I tried to reconstruct and understand what I had done – would I ever heal again. How?
I seldom phoned my mother while she was ailing in assisted living – and I felt worse for it. I knew she worried about me. She was right to, but I couldn’t console her. I could not speak of my anguish – especially not with my mother. In the end, I resolved that I must return to this place on the prairie – the womb.
I had just bought my house with the wrap-around porch after a monumental move just a few years earlier – from the coast to Minneapolis – as if moving was easy for me. It wasn’t. It was necessary.
Not long after, I brought Mom for a visit. “I see this is a nice, little house for you,” she said that day, a month before she died. Mom knew.
I hired workers now, for renovations. I still had no internet service. The public library was only a few blocks away. I biked off, to take care of email, and the everyday. That’s when I ran into him.
He was an old friend, really by now, an acquaintance only. He had morphed into so many things – professional, money oriented things – since we were students. George was his name. He was on the public library board. It was board meeting day.
He was surprised to see me. I was surprised he recognized me. We briefly said hello. I explained I had bought a house. He wanted to get together. I could do that, but not this trip. I would be back again. We said good-bye. He contacted me a few weeks later via fb. I invited him to visit me the next time I was in town – to see the project I was working on.
George came promptly the day we agreed to. My renovation crew was working. He and I sat on the porch. I offered him a drink – wine or beer – something to accompany conversation. We talked and laughed for a couple hours – in the sunlight. He had political sophistication – like always – but not cynical, like I remembered him.
I’d had no political orientation decades earlier, when we first met, in graduate school. Then, I was a default, prairie, Republican. George changed that for me – however unintentional it might have been – he introduced me that summer to my future husband, his political science professor.
George, just like me, had moved in and out of this town, a few times over the decades. He was back, and had a big house on the river bluff. Why not? He probably enjoyed nice pensions – through VP appointments in academia – and had created his own piece of stature, well-being and comfort. We talked, but oh, how we laughed that afternoon. He wanted to visit again.
Two days later he came. That’s when he asked me the question, “Why did you move to Minneapolis anyway?” He knew my husband – why had I left John, George wanted to know.
It hit so unexpectedly – his question. I answered candidly, exposing the most delicate pieces of my heart to his scrutiny. His jaw dropped at my answer. Why had I moved to MSP?
“My first love found me five years ago on fb. In high school, when I was sixteen – and so was he – I got pregnant. We were separated then, by our parents. I was sent away, and gave our baby up for adoption.”
He stared at me. I looked different to him now. I continued – wanting him to see too, that it was not an ordinary affair.
“We secretly saw each other for two years after that. We went away to separate colleges after high school. Eventually we submitted to our parents wishes – we broke up. He married and divorced, married again, and became an MD.
He said our reuniting was the most remarkable event of his life; I was his thoughts, dreams, world, his light. It was magnetic for us – being together again. Though we both were married, he compelled me to move to MSP. I left John. It was magical, passionate love for three years. Abruptly he said good-bye, “I cannot hurt my wife.”
That was it.
Everything now, for me, was therapy: crying therapy, dirt therapy, journaling, yoga. Porch therapy – Sunlight therapy.
Afterwards I thought how much fun it had been with George – to laugh at what we once were – and he must have thought so, too. It struck me how my story surprised him. He hadn’t known when he first knew me, that I’d had so much raw, life experience, he said. Perhaps he once had a romantic interest in me. He never said so, but there were hints. He recalled that he had taken me to the lake – which I didn’t remember – and described me in my bathing suit.
I became a muse for him, I think. He is a writer. I remembered the shock his face betrayed when I first told him about my life at sixteen, and then at sixty-five. He texted me shortly after he left that day, “I miss you already.”
Sunlight therapy on the porch.
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My friend, many threads of fabric in your life only are part of your quilt. Sharing is catharsis. Thank you and enjoy final chapters on the porch and with your many new and yet to be friends. Keep the music in the air too.
Hi Carol. I have taken a few days to respond to this because I was so moved by your writing. I was not surprised by you ability to express yourself in a meaningful way. You have always been insightful and self-reflective. Your metaphor is beautiful. The moments we share with our friends can bring healing and understanding. What I have been reflecting on is the arch of life. Somehow, no matter how far we move from our early stories, they absolutely shape who we are. They color our environment, they pull at our hearts, and they const...
Thank you for taking so much time to read and comment, Cheryl. Please, whenever you come near Vermillion, contact me. I want to see you -- of course on the porch. I love the comments of English teachers -- I missed writing class. But it is true, if we take our feelings from the amygdala and process them through the left frontal lobe, into words, we can be rational. But aren't there some structures and some engineering necessary to create a story? I'm working on it. Belated birthday wishes. Hope retirement means a Cannon Beach visit.
Fine work. Congrats and welcome to this show.
My favorite kind of therapy, and know I have a name for it- thank you! Sunlight therapy. Good story!
thank you Marty!
Carol, your metaphor of “sunlight therapy “ works so well. And writing about the past and its affect on the present will be effective therapy as well. The interesting thing with your writing is that while its purpose may be therapy, it’s also good writing. You allow your reader a real raw glimpse into your experience - both then and now. This piece leaves me wanting more.
Life is a story for sure.
Carol, how do I begin???? You are so talented & express yourself raw! I will always remember you & having that baby. I ached for you then & still do. I adored you as a friend. I did not get to college. Never thought I was smart enough. You my dear are!
You know fiction and real life are entangled. Thank you for sweet words Maureen!