Lefty Parent

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Circle of equals

Coop Goes to Europe Part 40 – Great Bentley

May 28th, 2017 at 13:53

It was still Wednesday December 5th and I was relieved when Ceil Kane answered the phone, remembered who I was, and then confirmed that they could put me up for a couple nights. She and her husband Ilya had answered my mom’s notice in the Oxford newspaper nearly four years earlier, offering the house swap. We had ended up agreeing to the swap, spending ten weeks during the summer of 1970 living in their place outside Oxford while they lived in ours in Ann Arbor. For Ilya it was the opportunity to take several statistics classes offered by the UofM Institute of Social Research. Turns out the place they lived now, after moving from Oxford, was in a small village called Great Bentley, only ten kilometers from where I was. My mom had continued to correspond with them and given them a heads up that I was traveling in Europe. They had offered to put me up for a couple days when I was in the area, and they had recently received a letter from my mom updating them on my travels and my approximate arrival back in England. Ceil said she was happy to drive to Manningtree and pick me up, because her husband Ilya was sick, and she needed an excuse to get out of the house.

So I sat on a bench in front of the little train station and waited. It was getting late, long since gotten dark, and I thought that it was duly chilly for an early December eve in southeast England. (Not that I’d ever been in southeast England before in early December!) I was still fighting that cold I had been wrestling with in Holland, and I felt chilled, even wearing my down jacket. I could feel my body wanting to shut down so it could divert more resources to fighting this cold that was gripping me. I was sneezing and my nose was running. But it was the excitement, exhilaration even, that I was really close to actually getting on that plane and flying home, that was keeping me afloat, above the drag of the virus on my body.

As I sniffled and sneezed, I wrote in my journal…

Well, I’ve hurtled my second to last major obstacle – the British Channel. Next is the plane flight. Oh it will be great to get on that plane. Just to sit in that seat and have no more hassle with anything except breathing, stuffing food and drink in my face, and watching a movie. Fantastic! Beautiful! Magnificant! Splendid! Superb! Wizzard! Bonito! After taking the first night to recover, I’m going to drop in on Jerry and Avi and get ozoned!!! Ozoned! Nothing less. Just smoke weed until my lips fall off. Oh wait! That’s the Alice Cooper concert night! No matter, I’ll smoke before the concert, go to it and afterwards get ozoned! Sounds great.

I wanted to be back in that intimate circle of my friends, and there seemed no better way than getting high together to reattain that intimate place. That day getting stoned with my three comrades in Amsterdam, hard to believe it was just yesterday, had reminded me of the magic of our generation’s recreational intoxicant. Yeah, alcohol was okay as far as it went, helping you overcome your shyness and all, but cannabis connected you at some kind of other plane of consciousness that was, in my thinking, much more compelling.

A small sedan drove up and stopped, the engine still idling, its lights shining in my eyes. A petite woman, who was obviously pregnant, stepped out of what in the States and on the Continent was the passenger side of the car, but not here in England. She waved at me and tentatively called out my name. It was Ceil Kane.

Without greeting me with a handshake or a hug she walked around to the back of her car and opened the trunk, obviously to stash my backpack. As I did so she said she would greet me more properly in the car. She said that her young daughter Rebecca had fallen asleep in the back seat and she wanted to get going again before her daughter woke up, since the moving car lulled her to sleep. I got in the front passenger seat, where I would normally sit to drive a car in the States. Rebecca, maybe two years old, was curled up under a comforter in the back seat, sleeping fitfully. Ceil revved the engine, popped the clutch, and we were off into the English night.

“Welcome to Colchester!” she said as she drove along at a brisk clip, “Your mom sent me a long letter and told me about some of the places you’ve been, and that stretch when you told her you were hitchhiking across the Alps and then the daily postcards stopped coming.” Yeah that was apparently the story my mom liked telling everyone back home about me. I’m sure she duly embellished it to make it a tale worth listening to.

We were soon headed down a dark country road with no illumination beyond her car’s headlights, which briefly illuminated leafless trees and brick farmhouses off from the two-lane highway. Ceil said her daughter had caught her husband Ilya’s cold, and apologized that she was making me sleep in a “hospital ward”, though she said I’d have their guest room all to myself. When I replied that that was no problem and I really appreciated their hospitality, she detected my own nasalness, and said, “Not you too!” I apologized profusely, feeling bad thinking that someone so obviously pregnant was having to take care of everyone else, including me, rather than be cared for herself. I tried desperately not to sneeze, biting my lip once or twice to head one off.

I figured I should at least be entertaining, and launched into giving her the story of my travels from the beginning in England when Angie decided to go back to the States. It was only a bit more than a ten minute drive to their house, so I was only getting to the part when I left Angie behind in London and headed to the Continent when we pulled into the driveway of a small two-story brick house with a high pitched roof with bits of snow on the northern sides of the upstairs dormers.

Ceil led the way inside, with Rebecca and quilt in her arms, the young girl’s head nestled against her mom’s neck and shoulder. Ceil showed me to the small office downstairs with a daybed that doubled as their guestroom. She excused herself to put Rebecca to bed up in her room, saying that Ilya was also asleep up in their room or else he would have been down to greet me. Alone now, I rested my pack against the wall and surveyed the room. It had a wooden desk with drawers with mail, bills, and other papers stacked on it, along with a pair of glasses. There was a tiny portable TV on one corner of the desk. Two walls of the room had built in bookcases, floor to ceiling, except where two windows looked out into a small grassy backyard, including a small wood playhouse, surrounded by bare trees.

I surveyed all the book spines for titles and a holistic sense of their interests, values and politics. Interspersed among the Shakespeare, Homer, Tolstoy, and other classic literature, there were a number of books on statistics and political science, which I recalled was Ilya’s field of study and academic work. It was a couple statistics classes at the UofM that had led them to trade houses with us back in the summer of 1970. There were books on sociology, existentialism and ones I recognized on feminism, including The Second Sex, The Feminine Mystique, The Dialectic of Sex, and The Female Eunuch. I also noted several of the classy sex books, Lady Chatterley’s Lover, Fanny Hill, and Tropic of Cancer. I remembered, after reading in a magazine that Miller’s Tropic of Cancer was banned from many libraries as obscene, furtively scanning through my dad’s copy of the book when no one was around, reading the references to putting his “prick” in women’s “cunts”, and “shooting hot bolts into you”. It had been both titillating and troubling at the time.

But still sniffling and sneezing, a great fatigue quickly overcame me and I crawled under the daybed covers and descended quickly into unconsciousness and a long deep sleep.

It was mid morning the next day when I finally emerged from my book studded little room. Ilya was sitting at the small kitchen table in his pajamas drinking coffee and eating scrambled eggs. He was complaining to Ceil about the speed limit on the British motorways being reduced from 70 to 50 miles per hour due to the oil crisis. About how he was getting behind on his work project because of “this crud I got from our little angel”. Little Rebecca, also in pajamas and looking a lot like a miniature version of her dad, was sitting next to him, on her knees on the chair so she was up high enough to address her bowl, though she was more moving things around in it than eating. Snot was dripping from her nose and she was wiping at it with her hand and her forearm. Ceil was across the kitchen counter with her big belly, washing dishes, looking stressed and a bit worse for wear.

Ilya was exasperated about his daughter’s runny nose. “Can someone get me a tissue to clean this child’s snotty face?” The box of tissues was on the kitchen counter across the table from where Ilya was sitting. Rebecca waved her hand in the air, “Mommy… I need a tissue!” I saw Ceil close her eyes, take in and then exhale a big breath.

I strode into the room and grabbed the tissue box from the kitchen counter and handed it to Ilya. He seemed caught by surprise but quickly composed himself and said, “You must be Cooper! I’m Ilya! I read your mom’s letter about your exploits.” Then in response to the box of tissues, “You’re a good man!”, and he reached out and took the box in his left hand and reached out with his right to shake my hand. Then pointing to an empty chair he said, “Sit down, have some toast and scrambled eggs. Lucky for you we are not serving kippers.”

I’m not sure what he meant with the kippers remark. Did he not like them? I had not cared for the cured fish three years ago when we lived in England and had several occasions to try them, but he couldn’t know that. Maybe it was just a thing that most people from the States did not like them. Or was it some sort of dig at Ceil that she could not prepare them properly or bought inferior ones?

I looked around and the remainder of the scrambled eggs were in a frying pan sitting on the kitchen counter, along with a loaf of sourdough bread and a toaster. Ceil turned and looked at me and said as brightly as she could muster, “Good morning!”, wiping her forehead with a rubber glove covered hand, then trying to decide whether she needed to remove the gloves before putting some toast for me in the toaster. I took the initiative and said, “I’ll help myself!” and pulled two pieces of the bread out of its bag and into the toaster. As I took a seat at the table across from Rebecca, she gave me a sort of askance look with her big dark eyes like her dad’s and asked, “Who are you?”

I looked at her and laughed. “My name is Cooper. My mom traded houses with your mom and dad three years ago before you were born. I just met your mom and dad right now!” She scrunched up her nose trying to parse and process my words.

It struck me that though we had a connection that went back nearly four years, to when they first responded by mail to my mom’s notice in the Oxford newspaper that she was looking to trade houses for the summer, they knew little of me, other than I was my mother’s son. They had not even met my mom in person, only exchanged several letters with her and had one transatlantic conversation with her on the phone. They had lived in our house, inhabited the rooms where so much had happened in our own lives for the five years prior, and we in theirs. I also wondered if their former neighbors in Oxford, the Jones’s, had shared any thoughts on our family, particularly my extroverted, often bigger than life mother. Ilya and particularly Ceil did seem taken by my mom and her exploits, even though they had only learned about most of them indirectly. My opinion of my mom had evolved significantly since three years ago. Back then, the character that she was, seemed more of a liability than an asset, and someone I needed to actively differentiate myself from as a sort of damage control. I was realizing now that I was taking a lot more pride in her.

Since I had brought my mom into the conversation, Ilya and Ceil were very interested in hearing all about how she was doing and what she was up to. Rebecca obviously not so much, as she fussed with the discomfort of her cold symptoms. I told them she was doing a lot better than where she had been in 1970, when she was still recovering from the divorce from my dad. I regaled all three of them on the latest chapters of the Jane Roberts story, particularly her local political work and her budding feminism. I figured based on the book titles I had seen in their library these would be topics of interest to them. I shared stories of the political soirees she hosted in our house, serving salad, spaghetti and Bloody Mary’s and encouraging a robust discussion of politics, philosophy and the status of women and their push for equal rights under the law. How my mom’s now closest friends had also divorced their husbands and gotten involved in the women’s movement.

Ilya asked how it was for me as a “young man growing up in that sort of environment”. I should have called him on what he meant exactly by “that sort of environment”, but I instead assumed that he meant in a household and circle of strong-minded women. I struggled at first to come up with an answer, it was what it was, and what could I really compare it to. I could intuit the gears spinning in his head that it was hard for me as a young male not to be overwhelmed by all that female energy, all those “cooties”. Ceil opened her mouth like she was about to say something, intervene on my behalf, but I really wanted to speak for myself here. Rebecca pounded her big metal spoon on her cereal bowl.

“For the most part my mom, my brother, and I each have our own lives with our own challenges to face and overcome. But we do share some of it with each other”, I finally replied, for what it was worth.

Ilya then went on a different tack and said that he applauded my mom’s activism, but he was concerned that “bourgeois feminism” among the women of the elite was taking the focus away from the “deeper societal issues” of race and class. I had not heard the word “bourgeois” used to describe any sort of “feminism” before, but I got the gist of his criticism, coming at things from what sounded like a Marxist point of view.

Ceil finally asserted herself at this point, saying that she and her husband went back and forth on this issue of feminism versus the struggle of the working class. As she presented her take I could see him impatiently waiting for her to finish so he could continue to engage with me. More snot flowed from Rebecca’s nose and she thrashed at it with her hands holding up sticky fingers and grimacing. I offered her a tissue and she looked at me, but finally took it and kind of mashed it between her fingers.

“So tell us of this grand journey of yours from your ‘new world’ to explore this ‘old world’ of ours”, he said, his eyes twinkling to telegraph the dash of facetiousness, like I was a cheeky yet favored student in his university seminar being called to stand and comment on the curriculum being discussed. “What has struck you the most from your perspective as a young man growing up across the ocean in America?”

“What indeed”, I replied, with my own little touch of cheeky lampoon, using my favorite academicy British word, and then buying time to compose my thoughts while throwing his ego a bone, added, “Good question!” It struck me in that moment that Rebecca had a look on her face like she was thinking “what the fuck are these adults talking about?” She looked at each of her parents then shook her head and winced like she had just smelled something really disgusting.

Despite Rebecca’s displeasure, I launched into my thoughts on his question, reaching for as much profundity as I could cobble together. I first noted that it was “wild” to see and experience for real all these iconic places and things I had read about and seen pictures of growing up – Stonehenge, the English Channel, the Rhine River, Notre Dame, the Mona Lisa, a bullfight, the Vatican and its Sistine Chapel, Venice and Amsterdam’s canals, and most of all, the Alps. Some, like the Sistine Chapel and the Alps, were way more awesome than their likenesses and words about them, while others, like the Mona Lisa or the bullfight, were underwhelming, the latter pretty disgusting even.

Then I dove a little deeper and said that I found it “really interesting” that though I did not speak any of the languages of the countries on the Continent I had traveled through, I found the logistics of traveling without a car way easier in Europe than it would have been for me in the States where I spoke the language. That ease included the extensive rail system, other public transit, available assistance, youth hostels, the lesser distances between destinations, and people being generally more comfortable with foreigners and travelers.

Both Ceil and Ilya seemed taken with and thoughtful about my answer, particularly the part about the ease of travel. Ceil said that she had been to Boston and New York when she was a teen, and had found those two cities not unlike a big European city in terms of logistics of getting about, though she had not tried to travel outside the city limits. When they had lived in our house that summer in Ann Arbor, she and Ilya had driven into Detroit to the art museum, gotten lost, and found it very difficult to find their way around. Ilya chimed in with, “You Yanks with all your big bloody cars and crowded highways.”

While Ceil put Rebecca down for a nap, I continued to share details of my trip highlights with Ilya, including my half hour nearly alone in the Sistine Chapel, the long tunnel under the Alps, and all the wondrous mountain “teeth” of Grindelwald and the excursion not taken on the cog railway up to the “top of the Alps”. When Ceil returned to the kitchen, he interrupted me and reminded her that his colleague Christopher was picking him up shortly and they would be working on their project at Christopher’s place, but he had invited him back for dinner so could she go to the market and pick up some “chops or something else good” and also some more cold medicine for him when she picked up Rebecca’s prescription at the chemist’s.

Ceil grimaced and asked him that since Rebecca was sick, couldn’t he and Christopher stay here and work so they could keep an eye on their daughter while she did her errands in town. Ilya shook his head and said that Rebecca was a handful when she was healthy, doubly so when she was sick, and he and Christopher had a very full agenda for the afternoon, and this “crud that our sweet little angel has bestowed upon me” made it harder for him to concentrate. While Ceil stewed on how to respond, he looked at me and said that I might find the project they were working on interesting, involving a statistical analysis of voting patterns in British elections since the 19th century.

She relented, accommodating her husband, but from my point of view it wasn’t pretty, and I felt bad that I wasn’t comfortable volunteering to babysit Rebecca while Ceil did her shopping. Ilya excused himself to get dressed. Soon there was a honk of a horn outside and he briefly blew through the kitchen saying to her, “Christopher really likes those lean pork chops!”, and to me, “More later young man!” Then he sniffled, sneezed, said “Bollocks”, grabbed a kleenex and was off.

Ceil asked me if I had had enough to eat and I replied that I had, though under the circumstances I wouldn’t have said otherwise if I hadn’t. I took the initiative to clear the dishes from the table. She asked me if I would like a cup of tea and I nodded. I felt bad for her but was glad that we might have some quiet time together while Rebecca napped. I could not recall the last time, if ever, I had had a one on one conversation with a woman who was pregnant. I had somehow missed my Aunt Pat’s three pregnancies. It was Earl Gray tea and I took it with milk and sugar, like she was having hers. She put out a tin of “biscuits” and we sat at the little kitchen table across from each other.

She sipped her tea quietly for a few minutes, eating a biscuit, and I followed suit and remained silent as well, feeling like we were waiting while she was put something together in her mind to say.

Finally she spoke. “We are going through a challenging patch right now. We have so many plans in the works. We bought this nice house. We had Rebecca and now”, touching her belly, “A brother or sister.” She continued, “Ilya is playing the university politics to secure his position on the faculty, and then I want to get my doctorate once the kids are old enough for school.” She shared details about her own studies and research in city planning. How she had been part of a committee that had successfully worked with the Great Bentley village council to limit local development to maintain the big village commons across the street. Suddenly I was seeing her as a thoughtful academic and community leader rather than just a wife and mom.

After talking all about her own work, she asked me about my own, what I was going back to. Would I go to college? What were my aspirations if I’d figured that out yet? A bit surprisingly, those questions included whether I had a girlfriend, like she had somehow intuited a thread that I was stewing on.

I told her that I had done a year of college already studying theater, and I was planning to go back in the fall. I wasn’t really sure where I was going with it at this point, but I was hoping I could somehow make a career out of it. As to a girlfriend, I told her I didn’t really have one. I did have a fair amount of female friends, several of which I was interested in.

It was running through my mind that I had hoped to have that train ride with Rhonda from Harwich to Colchester with the opportunity to get to know her better. On the boat ride across the North Sea, in response to Max’s probing about her relationship with her boyfriend, she had basically confessed to us that she was a virgin. Then ironically, at least in my take on events, she had instead gone off with Max, presumably to lose that virginity. I had been plotting in my own head that if she had been on the train with me I might have had the opportunity to confess my own virginity to her, a secret I had shared with no one in my life but would be perhaps easy to share with another virgin. I was finally getting to that point where sharing that secret was maybe a little less discomforting than continuing to keep it. I felt somehow that confessing to somebody, anybody really, was a necessary precursor to actually being ready at some later date to lose it. Maybe this was the circumstance to share my secret with Ceil instead!

I knew what I wanted to say and rehearsed it in my mind, “Though I have had and continue to have a lot of good female friends, I’ve never really been able to turn one into a romantic relationship!” That did not sound so bad, so difficult to say, but accomplished the task of basically confessing that I had never had sex. So one part of me wanted to just say it, the stakes were low here, this was a person who seemed nice and caring and by tomorrow I would probably never see her again! But another part of me still resisted, thought that to confess such a thing revealed a profound timidity, that as a still egoistic alpha person, I could not square with who I wanted to be. For others consumption, I had pretty much always lived my life as the person I wanted to be, rather than the person I actually was.

Fuck it! The words started to slip out of my mouth. “Though I have had…” I could still stop but I pushed on with uttering the next clause of the sentence, “… and continue to have a lot of good female friends,” now thank god I was too deep into the statement to stop, “I’ve never really been able to turn one into a romantic relationship!” Ceil listened and nodded. I had fucking said it! Well, I hadn’t used the “V word”, but I had implied it!

She continued to nod and said simply. “You will when you are ready”, and that was that. No big shock. No bombshell. No need to elaborate and defend. Just a statement and we were moving on. Ceil responded that she lost her virginity in college at age 19, about a year before she met Ilya. Ceil and I had now shared intimate information with each other and it had not been awkward, we were more connected and we were moving on in the context of that greater connection.

She winced and said “wow” and put her hand on her belly. She said the baby had just kicked really hard. She asked me if I’d ever felt a baby in the womb, and if I would like to feel hers. I told her I had been thinking about it earlier and could not recall being with anyone who was pregnant. I was only three when my younger brother was born and I could not remember back that far. She motioned me to sit alongside her and she took my hand and put it below her belly button. I could not recall ever touching that part of a woman’s body, just above her vagina. It was wildly intimate and exciting, but I did my best to appear calm. She put her hand on mine and pressed mine against her and we sat in waiting silence. I felt a kick, and then two more. There really was something alive inside her. I tried to imagine what it might feel like to carry a live being, your growing progeny, inside your body and even moving around in there. It was suddenly visceral and very real.

My hand still on the bottom of her belly and hers on mine, we looked at each other and all I could say was, “Wow!” Her eyes flashed with acknowledgement and just the briefest glimpse into the deepness of her soul. The angst, the acceptance, the determination, the thoughtfulness, the fatigue, the wisdom. I was silently in awe of this consciousness that inhabited the pregnant human female body next to me. It was just a second and then it was gone. She looked away and took her hand off of mine, my cue I presumed to take mine off of her.

Rebecca woke up and Ceil was back into mom and wife mode, getting her daughter dressed and putting the “diaper bag” together, telling me that Rebecca was in the midst of being toilet trained and it would be so much easier once she fully was. I went with them to the grocery store in Colchester to look for lean pork chops and other food for dinner, and the pharmacy to get more of the cold medicine for Ilya. I continued to talk about my travels and she seemed to enjoy listening as she rode herd on Rebecca’s occasional flare ups, snotty sneezes, and did her otherwise humdrum chores. Our time at the grocery store included a long sojourn by Ceil and Rebecca in the restroom while I watched their grocery cart. Rebecca emerged mostly unscathed saying she did “poo-poo in the potty”, but Ceil looked a little worse for wear, adding, “mostly in the potty” and leaving it at that.

Finally back at the house I volunteered to hang out with Rebecca while Ceil made dinner. The young girl took me by the hand to her room and proceeded to pull out and show me all her toys, some of which she called out the name of and others she asked me to name for her. I sat in the middle of her floor and played with the dolls, cars, farm animals and plastic Duplo blocks. I was particularly interested in a big roll up mat she had with city streets and green patches in between defining blocks, along with a box full of painted wood blocks shaped like houses, schools, churches, stores, etc. With a few words and a lot of gesturing, she instructed me to lay out the mat and set up the houses and other buildings along the streets.

She would watch me make my choices about where to put a given structure, sometimes shaking her head and saying “not there” and then indicating a different location. I would usually comply with her suggestions, including moving the school from the small block where I had placed it to a bigger one that had the features of a playground. A couple times I pushed back on her recommendations and she would look at me incredulously, shake her head and then turn away, sort of shunning me for a moment or two.

In the midst of this play with Rebecca for some time, I heard Ilya return with his colleague Christopher, and an exchange with Ceil about the pork chops, including Ceil trying to convince him they were “the best they had”. Soon he and Christopher were at the door of Rebecca’s room surveying me sitting in the middle of the room surrounded by virtually all of her toys, like we were in the midst of some chaotic inventory.

Ilya looked at me and said, “I see our little angel has you on a short leash!” I looked up at him not quite sure how to react to his apparent reinforcement of the stereotype that women learned to manipulate men with their looks and “feminine wiles”. His colleague Christopher dutifully laughed, but it seemed all so disrespectful to me. Rebecca put her hands emphatically on her hips, scowled, and said, “Daddy, I do not!” I continued not to react or respond. Sensing the awkward situation, Ilya changed the subject and announced that it was dinnertime.

Ceil had set up the dining room table for dinner, with a tablecloth, cloth napkins, water and wine glasses, the good silverware and dishes. In the center of the table a platter of cooked pork chops, another of potatoes, and a third of cooked carrots and asparagus, plus various condiments. Ceil guided Rebecca to her seat on the side of the table by the end where Ceil would be sitting, indicating I should sit next to her. Christopher took the cue that he should sit across from me. Ilya went to the refrigerator and pulled out a couple bottles of white wine, apparently opening them was his one ritual dinner task as the male of the household. He looked at me and said that he assumed I would be having wine with the rest of the adults, and I responded in the affirmative, while Rebecca looked at me skeptically, as if to say, “So you think you are some sort of adult do you?”

At Ilya’s urging I recounted some of the highlights of my travels, singing for my supper as it were. I repeated some of the things I had already told Ceil, museums, paintings, historical landmarks, but shared some other stories too. As I did more than my fair share of drinking the second bottle of wine, my guard went down and I started to put on more of a show with my narrative, waxing on about the Swiss police stopping us in Chur, speaking in German, and giving me the breathalyzer test as I pleaded “ein bier”.

I was egged on by my willing audience enjoying my somewhat overwrought tales of the young traveler, having been embellished many times in the telling. The long day crossing Luxembourg and Belgium questing fruitlessly for an open youth hostel to lay my weary head. The “amazing” Miranda (I called her “amazing” now instead of “crazy” as my own thinking on her had evolved) and her recounting of her lone journey from New Zealand across Australia, Indonesia, Burma, China and the Soviet Union (but not the part about her hitting on me). The Spanish customs police spending hours tearing the VW van apart at the border. The inability for guys to hitchhike in Spain, and spending the night sleeping out in a grove of trees only to be awoken in the middle of the night by a train that passed within what I said was ten feet (actually more like twenty) of where we were sleeping. Being picked up by Walter, wined and dined, sharing the hotel room, and then his Hitler rant in the morning. Foggy, dreamy, waterlogged Venice. Entering the long black tunnel under the Alps on a sunny afternoon and emerging on the other side in a whiteout blizzard. Gorgeous Grindelwald with its amazing Alpine peaks, and my drunken cohort of backpackers singing “Yellow Submarine” at my lead as our response to the song by the drunken old locals at the village pub.

Though I had as much as confessed my virginity earlier to Ceil, I was neither drunk nor bold enough to share the tale of almost letting my travelmate Steve get naked with me under the covers. Nor go on about all the amazing women I had encountered. The proud Canadian Zo, with the shock of red hair, who I slept next to in the VW van. The demurely handsome Laurence. Thoroughly foxy but fascist Jeanette. The diminutive but alien-among-us Trix with her otherworldly green eyes and asymmetric array of pigtails. Bigger than life Jen and her suave handler Sarah and their passionate kiss. Sex goddess Monika and her older quasi-sister croupier Ragna. The determined lesbian Beth. Christian Youth Hostel hippy sex, drugs and rocknroll hostess Greta. Artistic stoner Gwendolyn. Those tales would have needed a third or even fourth bottle of wine, at the least!

As I continued my one-person show, Ceil excused herself and took little now passed out Rebecca to bed. As my narrative finally started to run out of steam, Christopher and Ilya shared some of their own travel experiences. They were perhaps double my age but under the influence of the alcohol and trying to match the fervor of my tales channelling their own youthful wildness. Finally returning from putting her daughter to bed, Ceil in some ways seemed like the only real adult at the table. We went on pretty late until Christopher finally announced that he had to head home, and Ilya and I were both starting to do more sneezing than talking. I took a big spoonful of his cold medicine and retreated to my guest room full of books. Before the medicine managed to knock me into unconsciousness I scribbled in my journal…

Ilya doesn’t seem to be my idea of a loving, responsible husband. He acts like a big baby sometimes, complains about things and dumps things on Ceil when he finds he doesn’t want to handle them. Rebecca is beautiful! She has huge dark blue eyes in a slender face. Ceil is all smiles and apologies. It’s a strange household, but they’ve been very nice to me.

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