Don Rogers: Three rings that bind
When I was 19 and my father 40-something, we pursued the same woman.
She was petite and blonde with a freckled, upturned nose and ready smile, gorgeous, 26 or 27, closer in age to me, though of course I had no chance. Too young, too immature.
My father had experience and he claimed the looks, but hardly maturity.
She thought we were … adorable. Bless our hearts. Great fun.
We were friends, always and at root friends. She had dinner with us often and was touched if not stirred by our advances, which were innocent in that all three of us knew nothing would ever happen. Besides, she was in love with the man her age she’d marry, and we liked him well enough, too, our howls of jealousy playful.
Still, we both unmistakably were attracted to her. She was beautiful, she was fun, she was thoughtful, as I recall. And she had a great sense of humor.
Desire respects no boundaries, suffusing everything. It is the music always on, sometimes low in the background, sometimes loud enough you can hardly think, only move to its rhythms.
It’s the wild card to friendship’s glue and love’s deeper mystery. I tease these three apart, the inner rings of human relationships. I think it helps me understand.
The only two who loved each other were father and son. I mean here that bond beyond all others, nothing to do with desire or friendship, needing neither. It touches the divine.
My dad and I then were roommates in Hawaii. He was my father, of course, but my parents had split when I was 9 and Mom made her escape on a torrential Halloween to the Mainland with her two little ones.
I flew back to Honolulu within the week of graduating from a suburban Los Angeles high school.
My father and I drank together, sailed together, did just about everything together in those days.
He had a lively life, a charming guy. Plenty of girlfriends after my Mom left. He lived for a few years with a woman about 20 minutes older than me. She eventually ended things when he wouldn’t marry her.
Neither of my parents married again.
We talked differently than father and son, way different than my authoritarian uncle and rebellious rock ’n’ roller cousin did anyway. More like siblings.
“When does a woman look, you know, old to you?” Dad asked at the apartment we shared.
“At what age do women become less attractive to you?”
“Oh, I don’t know, 28, 29?”
He laughed. “Well, I guess this is the only good thing about aging,” he said. “Women still look great as they do when you’re 18, 19. But at my age, they are attractive into their 50s, even 60s. Kind of widens the field.”
I couldn’t imagine. Of course, I understand now that I’m older than my crazy father when he spoke from the vantage of his early 40s.
I’ve also learned desire is far less important than friendship, which might be more crucial for humans even than love.
Romantic love brings on the full eclipse of the three rings, and how often in a life does that happen? How often do the three overlap at all, even for the briefest moment? They slide together and apart, always quivering, never still. And each ring pulses with varying intensity, as different for each of us as our fingerprints.
Desire electrifies friendship between the sexes to one degree or another, why fundamentalist Muslims and Vice President Pence will not mix, sadly missing much in their misunderstanding. And our familial ties, if we are lucky, include friendship with our bonds of love. Friendship’s retreat from love and from desire happens, too, alas.
Desire without friendship runs as tame and healthy as noticing members of the opposite sex at the bar or beach. But too hot a flame and it might bend toward perversion.
Love without friendship reaches to the religious, the divine ineffable, unexplainable. Our sometimes complicated relationships with family can touch this territory. Not friends, not easy with one another, but bonded in love nonetheless, for better and for worse.
The rings move together, slide apart, orbit, even dance. By the hour, by the second. Always changing. Love serves as ballast and keel, friendship the glue, and desire the music in our lives.
I didn’t know this at 19. But I knew I wasn’t really in love. That came later, though not so much later.
Within the year I’d be chasing my first true love across the ocean, to Santa Barbara. By then I learned the feeling of the three rings overlapping and ever so briefly joining in eclipse. The intensity is such this can only be fleeting, though the memory will endure, even as the rings drift maybe apart, maybe still intersecting and bright with promise for a next eclipse, that rarest and sweetest of life’s pearls.
Don Rogers is the publisher of the Sierra Sun and The Union, based in Grass Valley. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 530-477-4299.