Modern Love: My Five-Week-Long First Date

I can’t tell the whole story of a first date that could have been a disaster but instead turned out to be the risk that has inspired my subsequent risks, a leap into something wildly uncertain, something that didn’t last but expanded my world in ways beyond latitude. I came to covet his competence and intrepidness, and I realized my task was not to glom onto him but to foster those qualities in myself, to go out into the world in pursuit of what moves me.

I can’t tell the whole story because it’s too long. But if I could, I would tell you how he took me into a forest of gnarled ironwood trees, where red flowers fallen from their branches carpeted the ground and penguins and sea lions peeked from behind moss-covered logs. I would tell you about ice-covered seas and penguins porpoising out of black water. I would tell you about the love notes he left on my pillow. I would assure you that, actually, he hadn’t been sure we would sleep together on the trip at all, but I would admit too that in the first week, my skittishness had alchemized into powerful desire.

On the surface, we struggled to connect, but something buried and wordless pulled us together. To explain it would have been as impossible as explaining why we both loved the sea, the wild animals, the raw landscapes. After each day’s work was done, as we sailed ever farther from my known world, I would go to his cabin and climb into his bunk while 20-foot swells rolled the ship and the perpetual twilight of the Antarctic summer lingered over the sea.

Since I can’t tell you about all that, I don’t have to explain how things fell apart, either. I don’t have to get into how antsy he was in the domesticated, urban spaces where I spend most of my life, or how he had trouble incorporating me into his world, too. I won’t tell you that the last night we spent together was in an RV in Alaska, parked beside the dog yard of a man who would later win the Iditarod, or that I woke in the night to a hundred sled dogs howling together, an unearthly, inscrutable vortex of sound.

As he slept on beside me, undisturbed, I thought of how this memory would be only mine: the lavender night, the sleeping man, the sky swirling with dog music.

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