Several years ago I delighted in a wonderful man, an artist, a passionate activist, an anarchist to his very core. He was my great love, and between the hours punched in as “assistant” for a small real estate firm and a rigorous M.F.A program, we loved each other fiercely. About the time I completed my film production program and began to look to my future with real earnestness, my great love and I parted ways. It was a strange and almost dream-like dissolution of a near five-year relationship. He had changed….hell, I had changed. Preparing to hunker down to a 70-hour week with a post-house, my love took up a resolute commitment to protesting the American presence in Iraq. His days and nights consumed with organizing fellow patriots and uncovering his spiritual purpose.
And so, my life took me to the San Fernando Valley, and L’s life took him to a small co-op and commune in Eastern Oregon. A few years later, we reconnected via an unexpected phone call from L. He was now raising a daughter with his partner. The co-op was thriving. As for me, I had already bounced my way through three post jobs and had relegated myself to an early “burn-out” in the entertainment industry. My old taffeta ballet skirts and shaved head of my twenties had been replaced by shabby chic. The only remnants of my former life were the many strange tattoos scattered about my body; peculiar symbols, perhaps only recognized by those deeply familiar with the writings of Joseph Campbell, or perhaps the stray Incan/Mayan scholar. L and my life couldn’t be more at odds with one another. I had thrown myself into the “system,” if not more than a little reluctantly, and L and his new family proudly bucked it. But, I received a call from him on a Thursday night, a bit before dinner…it had been more than two years. “Sarah,” he said, “I need some advice”. You see L and his woman had agreed to raise their child within the co-op, and to offer her up to “communal living”. L was concerned about his decision…he wanted, needed guidance.
What L knew about me, that few others did, was my own strange upbringing as a child of hippies and squatters, nudists and colonists who had taken up residence along the banks of the Spokane River in Washington State in the mid-70s. An old abandoned estate sat on that land, in addition to several out barns and a glorious cherry orchard, also invested in diligent production. This was my home for the first seven years of my life, raised by a community of many on a self-sustaining farm. We raised chickens there, and rabbits…kept a couple of crazy old goats for sour milk, and each morning my step-mother and I would collect warm, silky eggs from the buzzing hens behind the old barn. L wanted to know if it was OK…”is it OK to raise her this way, Sarah…is it safe”. The confidence in his voice I had fallen in love with so many years ago could only be outdone by his voice this particular evening…the jilted tones of a vulnerable and frightened father. I was suddenly uncomfortable and proffered up some BS excuse…”dinner to make or some such notion…have to call you back” .My childhood on the commune had been difficult. There was much shared between these family members that no child should be subjected to. I had spent years in therapy and battling addictions in recovery, but always beneath it all it came back to those years on the commune and what they had truly meant for me. If he had called me 10 years ago, five years ago…possibly even a year earlier, I would have been unable to share with him what I chose to share that night. His questions forced me to consider what I had once believed to be a “miserable” childhood in a new way, and in my memory of it, my mind strayed to the summation of my life so far, all the ways I believed I had failed, as a writer, as a filmmaker, as what I supposed an “adult” should look like. I had survived my river-bank home. I learned my self-sufficiency from that place, my resilience, my insufferable curiosity was encouraged by those freethinking, freewheeling nomads and my womanhood as an independent thinker was cultivated in our small communal circle.
When I called L back a few hours later I felt strangely aligned with myself…it was a foreign feeling, one I had forgotten. “I think you should do it L, there’s no way to know how anyone will turn out, but if you love her…if you all love her…you really can’t go wrong”.
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