Ah, Vermont. I’ve had preconceived notions about most states. Vermont pretty much lived up to my expectations of unshaven women and hippies. And I say that in a loving way.
I sent a couple a request to couchsurf with them.
“Oh, and I need a date, too, if you’ve got any single guy friends,” I added.
Kellie Mae & Sam hooked me up with a couch to sleep on and a guy to go out with, too.
“We have a party to go to at 3PM,” they told me.
People may be surprised to know how uncomfortable I am when I have to meet a group of new people. I think most everyone assumes that I wouldn’t have taken on this massive project that requires meeting new people every day if I didn’t enjoy meeting people. And I like people. I do. Mostly. It’s just that by state 22 I was getting low on energy. And large groups of people take energy. And honestly, I have to force my shyness away in social situations.
This, though, I was looking forward to. Because of my preconceived notions.
Mr. Vermont was going to be at the same party. It was incredibly hot, and I couldn’t stop sweating. I changed my shirt, reapplied deodorant, and hoped for the best. Maybe he liked his women a little stinky, I hoped.
When we arrived, some people were in the process of digging a hole to plant the maypole in. I have to admit I’d never seen a maypole before. I mean, I’d heard about people dancing around a maypole, but I didn’t actually know what it was. They stuck this giant log in the ground, put a bike tire rim on top of it, and started tying on ribbons.
The party was a potluck, which I was pretty excited about. Iowans are known for potlucks. Lutherans are known for potlucks. So being a Lutheran from Iowa, I liked potlucks. A lot. This, however, was not an Iowa Lutheran potluck. There were no casseroles. There were no jello salads. There was a pizza with some sort of green weed on top. It didn’t look like spinach. I didn’t think it was asparagus. They were kind of spirally, like those giant lollipops you can buy, except not nearly that big. I had no idea what they were. I was so hungry, though, that I took a piece.
“They’re fiddleheads,” I was told.
“Fiddleheads. They’re a fern that grows alongside the river.”
“And they’re edible?” I asked. I’d already eaten half a piece of it.
“Never heard of ‘em,” I said. “Are they just in Vermont?”
“No, they grow in other places,” I was told. “But they’re only available for a few weeks each spring.”
Hmmmm. Add one more odd food to my list of things I’d tried on this trip.
After the potluck (which really was yummy, despite the lack of casseroles), it was time for the maypole dancing. Kellie Mae instructed us to grab a ribbon, boy-girl-boy-girl. There weren’t enough boys. We filled in where needed.
“Once a year the god and goddess in the sky have sex,” Kellie Mae explained. “We are going to capture that energy and bring it down to earth and into our gardens so the ground will be fertile. And if you have sex in your garden, that will help, too.”
Something like that. She made it sound prettier. I considered turning to Mr. Vermont and making it clear that there we would not be having sex in his garden this evening, but I wasn’t sure this was the time or place for that public declaration.
The drumming began and we started circling. The men (and stand-in men) went one direction and the women went the other. You went under a ribbon, then over someone’s head. Under, over, under, over, around and around and around. People laughed and giggled and were having a fabulous time (despite the obvious fact that not everyone believed in deodorant . . . or shaving armpits). By the time we were through, the maypole had a beautiful weaving of ribbons around it. It was really amazing. And so, so fun.
We sat around talking and playing frisbee and some people churned a homemade ice cream maker. I was a little uncomfortable, honestly, because I didn’t know anyone, really, but not because the people were so different from me. They had a community that I was jealous of. These people loved being together. I found out that they have these potluck parties once a month and over a hundred people are on the mailing list. It was amazing.
Someone declared it was time to watch the sun set, so off we went for Lake Champlain. As people walked down the sidewalk, I was amazed again at how people would come together in twos or threes, talk for a while, drift apart, and then remerge into different configurations. I wanted this. I wanted to be part of a potluck party group once a month. I loved their sense of community. The sunset was beautiful, sometimes interrupted by laughter from some part of the group, and sometimes quiet. We headed back as it started to get dark.
“Are you ready to take off?” Mr. Vermont asked.
“Where are we going?” I replied.
“I could use some coffee to start with,” he said, “then see what we feel like doing.” He’d told me as we walked back from the lake that he’d gotten home around 5:30AM. He’d gone to visit his family and friends in another state. I said we didn’t really have to do anything if he was tired, but he said he wanted to.
We went to a cute little coffee shop where he got a latte with a double shot of espresso (that woke him up!) and I got a steamed maple milk. No one could accuse me of not trying new things. When in Vermont, do as the Vermonters do, right?
Something magical happened in that cute little coffee shop. He talked about his work with special needs kids. He talked about one of his blind students who can sense his mood the moment he walks in the door. He talked about one of his students who has cerebral palsy, and how incredibly smart this young person is but no one knows because they don’t take the time to find out. He was passionate about what he does, and I loved that. So many people work for a paycheck; he does something he truly loves.
I’m always attracted to the helper types. I wish I could fall in love with someone who brings home a big paycheck, because that would make my passion for helping kids in developing countries much more feasible. Instead I’m attracted to teachers and youth workers and stinky Peace Corps volunteers. I know I’ll never be rich because I will most likely marry someone who works for change (improving people’s lives) instead of change (money).
When the topic shifted to dating, Mr. Vermont said that he’d decided not to have any expectations anymore because unrealistic expectations lead to disappointments. Instead of hoping someone would match a list of qualifications in his head, he wanted to let women be themselves and accept that. While he talked, I was struck by how amazing it would be to be married to him. I knew that would never happen, because we were both clear from the start about our faith and beliefs, and they didn’t match up. He was such a great communicator, though. I was mesmerized.
We walked through the pedestrian street and down to the waterfront. I was kind of surprised that he didn’t make a move of any kind. A little disappointed, really. He didn’t even try to hold my hand. We sat on some rocks for an hour, just talking. I was amazed at how well this had turned out, considering I didn’t even have a date lined up in Vermont the day earlier.
He drove me back to Kellie and Sam’s apartment. I grabbed my sleeping bag and pillow out of my car on the way to the door.
“So, how does this work? Is a kiss good-night part of all your dates?” he asked.
I was caught totally off guard. He hadn’t tried anything when we were alone beside the lake, and now I had a sleeping bag under one arm and a pillow under the other. I was holding onto my wallet with one hand and my car keys with the other. This would be awkward.
“Um, well,” I stammered, “no. And it’s always weird to me when a guy asks permission.” He gave me a weird look. Then he walked over, put one hand on either side of my face, and softly kissed me. His fingers were in my hair, slowly moving. My hands were at my side. I felt non-participatory, but didn’t really have a chance to feel bad about it. The way he kissed made me feel protected and teased at the same time. It was amazing.
“You should have done that earlier,” I said when he backed away.
“We could have done more.” The look on his face told me I’d said the wrong thing. I meant kiss him throughout the night. He interpreted it differently.
“It’s only 12:30 . . .” he said.
“Good-night!” I ducked into the building.
“You can’t just say that and walk away . . .” he said. I left him on the doorstep wanting more. Whoops.
Morning came way too early. I was on my laptop, trying to find a place to sleep in Canada that night when I remembered I’d left my water bottle in Mr. Vermont’s car the night before. I asked Sam for his number and shot him a text message. I was hoping I could snag it out of his car before I left for Quebec. After a flurry of text messages, I was staying in Vermont an extra night for date number two. This was new. Mr. Vermont was going to make me dinner at his house.
But that afternoon, plans changed. Oh, we were still getting together again, but instead of making dinner, he was going to push me out of an airplane.
We'd talked a bit the night before about skydiving. I didn't think I'd actually be going skydiving anytime soon. And yet, there he was at my doorstep, picking me up to go skydiving. Skydiving!!
Driving to the skydiving place, I was surprisingly calm. Part of me still couldn’t believe I was doing this. Part of me wondered if it was too late to back out. Part of me thought this was the most freaking amazing thing I’d ever done.
After signing my life away, Mr. Vermont led me through what would happen in the air. We took off, and as the little plane climbed higher and higher, I though, wow, this is really, really high. Yikes. But then he was hooking my harness to his and tightening straps and nudging me to the door. I didn't have time to be nervous.
I stuck my legs out the little airplane door and the wind sucked them sideways. Holy crap, I was about to jump out of a plane. Mr. Vermont waved at the camera; I tried to smile. I couldn’t believe I was doing this.
And then we were falling. I screamed but it made my mouth so dry that I quickly shut it. Wow. This was crazy. I arched my back like I was taught and waved at the camera and didn’t think about dying once. Pretty soon it was time to pull the chute, and with a jerk, we were floating.
When we got back on the ground, I was shaking. It was awesome. I couldn’t believe I had done it.
We picked up Thai food and ate it at his house, then watched LOST and made out during the commercials. He was such a good kisser.
“You’re my pretend boyfriend for the night,” I said, leaning my head on his shoulder. I sighed. “You’re fun.”
“Is that all this is?” he asked.
“Yeah,” I responded. “Is that okay?”
“Yeah,” he said. “Just wanted to make sure.”
Maybe I should have asked what my other options were.