Last week should have been an interlude post, but I lost track of the time. Beltane snuck up on me. I guess it sort of was anyway, given that I was talking about events now...in any case, it's time to begin a new "part," with Beltane, which is actually today. Happy Beltane.
Why do I keep getting paired with dudes for Beltane? It's not that I mind, it's just bizarre.
As you might recall, in our version of the Maypole, the dancer you end up facing when the music stops is your partner for the day. Kit thinks that the dance might once have been used to choose sexual partners for a fertility celebration, but for us the partners just work as a team to help put on the holiday feast. Then, at the end of the feast, we stand up and publicly praise each other. Because there's a good chance you'll end up partnered with someone you don't know or don't like, it's an exercise in love--seeing someone as lovable, not because they please you or help you in any way, but just because you've decided to see them that way. Making love where there wasn't any before.
In theory, you're supposed to end up facing someone who identifies as a different gender than yours--they're supposed to be heterosexual pairings. In practice, you can end up paired with anybody, because all you have to do to be a woman for the day is grab a red ribbon for the dance. All you have to do to be a guy is grab a green one. So some people try out a different gender than the normal one.
Anyway, I keep ending up with guys. The first time I danced the Maypole, I found myself facing a guy who was dancing as a woman. Ditto the third time (I did end up with a woman at my second dance--Veery. Oh, how I wished for an old-fashioned fertility rite that year. Dumb-ass that I was, I never even suggested that we try, although I knew other couples from the dance did just that. Veery and I dated for a couple of weeks afterwards, and I never did ask her, and the whole thing was very awkward). The fourth time I danced as a woman and partnered with Steve Bees. This year, I reverted to my own sex, and found myself facing Rick. Four out of five dances! All guys!
It's less weird than it seems, I suppose. Not everybody dances the Maypole, there aren't enough ribbons, and as Rick pointed out, more men dance than women, and some of those women dance as men. So, a large portion of people dancing as women have to be men, that's just how the math works. A lot of guys end up with guys, that way. And it makes me uncomfortable. I don't want it to make me uncomfortable, but it does. It's something I have to get over. I mean, am I afraid someone will think I'm a woman, that someone will think I'm gay? What's wrong with being female or being gay? I don't want to be that guy. I really don't.
At the feast, I asked Rick why he'd chosen to dance as a woman--it seemed an uncharacteristically playful thing for him to do. He and I were sitting together with June and Andy, who partners for the day.
"I didn't dance as a woman," Rick said.
"What, did you grab the wrong ribbon?" I was kidding him. He smiled briefly, marginally.
"I didn't dance as a woman," he repeated, "I danced as a gay man."
"I'm not sure that's an option," I said.
"Of course it's an option! Gay people exist. I exist."
"I know you exist," I said, blushing horribly, "I meant an option in the dance."
"A red ribbon signifies those who partner with men. It's about sex, not identity."
He had a point. I thought of how many different things get conflated by the simple structure of men and women partnering for a dance about sex, and how many possible ways that conflation might be unpacked.
"It's a fertility rite, though," put in June. "Procreative sex. They have to be fertile couples."
"My couplings could be very fertile," said Rick, looking at me oddly. I wondered for the first time if he found me attractive, if he actually wished I were gay. I found the idea momentarily quite flattering, then felt sorry for him because I'm not gay and wishing won't make me so, then I dismissed the whole line of thought because of course I have no idea what Rick thinks of me and my body, and it's pretty egotistical of me to make assumptions.
"Does it matter?" asked Andy. "It's not like we're actually going to have sex."
"Speak for yourself," said Rick, then glanced over at me to see if I'd blushed again. I had.
"Aw, honey, say it ain't so," said June, putting her arm around Andy, who looked very flustered. He's not much fun to tease because he gets uncomfortable so easily. But June smiled and rubbed his back in a comforting, completely platonic way, and he smiled back at her. She's so gentle with him, I found myself wishing, for a moment, that they could be a couple, before I remembered that I'd really rather not share.
After the feast was over, when it was getting dark and the only light under the event tent out on the lawn where we ate came from the season's first citronella candles, we went down the long lines of tables, each of us saying something good about our partners. It took a long time--thirty of us had danced, after all, plus ten from the masters' group. When it down to us, Rick and I looked at each other, not sure who should speak first. We've been friends for almost seven years now, but we've never really spoken affectionately with each other. It's just not what we do. I stood and spoke before he could.
"Rick is my partner tonight," I explained. "And he is my friend, and the smartest, most observant man I know--that I've ever known, I think. It's easy to be friends when you fit in, when you have a lot in common. It's easy to be friends when you have no choice because you crave company, and most of us do, but Rick doesn't fit in and he doesn't crave company. He'd rather be left alone. When I first met him, he wanted nothing more than to learn how to go live in the woods, alone. And he did it. But when he graduated and he actually could go to the woods, he asked me to go with him. We hiked the Appalachian Trail together. He has been my friend this whole time, not because it's easy for him, and not because he feels like he has to, but because he wants to. I don't mean...I don't know how to say this. I don't want it to sound all abject, like thank you for picking me, or whatever, I mean that not everyone can truly be a friend, freely. Rick can. I think that speaks well of him. And, you know I don't like guys, but if I did, I could do worse than Rick."
That triggered a bit of a laugh. Rick stood up.
"You know I don't like human beings," he began, "but if I did..." and got a big laugh. He smiled a little in the candlelight, his face looking taut and alien. "Seriously, though, Kretzman, did you hear yourself? Everything you said about me, it's not a reason to like a guy. I mean, so Rick doesn't like people, doesn't think he needs people, but he deigns to be friendly with one dude. Well, jack off, jack-ass, right?" More laughter. "Except it's all true. But this guy, he likes it. He likes me. Go figure. Kretzman can see the best, see the worthwhileness, in anybody. Even me. Kretzman, I've never said this to anybody, but I...I think I can stand you."
Big round of laughter, and he sat down. I shoved him, and he shoved me, the way you do, and it was time for the next couple to speak. But I felt very glad to have ended up with Rick at the Maypole dance this year.
Every year, Beltane here changes a little. I think it's the most variable of our holidays. The others mostly stick to tradition, but this one evolves.
This year, Sarah seemed to be in charge. Usually, she and Kit share the holiday, but I really didn't see Kit involved that much. The morning was mostly for kids--there are only eight sprouts now, counting my brother's three kids (they were in attendance, though my brother wasn't. He just dropped them off with me) but several of them brought friends, so there were maybe twelve or thirteen kids. They had their own Maypole dance, and there was a kind of kid-friendly festival, with face-painting and silly relay-races with farm-made candy for prizes, and a kind of petting zoo consisting mostly of sheep and this season's half-grown chicks. Joy took kids around on "pony rides" with the horses, and Allen did magic. Then there was a picnic lunch with lots of kid-friendly foods, and a short concert by Carrie who, I forgot to mention, is our new head of heavy maintenance. She sang kids' song for about forty minutes. Of course, most of the people present were not kids, but we all had a good time anyway, either vicariously or simply by being kids for the morning. I let June talk me into getting my face painted, though the painter complained that it's harder to paint a face with a beard on it. I ended up with a small, orange butterfly high on each cheek.
In the afternoon, we did more adult things--nothing sexual, except the Maypole dances themselves, just things kids might find boring. Most of them ran off and entertained themselves away from adult eyes. We danced the Maypole, the masters' dance first and then the students', then we had the blessing of the animals, including, and this was a new detail, a separate blessing of the bee hives, followed by a tasting party with the last of last year's mead and hard cider. While the priest was blessing the vertebrates (cats and dogs, chickens, horses, and sheep), I looked over at Greg for some reason, and was surprised to see that he was crying. He wasn't making a big deal of it--he wasn't sobbing, and he wasn't hiding his feelings in a way that might draw attention. His face was simply wet.
Last year, of course, Greg's Cat was still alive. Greg always held the little animal, who did not belong to Greg, and who had no name besides his love for this man, during the blessing every year. I suppose, this year, Greg's arms felt very empty.
After the tasting--and of course some people did rather more than taste--we started getting ready for the dinner feast. Rick and I helped put up the event tent. Then, after the feast, there was dancing, another new development.
Most of the May Day couples, I noticed, broke up after the meals, reverting to whatever arrangements they normally had, but I treated Rick as my date for the evening. We danced together, including a couple of slow dances.
I don't know if Rick is attracted to me. Even if he is, I wouldn't have danced with him as a concession to his desire. There would be something condescending it that, I would think. He knows I'm straight and, moreover, committed monogamously to someone other than him. I would not have pretended otherwise to a man, any more that I would have pretended with a woman. No, I danced with him as I might have slow-danced with a female friend, a platonic but quite real date, because I wanted to--I was enjoying his company and, quite surprisingly, the man can dance--and because I wanted to prove to him I'm not afraid of him.
After the dance, while others were cleaning up from the festivities, I said goodnight to Rick and rejoined my actual mate (she had danced with Andy, who did not know how to dance and with whom she was touchingly patient) and we walked back to the Mansion together. We did, in fact, have a sleep-over planned.
"Care for some fertility magic?" she asked, playfully, as we rounded the corner of the Mansion, heading towards the entrance through the Green Room.
"Yes, and no," I answered.
"The people enacting the Great Rite tonight, you know what they're doing, right?"
"Having sex?" she hazarded.
"Having sex as the Goddess and the God," I clarified. "He becomes the God to her and she becomes the Goddess to him, and together they enact the lovemaking of the gods. It's a pretty powerful thing, I suppose. Making love to God. I don't know if I could do it."
"Why not?" she asked.
"I don't know if I believe in it," I told her. "I shouldn't play at the sacred rites of somebody else's religion. Anyway, I don't want to be the God to you. I want to be Daniel. And I want you to be June."
She started to reply, to say something romantic and sweet, I'm sure, but then, I'm not kidding, the words "oh, god!" shrieked themselves out into the night through some open window above us, and we both cracked up.
"Oh, Daniel," she said. "You're such a trip. You and this whole weird, crazy school of yours."
"Do you like it? Are you glad you've come?" I asked.
"Yes," she said. "I am."
"Then, will you marry me?"
"Yes. I said yes already."
"No," I clarified, "Not will you marry me someday, at some vague point in the future. Will you marry me soon. This summer. Say, June, June. Let's set a date."
"Ok, I'll get out my calendar."
And as soon as she said it, this weird mix of elation and fear flowed through me. I don't know how to explain it, just, all of a sudden, it got real. We're getting married!
"Not right now, though," I said.
"No, not right now," she agreed.
Her calendar was up in her room, in the Mansion, and there was somewhere besides the Mansion we wanted to go, first.