The sun turns black, earth sinks in the sea,
The hot stars down from heaven are whirled;
Fierce grows the steam and the life-feeding flame,
Till fire leaps high about heaven itself.
Edda, the Voluspa
Gotterdammerung, I kept thinking. The end of the world. How fare the gods? asks the sibyl's prophecy. How fare the elves? The world groans, and the sibyl asks, "Would you know yet more?"
I didn't want to know more. Why the hell couldn't I have been hit by a bus yesterday and died happy? Why couldn't he have been born ten years earlier? Twenty-six, gods damn it.
With a rueful snicker that made two tears blur my vision, I thought, well, now we know what Moersgard sees in the young stuff, don't we?
I went to the kitchen and rummaged until I found a bottle of white wine in the cupboard. Italian table wine, to be served chilled. Screw that. I'm already chilled, I muttered to myself. I wanted it warm, so that it would go to my head and my heart and stop the pain.
My phone rang; the only reason I answered it was because if I didn't, he'd worry enough to come to the house and pound on the door. I should never have let him know where I live, I never tell anyone where I live, why did I break that cardinal rule and let him know where I go to ground? "Hello?"
"Augusta, are you all right?" His quiet, peaceful voice was like a soothing balm. How could he be so young? "Do you think you have food poisoning? I just thought of that when I got home, and I was worried about you."
"Nothing so dramatic, I'm sorry. Ahhh, ladies' problems, that's all." Yeah, the problem a lady has when she finds out that she's eighteen years older than her boyfriend. "I just need to take a couple aspirins and go to bed."
"You poor woman. I'll let you settle in then, and give you a call tomorrow night."
"I'll be here," I said quickly, before he could say any more. "Good night, Valentine."
Gods of Hindu and of Maya, what do I do about this? I took another drink right from the bottle, feeling the warmth of the stuff spread from my stomach outward. A knot relaxed a teeny bit.
Think, Augusta, I told myself, trying to keep the panicky feelings from swelling again. What difference does it make how old he is? What's the difference? What's the difference?
He'll think I'm old.
Did you think Moersgard was old? There was more than twenty years' span between you. Moersgard and I both knew each others' ages before we ever allied. We were comfortable with it. Besides I didn't -- love -- Moersgard. He was just convenient for me, I was just convenient for him. It's different, somehow. Men are supposed to be mature, women are supposed to be beautiful. He'll think I'm old.
Maybe Valentine already knows you're almost twenty years older than he, and has just been such a beautiful gentleman not to care.
Maybe. Maybe the ocean will turn off tonight and be transformed into minestrone. Gods, he'll think I'm old.
I had another drink from the bottle and fired up the computer to see if I could catch Kimsky on line.
Burlie and Kimsky, living in very rural Ohio, tended to keep their computer on just about around the clock so as to keep touch with the outside world. Wouldn't be much of a stretch to find one of them surfing the web on a Sunday evening. I found Burlie and hailed him.
"Most enlightened of husbands of my friends, is the pearl of your heart able to converse with her old friend for a few?" I typed to him.
"Pearl?" replied Burlie. "I haven't screwed Pearl for years. You'll have to talk to Kimmie instead." With a snicker of appreciation for his crude distraction, I thanked him and got ready to do some confessing to my old friend. Earthy and not at all up-tight (as we used to say), Kimsky had been my sounding board and point of ground for as long as I'd known her -- about twenty-four years.
Almost Valentine's entire life.
"Hey, Gus," she said as her words came on the computer screen. "What's happenin', Cap'n?"
"Mister Gorgeous that I told you about?" I typed.
"Yeh, Mr. Curls and Sexy Name," she quipped.
"Turns out he's only twenty-six years old."
"Goddy sakes, you got yourself a stiffie."
I could almost hear her roar with laughter. "That's a disgusting appellation."
"Burlie says to tell you 'the younger the buck, the stiffer the dick'. I say, the younger they are, the less likely they are to catch on before you get the hell out of Dodge."
"Kim, he and I both live in Dodge. I can't leave. That's kind of the problem."
"Girl, screw his eyes out and then dump him. At twenty-six he doesn't have a brain, all he has is balls. Whatever you do don't fall in love with him."
"Too fucking late."
"I thought he was older. Considerably older. Lots more older."
"Old enough to drive, you mean? Old enough to vote? Old enough to want to go to bed with a talented university professor? You're in love with someone who's too stupid to tell a doctorate from a cheerleader?"
I had to laugh. No, Valentine wasn't that stupid.
"Your problem is you haven't had a good lay in years. Getcha some, Gus."
"Thank you for your advice, O learned spirit."
"Seriously, Gus, find yourself another target. These young ones'll break your heart."
"You know this from experience?"
"Damn right. My oldest is bent on making the rounds of the entire goddam county, and they all call here looking for the little shit. He just turned twenty-two."
"Remind me not to hug him the next time I visit."
"I've been telling him for a while that I'll cut his jewels off personally if he hits on you. When are you coming to spend some time?"
"Soon, I hope. I could use some peace."
We chatted for about an hour all told, and then the time zones caught up and we signed off. So her son Dimitri liked older women. He was four years younger than Valentine.
I remember holding him as an infant, and playing with him as a toddler.
The bottle of wine was nearly gone, and I didn't feel drunk. Maybe a little less pain. I went to the bathroom and fished out a sleeping pill, swallowed it down with some more wine. At least I kept enough wits about me to set an alarm for the next morning.
"Ritual," I instructed the class, "is a form of outer behavior coordinated with an inner intention to make contact with or participate in the invisible world. OUTER behavior, INNER intention, contact with INVISIBLE world. Any initial offerings as to examples of ritual behavior that you have seen?"
"Incense at Mass," piped up the recurring Mr. Smarts.
"Okay, incense burning is the outer behavior, what's the inner intention?" I countered. How many times have I done this class?
"Drowns out the farts of the congregation," he said, boringly predictably.
I ignored him and raised eyebrows at the rest of the class, a number of whom had put up with Mr. Smarts from other classes and despised him for playing the ass. "The prayers rise to heaven with the smoke," said an Anthy major, "and the scent attracts the attention of heaven, or deity."
"Perfect," I said. "If you're wise, class, you'll write that one down. Let's look at the account from Shatapatha Brahmana Eleven. Pururavas wants to become an immortal creature like the love of his life. The semi-deities the Gandharvas want to help him, so they give him a ritual to perform, the cooking of rice with the fire from wood of a certain tree anointed with clarified butter for a requisite time, an elaborate ritual.
"Then the deities decide that is too difficult, so they change the requirement to just making fire from specific woods.
"And then they backtrack again, and simplify the task, so that only one kind of special wood is required to make the fire sacred. Pururavas is going to make the sacred fire and join the semi-deities. Why do you think that the ritual is changed twice? Speculate! None of our answers are going to break anything in the text. "
The deities figure out that Pururavas is stupid, a mere mortal, but they want to give him a better chance because his inner intention is good, offers one student. Pururavas stands for people, who don't have all the elements they need to perform the ritual, so it's up to the deities to change it to accommodate them, says another. What is 'clarified butter?' says a third. Several students chime, "Ghee!" leaving him no more clarified himself. The gemstone student of the class this semester offers, could this text represent a bridge between ancient practices and later practices, trying to explain why the rituals had become less elaborate?
"Good thoughts! Any others?"
Pururavas married a nymph who looked like a swan. Is this like the 'animal wife' myths?
"Very perceptive! The primary elements are indeed there in the story: the hero marries a woman who is not human; they live together until the man does something that displeases the woman; she leaves, sometimes with or sometimes without their offspring. Usually the story is a tragedy, and the animal wife is never seen again.
"However, this one is a very early love story, and the animal wife motif is combined with purgation, as Pururavas leaves everything behind to seek his wife, and a story of ritual action in order for Pururavas to become immortal.
"Not to mention that it's some really passionate poetry. Shall we read some of it?"
Working through religious texts and talking about human behaviors seems to clear my head and my heart, reminding me that people act on what they perceive and understand, as long as they are given space and permission to do so. And what I teach about is the stuff of wisdom; words echo across unfathomable times. The story of Pururavas was uncannily timely this fall. He fell in love with Urvashi, a nymph of lake and forest. He is mortal, and though she resides with him for a time, ultimately she returns to her home. Some students volunteered to read the story aloud. They were boyfriend and girlfriend, and their affection added much to the reading. I let them take over, just listening and enjoying this good class.
"What use is there in my talking to you!" Urvashi replies to his longing request to come back and talk to him. "I have passed like the first of dawns. Pururavas, go home again! I am like the wind that cannot be caught ... " I found myself wondering, is there any point in me continuing to see Valentine? God, I have friends with kids older than he is, and there's no way to remedy Time. No matter how fast you travel, Time is the one wind that cannot be caught.
But Pururavas sadly replies, "Today your lover will perish, he will go to the furthest distance and never come back. He will lie in the lap of disaster, and fierce wolves will devour him ... " Would Valentine refuse to go away even if I could bear to run him off? Does he feel love and devotion for me, or is this all just a trick of the hormones?
Urvashi really does love him, though she does not wish to go back to his palace, and she cries, "Pururavas, do not die! do not go away! Do not let the fierce wolves devour you!" She takes the blame for the failed relationship upon herself: "Friendship is not to be found in women, for they have hearts like half-tamed jackals!" Is that the problem? That my woman's heart can't be friends with a lover if he doesn't meet all the conventional criteria? A wolf drifting off into the fog, and a half-tamed jackal to boot?
"Doctor Renoir?" A voice broke through into my reverie. I started.
"What next?" There were twenty-five student faces staring at their professor who had just phased out in class, thinking about her own love story.
"Oh, sorry," I told them. "Pass out these supplemental texts about Christian ritual and initiation; Eliade just doesn't want to deal with them in our text. Also read Eliade: Patterns of Initiation, pages two hundred eighty-seven to three hundred seventeen. Thank you for doing such a great job on reading today, Jamal and Anna. I'm so impressed that everybody gets out ten minutes early today. See ya."
That was not good. My mental meanderings didn't belong in my classroom.