February 21, 1998

Refrigerator Girl - Creative non-fiction about my girl-next-door

I wrote this in college, but its still fun to come back to.

It’s funny to hear people talk about sex. First of all, nobody finishes their sentences. They say things like, “I think guys should just understand that sometimes his wife may not want to . . ..” And no one ever says the word “sex.” They use other words like “intimacy.” I think that “intimacy is the wrong word to use. If people are going to find a euphemism for “sex” they need to find a synonym. Intimacy is not sex. When I hear “intimacy,” I don’t think of naked people I think of . . . Lydia.

When I was eight years old, my family moved into an old farmhouse in upstate New York. I had never lived in the country before and was a bit overwhelmed by the 250 acres of undeveloped land surrounding my new home. The only house in sight was the olive green double-wide trailer across the street. To my great dismay, the only member of this family my age was Lydia. A girl. It was hate at first sight, as could be expected between two eight-year-olds of the opposite sex. Boredom, however, led to friendship and it wasn’t long before we were spending every hour of daylight together.

We drank in our vast natural playground like two explorers thirsty for new horizons. We swam in pools and ponds until we were wrinkled. We rode our bikes on marathons down small country roads. We built more forts than the Union army. We ventured into ghost-filled barns. And we talked. I don’t remember exactly what we talked about, but I know I learned more from Lydia under huge oaks and wading through streams, than I could have from any professor in a classroom.

As we turned ten years old, (became double-digiters) we were both awkward and unattractive, but neither of us knew it, or cared. All we knew was that it was because of the other person that we were not alone. That was all we needed to know. That summer, after a hot journey into the “black forest” just beyond my backyard, Lydia and I took refuge in my kitchen. Lydia was standing in front of the refrigerator looking for something to drink and I was peering under her arm and over her shoulder. Then it happened. I don’t remember making a conscious decision to do it, or even making a move toward her, but when I opened my eyes my arms were around her waist and my head was resting on her shoulder. I was hugging her! She turned to me in shock.

“What are you doing? Why did you just hug me?”

“I didn’t . . . I was just . . . fooling around.”

I wasn’t fooling around. I had hugged her and I didn’t know why. But I do now. There, by the glow of the refrigerator bulb, I had gotten a glimpse of intimacy. Lydia was a big part of who I was, and I felt free to be that person when I was near her. For some reason, on this hot afternoon, mere appreciation was not enough. I was staggeringly content in her presence and that indescribable peace simply overflowed into an embrace. I was powerless against it.
Well, of course, we went back to the serious business of keeping ourselves entertained, but I learned an important lesson that day. Somewhere within me I came to realize that intimacy was not meeting a husband at the door in just an apron or laying a wife down in a bed of rose petals. Intimacy is standing before an open refrigerator with someone and knowing there’s no place you’d rather be.

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