June 16

Yeah, yeah, I’m FINE! Look, I’m sorry, I know I haven’t been writing, but I mean, you know me, you know I’m going to be fine — heck, I — well, the short version is, I’ve met someone I really connect with! I’ve — I don’t even know :P
I know you’re going to want the blow-by-blow of how I met this AMAZING person and I’ll try to give it to you but it’s going to be haaaard. I’m blissed-out and giddy and I am not very good right now with the facts.
A dream come true — EUGH, what a cliché! But I’m just not in a place where I can tell you how great she is or why she’s so great, all I can say is she is owning my brain right now.
She’s so unassuming but so insightful, so easygoing but she knows exactly what she wants, and so grounded in living sincerely and working towards meaningful —
This is total bullshit, I can’t believe I’m writing this, it’s just stupid and vague and doesn’t tell you anything about who she really is. Maybe some other time — no no no, I’m telling you right now. If I don’t do it now, it’s never going to happen. Honestly, since I started typing this, I’ve been this close three times already to closing my laptop, hopping on my bike and riding off. But I SWORE to myself this morning I wouldn’t go over there, and even so I keep checking the time —

I couldn’t help it, I had to go see her. Will, I’m back now, I’m just going to microwave something for dinner and write you. It’s such a delight, seeing her in the middle of all those ADORABLE kids…man, eight siblings —
Gah! If I keep this up, you’re not going to know any more when I’m done than when I started. Okay then, listen! Details! This is happening!

I told you before how I met the D.A. and how he invited me to stop by his house (honestly, his estate) sometime. I kept putting it off, and I might never have gone if I hadn’t stumbled across the treasure buried in this sleepy little town :D
The twentysomethings here were holding a huge social dance with a LIVE BAND, and as you know, that is my jam. I asked out a nice, pretty, otherwise not terribly interesting local girl, and we worked out a carpool with her cousin to drive us to the party, and along the way we were supposed to pick up Charlotte, the D.A.’s daughter. “This girl you’re gonna meet is super cute,” my date said as we were driving through the woods. “Just watch out,” her cousin added, “you don’t want to fall for this one.” “What do you mean?” I said. “She’s in a serious relationship with a really nice guy,” she answered. “He’s off on a trip because his father just died and he has to take care of his will.” And I was like…okay, thanks?
The sun was just about to set behind the mountains when we pulled up at the gate. The humidity was terrible, and there was a clump of scary-looking grey clouds building up on the horizon. The girls started worrying there was going to be a storm; I pretended I’d checked the weather and told them it would be fine to calm them down, but even I started worrying that it might put a damper on things. PUN INTENDED
I got out of the car, and a little girl came to the gate asking if we’d please wait a moment, Miss Lotte would be right out. I walked up the driveway towards the gorgeous old house, and when I hopped up the stairs and walked in the door, I saw the most adorable thing I’ve ever seen in my whole life.

In the front hall, six kids, ages eleven to two, were swarming around this beautiful young woman (average height, amazing figure) wearing a simple white dress with pink trim. She was holding a loaf of whole-wheat bread, cutting each kid a slice to match their age and appetite, handing each one out so affectionately, and the kids were all yelling these wonderfully sincere “Thank you!”s with their hands stretched way up in the air before the bread was even cut, and once they had their slice some of them ran off happily, and some of the quieter ones walked out to the gate to look at the strangers and the car that was going to take their Lotte away. “I’m so sorry to drag you in here and keep the girls waiting,” she said. “I’ve been so caught up getting dressed and getting everything ready for the house for while I’m out, I forgot to give the kids their evening snack, and they won’t eat the bread if anyone cuts it but me.” I said…something dumb, I don’t even remember what; I felt like my brain was in slow motion, taking in the way she looked and spoke and moved, and I was still trying to snap out of it when she ran upstairs to grab her purse. The kids were hanging back sneaking glances at me, and I went over to the littlest, who was sooo cute! He was starting to back away when Lotte came back in and said, “Lewis, shake hands with your nice cousin.” He stuck his hand right out, and even though he had a bit of a runny nose I couldn’t help giving him a kiss.
“Cousin?” I said as I offered her my arm. “Do you think I might be lucky enough to be related to you?”
“Oh,” she said, smiling airily, “We have so many cousins, I’d hate for you to be left out.”
On our way out, she told Sophie, the next-oldest sister (~11 years old), that it was her job to look after the other kids and say hi to Daddy when he came back from his walk. She told the little kids they should pretend Sophie was her and do whatever she said, and some of them said, “I promise!”. But one catty little blond girl said, “But she’s not you, Lotte, we like you better!”
The two oldest boys were hovering hopefully around the car, and after I lobbied for them a little she let them ride with us in the wayback as far as the edge of the grounds, but only if they promised to behave and keep their seatbelts buckled.
Almost as soon as we settled in and got through the typical small talk — the girls all saying hi and complimenting each other on their clothes and their shoes, and going over who they thought would be at the party — Lotte had the cousin stop the car and made her brothers get out. They wouldn’t let us go until they’d hugged her goodbye again, the older one with all the tenderness a fifteen-year-old can muster, the younger one giving her a jokey bear-hug :) She asked them to tell the little kids goodnight for her again and we drove on.
The cousin asked whether she’d finished the book she’d lent her the other day. “No,” said Lotte, “I didn’t like it, you can have it back. And actually, the one before wasn’t any better.” I thought, what?!, and asked what books they were talking about, and she told me […]* — and…the more she said, the more I was just, like, who ARE you?, it was like, insight after insight, every other word — watching this incredible personality unfold itself in front of me, seeing her face light up so happily the more she realized how much I understood her…
“When I was a kid,” she said, “my absolute favorite thing was novels. God, it was so nice when I could curl up in a chair on the weekends and re-live Jane Eyre’s ups and downs…and it’s not like I don’t like them any more! But I get so few chances to read these days that if I am going to read something, it really has to be my kind of book. And my favorite authors are the ones where I feel like I recognize the world I live in, where things happen the way they actually happen to me, and where the stories are as rich and engaging as my own home life, which obviously isn’t perfect, but still overall makes me happy in a really special way.”
And I’m like, oh my god, Werther, keep it together, but that didn’t last, because when she started saying such incredibly true things about The Catcher In The Rye, by**, I kind of lost it and told her all these things I had to say, and I only noticed after a while, when Lotte brought the others back into the conversation, that they’d been sitting there the whole time staring at us pretending not to be there. I saw the cousin smirking at me a couple times in the rearview mirror, but honestly, whatever.
The conversation shifted to how much we liked dancing. “You can judge me if you want,” Lotte said, “but I can’t think of anything better than dancing. And if something’s on my mind, all I have to do is bang out some dance tunes on our wonky old piano, and then I’m good again.”
And the whole time she’s talking, I’m getting lost in her dark eyes, watching her lips move and her eyebrows dance, feeling them calling out to every part of me — so caught up in the amazing points she’s making that I’m missing her actual words — heh, you get the idea, you know me well enough :P Long story short, when we pulled up outside the venue I stumbled out of the car like a sleepwalker, and I was so lost to the whole twilight world around me that I barely registered the music pealing out from the bright dance hall.

These two guys, Austin and… I want to say… Nick? (buh, so many names!), who were going with Lotte and the cousin, found us waiting in line outside and we all headed in together.
We twirled round and round the dancefloor; I danced with one girl after another, and of course the worst dancers were the exact ones who wouldn’t just shake hands and walk away after the dance was over. Lotte and her partner joined us for a slow waltz, and you can imagine how thrilled I was, just watching her move through the steps. Oh, Will, you’ve got to see her dance! It’s like, she is so there with her whole heart and soul, her whole body becomes the melody, so carefree, so uninhibited, as if it were the only real thing in the world, as if she couldn’t think or feel anything else…you can tell, in that moment, everything else disappears for her.
I asked her for the next cha-cha; she promised me the one after that, and started enthusing to me in the cutest giddiest way about how much she loved the Viennese waltz. “We have this thing here where the couples that belong together stay together for the Viennese waltz, and my partner’s a terrible waltzer and he’s always grateful if I spare him the trouble. Your date can’t waltz either, but I could tell during the slow waltz that you know what you’re doing; so if you want to be my partner for the Viennese, why don’t you work it out with my date, and I’ll talk to yours?” We shook hands on it, and our dates said they’d be happy to hang out together while we were dancing.
Then we were off! and at first we just had fun twirling each other in pirouettes. Oh, she moved so beautifully, so lightly on her feet! And when the waltz itself began and we all started spinning around like orbiting planets, it all got a little chaotic because so few people actually knew the steps. We were smart and stayed on the edges while they all slammed into each other, and once the least coordinated people had left the dancefloor, we slipped in and valiantly held out along with another couple — right, with Austin and his date. I felt like I was going to burst. Holding the most wonderful person in my arms and flying around with her like breezes whistling through the crowd, and — Will, I’m not gonna lie, I swore to myself right then and there that no girl I ever loved, that I had any claim over, would ever waltz with anyone but me, even if it killed me :P You understand!
We walked a couple laps around the room to catch our breath. Then she sat down, and the clementines I’d snagged from the refreshments, which were the only ones left, hit the spot perfectly, except that every time she gave a segment to this pushy girl beside her it was like a pin stuck through my heart.
On the third slow waltz, we were the second couple out. As we were dancing across the floor, and I hung on her arms and her gaze God knows how happily and she was looking at me so deeply with the sincerest purest delight, we passed by a woman who’d kind of stuck out to me before as a, heh, Noticeably Pretty Older Woman. She smiled at Lotte, wagging a threatening finger, and called out the name “Albert” twice very *meaningfully* as she danced by.
“Who’s Albert”, I said to Lotte, “if you don’t mind my asking?” She was just about to answer when we had to split up for a line dance, and she looked like she was struggling with something as we circled past each other. “There’s no reason I shouldn’t tell you,” she said, as we joined up again for the promenade, “Albert is a really nice guy I’m basically engaged to.” — Now, this wasn’t news to me (because the girls had told me on the way) but in a way it was totally new, because I’d never connected it with her, this person who’d come to mean so much to me so soon… Anyway, I…I kind of blacked out and blanked out and crossed between the wrong couple, so the whole thing started to fall apart, and it took all of Lotte’s presence of mind and dragging and pulling to get us all back where we were supposed to be.

The dance was still in full swing when — we’d seen lightning out the windows for a while, and I’d kept saying it was just a heatstorm, but suddenly it got much more intense and the thunder boomed so loud it drowned out the music. Three girls screamed and ran off the dancefloor, their partners chased after them; pretty soon it was just chaos everywhere and the band stopped playing. I guess — it makes sense that when something terrible or frightening takes you by surprise in the middle of something nice, it hits you much harder than it would otherwise. Partly because of the contrast, which makes it stand out that much more; partly, and even more so, because you’ve already opened yourself up to emotion and so you feel the impact of things that much more powerfully. At least, that’s the only reason I can come up with for how crazy everyone’s reactions were. The smartest girl there sat down in a corner with her back to the wall and plugged her ears, but two of her friends piled on top of her crying and hugging each other. Some girls wanted to go home; some, who were even more out of it, couldn’t even think clearly enough to push away the assholes who thought all this emotion meant this was the right time to make a move. A bunch of people pulled out their smartphones and disappeared into their own little worlds. But those of us who were still game jumped at the chance when the people from the venue offered to move us into a basement room where at least it wasn’t so loud. They’d barely shown us in when Lotte got to work moving the chairs into a circle, and, once we’d all sat down like she asked us to, she told us we were going to play a game.
I saw a bunch of people sit up straight and lick their lips, like they thought we were playing Spin the Bottle :P “The game’s called Counting,” Lotte said. “Now pay attention! I’m going to go around the circle counter-clockwise, and at the same time you’re going to count in order, each person saying whatever the next number is, and it has to go fast! And if you’re too slow or you say the wrong number, you get a slap in the face. And we go all the way to a thousand.” Trust me, this was awesome. She started walking around the circle with her arm stretched out. “One”, said the first person, then the next one said “Two”, and then “Three” and so on. Then she started walking faster, and then even faster: finally, one person messed up, and WHAP! right in the face, and while the next one was laughing, WHAP! another one, and then faster and faster. I got two slaps myself, and I was secretly happy because I was pretty sure they were harder than the ones she gave the others :) The game fell apart because we were all laughing too hard long before we reached a thousand. Couples started pulling each other aside, the storm had passed, and I followed Lotte back up to the ballroom. As we were walking, she said, “With all the slapping, they forgot about the storm and everything!” I…had no words. “I was probably the most scared person there,” she went on, “but, while I was acting brave to cheer the others up, I actually got kind of brave myself.” We walked over to the window. It was thundering off in the distance, and you could hear the rain whispering all over the countryside, and the most invigorating wonderful smell rose up to meet us on a cloud of warm air. She stood there, leaning on the windowsill, taking in the whole scene, she looked up at the sky and at back at me — I saw she was crying — she put her hand on mine, and whispered, “I heard the sound of a thunder that roared out a warning…” And right away I knew exactly the song she was thinking of, and I collapsed under the flood of emotions she was pouring over me. I couldn’t take it, I crumbled into her and kissed her shoulder, weeping ecstatically. And I looked back up at her eyes. — Oh, Dylan! I wish you could have seen yourself apotheosized in that gaze! And I wish I never had to hear a hipster take your name in vain again!

*I’ve cut this part of the letter because I know I’m going to get angry letters from someone’s estate otherwise. Although, really, it’s not like any author should care that much about what one random girl and one unstable guy think about their books.
**I’m cutting the name of the author, again, so it won’t show up if his estate googles his name. But I know you know it, and I’m sure *he* can hear Lotte’s words, wherever he is.

June 19

I’m not even sure where I left off anymore — I vaguely remember hitting send and collapsing into bed around two in the morning, and I’m sure that if I could have gushed at you in person instead of writing I would have kept you up all night :P

Oh! I haven’t told you what happened on the way back from the dance, and…this isn’t really a great time either —

The sunrise was stunning. The raindrops glittering in the trees, and the fields all so refreshed! The girls we’d driven with had fallen asleep in a corner. Lotte told me she was going to call a car service, and I was welcome to join her or nap and wait for them, no pressure either way. “As long as I can look into your eyes,” I said, looking right at her, “I’m in no danger of closing mine.” And we both managed to stay awake all the way to her front door :) She popped in quickly to make sure her dad and the kids were all asleep and well, and then she met me back on the doorstep. I asked her, can I see you again today?, she said yes, and I went over that afternoon; and ever since, the sun and moon and stars go round and round doing their thing but I can’t tell if it’s day or night and it’s like the world around me barely exists.

June 21

These last few weeks have been such a streak of glorious, fantastic days…whatever happens down the line, I’ll always be able to say that at least once in my life, I was purely, truly happy. You remember Pickton, right? I’m all set up there now, it’s only half an hour to Lotte’s place, I feel like myself there, and I feel about as happy as we humans get to be :P

And to think, you know, I just decided randomly, “Today I’m biking to Pickton”, with no idea it lay so close to heaven… I must have seen that old mansion a hundred times when I was hiking around, looking down from the mountains or across the river… and now that house holds all my hopes and dreams…

Dear Will — I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the drive people have to expand their horizons, and discover new things, and go on adventures; and also, on the other hand, about how drawn we are, deep down, to stay inside our comfort zones, to let ourselves put blinders on and keep rolling on in our comfortable ruts and not worry about what else might be out there.

It’s funny… when I first came out here, looking down from the train into this beautiful valley, everything had such a pull on me. “OMG forest!” — “Ahhh, WANT to wander through its shadows!” “OMG mountains!” — “Ahhh, WANT to gaze over the countryside from their peaks!” “OMG adorable hills & lovely valleys!” — “Ahhh, WANT to get lost in them!” — and there I was, running back and forth everywhere, and never finding what I was looking for. *sigh*… distance is like the future, that way! It hovers there in front of us in this big nebulous mass, our eyes and our minds go all blurry looking at it, and we — ahhh, we feel so drawn to throw our whole selves into it, to let ourselves be swallowed up in the joy of some great transcendent feeling… but, eugh! when we rush forward, when There becomes Here, nothing’s changed, we stand there as hollow and limited as ever, thirsting for water that’s slipped through our fingers.
You know? You see it all the time, people traveling and running around, thinking happiness is “out there” somewhere… but in the end, when they get homesick and come back, it turns out just being under their own roof, holding the one they love, being surrounded by their family, is where happiness was all along.

When I bike up to Pickton at dawn, pick the peas I planted in the café garden, sit out there and shuck them, reading around in the Odyssey… let myself into the café kitchen, grab a pot, cut a wedge of butter, toss in the peas and start them frying on the stove, cover them, pull up a chair, give them a stir from time to time… I get such a visceral sense of what it was like for the suitors, bro-ing out, killing Penelope’s cows and pigs, cutting them up and roasting them. It’s such a grounding, real feeling — you know? This is how people used to live. And I’m so grateful I get the chance to weave some of those archaic threads into my own life in such an authentic way. There’s nothing like it.
It’s so…simple, and so innocent, and so deeply joyful, sitting down to eat vegetables you grew yourself, because what you’re enjoying isn’t just the plant, it’s all the good days, the beautiful morning you planted it, the lovely evenings you watered it, and all the delight you took watching it grow, all together again in one single moment. I’m so glad I get to know what that’s like.

June 29

The doctor came up from town the other day to give the D.A. a checkup and found me outside on the grass, with Lotte’s siblings crawling all over me and teasing me and me tickling them in a great big screaming pile-on :) This doctor has such a stick up his ass — fiddling with his cuffs and popping the snaps on his bag the whole time he was talking at me… he clearly thought this was inappropriate behaviour for a ‘sensible young man’. looking down his nose at me… But I didn’t let him get to me; I let him blather on about his matters of consequence, and just kept building houses of cards for the kids to knock back down. And so he went back into town and moaned to everyone how the D.A.’s children were already spoiled enough, now Werther was ruining them completely.

Mmm…it’s true, though, William dear — the kids have got the #2 spot in my heart. It’s funny, watching them and seeing all the little seeds inside them of personality traits that’ll come in so handy someday… catching glimpses in their stubbornness of resolve and personal integrity down the road, and seeing hints in their giddiness of the positivity and ease you need to get through the hard parts of life — and all so uncorrupted, so whole! It always, always makes me think of His great line: “Unless ye become as one of them!” And meanwhile we take them, our equals, whom we should look to as role models, and we treat them like second-class citizens. “They don’t know what’s good for them!” What, like we do?! — and what right do we have? “Because we’re older and wiser!” — Dear Lord, when You look down from heaven, all You see are grown-up kids and little kids, and that’s all; and Your son made very clear long ago which ones give You more joy. But they believe in Him and don’t listen to Him — that’s a grown-up thing too! — and they raise their kids to be like them and — eugh. Be well, Will. /rant