It had spiraled so fast.
Kay and I celebrated five years together. Shortly afterward, she dumped me for a new guy. Now, a few weeks later, I was without her at kink camp. I felt discarded, reeling, out of place in a familiar space. Kink camp was full of memories of her, most beautiful, some painful—most painfully, and most recently, with the new guy who displaced me.
“Oh yeah, welcome to the club,” a friend commiserated. “You’re not in the game until you’ve had your heart broken at kink camp. This is where my lover dumped me.” She went on to enumerate the many legendary break ups within the community that occurred on these very grounds. Someone should put up an historical marker, I thought: “So-and-so was crushed here.”
I was booked to present classes, organize an orgy, host a storytelling show and run a cabin. I would be surrounded by friends and love. That would give me strength.
But, I also knew, I was vulnerable. My feelings were unstable. My body was failing me. My spirit was broken. Fortunately, my mind was sharp. Knowing that returning to camp might trigger a sadness I could not control, I asked three friends to act as my emotional buoys. If I ever feel lost at sea, I told them, I want to know I can come to you for support. I may never come to you. I may come to you at any time. Without hesitation, all three agreed. None knew I had asked anyone else.
I asked two of these people as they are friends to both Kay and me. They had known us as a couple. They knew I was hurting and they knew she was hurting. They loved each of us. The last part was the most critical: I knew that, no matter how I felt or what I said, they would not respond by denigrating her. It’s easy for people to say to a friend that his ex is a bitch or a jackass whom he’s better off without. I couldn’t hear that, as it’s not true. Kay is a kind, caring person. I loved her. I was in misery without her. We were in a bad place, but that wasn’t because either of us is a bad person.
The third person I asked was Lee Harrington.
In the aftermath of my break-up, Lee had been a good confident, sharing the wisdom he’s gathered in life, not least of which was the experience of his own current break-up. “It’s interesting to hear your story,” he said, “Because in my narrative, I’m in Kay’s position. I’m the one breaking someone’s heart by following my own.” He had fallen in love with someone living in Anchorage, Alaska, and decided to move there, leaving behind his partner of many years.
Lee had met Kay, but didn’t know her well. This didn’t matter. I could trust that Lee wouldn’t stoop to negativity. When I made this request, he replied, “Of course. I’m honored to be asked.”
Be careful what you ask for: you may just receive it.
Lee knew I wasn’t eating. At every meal, he would appear by my side. Not to scold me for picking at my food, but just to be present. He’d sit and join in conversation with my other friends, touching my back, and being there.
If he saw me crossing the campus, he’d change his path to intersect with mine. He’d ask what I’d been doing and what I was doing next. He’d tell me where he’d been and where he’d next be. All by way of casually checking in on me and letting me know where he could be found.
He often passed by my cabin—at a dead end on the way to nothing—to chat.
I’ve seen Lee present at events many times. He’s a great teacher and has taught me many skills, particularly with rope, at which he is a master and I’m his clumsy pupil. Lee is a shaman of spiritual sexuality, a guide to those who seek that path. I’ve not been very curious about “woo woo,” the self-deprecating phrase Lee uses to refer to something he takes very seriously, and so, I had not learned much about his views and teachings. In that regard.
On the Saturday night of camp, Lee was to lead a spirit walk. In deference to my love for him and his care for me, and in acknowledgement that we would soon be living far apart, I decided to join the walk.
We convened at one o’clcok in the morning. We were about a dozen in number. Lee told us that this was to be a silent journey and we were to use no flashlights. Our destination was the labyrinth. We were to follow him along a path in the woods. We walked, listening to the sticks and leaves crunching underfoot. I walked in the rear, barely able to distinguish the dark form of the person ahead of me or my feet below, which I watched to avoid tripping. As a result of walking in darkness, we moved slowly and carefully.
Lee stopped the procession and illuminated a flashlight. He spoke words intended to help us reach a meditative state. His voice was clear, his words simple and poetic. He then doused the light and continued along the dark path.
Once more he stopped, lighting his face and speaking in a deliberate, rhythmic tone. Once more he extinguished the light and moved onward.
We arrived at the labyrinth. The labyrinth is a permanent fixture at camp. I had seen it many times by daylight. It’s a gravel circle about fifteen feet in diameter, with its paths demarcated by slightly raised stones of a darker color. Now, it was illuminated only by a dozen votive candles around its circumference. A drummer sat on a bench, providing a steady heartbeat.
Lee instructed us to take places around the labyrinth, standing and facing its center, directing our energy there. As our number roughly matched the number of votives, we gravitated to the candles, each of us standing near one.
Lee told us that each of us in turn would follow our path into the labyrinth. Once at its center, we would mediate on anything we cared to choose for as long as we chose. Then we would follow our path out of the labyrinth and return to the outer circle, making way for the next person. We would move around the circle in a clockwise fashion; as it happened, the final walk would be mine.
“There are many paths in the labyrinth,” Lee intoned. “Some are short and some are long. Some are easy and some are hard.” With that, Lee sat in a beatific pose at the labyrinth’s entrance.
The first walker entered. He made his way around and around, closing in on the center, stopping once it was reached. I could only make out his dark shape as he stood silently for a few moments. I remembered to direct positive thoughts toward him. We’re meeting tonight in an amazing place, I thought. We are fortunate. You are good. You are loved. In time, he raised his arms with a sudden victorious gesture. He then followed his path out of the labyrinth, taking his place near me. We each stepped to the left to make room as the next person entered the labyrinth.
And so it went, each person walking to the center, meditating, returning. In time, it was my turn. I entered the labyrinth.
In the darkness, I couldn’t see beyond the next step. The candlelight was, if anything, more distracting than illuminating, causing peripheral glares. I landed one step, then the next, walking with care along my spiraling path, the drum beating my steps.
I reached the center. I looked around at the others and back to Lee. I closed my eyes.
I meditated on Kay.
I love her so much, I thought. I need and want her in my life. I know she is trying to be friends. I am trying, too. I know the pain will subside and that will help. I do not want to hurt her, as I do not want to be hurt by her. I hope she will be full of forgiveness for me, as I try to be full of forgiveness for her.
I opened my eyes. I looked around at the forms facing me, their features lost in the darkness. I looked down and began my walk away from the labyrinth’s center. I followed my path as it lead around, twisting in ways the path inside had not. Soon, I realized I was heading back inward. I couldn’t correct the path.
I found myself back at the center.
I felt a wave of disappointment that was nearly claustrophobic. The labyrinth walls were only inches high. I knew I could escape just by walking off the path. But don’t seek escape, I told myself: you are back at the center. Meditate. Focus. Why was I back at the center?
I meditated on my return.
I had meditated on Kay and our relationship, primarily on hopes of building on our past in creating our future. Perhaps this was not what I should hope. We are not together and we will not be together again in the same way. She has made that plain. But even if she offered, I couldn’t go back—I couldn’t bear more heartache. My hope should be that I find my way without centering on Kay. I needed to find my own path.
I opened my eyes. I took a step. I took another. In a few steps, I was out of the labyrinth.
Lee was standing, smiling. He opened his arms. I walked into them. We held each other for a long time. When we released one another, we kissed.
Lee turned to face the others. He called us into a closing circle, gave thanks and wished us well on our journeys. I held hands with those who had shared this experience together. We left the labyrinth area along a more direct path, Lee lighting the way with his flashlight.
As the company parted, Lee and I made our way to a fire pit. We found friends there and sat to talk. Lee and I began to talk about personal histories, sex culture and shared interests. Those around the fire joined in and still, primarily sat, listening to our exchange.
Gradually, people began to head off to their beds. Lee and I were alone, continuing our conversation, until the night’s chill told us it was time to part. It was nearly dawn.
We embraced again. “Isn’t that strange how I wound up back at the center?” I asked. “No one else had that happen. I’m glad it did, though. I got more clarity.”
Lee put his hands on my cheeks and looked into my eyes. “There are many paths in the labyrinth,” he said. “Some are short and some are long. Some are easy and some are hard.”