Welcome to Get Lost, a newsletter by Real Queer America and Love & Estrogen author Samantha Allen. Named after the 1995 Magnetic Fields album, Get Lost explores unsung and undersung places, people, and texts through a personal lens. This fifth entry takes you to Weeki Wachee, Florida. Enter your email below to subscribe!
I think that if we could experience the full depth of our loved ones’ needs—if we could feel them as if they were our own—we would drown in them. It would be like having two hearts when most of us can barely handle having one.
In a sense, then, our innate selfishness is both an impediment to forming relationships and the very precondition that makes them possible: Can you imagine feeling twice the desperation we already feel? Double the loneliness that drives us to seek out the company of others? We’d be frozen by it. Maybe we can only love people because we can’t ever know what it’s like to be the people we love. We’re shielded by solipsism from ever knowing firsthand how terrifying it must be for our partners to want the same things we want from them: respect, affection, warmth, desire.
Communication can get us close to understanding the best way to deliver those core ingredients to others but at some point, absent primary knowledge, we have to accept the untranslatability. We put forth our best efforts, watch anxiously as our offerings get processed by the never-fully-knowable black box that is another human consciousness, and hope that happiness is the result.
That process is what I’ve been pondering in the wake of my latest trip down the Weeki Wachee River this November. Ever since discovering this turquoise-hued paradise on a list of Florida’s “hidden gems” back in 2016, I have returned as many times as possible, always with my wife Corey. It’s where I go whenever I’m in Florida. It’s where I chose to end Real Queer America. It’s become something of a pilgrimage for me.
It’s not that there’s something new to see on the Weeki Wachee River every few months; rather, it’s easy for the memories of my visits to run together. Sometimes Corey and I went as a duo; other times, we went with friends or family members who were lured by our relentless evangelizing. On a handful of trips, we were lucky enough to spot manatees floating in the crystal-clear water, their soothing gray bodies camouflaged against the silty river bottom. Once, we even saw a family of river otters, chittering to each other as they worked their way upstream, flitting between the river and the bank. But mostly, my seven or so Weeki Wachee journeys are a blur of birds and ferns and rays of sunshine refracting off the river’s near-plasticine surface. I have seen colors on the Weeki Wachee River that I didn’t know existed in nature. I have forgotten to breathe because of how damn beautiful it is.
But above all, I return to the Weeki Wachee for its rhythm: The trip starts out near the deep spring that feeds the river—the same spring where “mermaids” still perform underwater musicals for state parkgoers. The kayaking is smooth and easy at first. The momentum of the rushing spring propels your vessel forward through snakelike twists and turns. If you’re not careful, you can end up stalled in an eddy or wedged among the many tree branches that compete for valuable riverside real estate. But for the most part, all you have to do is steer a little and let the river do the work.
Two miles in, you arrive at the perfect balance between speed and serenity. The river’s wonders reveal themselves to you—but you have to use some muscle to witness them. By the time the river nears the Gulf of Mexico, all of the motion has to come from you. The last mile spent piloting your kayak through stalled canal water leaves your arms sore, your hands sunburned. The trees thin out, replaced by houses. The pace slows.
Eventually, if you keep paddling long enough, you would find yourself in salt water—and then out at sea in a kayak ill-equipped for it. But shortly before reaching the Gulf waters, you turn left onto a public boat ramp where state park employees help you out of your kayak, load it onto a trailer, and drive you back where you began. You are left in the parking lot with the satisfaction of having almost reached the river’s end—but also with the knowledge that the only way to return to those breathtakingly beautiful middle sections is to come back. Next time.
I would like to be a perfect partner for my wife Corey, whom I have been captivated by ever since we met in 2013. Or at least the version of me that got straight As in high school and popped Zoloft in college to keep my anxiety at bay wants to ace marriage, too—to meet all of Corey’s needs simultaneously and superbly. No stalling in eddies, no getting caught on branches—just pure, fluid movement at constant speed.
On this latest trip down the Weeki Wachee River, while giving Corey a piggyback ride in a waist-deep stretch of water, my feet sinking deep into sea grass and sand, I felt the weight of the lifetime that she has invested in us. I felt each of the seven years that Corey has chosen to be with me—me, a semi-decent writer who has maybe one good idea every three years. (That’s the most awful and most sublime thing a person can do, isn’t it? Ask someone to be near you when it can be a struggle for you to be near you.) If I let myself feel that weight for too long, I can get discouraged and feel like I’ll never reach my goal. But I should already have realized by now that I won’t get there.
I can figure out one aspect of being a good partner (like being present and listening) only to realize that I need to start working on another area altogether (loving from a place of confidence rather than insecurity). Often, marriage seems like an endless game of Whac-a-Mole, which is hard for a person who wants—desperately—to be able to outsmart the game. I always hoped there would be an endpoint—a plateau from which I could love without error. But when I think that way, the past seven years become mere preparation, wasted time before some far-off main event. One day I’ll be great, the twisted logic goes, and that’s when our time together will really count. The golden age will officially begin.
But what if figuring out each of your partner’s needs is like kayaking the Weeki Wachee once? Easy at first with the momentum of initial awareness, rewarding as I exert more effort, but ultimately and always unfinishable? You can only approach that oceanic endpoint of absolute empathy again and again—and keep approaching it, again and again. You will never do everything right all of the time—but you can do many things close to right much of the time. My task, then, is to let that be love. If I experience my trips down the Weeki Wachee River as serene rather than Sisyphean, why should I experience my relationship any differently? Why should I let some sort of toxic perfectionism erase years of overwhelming good any more than I would let a few blisters on my hands ruin a day spent swimming with sea cows?
My life with Corey, too, is filled with moments so resplendent that I feel transported to another planet. The joys of that joint life are likewise contingent on repetition—the reiterative rhythms of days, weeks, and months spent traversing the same waters. This isn’t preparation for anything; this is the thing. It’s happening right now. My marriage may never be golden—is anyone’s?—but it is green, thrumming with life and flowing forward so long as I keep paddling.
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