THE LAST TIME I SAW PETER
When I was sixteen years old, my brother Tom brought home a friend from boarding school for spring vacation. That was when I first saw Peter, an exchange student from Denmark who was spending a year at Exeter. I had just begun to go to dances, and to date a little- and much of the time had a shy, secret crush on one boy or another. But I had never met anyone like Peter. The moment I saw him I felt an overpowering longing. He was handsome, with dark, penetrating eyes. And he was smart and funny. I felt overwhelmed by my own desire-1 wasn’t sure what I wanted, exactly- a special look from him, a touch on my hand or arm? I hardly dared to think of a kiss, which I had not yet experienced. But although I couldn’t quite dare to imagine what I wanted, my body was filled with unnamed longings for him from that moment
Despite my shyness and fear, the three of us deepened our friendship during that vacation. For a whole week, we talked late into the night- wonderful conversations full of laughter and shared interests.
Then he left, but not before inviting us to visit him in Denmark. In the meantime, I did have my first kiss- and then more of them. And I began, slowly, to explore my own sexual desires.
We visited Peter in Denmark two years later. He was by then studying medicine at the University of Copenhagen. We were together almost constantly for two weeks. Even with the safety of my brother’s presence, I was, by turns, enthralled, terrified, filled with joy and longing, desolate. I knew that I had fallen deeply in love with him, and I became aware that he was also attracted to me, but, I thought, perhaps less so.
After spending a week immersed in Copenhagen university life, we traveled to southern Sweden, where Peter owned a tiny, run-down farm cottage, which had a time-honored place-name: Haggabugget. Tom and I were very impressed that someone our age actually owned a
The Last Time I Saw Peter March Enders, M.D.
house, small and broken-down as it was. It was surrounded by meadows and a forest. There was a lake nearby fringed with birches. A little stream flowed by the front door.
We were busy. The two boys repaired walls, doors and windows. I cleaned, cooked as best I could, and spent hours picking blueberries which grew by the millions everywhere. In the evenings, which were bathed in sunlight until about eleven o’clock, we drank dark Swedish beer and continued our inexhaustible conversations. I was induced to smoke my first (and last) cigar.
But I ached secretly, wondering if anything would happen between Peter and me. I was so frightened that something might, and equally despairing that it might not. Sometimes, when he would see me coming, he would smile and open his arms wide, as if to hug me. But he would always drop his arms and turn away as I got closer. Once, he said, almost to himself, “isn’t it wonderful that March is here”. When we went swimming in the lake, he seemed to worry that I would be cold afterwards, and once gently piled all the clothes on me, including our three hats.
There was no furniture in the cottage. Peter enlisted my increasingly reluctant brother to help make a wooden bed for me, which he filed with hay. Then they built a bathtub for me in the stream by making a little dam, lining the banks with smooth stones, and covering the stream bed with moss. When it was finished, the two boys said that they were going to take a fairly long walk in the woods. I undressed in the cottage, and then walked to the stream and lay down in the soft little bathtub. I had never been naked outdoors before. I lay there, washing a little, stunned and thrilled that someone would do something so wonderful and exciting for me.
Our last night in Sweden came. I sat on the floor of my room, alone, sorting and mending our clothes. I felt sad and desolate; we were leaving the next morning, and Peter and I had not touched one another at all- our hands had not even touched. Nothing was going to happen. But then, I looked up and saw Peter standing in the doorway. I said, “oh, here’s your extra key.” He took it and said, “any more keys?” I replied, “no, just laundry.” Then, after a silence during which neither of us moved or looked at one another, he said, “I fear human involvement”. My heart began to pound. I said, “me. too, but you don’t have to right now.” I found myself standing up, trembling. He moved slowly towards me, and then gave me the most tender, and then the most passionate kiss I had ever had in my life. I felt my body opening into his, and his opening into mine. My fear dissolved. I was so glad- so glad it had happened. It only happened once. A few days later, as my brother and I were boarding the ferry for Germany, he said to me, softly,
“March, come back”. I never did, but I never forgot him. He hasn’t forgotten me either; we write each other every year at Christmas, and share details of our lives and our families. When I write, or when I see his familiar handwriting on a letter, the memory of the wonderful kiss we shared rushes into my mind and body. Time has not dimmed the memory of it.