The resort is one of the most beautiful places in Colorado. It is laid out on the side of a mountain and revolves around nine outdoor pools fed by natural hot springs. Some years ago, six of us drove three and a half hours West through the mountains and then down into the San Luis Valley to reach that remote, isolated resort.
There are no nearby cities and the resort is kept as primitive and close to nature as is feasible for a resort. The place is so beautiful that some people treat it as sacred, and so you hear people speak in whispers — as if in a cathedral.
After the six of us reached the resort, we spent most of the day soaking together in the upper pool — which is the pool furthest up the mountain. The air was fresh and crisp. The loudest noise was the wind through the ponderosa — which sounded like a river. Eventually, three mule deer came down from the mountain to graze beside the pool. In the late afternoon, when the sun was red in the sky, the coyotes began to call to each other.
That afternoon, Jackie fell asleep next to me in the shallow water, her head raised up on a smooth rock, her body beneath the surface on a bed of moss and stone. The sun danced over the shape of her beneath the water, and I thought she was beautiful beyond words.
After we came back from the pool, Jackie and I somehow ended up at nightfall sitting together on the porch of the Oak House to watch a comet — which was in the sky that year. Since the resort was clothing optional, neither one of us was wearing anything and it got chilly. Jackie brought out a blanket and covered both of us with it. Then she began talking about her life.
Jackie was 17 in that year — the year of the comet — and the part of her life she most wanted to talk about was her relationships with boys. Over the course of two hours, she told me everything she could think to say about boys, how they treated her, and how she treated them.
Finally, she summed up all she’d been at length to say: “What do boys want, Paul? What do I have to do? I’ll change myself anyway I must change, but I need to know what boys want?”
When Jackie had been absorbed in talking, a part of me had felt she was almost blasphemous in her disregard for the night. In the crystal darkness, you could see the colors in the stars. There were thousands of stars, and Jackie’s voice seemed somehow to rub against them, though the stars were infinitely silent. Why couldn’t she be as silent inside herself as the stars above us?
I put those petty thoughts aside, though, because they were not worthy of Jackie, and tried to answer her. “Jackie, the boys who really love you want you as you are. They will not want you to put on a mask or an act for them. They will want the person that is you. So, the best, most generous thing you can do for those who really love you is to be genuine. Is to stay true to yourself. In that way, you will give them what they want.
“How could you love the stars tonight if clouds obscured them, Jackie? In the same way, how can a boy love you if you ever succeeded in masking who you are — and even if you made your mask out of gold.
“If you mask yourself, Jackie, the boys who love you will not really love you. They will love only your mask. How lonely do you think that will make you feel in the end?”
We spoke a few more words to each other and then fell together into silence. In the chill, our bodies touched and shared their warmth beneath the blanket. The moon had set some time before and now the comet trailed luminous dust. Jackie lifted her binoculars — which she hadn’t used until then — and gasped. Far above the San Luis, the comet was a bold jewel set in the infinite night. A bold, authentic jewel set against the night.
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