“Pure” is a pretty strange name, but I did know a Pure in high school. Kids called her that because of the religious medal her mother made her wear, an elfin moon hanging above her breasts. On one side was the Virgin, and on the other Purity, written in script on a billowy cloud, the dot above the i replaced by a soaring dove. Pure asked her father why she had to wear it, and he replied, “We wear many chains around our necks.” She didn’t mind the name so much—she hated her real one, Bridget—but she begged to take the medal off. That would invite corruption, said her mother. She made Pure wear it even while she slept.
Before I met Pure, I’d already had two girlfriends. But in junior high we never did more than kiss. When I thought of high school, I felt faint. My older brother, Tucker, told me there’d be more girls than I’d ever seen, and that some would do absolutely everything.
I think a first draft often turns out to be like the scaffolding that masons stand on to assemble a building—after the building is done, the scaffolding comes down. All the first draft does is give you a place to stand while you’re doing the real work.
It was easy for me to convey Christopher’s interest in basketball, Ping-Pong, books, and animals, because those are interests he shares with me. But with regard to the central relationship, no, I never met anyone like Pure.
I always imagined Christopher looking back on this turbulent passage through first love. But ending the story at the time of his impending marriage to somebody else—that idea came to me only when I was writing the last draft.
I couldn’t leave the final perspective to the heartbroken Christopher. The story had to understand more than he did after he lost Pure. His perspective from years later shows the meaning of events as very different from what he felt back then, more complex, and I hope more interesting.
Romeo proclaims his love for Juliet—its purity, its immensity, its eternality—to a degree that Mercutio, his cynical buddy, finds preposterous. Mercutio’s response is to make dirty jokes. Thus the play itself rebuts Romeo’s wild claims. The reader can still find Romeo foolish, but he can’t find Shakespeare foolish.
As readers, we all have Mercutio inside us, ready to make an impolite sound when we come across extreme claims of emotion. So writers should disarm the reader’s criticism before it’s even made—by making it themselves. As Warren puts it, “Every poem must come to terms with Mercutio.”
So must stories. In “Amplexus,” I work hard to let the reader know that, when it comes to Christopher’s love for Pure, I’m not saying it’s pure or immense or eternal, regardless of what Christopher himself may have thought at the time. One way I do that is through the character of Tucker—my own Mercutio.