PERSONAL DISCIPLINE

When Serena enters a room, most men (and a few women) sit up and take notice.  Not that she’s drop dead gorgeous; in fact, she might be described as plain.  But for what she lacks in beauty, she more than compensates with an appealing unstructured confidence.

I met her in college, while travelling in Europe.  She was Susan then, a frumpy sophomore from Iowa using a Eurrail pass to get as far away from her midwestern roots as possible.  We spied each other in the bar car and, after coffee and a pack of cigarettes, decided to join forces and head to Greece instead of Zurich.  Plans often changed spontaneously in those days.

Over the course of the next 12 hours, I learned that she descended from fifth generation farmers and was an accomplished equestrienne.  She had competed in a few dressage events in England that summer and although she had placed well, hadn’t captured the prize she really wanted.  I initially attributed her malaise to disappointment until learning otherwise.  Apparently she had discovered another use for her riding crop.

Susan never told me his name, only that he was a petty nobleman from an esteemed family.  He had judged her harshly in the last event, but seemed more than willing to make up for the blow in a private setting.  He may not have thought well of her form, but never forgot her seat.

He spent an entire weekend worshipping it while they holed up in his dilapidated estate in Norfolk.  Until then, she had never considered her plump Iowan figure an asset.  But after a frantic three-day initiation, she suddenly had a new-found respect for it.  She may not have mastered the horse, but she discovered she was mistress of all else she rode.

Her lurid adventures were a fascination.  I had never heard such things openly discussed, let alone whispered, in the strict Presbyterian circles of my youth.  And as she regaled me with hair-raising details, I began to wonder if the buttoned down life I had known was harboring secrets yet to be discovered.

We spent a dizzying week on the beach at Corfu drinking roditys and plotting strategies.  She rebuffed the marriage proposals offered by the lonely middle-aged Greek men, preferring the company of the young transvestites haunting the dance clubs.  She had no intention of settling down to respectable married life, even if it was on the other side of the globe, confessing to me that the orthodoxy of the Aegean was no better than the cornfed one of Des Moines.

We stayed in touch for a while after I returned to university, but our letters became fewer when she relocated to Paris and became a fixture of the swinger’s underground.  The last one was signed Serena, and I knew with certainty that she had finally completed her long metamorphosis and would fly away forever to her new carnal home.  But it made me smile, knowing that she took the trouble to say goodbye to a friend she had known only briefly.  She might have been the queen of discipline, but she never forgot her manners.

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