A History of Love and Boring
69.3961° N, 30.6089° E
The Kola Superdeep Borehole reaches seven and a half miles below Earth’s surface. It is the deepest hole on Earth. Located on a sparsely populated peninsula in northwest Russia, the drilling began in the 1970s and continued on and off for over two decades. It began as a demonstration of power, not unlike the Cold War’s space race. Not unlike two children on the playground, each pumping their legs to swing higher than the other. Not unlike an argument between lovers. Ultimately, the high temperatures at such depth prevented any further drilling and the hole was bolted shut. It was only nine inches in diameter.
40,230 feet. 12,262 meters. Deeper than the Pacific Ocean’s Mariana Trench but not as deep as the San Andreas Fault. The project’s goals were ill defined and so was its success. However, data collected during the project served to disprove many existing theories about the earth and showcase the depth of what we do not know.
Science and industry intersect. Climate change. Natural disasters. Environmental preservation. Oil. Patriotism. Drill deeper. Go farther down. We want answers. We need to understand.
Benjamin Andrews, a research geologist at The Smithsonian, summarizes the excitement of ongoing drilling projects: Part of why you’re drilling is because you want to find out what’s down there.
42.3601° N, 71.0589° W
I met you on a cold January morning in Boston, the first city I lived on my own. I’d chosen Boston because of a desire to get away from California and my obsession with David E. Kelley legal dramas. I imagined doing a musical number in the martini bar with Ally McBeal and thought I might need representation from Bobby or Lindsay at The Practice. Neither happened and I was in Boston a short eighteen months, concerned only with staying in motion.
I met you when I was living in Chicago, six years after Boston. I was guarded, armed with sex, and knew to offer only my body. I chose leaving over love, thought love unnecessary and judged it by comfort: could I speak without thinking, could I lay my head in your lap.
Now we live together in Los Angeles. We walk the Wednesday morning farmers market, waver between a Queen or California King. You kiss me every time you leave for work, golf, or another country and you kiss me when you come home. I make you wear sunglasses in bed at night and take a selfie. I like how heavy your arm gets around my waist the moment you fall asleep. I laugh at my terrible jokes, roll eyes at yours, and remind you how boring life would be with someone more normal, someone with ducks in a row. Your steadiness allows me to be unsteady. It’s been nearly eight years.
41.8781° N, 87.6298° W
Roger Brown and George Veronda met in 1972. They fell in love traveling across America, finding inspiration for their art along the way. The roads of South Dakota, Alabama, Mexico, and California became as much a part of their relationship as time spent in their apartments on Halsted Street.
Roger at 1926, George a few doors down. To be gay in the 1970s. The 1980s. To be in love with a man. AIDS not called AIDS until September of 1982, even though data suggests the epidemic began in the mid-seventies. Before 1982 it was known as GRID, or gay-related immune deficiency. By the end of 1983, the number of AIDS cases in the United States was 3,064. 1,292 died.
42.3656° N, 71.0096° W – 41.9742° N, 87.9073° W
867 miles separated our first year and a half of dating. You in Boston, me in Chicago. We always said it didn’t matter who lived where, because my schedule was flexible and you were always on the road. We made time for each other, got to know flight attendants on the BOS/ORD route by name, and fell easily in love one long weekend at a time.
I knew a long-distance relationship wasn’t our long-term plan, and I often considered whether I’d prefer being the one to move or the one to be moved for. I like being in control, and if I moved I could be in charge of timelines, logistics, emotions. I knew I could handle it. I could live in Boston again, had friends there, and the winters no worse than Chicago’s. On the other hand, I wondered if I’d be able to move there without holding it over your head somewhere down the road. It would arm me and I shouldn’t be trusted with that kind of ammunition. Years into the relationship a refrigerator door left open or dirty towels on the floor become daggers. I moved for you. I’d win every fight.
Ultimately, thanks to generosity from your parents, you moved into my apartment on Dearborn just after the new year. One mile east of Halsted.
29.3390° N, 104.7784° E
As early as the third century, the Chinese used iron and bamboo to drill into Earth’s surface. Percussive methods helped them reach depths of up to one hundred and forty meters. Motivated by salt and water over oil and gas, they looked for indications of what was below: the smell of brine, the glisten of salt. In the centuries that followed they developed various drill heads to bore different kinds of holes. A fishtail, heavy and deliberate, to open the well. Silver ingots move fast and rough while horseshoes take their time, tending to the fragile ground as they move deeper into the earth. Many of these ancient Chinese innovations are still used in modern drilling technology, assisted by advancements in machinery and geophysics.
Zigong City was the hub of the Sichuan salt industry, and the landscape filled with oil derricks known as ‘heaven carts.’ Salt trade boats populated the Fuxi river and drilling methods evolved. By the eleventh century bamboo cable replaced bamboo rods. Increased flexibility allowed them to reach greater depths, and in 1835 the Shenghai Well became the first in the world to exceed one thousand meters.
A year and a half into our Chicago life, I learned your secrets and you blamed me for knowing them. You took more work, traveled often, and when it came to us threw your hands in the air. I wasn’t wrong about our love. It was still there, but we had too many weapons and we’d learned how to use them.
You left, headed west. I stayed in Chicago.
46.0038° N, 112.5348° W
7,000 feet long and 5,600 feet wide, the Berkeley Pit in Butte, Montana began as a copper mine in 1955. Butte had long been mined for precious metals and was even referred to as “The Richest Hill on Earth.” When the mine closed in 1982, pumps to the open pit were shut off. The hole has since filled with acidic water laced with dangerous chemicals. For two dollars you can view the pit from a platform above.
In 1995 over 300 migrating geese landed in Berkeley Pit and died. It was a tragedy, a reminder of what we can do to our planet long after the doing has stopped. Despite subsequent efforts to keep birds and wildlife away from the pit, in December of 2016 thousands of geese perished, again, when taking refuge from bad weather. Experts attributed it to a perfect storm of conditions – mild winters, late migrations, and an overpopulation of snow-geese in the country.
36.1699° N, 115.1398° W
In the two years we spent apart you went with her to Montana, Louisiana, Oregon. You brought her to meet your family but made sure to tell me it was only one time. They never asked about her again. You trivialized the relationship in our conversations, though I never asked if that was out of honesty or for my protection.
I walked Monroe to Montrose in one afternoon. Weeks of Dearborn to Damen and back again. Walking not as meditation or toward a destination but as a task one does alone. As something better done alone.
It took me two months to cook in our kitchen again. What was ours now only mine. The hypnosis of a wooden spoon in a non-stick pan, circling right then left, around the edge then figure-eighting, a motion that requires just enough attention to think of nothing else. I had to find a way back to before you, even though my DNA told me it was after.
We kept in touch, sparingly. You out of loneliness, me out of anger. And hope. To indulge your secrets I created my own, laid claim to a private life because the default is to show my parts bare. Maybe words on a page. A way, even in your absence, to talk to you.
We slept together a handful of times. We found new ways to hurt each other and in May, just after my birthday, I told you I didn’t love you anymore.
40.1810° N, 58.4116° E
Derweze, Turkmenistan is home to the Gates of Hell. Two hundred and thirty feet wide, sixty-five feet deep. Originally the site of a Soviet mining operation, the earth collapsed when they hit a swath of natural gas instead of the desired oil. The crater emitted enough methane to kill nearby animals in the Karakum desert, so miners used the common process of flaring to dispose of excess natural gas. They lit the hole on fire in hopes of burning off the fumes in a few days. Weeks, at the most. Almost fifty years later, the flames still burn.
33.9803° N, 118.4517° W
Back together. You look at my hands, wrists, trace your fingers round my hips trying to find the bones. It makes me think you want me thinner, sharp-edged, more defined. The way I once would have liked myself to be. Extra weight not uncommon at my age but harder to justify when one is not a mother. We are of that age now, and perhaps avoid marriage only to avoid the question of children.
The distinction between pregnancy and motherhood. At the doctor, three out of many questions: Ever been pregnant? Yes. How many times? Two. How many Children? None.
You taught me how to accept my body. How to do more than just use it. You showed me how to walk from bedroom to bathroom after sex without putting clothes on. You were the second man to ever say you’re beautiful and the first who made me feel it. You did all this without trying. You didn’t yet know how my body could make me break.
34.4214° N, 119.5965° W
George Veronda spent much of his adolescence in the coastal California town of Summerland. Set between Santa Barbara and La Conchita, the town overlooks the first offshore drilling site in America, built in 1896. He spent summers working as a draftsman and carpenter, and eventually settled in Chicago to work at an architectural firm. The job offered the opportunity to work on countless projects, including O’Hare International Airport, but lacked the creative control he desired. In 1979 Veronda began work on Roger’s home and studio in New Buffalo, Michigan. It was an opportunity to match their artistic talents – Brown as painter and collector with Veronda as architect. It was a collaboration of intimacy, commitment. Home as love letter and the only kind of marriage they were allowed.
The house received much critical acclaim and in 1982 Veronda started his own architectural firm to begin the work he’d long hoped for. Of their relationship, Brown says “George has been the single most important factor in the development of my work since 1972.”
In November of 1983 George was diagnosed with lung cancer.
33.9803° N, 118.4517° W
Some nights we lie in bed toes touching and it’s enough. Others I want you to want me so badly. I want because I fear and fear what I want. I fear we will end, feel our failures, fidget, toss, turn, touch your more sensitive left nipple but –
I think of stretch marks on my stomach, lopsided breasts, wonder if you’d want me more if I put a shirt on. In rejection I forget what you taught me. I forget the ways you think I’m beautiful.
I don’t stop. I use my words and my body and climb on top of you. Maybe you didn’t know what I wanted before but now it’s clear, you understand. I stay on top until you want me. A game. Selfish. An animal. Now you want me. I make you come.
48.1470° N, 103.6180° W
Williston, North Dakota. Home to the Bakken Formation. Population just over fourteen thousand but the oil boom in the early 2010s more than doubled it. Not enough housing and not enough space to build houses. Six-figure salaries and a promise of success brought too many men and too few women. Men willing to take advantage. Men willing to pay for dinner, companionship, sex. Prostitution increased alongside the working wage at McDonald’s but when oil prices fell, so did Williston.
When compared to Oklahoma, Kansas, Texas, or Colorado, North Dakota has avoided the onslaught of drilling related earthquakes. Induced seismicity. The United States Geological Survey is quick to point out that it’s not just the oft blamed fracking that causes these earthquakes. That any kind of oil or gas drilling can cause seismic activity because any kind produces wastewater. As though that makes it better. It is the wastewater injection wells at the source of the shaking. But the result is the same. The earth is shouting at us from within and still we take too much.
33.9803° N, 118.4517° W
We work because of our imperfections. Outside of the bedroom I am selfless. You tell me to be more selfish so I write more pages. Become more ruthless. Find more flexibility, more depth.
I tell you my most embarrassing thoughts because I love you but also, more honestly, because I want to be sure you tell me yours. I let my darkness pour out. Discovering your secrets left me feeling I’ll never reach bottom. There will always be farther to go. Learn how to bend. I’m learning how to stay.
27.0066° N, 76.6081° E
The Chand Baori is India’s largest step well, descending twenty meters into the earth. Sixty-five feet. Thirteen stories. Built in the eighth and ninth centuries, the terraced structure consists of 3,500 steps that lead to the bottom. Constructed to preserve rainwater during monsoon season, Chand Baori was essential to sustaining life in the region. Today, the geometry and symmetry of the site draw visitors from all over the world and the well still offers a cool respite from desert heat to those who make the descent. It is dedicated to Harshat Mata, the Hindu goddess of joy and happiness.
33.9803° N, 118.4517° W
We fill each other in, slip neatly into each other’s cracks and folds. Close, intimate, bound in many ways. The now colors in the time we spent apart. It’s brilliant, a sun.
Because of this, I am careful. Sometimes I think you’ll know how much I love you by how little I write about you. Sometimes I think it’s by how much. But I always keep the good stuff to myself. The good stuff is underneath, belongs only to us. Part of why we’re drilling is to find out what’s down there.
34.3640° N, 119.4477° W
Veronda died in April of 1984, a month and three days before I was born. The same month the National Cancer Institute announced they found the cause of AIDS, as well as a blood test to screen for the virus. They hoped to have a cure within two years.
Roger spent the next year and a half at the New Buffalo house, surrounded by George. He created a handmade book in honor of his partner. A memorial of his life and work, a lesson in grieving. Both the narrative content and the formal structures of my work have come directly from my personal involvements with nature, popular culture, art, architecture, and one person. Thank you, George.
Roger’s art continued, shifting toward subject matter that reflected his surroundings: the sand dunes of Lake Michigan, the AIDS epidemic of the eighties and nineties, the landscapes he traversed with George. In 1988, alone, Brown moved to the California coast, the last place he and George traveled together. His home in La Conchita served as his Temple of Painting until he died due to complications from AIDS. He was fifty-five years old.
At the center of Brown’s life, his work, his accomplishments, was one thing: a love story.
Love, unconditional. Thank you.
Brenna Kischuk is a writer and editor with a Master of Fine Arts in Writing from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where she was also a Teaching Fellow. She is the founder and editor of pioneertown literary journal and her work has appeared in The Empty Bottle Chicago: 21+ Years of Music/Friendly/Dancing (Curbside Splendor), STORY magazine, HTMLGIANT, Queen Mob’s Teahouse, Matchbook Literary Magazine, and elsewhere.