Coconut by Aaron Golden

SHE ARRIVED TO CAMP on Monday afternoon with my two closest friends on the playa, a mischievous polyamorous couple from Tucson. It was Coconut’s first burn and within the hour she had joined us on an LSD-fueled bike ride through the still-emerging city of dust and dreams. And then suddenly she vanished. We searched between the giant crows and atop the robot’s head, but she was gone.

I felt bad for losing her; Black Rock can be intimidating for anyone, let alone a hard-tripping burgin on her first afternoon. Before long, though, she materialized back at camp and we sat together in folding chairs, her big, beautiful eyes wide from the spindly tendrils of acid still pulsing through her system as she told me about losing her mind after she lost us. Believing she was dying. Ending up naked, lying in the middle of the Esplanade where she was aided by a kind Indian man, whom she had assumed to be a shaman before realizing that thought was racist.

Rock and roll. She was shaken, for sure, and a little tired of the tarps morphing around behind my head, but she’d be fine.

My drug schedule had me rolling that night and before long I was dodging fluffy projectiles at a raucous pillow fight suspended twenty feet in the air. But then I lost my stash and the M started tiring me out as only insufficient amounts of Ecstasy can do to you, so we swung back to camp where, lo and behold, a sultry cuddle puddle was simmering. Clothes were melting off and among the bodies, I found Coconut earning her name by doling out generous amounts of the versatile white oil. So, after a little dab into my other stash, I joined her in the cauldron, and in the glow of the warm August night she climbed on top of me.

Rock and roll. As the eyes of other Slutt Putters lapped up our primality, all I could think was –

Keep it up, Caesar.

I don’t recommend camping at Slutt Putt if you’re a prude. We did, however, have campers more interested in building giant dragon pyramid temples and fixing the 9th hole’s fragile volcano than manifesting writhing Grecian orgies. Likewise, my libidinous pursuits are always paired with a compulsive drive to find one of those “life partners” whose shitty jokes I see you laughing at in your Facebook photos. But at Burning Man, those desires can co-exist… right?

Maybe, but after Coconut and I escaped back to my yurt, our trip to bangtown started including stops at feelingsville and get-to-know-ya-land. I learned she was an astrological priestess who worked at a weed dispensary, so I mentioned the dank bud I grow at my home in LA. She recounted a dream she had where the goddess told her that people who lean their heads to the side when they talk are afraid to die, so I straightened my head up. She asked if I was thrown off by her unshaven armpits, so I told her I thought it was sexy in a “let’s escape to a forest and live off berries” kind of way. In a “fuck the patriarchy, fuck feminine beauty standards” kind of way. In a “whoa, gross, look at all that arm pit hair you have” kind of way, oh wait, I didn’t say that.

As the sun began to rise, I took Coconut from behind, perhaps a tad aggressively, and I felt her dry up. “Should I grab some lube?” I asked, grabbing some lube.

“I don’t believe in lube. If I’m enjoying it, you’ll know,” she replied. I chuckled at her candor, her gentle but firm admonishment, then laid peacefully with her until she slipped out of my yurt’s flimsy silver door and into Tuesday.

I hadn’t talked to Simon much. He was goofy handsome and friendly, but a little aloof, radiating a sexy, secure chill that could leave an insecure mind intimidated. So when I heard he was hanging with Coconut the next night, they were having a cute little mushroom trip together, my thoughts began to wobble.

Good for them! Fuuuuuck her for liking another guy – haha, whoa, slow down, there’s that animalistic little possessive instinct of yours piping in, all good, you’re all good, A-A-ron, breathe, natural for you to have those thoughts, but remember you’re not only looking to hook up with her and she’s probably not your, like, special someone, she’s an astrological priestess for god sakes, so burn! Burning Man, fuck yeah, sex, fun, party, fucking party, let them have their fun, it’s kinda hot. You’re a hot guy, let’s go meet some other girls and maybe just peek inside her yurt to see if she’s there – nooooo, nope, that’s not how we’re playing this, be cool dude, don’t be so fucking needy, let’s just eat some mushrooms and sit alone on a couch and watch the neon palm trees drive by and fill a journal with thoughts like “decisions are too decisiony” and go to bed alone and roll around your air mattress while your consciousness thumps from the pounding EDM outside the yurt and the hyperactive self-reflection searing through your brain, that’s fun too.

It’s true. Decisions are too decisiony.

We were standing in line at Dr. Bronner’s Foam Bath when they made the announcement: we were only allowed to wash other people with their consent. Wednesday had brought me the blessings of a sore throat and a withered mind, so it was time to clean up my desert life a bit. Though I was still sipping on an odd little cocktail of impulses surrounding our relationship, I had invited Coconut to join me on my quest to find the fabled naked foamy dance party. We were, after all, Slutt Putters above all else. Teammates on an adventure. Hoping our spark hadn’t been entirely doused by her rendezvous with Simon, I asked her, “Can I wash you?”

“Maybe,” she replied, coldly. Awesome! As we were herded into a giant dome filled with naked humans and bumping beats then into a glass chamber where we were blasted by foam cannons manned by dancing burners in the upper rafters, that maybe became a clear not so much. And as it turns out, naked foamy dance parties lose a little of their luster in the face of sexual rejection.

Our day of “health” then took us to a healing tent, where I sat on a rug, trying to soothe my torrential mind by meditating on my insatiable search for love: In, outmaybe if I could just learn to love myself… in, out… I could become immune to rejection!… in, out… let’s do some of that metta shit you learned about… in, out… Aaron: maybe you be happy, may you be healthy… in, out… really mean it, may you be safe, may you live your life with ease… in, out… hey… maybe this is working?

Afterward, while Coconut and I meandered home quietly, I thought fuck it, we’re done anyway and I opened up to her about my loneliness, about the frustrations of being a serial monogamist who’d been single for eight years. About how maybe, just maybe I’d made a breakthrough at the healing tent. She didn’t seem to care much… Aaron, may you be happy, may you be healthy… so I asked her what she’d been healing about. Nothing big, just working through a life-long eating disorder that had resulted in getting liposuction when she was eighteen.

Jesus, I thought, and we ambled on. Two damaged, confused Jews wandering the desert together. This looks familiar.

We passed a large wooden slide and I suggested we hop on. The winds were picking up, though, coating our freshly cleaned bodies with a second skin, and Coconut wanted to keep walking.

I stopped. I slid. I landed at the bottom into a pad of pillows with a “flump”. It was fun. And it felt good to defy her. Almost as good as the sex we had when we got back to camp.

I saw less of her after that. On Thursday, I watched the sunrise from under my fox fur coat, my vision vibrating with the sweetened colors of a candy-flipped cortex. On Friday, I saw Mario and Luigi bash each other with padded clubs at the thunder dome, a fraternal duel decades in the making. On Saturday, we migrated to the Man together, Slutt Putt making a community pilgrimage, and I felt a jealous pang as I overheard Coconut telling a campmate how she’d found love on the playa. But my envy was quickly drowned out by the droning drums of the Mayan Warrior Art Car, and while the Man lost his thirtieth fight against the flames, his collapsing wooden body giving rise to towering dust tornadoes, I wrapped my arms around my Tucson loves and squeezed them tight.

And then came Sunday and it was time to go home. As I carefully sliced through the aluminum tape that held my yurt together, I noticed Coconut wandering the camp aimlessly. “How you doing?” I offered as she passed by.

She looked at me, her normally bright eyes vacant, and responded, “I’m depressed.” Depressed? What? How could she be depressed? This was her first year! Hadn’t she been there for the glory of the Man burn? The power of the temple burn? Hadn’t she cried with the rest of us as we witnessed our collective pain incinerate into the night sky?

“What’s going on? You want to talk about it?”

“Nah, you’re doing your thing,” she deflected and wandered off. So I kept doing my thing until the night grew colder and she returned.

“I heard you fell in love,” I pressed her.

“I thought I did,” she answered.


She nodded. “I just don’t understand how you can touch someone like that and not be in love.” Simon, Simon, Simon, what’d you do to this poor girl?

Touch is a funny thing, different people… I don’t know. That sucks,” I mumbled, eloquently.

“I’m just so tired of being alone.”

“I hear ya, but… I don’t know, maybe we’re not ready to find our partners yet. Maybe we’re still becoming the people we’d want reflected in a partner.”

“I already know who I am.”

“I’m sure you do, but, you know, you gotta be open to evolving still.”

“But I feel old.”

“How old are you?”

“Twenty-six.” Ancient.

“I get it, I’m thirty, we’re not really young and we’re not really old yet. But I think age is a ridiculous way to measure a life. We have no control over how old we are, only how open we try to become.”

She paused. Maybe I was helping? Before I could tell for sure, I blurted out, “Hey, I hope I treated you okay this week.”

“You did. I’m sorry if I led you on.”

“Coconut, I don’t usually have sex with a stranger in the middle of the cuddle puddle room at Slutt Putt at Burning Man and assume I’ve found the woman I’m supposed to be with,” I said, mostly telling the truth.

“Yeah. I’ve done things like that before. I don’t think I’m going to do them again,” she answered, the distant stare returning to her eyes.

And I felt the same emptiness as her.

And I realized that even at Burning Man it wasn’t as simple as going out to the desert to fuck a bunch of chicks. That there’s undeniably a deeper level to this stuff, and that lesson, that cycle, is one that we seem doomed to learn over and over. So the answer must be to accept lurid erotic fantasies for what they are: fantasy, and deny ourselves the pursuit of wild sexual conquest… right?

Or wait, maybe our hook-up was a good thing, what we both needed to wake up. So this time it was positive, but moving forward…

Or maybe, for some of us, we just need to own our decisiony decisions, our pleasures, our mistakes, our confusion, our highs and our lows, and be kinder to ourselves as life cuts us open then sews us up again.

Maybe there is no right.

Maybe that’s what I’m still trying to figure out by writing all this shit down.

Maybe it’s not meant to be figured out.

“I’m tired,” she told me, a hint of warmth returning to her eyes. I kissed her and she walked back to her yurt, and then I stood there in the odd place I had found myself in, smiling at the gifts she’d given me and those I’d returned.

And I felt happy.

So to answer your question, happyshazam7, the weirdest thing I did at Burning Man this year wasn’t to bike around in nothing but a sailor’s hat or drink pickle-tinis at a memorial service for Han Solo or bite a stranger’s nipple so they could get -5 on their scorecard at Slutt Putt. It was to help a lover through the brutal ache of a broken heart she’d received from her other lover. To muzzle the immature little chimp in my brain and rise up past my own bullshit to embrace a person who was hurting. To feel my heart pin my ego for one open, timeless moment, and in the strange, uncomfortable space it created, experience raw joy.

May you be happy, may you be healthy, may you be safe, may you live your life with ease.

And, sometimes, may you rock and roll… maybe?


Catch more burning recollections in SN8: Nightmoon – available on Amazon!