Mystic Writer

Peeking out to see if there is a real world out there...

Saturday, July 09, 2005


The body slap of impact rang through my bones as my car rolled backwards. A bumper lay drowning in antifreeze, and slowly, slowly I realized it was mine. I turned the car off and the sudden silence let the numbness return.

The crash wasn't the cause - the long days had been piling together ever since Gary called last week. He had been my best friend in college, back in the Karen days, and for years after he had moved a thousand miles away we would get together and hike all over the United States.

Ten years ago the calls slowed and we gradually drifted apart. His call inviting me to his parents house on the Thursday before the holiday weekend caught me completely by surprise and I shuffled my schedule to fit in the visit.

As I walked into their house that evening I was struck by the notion that it felt exactly like the first time I'd been there, 27 years ago. I spotted Gary's dad Peter and he called from his easy chair "MW, you look exactly the same as when you came here the first time". The synchronicity of the thought and all the memories that came with it brought tears to my eyes and a warm sense of belonging coursed through me.

He waved "Take mom's chair. Then she won't have any place to sit and interrupt us". I snickered and sat down to the sounds of Shirley yelling at her husband from the kitchen. They've been married more than 50 years and somehow they continually find new ways to lovingly insult each other. It's an art form.

Peter and I talk while Shirley raucously interjects. I don't bother to ask about Gary - I'm in the presence of storytellers and the information will come in it's proper time.

Eventually Gary bursts through the door, talking and waving his hands in good Italian fashion. I'm sucked into a rapid fire five way conversation and nobody bothers to introduce me to the person I presume is his wife. It doesn't matter - as the evening progresses through dinner and desert we learn some details about each other and I feel like I've made a new friend.

The night runs late and I finally tear myself away for the drive home. I arrive back at the treehouse and stay up till 1am trying to round up my camping gear for my first trip out since moving. I'm finally satisfied that I know what I'm missing and make a list of things to pick up from my wife's house when I pick up my son for Friday night.

I collapse into bed for a four hour sleep and rise for work tired. Work is stressful and I take a break in the middle and push myself for a fast six mile hike. I feel drained but better and when it comes time to pick up my son I'm feeling happy and centered. He is as joyful as ever and we go shopping for dinner, then play trains in the treehouse until it's time to bring him back to his mom's.

I pick up the missing camping gear and then spend time getting everything packed. At midnight I slam the trunk a half dozen times until stuff compresses enough for the latch to catch, and I crawl into bed for another short three hours.

I head off to work to put in my eight hours and my wife drops my son off at noon. He and I head out, stopping on the way for a backpack hike and some small town food shopping. We arrive at my cousin Ad's place in the early evening and make camp, then settle in for a game of boche ball. My son finds relatives to play with and the evening is easy and fun.

After sunset we light a bonfire and I tuck my son into a sleeping bag in the tent. He falls instantly asleep and after a while I go back out. Long time friends and relatives are gathered and I think about how I want to tell them about my new status as a single person. I wait for a lull and then start a winding story, intending to lead gently to my point, but as I start discussing changing relationships an old friend interjects with a happy tale of a new love. We discuss that for a long time, and I decide I don't want to temper the sweet glow we all feel, so in the wee hours I take my story to bed with me.

My son crawls into my sleeping bag at first light and I realize I've probably only had 3 hours of sleep. He wants us to create some new stories for his "Boy in Bed book", and we while away the time making up a story about him creating a circus. After that he has me tell him all the other stories we've made up and eventually we can hear the other campers rising.

The day progresses and finally I pack up and we head out. I punctuate the long drive home with stops at parks and we explore several rock formations and waterfalls with me carrying him in the backpack. I deliberately prolong the trip because I know he will fall asleep at some point, and I want that point to be his normal bed time so I can simply carry him in to bed.

He falls asleep at 9 and I drive the last couple hours home. Another midnite crawl into bed, and I wake up at 3:30am to drive north to my parents. They're headed out on an Alaskan cruise and need to be at the airport at 5am.

I stay with them till they pass through security and as I head for my car I realize the temperature and humidity have dropped. It's too good of a morning to spend in bed and so I drive south for an hour and hike through glorious butterfly adorned prairie flowers and steep river ravines for several hours. Eventually I'm physically worn out and I trudge to my car for the long drive home. The walk was meditative and at least my mind feels rested.

The bed in the treehouse beckons but I realize I only have 45 minutes till I need to leave for a date, and I spend the time cooking a pasta dish to freeze for my next weeks lunches. I clean up the dishes and dress in a hurry to dash out the door.

It's another hours drive to the park where I'm meeting my date, and she pulls in just as I'm getting out of the car. She looks trim and fit and we immediately head out for our walk. After seven miles of climbing river valley slopes I realize she hasn't once been out of breath through our two hours of conversation. Finally we stop back at our cars for that awkward moment of appraisal, and she looks me in the eye and tells me "I think I would just like to be friends. I'll give you my number and you can call me when you'd like to do something".

This is almost exactly how the first two dates ended, and there is something about it that is personally frustrating. I think I'm bothered by two things - the first is the need to categorize a relationship on such a brief encounter with no explanation of the reasoning. I had no idea of where the relationship was going at that point, and I don't understand why anything needed to be said. I would really, really like to understand what the underlying message is.

The second problem I have is in laying the onus of making the next contact on me. We are supposed to be friends! Why do I need to do all the work? Again, I don't really understand this message....

I fumble some reply to her, probably hide my frustration since that seems to be my way, and get in my car. The negative feelings combine with exhaustion and I feel myself start to go numb.

The hour drive home passes in a haze, and with a little over a mile to the treehouse I roll past a coffee house that has internet access. I remember that I have e-mails to return and so I quickly turn into a dimly lit parking lot to turn around.

I never saw the concrete wall that oddly bisected the lot.

I shake my head, realize I'm not hurt. I look out to the road and see a woman jaw open staring at me from her car, and I give her a big embarrassed smile. Her jaw drops further and then I see little lines of amusement forming. She drives off and the small introduction of happiness finally breaks me free.

The car is obviously not going anywhere, and so I push it up a hill into a parking space, stupidly taking several tries to finally work out the needed turns of the steering wheel. I sit back in the car and call my insurance company and spend a surprisingly pleasant hour talking with a woman and trying to find any tow truck to come and get me. Everyone is out watching the 4th of July fireworks and the two of us finally conclude that I'll have to wait until morning. She hangs on the line for another five minutes and we simply chat, and when I hang up I feel oddly bouyant.

The neighborhood that I chose to crash in looks pretty run down, and so I haul out my backpack and fill it with all my hiking gear and anything else I think might be valuable. I stuff the pack to exploding and as I lever it to my shoulders I realize it's pushing sixty pounds. I start my walk through the urban landscape and immediately start feeling the pressure I always feel in the city. It occurs to me that it will be helpful to have some rides the following day and I use that as an excuse to call TB as I trudge.

She answers happily and tells me she is out driving around, trying to relieve the pressure she was feeling in the city, and I tell her that is why I called. From there our conversation ranges all over the place, she in her car and me on my feet. I make it back to the treehouse after 45 minutes of walking and still our conversation soars. After another hour and 45 she arrives at her apartment and we finally reluctantly say our goodnights.

I crawl into bed, think briefly about my poor car abandoned and all the details the morrow will bring, then let that train go. I watch the silhouettes of the leaves as they paint the ceiling, let the memories of Gary and Peter and Shirley mix with the thoughts of my son, and Ad, and all my camping friends. I let it all swirl and finally, finally, when there is nothing left at all in me, I touch the connection I still feel with TB, pull it tight, and fall asleep.

Just friends