We found the cabin sinking on the north side. And so we sat, opposite each other, on the south side for balance. The water in our glasses sat at an angle with us. We laughed at our crooked lunch. It felt like flying somehow.
Months later we drove the Jeep across the fields looking for large flat rocks. We roamed without thinking. Tire trails in the grass. Until we realized, all the big rocks would have been pushed aside. This field used to grow. And we found the rocks tossed over the edge of the hill, leading to the valley and the lake, and then the town. The sun would shine off the water in brilliant reflections. It looked like the scales on a giant fish laying in the valley.
This was difficult, but we wanted it to ourselves. Our own place. We jacked up the cabin and pushed the flat rocks underneath. One side and then, the other, and again. We used a glass of water to check our progress. In the end it wasn’t exactly level, and we drank the water. After we laid on the floor, flat, knowing our muscles were already sore tomorrow. It was our stable ground.
The closest town was on the other side of the valley. We could see it on a clear day, just past the lake. Sometimes the diner could shine like a distant star. A little silver dot out in the hazy horizon. The only road lead away from that small town and towards the city. As most roads do. And driving to town meant miles of backtracking. It kept us in place. We learned to bring everything and then to accept that we forgot things. Our memories drifted in the cabin. In time we noticed that we had learned to forget that we had wanted things. If something wasn’t here, it was gone, here we had what we already had. In another world I remembered what a toaster oven was, but why, seemed so…so…
I often climbed onto the roof. It wasn’t comfortable but it was another level, escape. Clouds felt close. In all directions I could look and see nothing but nature. I often wondered, quite seriously at times, if this was an artificially terraformed space, that somehow driving up the old dirt pathway lead to another planet, or just somewhere off earth. Just far enough. Sometimes I would stay until I saw a wind roll across the grass in a line, just like a wave on a beach, crash into the row of trees and disappear. And times I’d stay until I couldn’t remember how far away we were. Like from here to the moon.
When she asked me what I had done that day, or what I was going to do that day; I remembered. Not like the list of chores and annoyances. I could easily answer because what I had done was sit on the roof, sometimes with my knees bent, and when they were a bit sore I straightened my legs and just continued. I told her about stretching my legs at intervals, about climbing up the one window frame. She told me about an idea, or two; things that could happen, fun bits to play around with. I was relaxed, but active. Every view was like an all day journey. We would sleep together, and I felt the weight of her arm along my leg. I stay awake, thinking of what that arm would do when it awoke. This was simple.
I made melted cheese sandwiches over an open flame. We kept a fire going most of the time. The fire was like a sign, a marker that we were there. We were so far, I doubt anyone could have seen the smoke. It blew away so quickly in those winds. I would just put a couple slices between the bread, balance it all on spatula and hold it until done. There was time to watch the fire. I joked that it was the TV, mesmerizing. When the fire was on it felt like we were happening, like a switch. I knew I was searching for replacements, those things that I was used to seeing and hearing and interacting with but as my mind set there with the fire and the cheese, it felt like a presence, not quite a person, but a real thing. The fire made the cheese better, burned.
Once we hiked across the fields, down into the valley, around the lake, to the Diner at the edge of the town. We thought it would take half the day. By noon we would be having lunch, resting and then strolling back long before the sun set. The distance through the atmosphere and our golden vision was inaccurate. By noon we were half way, between our imagined secret cabin in the clouds and the dumpy diner with its bumpy seats and spotty glasses. The euphoria of being out there, was wearing thin. It was hard not to think of how easy it was to order a meal delivered, to ride the escalator, push the gas and lay back. The thoughts of comfort were pushed aside quickly, and it wasn’t a challenge. The lake had no boats on it. Later, the ordeal, as it came to be known, was a secret legend, we told it to ourselves, and listened as if hearing for the first time. We never made it to the diner, we had miles of uneven ground to cover and blisters, but we found wild strawberries, ate all that we could and hobbled home happy.
We were not defeated. The diner remained a shiny spot, reminding us. We prepared and we set off again with different expectations. We left early, even before the sun, and as we descended into the valley the sunrise, and all of its colors shone across the lake right to our feet. We looked of course, but we were moving, we were determined. Most of the path was known, but we couldn’t be certain how or where we would ascend from the valley. But we wanted the challenge.
I said something about how the wind moved the surface of the lake in the same way it waved through the grass, but she didn’t really respond, just a slight gesture, a wave of the arm. I made a joke about how this spot on my glasses looked huge, so close, just like the town had from way back there. I looked back to see how far we had come, but there was too much in between us. Down in the valley we could no longer see the diner and it felt even further away, like maybe it had moved and we wouldn’t get there in time even if… I thought if I could lift her, then we were having a good time, both of us, but she didn’t laugh and I stopped. Our steps made the sound as we struggled over the rocks on the shore to the dead branches and leaves in the forest to the crunchy gravel.
We didn’t talk until we saw it. For all the tired, disgruntled steps, the sight of this silver chrome diner had us in joy. Soon we were eating and sitting and the seats felt so good. We avoided the obvious conversation about how to get back until it was necessary. For dessert we ordered waffles and split them with strawberries and whipped cream. We put our feet up on the bench seats and lazed until closing. We could have stayed much longer, our bodies enjoying the repose and our stomach busy and happy. But the two workers left, one sweeping, the other wiping tables were quietly but obviously performing a message to us, and we got their hint and said goodbye.
As we walked our fullness outside it was just dimming, everything looked dramatic with the dark purple backdrop. We strolled around the town slowly, just as we planned and when the color had left the sky, finally called a cab. In this small place it took some time and we sat in front of the bank, across from the diner, we talked and watched the two inside cleaning up and shutting down. The seats in the cab felt even better and the ride was short. We had the driver drop us off near the start of our dirt road but not very close. We told him something about how we were meeting a friend there that had gone bird watching in the woods. We exchanged sly glances as we concocted the story together. It was fun. It didn’t matter. Any story would have passed unnoticed. The driver did a quick U-turn and didn’t look back. We crossed the road and urged our aching bodies up our hill to our secret safe.
There was nothing to do on the hill. Nothing recognizable. We spent time looking and listening. After several trips we noticed the adjustment time and how it was felt. A few hours among the trees, looking up through the branches to the sky holes. Of course it was boring, but only for a period. There is something beyond boring, it just takes a small effort. Like staying up until way past sleepy becomes another kind of awake. Or running until your legs are all fire and then jelly and then you feel nothing but a breeze. It was that phase just beyond normal. And arrival took more of us than simply pushing open the cabin door. In time we made the adjustment on the drive up the hill. Last we stopped driving up and hiked it. Laid in the grass exhausted at the top and then rolled back down.
The closeness felt like exposure. The closeness felt like comfort. Desire requires an emptiness. When you satisfy me, I don’t need you. Sometimes I still wanted her, but it pulsed, like an indicator light, sometimes on but always fading, sometimes off but always returning. We followed each other in circles. I chase until she stops, and then I wander away. Maybe she amends. Certain moments extended into days, we cradled a shared fantasy and stood in its center as long as it was. They were happy, those two together.
Boredom begets play. We put chairs on our heads and pretended we were dinosaurs, triceratops and brontosaurs. We fought as dino’s and then posed in heroic scenes, either the conqueror or the conquered. The death pose was always more dramatic than living. Silliness felt like a drug. It crept in, without much notice and took over. The stupider the better, and it often led to sex, because, because.
When I was satisfied I didn’t think. I was too busy to notice. The business of busy-ness kept me free from connections. Sure I had commitments, I made them constantly, but I was only there to smile, to be polite. I learned to care in bursts. And I did, I could care for anyone quickly. Like moving the Air Conditioner out of the window and back into the closet for the coming winter. I know I can lift it just long enough. And that’s fine, it works. Back home, I mean off the hill, there is a deep gouge in the wood floor of my closet where I drop the A/C every year. I remember pushing an old pair of shoes over it, just so I didn’t have to think about it too much. I was so happy. When a movie or memory made me cry I was always surprised, like someone else had inhabited my self for a moment. And that was the bother, the itch that pushed and pushed.
If I was stronger I could have laid it down gently, the A/C, or if I had just tried. Maybe that’s where it started. There are always threads, the ones on the edge that don’t have all the others holding them in place. It is only a matter of time before they escape. And that’s me now, a loose thread, squatting in a cabin with a woman I made a real connection with, out of bounds. During the transition, there were times, like a waking dream, when I could see both sides; where I was and where I was going. I knew the momentum would deliver me. When I felt one of a thousand thousand threads I would have been terrified of this inbetweenness. After so much practice I forgot what I was doing and didn’t notice.
At this point I don’t ask if I’m alright. The human super power is adaptability. We got used to not really knowing why anything was. Invented Gods and stories to fill in the gaps. And then forgot we made it all up. I got used to not knowing why I saw stars in the lake at night. Maybe I did see reflections once. Whenever I believed the stars were under the water I didn’t question it. I missed that step, the reality check, that tick tock, didn’t happen. I could sway, up and back and ask why it seemed too weird to be true; until, at some point, I couldn’t have noticed. I forgot why the question mattered to me. I was off, the deep end, as they might say. Was it because of her? or was it me.
I couldn’t explain how. I don’t know why she is here, I don’t know what she thinks either. But I assumed, most of the time, that she felt the same, not exactly, of course not, but similar, we were in it together. I gave up trying to figure out why any things happen. When she was distant I guessed that she would come back; and when I left I knew I was returning. After doing everything in one way for so long the opposite became obvious, and even easy. The blueprint was there. All the things I learned to care about, to hang on to, none of them had to matter, and all the things I can’t even notice because I’ve blocked them out so thoroughly that they barely exist; that’s what I have now, to discover.
It’s hard to think of being different, until it is hindsight. Even then it’s scary.
Once I was myself, and slowly I became the person I am now. In flashes, I notice the change. An old song and an old memory. There is a scaffolding pressed against the building I have built, to surround my self. I placed it there. Some of the bricks fall away. I don’t notice easily, the new and the old. In the cabin we took new roles. Some were obvious; the outdoorsmen, the fair maiden. We acted, we played, at first tentative, and with humor to make it easier, and to lower the risk. Soon our characters were real people, we aspired to be them, as we gave lines to speak and notes to consider. The play was always on, like a button pressed and held. Characters changed but under the fiction we tip toed closer and closer, the costumes a useful cover.
Changing is hard, not so much because of the new, but the shedding of same self choices. So many choices made and not even chosen. As far away as we could get, the better we saw the worn dirt behind. These old shoes, fit so well, so perfectly broken into being, not what they were, what they are. She broke me, and maybe I broke her back. At love.
Once she offered a scenario. As we did. I was to be a vagrant, a passerby, no one special, but without danger, causing no fear. We were the last in the abandoned town, in view of some tragedy, both of us blinded by the terribleness of it all, groping in the dark, we find each other, covered in ash, crying, coughing, dying. We grabbed each other, desperate hands for something living and familiar. Pulling the fallout off our arms and legs, wiping our faces, uncovering our eyes still too scared to open. We embrace. We walk together, awkwardly, holding each other tight, aimlessly trying to escape the surrounding dark. We stopped, not far from the cabin, there was nowhere else to go. Neither of us had any lines, it was a silent move. We slumped down on top of each other, she started crying. I felt dead and didn’t move. Some time passed and the scene ended for me, that’s when I realized she wasn’t crying for pretend. I stood up, I saw her, but I wasn’t in her scene. I backed away, watching her until I couldn’t.
There were always times when we didn’t know each other, where we were coming from or why. We missed cues and forgot to say important, and obvious lines. I was reminded then that we were two, that our stories could diverge. And maybe converge later, but would diverge first. The thought crept in my mind, the dramatic reconciliation, perhaps after some years, or a few long months. Was it just another fantasy play? I never mentioned it, couldn’t have found a way to say it out loud, but it was there in my performance, and still is I believe. She may have noticed and played along. So good at pretending, we can never tell.
Sitting on the roof, we talked about the hill behind us, and about hiking it one day, next time probably. She wanted us to go to mars. I was thinking, her scenarios always have a time limit, an end date and escape. I didn’t say it. I wondered if mine smuggled the same stuff just under the costumes. The act can surprise, a play could become more, far more, than it was meant to be. Ostensibly we were tricking ourselves with fun; falling into joy and love. It worked. But we were not the whole of the world. There were other people and places. We were two of those people, and mars was not one of their places. Instead, we drove down to the real world and its’ theater. We spontaneously improvised appropriate lines for those we came across, and they did the same for us. It could be a treat sometimes, to discover these other players we’d been away from. We bought gas, and drinks. We brought in the mail, we discussed arrangements. We told the neighbors some lies about visiting sick relatives, so they wouldn’t keep asking. We nailed our lines, first time.
From white to grey to black. We gave meaning,
then took it back.
The story doesn’t end. It just stops.
I remember the attention of a new plant, already with flower and expectant. Over the year it droops and tries to lie down. But saved, and continued, it continues. There is no death date. No killer. It all started, all of it, from the start.
When the flame was small, of course… I could have.
But I could do a lot of things…
The new plant is just a plant now. Easy to see past.
I don’t know what to say, and say nothing; which is always something to us now. Once we started, the casual exit cannot go unnoticed. Walking away takes months. All the way up that hill, and all the way back down. The cabin, a pile of wood, to leave. The cabin, a pile of wood, to burn.
Asleep we set the fire in our own house.
We played politeness all the way down. The kind of phony pleasantness a tired tool booth operator conjures up every hour or so, late at night.
I’ve been so busy.
Some of us don’t fit. At times we could reach across the gap, we wanted to hold on. Some of us don’t learn to play together. And sometimes we choose to let it go, cease the trying. The last time was nothing special, until much later, and it became the last time. We stayed until a gust of wind hit our backs and then rippled through the tall grass field all the way out of sight somewhere down the valley. We stayed that time because that’s what we did before. The past was always wandering away. Even then, moving further, flattening the grass under each step, fading away.
At the bottom we circled around each other with vague intentions of something. Slowly, with nothing left to say. A damp thud of an aftershock from months ago. An explosion from last year’s fourth of July, set so late, blocked now by the winters’ graying haze.
I went back in the snow. It had been months. Memories are different now. It was dark inside the cabin, all the light blocked by the snow cover. It felt safe somehow and I still wanted this to be for us. But I lit a fire and rolled down the hill in my slick snow suit. An end.
Twice more we returned. The diner never moved. The vague idea, not even discussed, was restart; to what end. In the parking lot we stood and looked. The gravel sliding off the side of the road into a ditch, recently full of water. There were two turtles there. Both had been hit by cars. That’s what it looked like. They were facing each other, from what we could tell, they were smashed. We tried until we didn’t anymore. The play was what we did, and we enjoyed it, ourselves. We kept it, and kept it. After it passed us. It took time to see into the distance, both in front of each and behind us. I nudged my toe under the corpses, and flipped them into the ditch. Out of sight.