The following is the second part of a story excerpted from my as yet unfinished book Count Every Beautiful Thing. Names have been removed where necessary.
Originally, I was going to head west with an occasional friend of mine through my time back in America. The more he talked about what he wanted to do, which mainly consisted of a trip to Sedona and time with his relatives, I knew that it was going to be a conflict that neither of us needed to have in the midst of a vacation, so I simply told him that we should take separate trips to see the things that we really wanted to see. My mind hadn’t been able to wrap itself around Michael Kelsey’s Canyon Hiking Guide to the Colorado Plateau in quite the way that it was in those summer days of 2003, but I was anxious to get back for another chance at greatness.
As for my friend, quite simply, he wasn’t about the drive to Page or about the remote canyons. As a result, each of us went our own way, and that was that.
All in all, the year 2005 was different. On several different trips, I had been in canyon country. I had been to Arches, Canyonlands, both rims of the Grand Canyon, Zion, and Mesa Verde. I had been to a myriad of other little stop-offs in the desert over these 4 different trips. While I hadn’t stopped on that first trip driving through the night on that drive from Sheppard to Mather to get to Edwards Air Force Base with my two fellow Air Force travelers, I had done quite a bit of excursions into the various nooks and crannies of the desert in my time since, and now I was heading back again.
Driving into the parking lot of the Kanab Office of the BLM on a dreary morning, it felt so all or nothing. I relive the moment of déjà vu with the same CD of Pogues music, and I never contemplate to wonder if this is a setup for reliving the same memories of failure again, and in this, I allow myself to be "haunted by the ghost."
I look back on this act of idiocy, and I think of how the ranger at the desk eyed me suspiciously upon entrance into his office. Either I’m a solo hiker that looks unprepared, an adventure magazine freak who has come to the desert in the hope of finding something that doesn’t exist on the East Coast, a potential rescue waiting to happen, or some combination of the 3. In all honesty, this seems to make the most sense since I am all alone, too, which is never a good sign. The weather hanging ominously between darkness and rain notwithstanding, I can feel the call of the desert. I’m really close, and I declare emphatically in my mind that I will get in to see the Wave.
I enquire about permits and he speaks of having one left that someone gave up.
"How much is it?"
"It's $5, but if it’s raining, you won’t be able to go in."
The decision to take the rental car through the gravel is no longer mine. It’s in the hands of the cosmic forces of weather that I’m ignoring as I’m pawing the thin pink cardboard ticket, the beautiful shiny ticket, the jolly, candy-like ticket. The ranger steps out, feels a few raindrops, and immediately announces that he is closing Wire Pass because of flashflood danger. My ticket immediately deflates and vanishes.
I am dejected, but somehow I turn the discussion to Buckskin Gulch, which is still a worthwhile trek, but just like the Wave, it too is closed. If I want, I can travel down the road to walk beside the Paria River, which I agree to do.
It’s a long walk down the road, and it means well enough, but even when I get there, I am soaring high above the actual river with the way the path meanders to the top of the mesa. It’s a pointless journey and it’s now raining. It’s not pouring, but it’s raining.
In an Alanis Morisette kind of way, it’s "ironic," but it’s not; it’s just messed up in how things have conspired against me. The entire Southwest is in a drought since 1998, and here I am getting rained on in 2005! The fates have cursed me.
The rain doesn’t amount to much, but it does put a damper on things. I am forced to consider less dangerous spots such as the Toadstool Trail, which sounds stupid, but it is actually a brilliant maze of hoodoos across the highway. While a person who wasn’t shut out of the Wave might refer to it as geographically spectacular, I choose to look at it as a way to spend the day doing something instead of getting shut out of everything and screaming and cursing at the Gods for forsaking me in the way that Jay Z must have been thinking when he wrote about his middle finger in "Dirt off Your Shoulder."
And that is the rest of the trip. I dodge the raindrops and rush through the Lower Antelope Canyon. There are lots of things that are better than hearing how Britney Spears gyrated above Lake Powell while dancing on Upper Antelope Canyon, but at least I have another something unique and amazing that I can take pictures of today. Nevertheless, the kid who is escorting me into the canyon is definitely fearful that taking some goofy ass cracker’s cash might lead to him getting whipped through the canyon in a torrential wave of muddy water, and he makes haste to point out all of the visions that I might see if I had more time to look at the waves of rock that have been carved out through the ages. It’s a picturesque trip on another day, but at least I am here in Page. I have my pictures. I can prove this journey. And due to the kid’s insistence at motoring through, I am alive for another day, which is always a good thing.
Nevertheless, I still can’t prove that I’ve been to the Wave, and it still boggles my mind that I could have gotten so close YET AGAIN and not gotten to see it. Those points of rock still jutting out in the picture on my wall show that the testimony to failure is still there, and I am forced to go back to my mind’s prison cell yet again as parole is not given on these wants and needs that I have come to see as the be all end all of life.
Another year and a half passes. There are good moments, but there aren’t many. Some days are better than others. Jobs drag on and nothing feels real. Friendships linger on and seem to go on for the reason that they don’t stop going. Opportunities for affection vanish in a lack of feeling or that old special magic that relationship beginnings need to have. There are time fillers, but in the end, there is only the premise of getting back out to the West again. It is a promise that I have made to myself. There is a dream to fulfill, and when that happens, I will be changed, and life will be good. I know this to be true.
I have survived the summer of 2006. A part of me didn’t think I would. I wonder if there is anything good at the end of it, if any of the promises or events that I am waiting for can possible occur. I want a solid paying job again. I want friends. I want love. I want meaning in life. But none of that exists. There is only sadness and pain and futility.
After the relationship of the summer goes bad, I was traveling to see my friends W and HE and their kids and his family in their Florida vacation house. I remember sitting inside the confines of the 737 with the world slowing down and my state of existence freezing inside the moment. I was not frightened at all of the dreadful consequences of what could happen as the wheels braced against the resistance of the air in preparation for landing. I gazed towards my surroundings: the obese woman on one side of me, the middle-aged business woman on the other side of me, the family across the aisle with the annoying kids, and all of the random passengers returning from work-related missions, vacations, and assorted getaways to a warm summer paradise who were all around me. Somehow, in all of that noise, it’s just me. It’s all me. Then, I closed my eyes and tried not to think of the cell phone conversations about to happen. The loved ones who are waiting to pick up their family and significant others who have no bearing on what I want to feel and not feel. I just want to be away…
And as we hit the ground, I felt as the wheels took hold, and was all was good, and I was safe.
I was off on vacation, for better or worse, and I made the most of it in the way that I want it to stay like this forever. I wish to God that I don’t ever have to go home again, but alas, I do. Within a few short days, the rains come and proceed to fill up the Schuylkill River. The waters rise, and they flow back 4 blocks into the city. The dead world of my home city is being reclaimed in flood waters. However, it is not fire enough to purify all of the pain that fills it. Instead, time pulls the water back and the cleanup crews make my school safe to teach in again. The intense heat and summer go on and on and on with the stale smell of a polluted river lingering in the air.
I don’t agree with mornings. If I had it my way, I would sleep through them and wake up when I did. To Hell with alarm clocks! I return from the night spent working in the Cabelas warehouse that I am eventually "blessed" to be working in, and I move on through the unreal confines of my bedroom. The heat is already stifling and it’s not even 7am. I set the alarm clock for 10am and try not to contemplate the day as my body crashes into the mattress and drifts into a soundless world of nothingness.
I barely blink into sleep, and the pulsing beeps are registering. I sit up. Under other circumstances, I could re-evaluate whether or not that I want to wake up, but there is no choice here. I sleepwalk into a pair of what was once a semi-nice pair of black dress pants and slide my arms into a gray shirt. I throw on a tie the looks like it belongs with the ensemble and grab my dress coat, and despite being still dazed from lack of sleep, I drive up to the stately home, find a parking spot, and walk pointedly to the door.
There are people congregating at the door, but only a few people are inside. The rows of chairs set out for those people looking to pay their respects are slightly filled, but I avoid them and walk over to the far end of the room where the body lay with hands folded across his chest, asleep in a surreal moment. I looked down, and instantly, I cannot stop my tears. Nothing on his face looks real. The cheeks don’t hold any of the discoloration that they did for the past 9 years of his life that I knew him. There is no energy and smile on his face. There is no strain, physical discomfort, or exhaustion either; to be honest, there is no Ron in this moment.
The "Chuff Chuff" that we once knew is no more. The sounds of Thoreau, Whitman, and Dickinson experiencing the train for the first time as my teacher’s voice made the noises of the mid-1800’s experiences that he imagined to have happened are now gone. The thought of him experiencing his own toy train collection is no more. The discussion of Judy, Ella, Frank, and Barbara has vanished into the passing moments of time. There is no more call to read Love and Death in the American Novel.
There is only "The Emperor of Ice Cream."
If I tried to stop all of Auden’s clocks to let people know of the dying, I was unsuccessful. From the moment I heard my own student tell me of his passing, I was struck in an expression of confusion. We all knew it was coming, but how could it be? I know that death is a part of life but why him when there are so many other lives that have nothing to offer just floating through the world in an endless cycle of eat, shit, sleep, repeat?
There were moments around dining tables spent discussing how it was coming. I had seen how tired and sweaty that he looked as he went about his daily business. I had done my part to help my teacher to go about his daily activities bringing food to his table so that he didn’t have to walk. I had tried to express to him a feeling that I was trying to be what he was in my own way, with my own outlooks, and a similar desire for the perfection and struggle to succeed that he had wanted from his own students. When I sought his advice, it seemed that there was something there. When I said hello in passing, it felt like he was completely distant and ready to sleep.
In the end, that was what he did.
He was so young, relatively speaking of course, but he wasn’t at the end of life. His life had just ended from years of abuse and over-eating. The parts that made his machine run had just quit under the stress and strain of running too long in the red, and yet, that wasn’t the real end. The real end was the scorching sun of summer beating down at 100° in the July heat as he no longer could go to fulfill his life’s passion. He had to give up teaching, and within the week, he was dead.
Nobody knew for sure when. There was the last moment that someone had seen him, and then there was the moment that someone came to his apartment to check on him and couldn’t get in, and so the person had to contact those who were able to enter in and to take his lifeless corpse from his apartment.
I can hear the sounds of a cat meowing in confusion, as its loving friend who took such great care of him is no longer noticing him. I can hear the sobs of pain and loss as a fellow friend is no more.
Death if Death
You simply were someone powerful and great, but that person is gone. You are now in a new state of no more, and I cannot stop crying. I talk to your friends that I once knew from the moments that you introduced me to them at a lunch table so long ago. I forget their names since those moments have lost purpose from what they once could have held.
If you were here, I would do what I could to make this better reality be.
So I walked away from the funeral, and I chose not to look back, and thus, I set my own sails for the course ahead. Like Anakin Skywalker rushing off to confront Count Dooku, I rushed headfirst into "battle" without considering the consequences. I was headstrong as a young teacher and a college student, and so when the blades of consequence fell, I saw myself destroyed and mentally crippled from my own foolish pride and inability to accomplish the great and noble goal that I had set out to be.
For that summer, I wanted to be like Luke Skywalker coming back to train and to make up for what was done wrong, which would be something powerful and meaningful; however, it’s not that easy to make up for the past in real life. There’s only guilt and pain here. There are only the scars of consequence on my body. Everything that is here is ugly, and it all hurts more than I can say.
With that, the sad reality is that my teacher was lying dead on that slab of wood and fabric. He was held up for all who once knew him and had found out that he had died so that now they could pay their respects. There is no way to advertise funerals, so it’s all about word of mouth getting the message out for people who die in untimely fashion. For all those who learned from his knowledge, experience, charm, and personality, there were voices and tears to be shed. All the same, there were those people like my friend P who couldn’t make the journey since they didn’t want to see what had become of this great man.
For those of us who had attended the funeral, besides me, there was a feeling of duty in being there. I spoke briefly to another teacher who had learned from him in the same way that I had learned from him. His words would resonate as their distant relations would bring the only humanity to the Ron B. who was now just a series of linked relatives, work and church affiliations and little else.
All I could do was try unsuccessfully to hold back tears.
Voices that I didn’t know would ask how I knew him. There was only one thing that I could answer: if it wasn’t for the 5 classes of his that I had taken over 1997 and 1998, I would have never become a teacher. I would have never found my purpose for life at Reading Area Community College and I would have never been able to take it out into real life. I would have never been able to find all of those books to read and to teach myself when I left the classroom.
I stayed in that room for 20 minutes before I left. I didn’t want to see him buried, which wasn’t an option for anyone other than the family who was never that close to him anyway. Some families just can’t relate to a person who is different in that way. Thus, I didn’t want to sit and hear the words of a man who didn’t really know him as he tried to eulogize my teacher for something other than what he was.
And the message that I had tried to speak out in my class the night before to people who barely knew or cared if I was alive (other than for the fact that they wanted a passing grade from me), was that my mentor was dead. But sadly, it wasn’t registering to them and while it managed to resonate with those here in this funeral home, it wasn’t enough to carry over Mr. B’s past life into the present and future.
As I left, I wondered who really knew what he offered to the world. Surely, Mr. B himself never knew. He only heard the voices of those who scorned him for being tough or for being eccentric. Occasionally, his disciples would crawl to his side and pay tribute to him with their presence and their dutiful hope of becoming as wise as their master – that was me and many others who were captivated by his personality – but eventually, they would all vanish and leave the beginning stages of their learning process and head off for a 4-year college that would make them worldlier and wiser in a less personal setting, and thus, they would forget their origins and leave the old man to wonder exactly when the next student would come along.
Sadly, they were becoming fewer and far between in his later days. In retrospect, I feel the exact same thing that he did when it comes to looking back on what my students could offer to the things that I give in my teaching. I see the pauses between how often the earth-shattering students come along. I feel only the frustrations that the bad students leave on what I try to do for them.
And I wonder why I ever chose to walk down this teaching path.
And yet in this moment, I knew from the presence of the few people that were there that just as he had said that we only ever have a few real friends in life, this would have made him openly weep at the honesty of the instant for the truth was that he had many people that he inspired. The whole day just made me wonder who I influenced and inspired.
In death, this would have been a verifying factor of his life.
Only there wasn’t anything but the cold and ugly nature of the end to stand as a lesson in how at the end of all lives is a husk of a person..
"The stars are not wanted now: put out every one; Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun; Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood. For nothing now can ever come to any good."
After Mr. B’s death, the rest of the summer became a blur of sadness until I was offered a job substituting to be in charge of LAHA for the fall of 2006. It’s not like it was a job with responsibility, but it was a job sitting around at a desk where I could work on school stuff and get paid $15 an hour to do it. This and the 3 classes that I was teaching signaled the temporary end of poverty, working at Cabela’s, and a clear move towards purpose in life again. As a result, I was back and alive in the autumn with a new found desire to get to the Southwest over the New Year holiday.
After waiting patiently for it to arrive, I got my permit to go to the Wave by mail, and it all felt like seeing it was going to happen, and then the fates stepped in and showed me just how much it would cost for airfare over Christmas vacation if I was going to do a New Year’s Eve hike into the canyons, and wahlah…
The dream was dead and the waiting continued.
When the opportunity did come for the next trip, I tried my best to conclusively preplan the 2007 end of summer trip as far in advance as I could.
I got my plane tickets as soon as I was able to, but I was unable to get my permit to the Wave in advance. This is the same as a potential trip to see the lunar standstill over Chimney Rock.
Unfortunately, there’s no option for that with a lottery, so despite the fact that it could be really cool, it’s not going to happen – at least until 2024 or 2025!
In short, the advertisement through National Geographic Adventure helped to sell the lunar standstill and the Wave out well in advance. But they’re not the only ones responsible for the tourism. With so many Wave articles, websites, and pictures, it has become a serious challenge to get into the site (by 2011, there would be close to 100 people a day trying to get in on the lottery after the website filled up nearly 4 months prior to the dates becoming available). Thus, I would have to do what I could and not worry about what I couldn’t do while I took my chances on the Wave lottery for the 10 extra golden tickets.
Time couldn’t go quickly enough, but eventually I got to the West, and I began my trip with the things that really mattered: hanging out in Page until I get my ticket to the Wave.
I reached the ranger station for the first time on September 1st knowing that I could reasonably take 3 chances at getting in before I just couldn’t justify staying in Page any longer. As the hour wait went on, 17 people gathered to take their shot at 10 permits. Despite better than 50% odds, the butterflies in my stomach were dancing crunk style, and I had to figure that my best odds were to get drawn early or to have a group refuse to break up with only a few permits left to be issued.
Now, the same ranger who took my permit in 2005 loaded the balls into the spinner. He hadn’t changed any in non-emotional appearance since the last time, but that said, I didn’t need his enthusiasm; I just needed a lucky pull. And so after the longest moment, he drew the first ball, which wasn’t me. The butterflies were hitting harder, moshing around as if Slayer were jamming "Raining Blood" at its heaviest and most ferociously insane.
What seemed like ages later, he drew the second ball.
I shot up like a rocket complete with fist pump and victory exclamation. I was so happy I almost cried, but it was the dance of victory. It was Tug McGraw jumping up in the air after the Phillies World Series victory in 1980. It was Carlos Ruiz and Brad Lidge starting the pile in front of the mound in 2008. It was the Red Sox all coming together in 2004 after being denied for all of those years. Hell, it was the Florida Marlins celebrating at Yankee Stadium in 2003, a dance made more special since it was on their opponents’ home field.
Of the people who were looking at this bizarre theatricality the ones that I had talked to knew why since I told anyone who would listen prior to the drawing. We do what we have to do in order to contain the nervousness. I had messed up before, but I wanted to make up for what I had done to myself with another chance at redemption and isn’t that what it’s all about anyway?
As a result of the luck I had on that day, I was able to walk into my white whale the next morning. However, prior to the next morning, I would need to drive onto the Wire Pass Trail to go to Buckskin Gulch and find the trail I needed for the next day. When I got to the Coyote Buttes Trailhead, I felt so dumb. In the end, it was easy to find when I actually used the map. The brown and white sign with the right-pointing arrow clearly pointed the way.
"Don’t think. Just pitch."
So I spent the afternoon walking towards Buckskin Gulch. At first, it’s a regular trail that is beaten down with a million footprints. Then, the walls start to get a little closer, and the feeling of being enclosed becomes more apparent. For my day, I got into the part where the walls close in to a true slot at the end of the Wire Pass Trail and arrived at a 5-foot cliff, which I decided to drop into. Before going further, I checked to make sure that I could get back up. This wasn’t a problem since someone left some bigger rocks at the base of the cliff for just such a purpose. Afterward, I proceeded on to the next cliff, which was on the side of a pool of water in an opening. Unfortunately, my wet shoes kept me from getting up that without any equipment or help, so that was the really fast end of that journey for the day.
Like many things in the Colorado Plateau and hiking in general, we live and we learn and we know what chances to take and which ones not to take. Even if we don’t, sometimes, our muddy boots and lack of proper equipment make the decisions for us.
The next day, I wandered up the hill as the sun came out and began getting hotter. I followed the map perfectly after driving in without the Pogues playing. I can’t say who was playing on my stereo, but I know that it wasn’t them. There was to be no déjà vu this time. I walked down the trail and moved towards the first hill that led to the Wave. Eventually, I ran into a guy and his wife who were also hiking. We had some conversation about hiking in the area, and they must have taken pity on me for what I didn’t do right at Buckskin Gulch, so I was invited to tag up with them for the rest of the adventure. Their names were Ken and Lisa, and they were going all out to get to the spot as they used their color picture printouts from the Internet, which pretty much seemed mistake-proof in that it featured someone’s actual pictures of the sites that would be seen on the way, and a GPS to move through the sandstone wilderness for the 2.5 long miles trying to match up landmarks in the desert with the pictures. Surprisingly, this was not as easy as I would have thought it would be.
After an endless time spent plodding through rocks, scrub brush, and sand, we made it to the final hill. I was completely blitzed from the heat, and I could feel the redness of the sun on my body and my neck and forehead. Being the experienced desert hikers that they were, they gave me electrolyte paste called Clifshots in order to boost my energy for the final assault to the top.
This simple act summed up the process of teaching to me. When you want to stay in motion and are willing to push forward, you do whatever you have to do to keep yourself or those in your charge in motion. For those people that can’t do this, they have the option to turn around. You don’t want to see them die on the way, and for this, you will give them whatever you can in order to keep them moving. However, in the end, the momentum and ability is up to them. But… if you can… you keep them going. You don’t do this in a way that makes all of the effort your own since that can endanger what you want to do and it can even endanger you. But you keep them moving and get them to press on towards the greatness that is up ahead.
As I thought of this, I didn’t think of the heat or my exhaustion; I was just thinking of other things than the height and incline of the hill that I had to get up and over. And then, just like that, I noticed that I had ascended the steepness and entered the hallowed confines of the Wave.
It was beautiful, but it was so SMALL in comparison to the enormous as I thought it would be. I know I didn’t see all of it, but all things considered, I figured that it would be closer to football stadium size than what we saw of it.
We walked through for 15 minutes. I shot video, and we took pictures of one another. As we did, a couple of groups that were there on vacation from California smiled beamingly as they ate their lunches and marveled at the late morning moon over the desert. It was gorgeous and relaxing and a culmination of everything that I hoped that it would be. To put it simply:
I was there. I had made it.
Eventually, Ken and Lisa wanted to leave early, but that was ok. I was there, and I knew that Ed Viesturs was right – getting to the top was optional, but getting down was mandatory, so I took the guided company route as the best possible option for the journey’s end.
The walk back was painful. The sun was hitting us at 100 degrees and there was no tree covering to shade us. Everything looked the same, and it was hard to make heads or tails of where the trail was and wasn’t, but we used landmarks to lead us back to the cars. It was dicey at times as the GPS in the hands of Ken wasn’t as close to predicting where the actual trail was on our side of the mountain. As a result, we aimed for where the trail was on the bottom side of the valley, and in the end, we went down the least steep part of the side of the mesa that we were on. It took a lot more time than that, but in the grasp of exhaustion, things are as they come out. It’s a process, and we move forward, and suddenly, it’s all done.
And just like that, the journey was over as I tossed them some ice cold water bottles from my cooler and thanked them for helping me to attain my life’s most important accomplishment at that time: getting back to even by seeing the elusive natural beauty that I was encountering here at the moment.
We parted ways, and I headed off to Zion National Park, but all the same, I could have stopped the vacation there. The dream was realized. There was an empty sensation inside of me, but it wasn’t an existential void. The thing that had consumed me for years was over. Strangely, I felt more for the moment that I got drawn than in accomplishing the most difficult and accomplished hike of my life. Once I had the ball with my name on it, I knew I was there, even if I had fucked it all up the last time that I thought I would do it because it was there.
Nevertheless, as I did it, it was the most difficult hike that I had been on up until that point in my life. Eventually, the hike into and through Sullivan Run would be tougher than it. The two 20+ mile hikes that I did around Blue Marsh were more never ending endurance marches. But the hike to the Wave…
That was a journey that became something more transcending.
In this, I had learned and that was the important thing. Like those who go into a journey, be it college or the wilderness, there has to be a respect for the accomplishment, a knowledge of the expedition, a gathering of ability, and an understanding of what it takes to get there. If any of these things are disrespected or taken for granted, failure is the end result. Fortunately, I was able to give it multiple shots. For this, quitting wasn’t an option. The only movement allowed was going forward. It wasn’t just the happiness of the hike or the pride of having achieved a difficult and unique hike, but more so, it was undoing the weakness that had brought failure in the first place. I was making something of my life, and I knew that I would be able to share it with all of those people that I met for the rest of my natural life.
In addition, I had one less thing to do before I met the beautiful woman who would change my life. I was free to be a person who could live and love (and dance and love) again instead of an all-consumed sea captain looking to destroy the beast that lurks beneath the seas of my mind and body’s scars. After all, doesn’t Ahab go down at the end of Moby Dick since he is fighting an endless unwinnable fight that consumes and kills him?
In that autumn of 2007, SA and I talked a few times, and after a date that went well, journey to the Oaks where we went to see Into the Wild. This movie that I had been waiting ages to see since it was my favorite book at the time seemed like an obvious choice for a first date since she picked me due to my interest in hiking.
When the movie was over, I really liked it, but she was very critical of Chris’s decision to go off on adventure by himself. I can’t say that I agreed with the things that he did, but frankly, I didn’t feel as caustic toward his actions as she did. Nevertheless, it was a good evening, so after this, we went hiking that weekend. We went again a few other times, and it seemed like something that was going somewhere until she mysteriously stopped returning phone calls.
Perhaps, she stopped calling because she wasn’t ready to date. She had been divorced, and there was still a level of pain in her discussion of her marriage, which ended in his infidelity. Perhaps, we just didn’t have enough in common. Who knows? She just stopped calling, and I wasn’t going to be strung on forever. To be honest, if she wasn’t a bridge in this story and a reason to stay on Match Dot Com, she would have been forgotten long ago like many other dates that weren’t repeated a second time or third time.
The first missed call wasn’t a big deal, but the second one represented a pattern. With that, I stopped calling her. However, she did call back right as I was getting ready to leave my apartment to head out to Philadelphia to see the New Pornographers on a Friday night. It should be noted that they are a band and not an Internet pornography addiction. She left a message to call her, and after thinking that it was a misunderstanding for the entire drive down and back that night, a misunderstanding that still merited having me make her wait until the next day, I called her back. Once again, I got her answering machine. I gave her one more chance, and when I got no reply, I decided that she was a few good hikes, and well, that was it. These things happen. There was no emotional investment in anything like the future, so I would just use my remaining month’s membership to contact someone else. During this time, I sent messages to several women, and some gal who I contacted sent me a few lines with a few very vague and dull questions, so I sent her a short vague and dull message back. I never heard from her again, and the month’s membership died.
However, the next week or so, I got a message that due to the site’s policies didn’t allow me to determine the contents of. Most importantly, I couldn’t even find out who sent it to me. Had I known who it was from, I might not have paid money, but with the mystery attached, it was worth a chance in the way that fate makes us do strange things, so I paid my $30 to find out who it was from, and it was from the several line e-mail gal. It was a few lines less, but it was a missive, and it was rightly ignored as a "what the hell did I pay money for this for?" e-mail.
Granted, she seemed like a real person as compared to some of the "hotties" that sent e-mails in the early years of my Match Dot Com experience who were looking for sexual relationships only to vanish if the receiver responded to them. As it turned out, in 2005, several of these sites were accused of engaging in ringers to keep people hooked to the possibility of what if. I guess that they got paid and got free food and movies out of it if it went that far, but yeah… I wasn’t impressed with the possibility of continuing the search, but search I did.
Thus, I had to make the most out of what was out there in the category that matched up to what my interests theoretically listed that I was after. Skimming the faces and descriptions, I looked at the choices. Blonde, brunette, redheads… late twenties, early thirties, late thirties… smiling, serious, mysterious… athletic, introspective, "fun"… so many people to choose from. Would any of them choose me? Do I really want a gal that wants to be treated like a princess? Do I really want a gal who has the same picture on there from when I started this whole process back in early 2003? So I widened the search and lengthened travel distance, and I found a possibility that was located up Route 222 in Ephrata Pennsylvania.
The woman who I was to meet was "Bookwurmgirl." I was "Eurekadan." She said that a man who wanted to be with her must like badunkadunk. I asked if it had more to do with Sir Mixalot or Trace Adkins. The reply was Sir Mixalot. From there, the conversations began. We spoke of general interests and who we were. There was no discussion about anacondas and rump shaking. To be honest, I was way too nervous going into almost any first date that I’ve ever been on in my entire life than to think of those things. Even in the first actual phone conversation that took place in the final week of November, there was no discussions like that. There was just a general overcoming of shyness to get through to the point where we could meet for the first time on the first of December.
And so one has to wonder if in the beginning of any relationship, do we really follow one another? We spend our time following our destinies and contemplate where we will end up. I want to stay with you. Do you want to stay with me? Is there really a feeling of safety, of taking away the tears, of being together forever in the beginning? But that said, there is always the hope for it. There is the knowledge that this can be, and it can be good. We can make it work, and when it does, there will be love songs and beautiful memories.
Life can be as hauntingly beautiful as the melody of Red House Painters’ version of this song by Genesis as I first remembered it played out across the First Unitarian Church in Philadelphia on that hot summer night in 2008. On that evening, it was so hot that it was basically reminiscent of a New Orleans church down by Bourbon Street in how unendurable and stagnant the air felt for the first part of the evening. In this, it felt like the Mississippi River curled up and died before the show. However, as time progressed, it got darker and cooler in the Sanctuary of the First Unitarian Church and the solo guitar and the guest voice of his female companion fixed itself beautifully along with Mark Kozelek’s voice to create an enjoyable effect.
Now, I was never a fan of Genesis, but I do like Phil Collins’ "In the Air Tonight," but then again, who doesn’t? There is something about driving through the night and waiting to break out into a steering wheel drum solo that says, "Who cares if Phil Collins is a ninny? I can rock this bitch!" But when it came to "Follow You, Follow Me, at least as it was played on that night, I was hooked on this version of the song. It was something that had to be a part of the wedding. That said, I still find the version with Mr. Collins to be fairly anemic and bog standard in its presentation, but alas.
As a result, when I think about it now, I realize that when our minds are clear, we are ready for a trip, kind of like what Thoreau said when he stated:
"We should go forth on the shortest walk, perchance, in the spirit of undying adventure, never to return,- prepared to send back our embalmed hearts only as relics to our desolate kingdoms. If you are ready to leave father, mother, and brother and sister, and wife and child and friends, and never see them again,- if you have paid your debts, and made your will, and settled all your affairs, and are a free man, then you are ready for a walk."
In looking back now, those lost years, the days of endless quests, and how they were resolved… all roads brought me to the moment where I could be ready to be in a relationship with my wife. For all of the love of hiking and the outdoors, the need for that kind of adventure started to vanish after that trip to the West. Oh, the wanting to be lost in the wilderness is gone, but it’s not the same as it was before, and most importantly, it’s not about solo trips into the great unknown. I’d much prefer a companion, and if I don’t have one, it’s not like I’m going to be satisfied with an mp3 player drowning out the sounds of nature and filling my head with its lyrics and ideas.
No matter how good the music is, I’ve just come to know something better, and that’s the voice in my ear and the hand in my hand, so here, I’m glad that she will follow me as I follow her.
It’s just so much better that way.