I stopped writing in anything other than the journal he helped me make, but it’s winter now, the Sunday morning to the Saturday night of Summer, and I guess it’s time I address my absence. Not to an imaginary audience, or even to the friends who aren’t on speaking terms with me anymore, but to myself. I’m still in love, but it’s winter now. I feel sober now.
A season for everything…and I’ve been high for months.
What happened was I fell in love.
Ladies and gentlemen of the Redpoint jury, let me explain.
My uncle died suddenly and my little brother relapsed, and something in me snapped. Honestly I didn’t realize how hard I’d been holding on until I decided to let go. I ran. I fled to Utah where my vanlife friends were, and while I had vehemently opposed the funemployment dirtbag crew traveling during COVID, now I needed community. I needed warmth. I needed red dirt and love that felt easy. Damn my moral superiority; I wanted to hug my friends.
It makes me smile a little to remember that I forgot my journal at home when I went to Indian Creek to meet up with my friends. I wrote on the day I returned home, “so those will be lost weeks…”
They weren’t though. Looking back, those were the weeks that found me. This was the year that released me.
See I’ve been running around with this friend, this really good old Icarus-like friend whose smile makes me blush, who thinks I’m funny and fascinating and likes spending time with me. He’s been my favorite climbing partner since I met him, and he beckoned me down south to play around in the desert before the guiding season kicked off. He was there with my other friends, and we were just friends, and that’s all I wanted or expected of him.
I didn’t lie about that.
A week into my trip he showed me a journal entry he’d written the year before during the anniversary of his best friend’s death and in it he described running through the desert screaming and laughing and crying and missing him, and how he could feel some of his other loved ones with him as he ran. He showed me the entry because in it, he mentioned feeling my presence. He loves me like that.
“See what I mean?” I said this spring with him, in his van, while our friends drank and laughed and goofed off around us. “It’s not what they think.”
And what is it that they thought? That this was intentionally cruel? That we were just carnal and selfish? That we were just horny and reckless? That we were bad?
“I mean,” I continued, thinking of his mouth on my neck the night before. “It’s a little bit what they think.”
Ladies and Gentlemen of the Redpoint jury, let me explain. We don’t even remember how it happened the first time.
It was years ago, and this pretty small-town boy and I stayed up all night talking over a box of wine, just some new friends getting to know one another. His best friend had made a mistake the month before skydiving, and you don’t get to make mistakes skydiving. My best friend had made a mistake seven or so years ago too, and the man who’d stabbed her took his own life the same night. I guess its kinda hard to process your grief and anger when your loved ones die in skydiving accidents or murder-suicides. I think he’d mentioned, casually, coming back from his best friend’s funeral and I mentioned that my best friend didn’t have a funeral, just a party I threw at my house where I blacked out for the first time, and I swear you could see his cat-like eyes fix, hard, on mine. I’m fine most of the time, but then this gorgeous boy with funeral-pink hair poured me wine and asked about my dead and told me about his.
The more we shared, the more my heart pounded and I could swear I felt his beating in time. That angsty desperation I often go months without feeling boiled over. My old bitter ache at losing her rose, as did his newfound rage and longing for his own dead, and I don’t know; grief is just best over red wine. I think his pain got the better of him. I think he needed something to do with his hands, hands that couldn’t hold on to that wildfire personality of the one he lost. I think the injustice of young death, of death at all, got the better of both of us. We shouldn’t have lost those loves and we did, and in lieu…
The next day I asked him to pretend it never happened, baffled by the intensity of our night and intimidated by the potential destruction I could feel trembling below the surface of his cool and collected veneer and my own animal desire. He agreed. Neither of us wanted to disrupt our budding friend group.
So for years we’d kinda flirt with the memory, but we never spoke of it again. We liked our friend group and we liked each other, and the weight of the night we shared was overwhelming. Neither of us needed something like that in our lives. It wouldn’t be sustainable. We wanted to be good friends forever instead and in a way, that’s exactly what we are.
This Spring he kissed me in Indian Creek like he was giving up and almost angry about it. When our buddy found two dead mice in his truck the following morning we giggled that it was an omen.
I’ve never known a love that didn’t gut me. I’ve never known love that didn’t hurt, that didn’t threaten to ruin something else. This has been no exception.
We’re part of a small friend group. If you catch feels in this community it’s going to be for someone who broke your bestie’s heart the season before. That’s what I tell myself; it’s not that we were cruel, it’s that we were inevitable.
I’ve worn my fair share of scarlet letters but this one scalded. I came home from Indian Creek to face the scorn of my girlfriends alone, and he followed a couple weeks later with a jar of red Utah dirt for me to keep as a memento. You guys, I thought. It’s not what you think.
There was no technical infidelity but you can’t reason with a broken heart, and the people who wanted us and were rejected wore their pain on their sleeves while Icarus and I careened into the time of our lives. Our friend Lauren quipped, “some couples even each other out, but you two just rile each other up.” If I withered in 2020, then 2021 felt like blooming. It felt warm, safe, easy, and exciting. If 2020 was a year of abstinence and heartache then 2021 has been one of indulgent healing and laughter. I’d been miserable enough in the year before to feel defensive and protective of my happiness now, and I wanted to indulge. I indulged in food, in romance, in spirituality, in anger, in play, in substance, in nature, in YA fantasy novels, in magic, in ghost stories, in reckless affection, in emotional vulnerability, and especially in love. Suddenly everything I wanted, his restless need for constant fun and activity made happen. If I said I wanted to run the Smith Rock loop, we woke up at six the next morning and ran it. If I said I wanted to monkey-bar the Smith Rock bridge at midnight, we did it naked. I suggested Tensleep, Wyoming, and we took off after work and barely returned. I suggested Index and we went. I said I wanted to go to shows in Bend and then we were dancing at them. I said I wanted to do a through-hike and he printed the maps. When my friends recoiled at my betrayal I begged them to see that whenever I wanted to smoke cigarettes he flirted with me until I craved him instead, and I hadn’t smoked in months, and didn’t that mean something? Ladies and gentlemen of the jury its not what you think, its better.
“Our friends are dead,” he grinned at me one night. “We don’t hold back.”
Our old friends are dead, and my closest living loves turned away. Good for them, honestly. Know your boundaries, protect yourself, live your truth, whatever, but fuck dude; My uncles died and my brother relapsed and the only two friends I confessed just how scary and coercive my ex got after I dumped him no longer speak to me, but they hang out with him, so do with that what you will. I know I broke girl code first, but if Icarus makes me feel my dead then how can you blame me for wanting to kiss him? Every time these friends coldly expressed their disdain for my selfishness I wanted to scream; but it’s love, don’t you see? And what’s more intoxicating than being loved by someone? I felt delighted in. I felt like my feet weren’t touching the ground, like I was swirling in some purple whirlwind in the air with someone I evolved from the same primordial soup with. It felt like my body knew where his was at all times, like my skin was electric when he touched it. It was all almost blurry; we barely knew we were dating until we talked about signing a lease together. My heart is broken for losing those girls but I fell in love. I would be lying through the skin of my teeth to say I was sorry, to say it wasn’t worth it.
It’s been worth it and I’m not sorry for anything.
We tried to hike the Sierra High Route at the end of Summer but the California wildfire season thwarted our efforts. The forests were closed. We drove to my sister’s in Humboldt and she hiked us to the tallest tree in the world, Hyperion. I wanted to sit there and feel the heaviness of this tumultuous, magical season and gaze upon this ancient monster. Hyperion will take your breath away, its that mind-bogglingly huge. And while I stared up at this monstrous tree, I could hear the sounds of chainsaws and harvesters downing giants nearby. I wondered what warning cries those trees sent through the fungus in the ground and the panicked birds of the air to the other Redwoods and Sequoias. I wondered how many wailing deaths Hyperion had been privy to, and if, could the tree speak, would she beg for release. Would she beg for earmuffs, eyepatches, morphine, anything to drown out the screams of her sisters? Did her proximity to death make her feel more defiantly alive than ever?
I thought of love paved with loss, how life is all the more beautiful because it’s fleeting, and how maybe my famished heart was primed for this season of bliss after years of mistreatment and loss. I couldn’t have felt so holy if not for the fall from grace. Could we have loved each other as passionately as we do if we hadn’t first lost the loves we have? My vision blurred with tears and I looked around for my haunted adventure partner, only to see him blinking back tears of his own. I wondered if he missed my ex sometimes the way I sometimes missed his, and knew that at least we were smiling at each other through the dissonance, together.
So I’m not alone, for once. So for once I’m allowed to howl and grieve and laugh and scream and play and ache and want, and for once I’ve found an ally who doesn’t shy from my pain or my desire. A good friend once told me that hanging out with me was like trying to diffuse a bomb, and the boys I’ve attached myself to in the past have launched desperate attempts to manage that wick. This one grinned and held up a match. I didn’t quit smoking because he thought smoking was bad, but because he offered a more desirable alternative. We hiked all over the Sawtooth mountain range when California closed, wildfire smoke in our lungs and unspeakable beauty in our eyes, and we pay each other’s bills now, and sometimes we swing-dance in our kitchen or get drunk in a bubble bath together and the ache of lost love is still there, and I hope it never leaves. I hope as far from each other as we may go in the future, we remember this season with that same wincing affection we felt watching Hyperion hold herself up against the slaughter of her sisters.
I hope we’re haunted forever.