In his ongoing quest to save money, Joe hooked us up with another Burning Man couple so that we could split the cost of a campsite once we got to Lake Tahoe. Unlike Joe and me, Pete and Alyson were actually in love, and it was charming to meet them. However, for seven dollars more, we could have camped alone, and I wouldn’t have had to share the one precious pint of Ben and Jerry’s Fossil Fuel that I’d gotten at the local Vons. This excursion alone was disturbing. I had always felt safe at Safeway, and suddenly what felt and smelled like Safeway, and appeared to be Safeway in every discernible way, was actually not Safeway, but something called “Vons.” Is it Safeway, or is it Vons? Make up your damn mind! I can’t take being yanked around like that, especially while stranded in another part of the country with a pot-smoking assclown in a sarong.
Had we camped alone, I also would have been spared Pete’s crazed ramblings, which Joe nodded along to as if they made perfect sense. Pete believed that in the not-so-distant future, people would be able to stop working for “the man” and make an honest living producing their own internet porn. He also established, by some convoluted logic, that there is no causal relationship between HIV and AIDS. And furthermore, insisted Pete, we can all control our own reality. For example, did you know that the only reason you continue to see a tattoo is because you think it’s there?
Alyson was apparently entranced by all of this philosophizing, because the two of them were constantly having sex in their tent, which I found just about as disturbing as Vons. Campers and campgrounds are very dirty, and a woman’s genitals are a delicate ecosystem. I could just sense that I’d have to give up some of my secret stash of antibiotics for these hippies, and on top of the Fossil Fuel, it would have been too much.
By the time we got to our next stop, San Francisco, I was starting to feel spare, hollow, almost mechanical. Everything I did felt forced—every word, every weak laugh. Joe and I rode the buses in silence.
There was one time in San Francisco when I relaxed enough to let go of the sense of pretense I’d had to maintain as Joe’s girlfriend—when I spent an afternoon alone, writing, on the roof of our friend’s apartment building. The wind tugged on the pages of my notebook and whipped Joe’s hideous thrift store clothes, which were hung on pieces of clothesline that we’d rigged between the exhaust ports. They needed an airing out. Apparently, I hadn’t put the cap back on the gas can tightly after filling up the camp stove and the can had tipped over in the car, soaking the contents of his suitcase in what I later referred to as a “Freudian spill.”
Alone on the roof, looking out over the city, I confided in my journal my hopelessness:
Even if Joe and I make it through this trip and get a place together, how can I set up a new home with real confidence and happiness? This rug here, this vase here…it’s all been done before. It begins, and it ends.
I thought back to my previous relationships, wondering if I’d be happier if I’d stayed in them. I thought about Metal Nose Boy—how I had felt something real with him, true connection and true understanding that transcended the laws of beginnings and endings. I knew I needed to find that kind of connection again. Even though I didn’t want to admit it, I knew then that I was never going to find it with Joe.
I have to accept myself as a lone entity sitting here on a roof in San Francisco scratching out the details of her unique life. No partnership is going to save me from being completely alone. But I long to stick in one and give it a shot. Pretend that I’m not utterly alone as long as I can, as long as it works.
Los Angeles was where I started to have panic attacks. Whenever Joe wasn’t within eyesight, I was terrified for his safety. One morning when he had taken his bike out to get groceries, I collapsed in the shower, sobbing, sure that a car had run over him.
I’d watched myself do this very thing before—hold on tighter when I should be letting go. Much like one of those vines from the world of Harry Potter, as soon as I felt a relationship floundering, I’d wrap myself around it as tightly as possible and squeeze the life out of it. When I really meant to say “You have questionable personal hygiene” or “I strongly suspect that you’re a huge douchenozzle,” instead I’d say, “I think I’m falling in love with you” or “I want us to spend our lives together.” Whenever I wanted to leave someone, I’d be perversely wracked by anxiety that the person would get hit by a car.
In retrospect, Joe getting knocked off his bicycle and roaming around L.A. with amnesia for a few weeks was probably the best thing that could have happened. His friend Kay would have gotten me to the airport, I would have flown home, and I would have become me again. I didn’t want to travel anymore. But I was scared to go home. What did I have to go back to? I’d left my regular teaching job and moved out of my apartment with the intention of moving in with Joe after the trip. I had invested so much in this relationship. I could not let it fail.
To be continued next Memoir Monday.
Photo credits: longbeachlouie.com, me, hexrpg.com