Paul stood by the open tent flap, taking a few minutes to enjoy the beautiful gifts nature provided him for free. Looking to the eastern shore, he marveled at the red, orange and yellow explosion of pre-dawn glory heralding a new day. Low on the Western horizon, the nearly full moon lay pale and bloated.
In the aerie pre-dawn light a heavy dew clinging to everything that did not move seemed somehow phosphorescent. The fresh mountain air was alive with sounds. Paul stood drinking in the panorama spread before him while he listened to the sounds of the waking forest.
A cold breeze coming off the lake made Paul pull his shirt collar up. The thin mountain air was pungent with the scents of pine, oak, birch and poplar. He breathed in deeply several times until his head felt light, as if intoxicated.
Paul was awed anew each morning at the splendor of nature. This was the start of his second week of vacation. The first week passed in a blaze. Proof of the old adage, “Time Flies when you are having fun”. Most of the first week was devoted to mundane tasks, pitching the tent and all the little things involved in setting up camp. His lack of experience meant the tasks required more effort than he expected. Camping was new to him and Amy was not as adept at camping as she thought, so nothing was simple.
After the tent was set up they spent time hiking and finding their way around the area. Just getting used to living in a tent and learning how to make love in a sleeping bag were problems normally not encountered in his daily life.
Raising his arms up over his head in an extended stretch, Paul prepared to greet the day.
“Oh God! What a wonderful view! I am so glad I let Amy talk me into this trip,” Paul exclaimed, exhaling a long breath that turned into a plume of white water vapor.
In the clear mountain air it was all so simple, so easy to see how he squandered his youth. Breathing in the thin mountain air, everything seemed so clear now. All his life he chased success, like a mad man in the desert chasing the elusive vision of water, always just out of reach. He used his job and his quest for success as an excuse to justify the pain and suffering inflected upon those he loved. After all, “ NO PAIN NO GAIN”! Now surrounded by the beauty of nature, Paul saw how his GREAT DREAM, the GREAT AMERICAN DREAM, the dream he believe in all his life was just a vicious lie.
“Oh well, no use reliving the past,” Paul muttered shaking his head, as if to clear away the depressing memories of a life wasted.
He went to the remains of the previous night’s fire and added some dry grass to rekindle the embers buried deep within the ash. A flickering yellow flame soon joined the small stream of light gray smoke. Paul added the remainder of the firewood to feed the flame till it grew to a real fire.
“Old age must be creeping up on me, and sleeping in a sleeping bag on hard surfaces is something for kids,” Paul said while he stretched his arms up, high over his head, standing up to relieve the pain in his back. He thought the best way to get the stiffness out was to get moving.
A quick glance toward the tent confirmed his hunch. Amy was still bundled up in her sleeping bag. He decided to get some water heating so she would be able to wash when she awoke.
Paul took the large steel kettle to the lake, and filled it with cold clear mountain water. Lugging the heavy, kettle back to the campsite was hard. He lost his footing on some loose gravel and nearly spilled the water.
“OH SHIT,” he shouted, as he fought to catch his balance and avoid spilling the water. Luckily, the only injury was to his pride, but the noise served to rouse Amy from her slumber.
Amy looked in the direction of the disturbance, and saw Paul dragging the water container up the slope. She unzipped the sleeping bag, and struggled to her feet.
Mornings were hard for Amy. Age and a lifestyle lived hard and fast had taken their toll. Over the passing years she came to accept the face-to-face confrontation with the person in the mirror. She saw all too clearly she wasted her youth. Now she viewed with sad acceptance the reflected image of the old battered friend in the mirror. Time carved a relief map on her face. Too many days baking in the summer sun, too many nights in smoky bars, too many sorrows, too many bitter tears, too many “today’s not worrying about tomorrow,” left too many scars. The eternal battle against gravity was all but lost, as everything on her body that could hang or sag did.
Amy hastily pulled on the loose fitting, denim jeans, and a flannel shirt. The strong odor of the tent seemed to permeate everything, and made leaving its warm confines easier. Her shirt reeked of the tent’s water proofing and would require most of the morning before the fresh air could work its magic.
Amy went to help Paul with the water. Together they positioned the pot at the edge of the fire so it would heat up faster. Amy sat down close to the fire on a small log with her legs pulled up, arms wrapped around her knees to arm herself.
“I better go collect more wood for the fire. The water should be hot soon. You can wash up while I am gone. I can clean up after breakfast,” Paul told her.
Amy nodded to him as he headed off in search of firewood. She just sat silently gazing into the fire while she waited for the water to heat up. The fire snapped and crackled sending bright sparks drifting up the thermal column.
Amy stared into the depth of the flames, her turbulent thoughts cascaded past her mind’s eye like a stack of slides dumped from a projector's slide tray. She thought how strange it was no matter how old her body got her mind was always 20-something. She did not delude herself into thinking she was ever a beauty pageant contestant, but she knew she managed to turn more than just a few heads in her time.
“I hope Paul and I can take some time to talk about our childhood. I want to know all about him and He needs to know all about me,” she sighed while stirring the pot of water with a long handled dipper.
Looking back on her life, Amy thought it was much like the sparks riding the hot air of the fire. It took her a long time to see how much of her life she spent searching for answers, but only found more questions. She tried to find the answers by getting advice from psychologists, Buddhist monks, fortunetellers and every other sort of mind-expanding sham perpetrated on mankind in the past 30 years. In the end, they all failed to answer her questions. Now she sat and pondered her life and wondered if anyone had an answer. The fire popped loudly and a fountain of sparks danced in the hot air above the flames, drawing her back to the here and now.
She found her life was like the sparks from the fire, riding on the hot air, all part of the lie. She sought truth, only to find TRUTH was in the end just a part of the lie. Now she realized she was looking in all the wrong places for the answers she sought. Now it was too late, too late to go back and start again, too late to live a better life, too late to take better care of her health, too late, too late, TOO LATE!
Amy wanted to have some time alone with Paul to share her life. She wanted to learn all about his life and all the things that went into making Paul the special person she learned to love.
The hissing sizzling sound made by the boiling water turning to steam when it splashed out of the kettle into the flames, drew Amy’s attention drawn back to the present. She went to the lake with a red plastic bucket to get more cold water. She used a big, long handled dipper to mix the hot water into the bucket of cold water until it was the right temperature.
She got a bar of soap, a wash rag and a towel to start the process of bathing. Amy held a towel in one hand, and a washcloth in the other. The process involved washing a spot then drying off. She started with her face. First rubbing the soapy, wash cloth over her face then quickly using the towel to dry off. Next she opened her shirt to wash under her arms and her breasts. She did not take the shirt off because the cold morning air was still too cold to expose her wet skin to.
Amy stood bent over, her pants dropped to the ground, to wash between her legs, when she was startled by the sound of a twig breaking.
“It’s just me,” Paul called.
The cool breeze on her wet, exposed skin more than Paul's presence, prompted Amy to quickly dry off and pull her pants back up. Paul dropped the wood on the ground near the fire and kissed her gently on the cheek.
“Oh dear! You sure know how to treat a lady,” she said smiling and batting her eyelashes at him, like some cartoon character.
“Get the fire going better so I can get breakfast ready,” She told him.
Paul tossed more wood on the fire, but his mind wandered, pondering their relationship. He was happier than at any time in his life. He often wondered why Amy stayed with him. Other than the fact they were both lonely. Maybe that was all the reason they needed. The "WHY" was not important. What was important was the fact they "WERE" together.
Paul was sure Amy could recall every detail of their first meeting, but he, like so many other men, never remember all the finer points. All he could remember were foggy memories:
All he could remember was going to some cheap club, off the beaten path, in Houston. The air was thick, gray/blue and the visibility was less than twenty feet. The dark oak bar was lined with tall stools. Most were unoccupied. He picked one at random and ordered a beer. Tired from another day of applying his nose to the eternal grindstone, he waved the offer of a glass away and drank long and deep from the long necked, brown bottle. He sat hunched over the bottle, trying to get the unpleasant taste of the daily ration of bullshit out of his mouth.
He was a bit dismayed when someone sat down with the audacity to ask for a light. He turned to see who was talking. A woman neatly dressed, but older than the average for that bar was perched atop the stool next to him. It was clear she took good care of herself, but time had been harsh. She wore a very nice smile, under a crazy baseball cap. The smile was so enchanting he could not ignore her. Fumbling in his pocket, he finally pulled out a disposable lighter.
Out of the corner of his eye, he watched the woman down her drink in one shot. She slammed the glass on the counter and ordered a second.
She chugged the second drink as fast as the first, and ordered another.
“Hi, Thanks for the light. Must have left my lighter in my other purse,” Amy said, and smiled in his direction attempting to kindle a conversation while she waited for the next round.
After long consideration Paul decided to respond. What the heck, he was lonely and any conversation was better than drowning his thoughts alone. She may not be the best looking woman in the place, but she was the only one interested in talking to him. More drinks were ordered, and the sputtering conversation soon developed into an animated discussion.
Lost in the erratic weavings of the intoxicated conversation, time passed. Evening ground silently into night, and night staggered along, in a drunken stupor, to became “unexpectedly”, morning. Strange, neither of them were particularly surprised to wake up in the same bed. Somehow, from the time they first spoke, to the time they woke up, they learned to be friends, if nothing more. That was their first meeting, but by no means the last. A relationship developed slowly over time.
They soon learned loneliness, bitterness and disillusionment was not all they shared. Those common bonds built a bridge to span the gap of loneliness. In time they grew very close, but avoided making a binding commitment. Often they joked about marriage, and how they both had been there, done that and had the scars to prove it, yet they were drawn together like moths to a flame. Before they thought about it they had become much more than drinking partners and bed buddies. Now here they were, on vacation together.
Paul’s thoughts were jerked back to the present when he heard Amy call out.
“Come and get it,” Amy exclaimed!
Amy served a great breakfast of ham, eggs and fried small new potatoes. Paul ate in silence watching Amy while she ate, and tended to the food still cooking over the fire. He knew that he loved her; he told her so many times. She was always there for him, and he could feel her love, but she never said those three little words to him.
“Oh Paul why spoil a beautiful relationship,” Amy would joke when he brought up the subject of marriage.
Ironic, he thought, because normally the woman is upset because the man she loves does not tell her he loves her. Paul never pushed her on the issue. He learned, through many unpleasant past experiences, that when you push things you just push them away. He treasured Amy too much to risk pushing her away. Maybe that was what Amy wanted to talk about while they were camping.
When Paul was with Amy, he was not sure if it really was too late to change his life. He might be an old dog, but surely not un-trainable, despite all his failed relationships. Paul was sure he learned much over the years.
“It was too bad the things you need to know most you learn when it is too late,” he lamented.
Being with Amy taught him much about life and love. Through her he found answers he never knew before. Paul finished a second plate of food, and helped Amy clean up. He felt the doubts and fears of his failed past weigh heavily on his soul.
Again, Paul tried to put the past behind him, and concentrate on the here and now. It was Amy’s suggestion to go camping. He always wanted to camp in the wilds of nature, but there were always a thousand excuses, the job, the kids, the weather, the lack of money, no camping equipment, etc and so on and on and on . . . Amy taught him if you really want to do something there was no excuse not to. So they went camping.
In fact it was Amy’s idea to come way out to this mountain wilderness. The lake was the perfect location. The peaceful surroundings were ideal for two lovers to escape from the bustle of their daily lives. For the first time Paul felt free. He never thought there was a great need to talk about their past, but Amy seemed determined.
After the trials and tribulation of the first week getting things set up, he really loved the freedom he felt camping. “Wow I never thought I could feel so free. Now I just have to figure out what Amy wants to know,” he mused.
Paul was a bit worried about what Amy wanted to talk about. In the past, his one-on-one conversations with his former girl friends did not go very well. She assured him she just wanted to talk about their past to be able to have a better understanding of the person she was with, but he was not sure where that would lead. She assured him all she wanted was for him to know more about her, and her past so he could understand her better.
Camping in the wilds of nature was so different from his normal existence. Normally, Paul spent his days in a small office, in a tall building, in a large city. He went to work in the dark, and came home in the dark. Rushing to and from, back and forth. He never seemed to have time. . . Never had time to look around. . . Never had time to see the beauty that was around him. He never had time for a real vacation until. . . until it was too late. Too late to save his marriage. . . too late to save his health. . . too late, too late, too late…
Now, looking out across the mirror surface of the lake, he realized he had sold his existence, his soul and his life, for a fist-full of DOLLARS.
Paul was not sure if he could tell Amy all the things he wanted to. How could he explain how empty he felt at times? Would she really be able to understand him better if he told her all the details of his life? He knew he wanted to let Amy know him better, but how would she react when he told her about all his wild years. He wanted her to understand him and love him as much as he loved her, and if telling her his life’s story was what she wanted he would try to tell her. Paul knew he wanted to know all about Amy, and this might be the best way. He agreed that they did not know much about each other's lives.
Shaking his head in an attempt to clear his thoughts, Paul turned to Amy and asked. “ When do you want to sit down and talk”?
“Well now would be a great time to get started. I don’t think we can cover our entire lives in just a few minutes. I thought we might take turns talking about different phases of our lives. I would really love to learn about your childhood. That is the only way I know to fill in all the blank spots. After all we did not grow up together so we do not know anything about our early years,” Amy suggested.