Cratering – Basin

When the Colorado leaves the Grand Canyon, it enters a vast land of alternating parallel valleys and mountain ranges; the Basin and Range province formed via gravitational collapse when the mantle upwelling from the subduction of tectonic plates ceased. That same subduction process created the Sierra Nevada and Cascade ranges that form the spine from California all the way to Washington, terminating in BC. As the subducted Farallon plate disappeared beneath the North American plate, the Pacific plate began sliding past, creating a transform boundary that gave rise to the San Andreas fault.

I quit my job upon my return from the canyon, and inspired a small exodus. While I was still figuring out my way and my next steps, when Erik contacted me via messenger. He had always ignored my messages but now he was incredibly chatty; he told me how his birth family had found him, he had met them and heard the story why he was given up for adoption (his birth parents were young and had broken up then although they got back together later), how he hit it off with his birth brother despite their differences, and he was going to relocate from Seattle to Wisconsin to be closer to them and get to know them better.

“I’ll come see you before you leave.” I wrote

“You don’t have to.” Erik wrote.

“No, let me come see you before you leave.” I wrote back, knowing I would never make it to Wisconsin.

“I don’t know what my schedule looks like yet.” Erik hedged.

I persisted over the next few weeks, When can I see you? When are you free? the leitmotif of my messages to him until he relented and replied that he would have time to meet the week of his move. Once I had the dates, I booked a short trip to Seattle.

A week before I was about to leave, Erik told me he could not meet me because he was going to check into rehab for a month. That’s ok, I will wait I said and changed my flights. A few days before I left as scheduled, Smokey, my little prince who would climb the stairs to look for me, grew listless and disinterested in his treats. I took him to the vet who kept him overnight for observation, but he passed away the next morning while the vet was giving him a checkup. I went to the vet’s office and bawled over his stiff, frozen body and arranged for Smokey to be cremated. I was devastated but I still had to go. The plan was to meet up with Erik in the short window after his rehab but before the movers came. Then on departure day, Erik informed me he was unable to meet as scheduled because he decided to take a trip after rehab. It was too late to change my departing flight so I decided to leave as scheduled but left my return open-ended; I decided I might as well visit friends on the West Coast I had not seen since I moved to Toronto until Erik returned, and sent out emails to see who was interested and available for a last-minute visit.

Eric was the first to get back to me, plus the timing worked, so I flew to San Francisco to meet him. With my newfound distance and strength from the canyon, I was finally able to confront my lingering attachment to him, how I’d reacted to him which was unlike me. I was intensely happy when Eric paid me attention, each word acting as if he thought about me, reciprocating my thoughts and longing. I would wait eagerly for the next email or chat from him but this manic exuberance would crash into depression when he suddenly went cold, wondering what had happened, why he ignored me, why did he drop this connection that was clearly real.

Psychologists would tell you it is classic limerence not love, and it is comorbid with the bipolar condition; in the throes of either, sufferers are unable to assess their impaired judgement and states. I had never dated before – I knew that was why I jumped into dysfunctional relationships and affections. and repeated toxic patterns. Still the detached / schizoid part of my self that observed myself as a third party knew I had the tendency to form clingy unhealthy attachments that could be easily exploited (like the university classmate) and thus isolated myself from others to reduce the occurrence, and prevent others from finding out.

Eric and I went on long walks through the streets of San Francisco as we chatted about the city, about his work, about his insecurities, his side of the story. “So I have been assigned to the ‘that other ski guy’ niche. In line after Tommy, I suppose.” he said. I had a sense of déjà vu, he had held onto perceptions of me in my particular bipolar stage back then despite my gradual transformation over the years. I realized I will always be that person to him, and he never recognized me then nor will he recognize me now. Though we walked side by side, our footsteps were different; I was forging ahead, he was retreading the past.

“Can I buy you dinner? My treat.” I said. As a token of thanks for meeting up, and for the dinners he had bought me when I was a starving student. Over dinner he continued with some barbs, such as my weight gain and change in my body since we last met; something like that would have wrecked me in the past, I would have turned myself inside out to please him, but now I just brushed aside. Thus I knew he no longer held power over me.

Despite this aging unattractive body, he still approached me for sex afterwards and I acquiesced out of curiosity. As we jerked each other off, I felt again the nostalgic warmth and touch of his skin, time seemed to stop – a familiar comfortable limbo. I had my answer, it would not have worked out, I would have had to sacrifice too much of myself just to stay in situ. Still I held no rancor over my past treatment, those emails he spent the time to compose gave me something to look forward to despite forming a dependency. After Eric came, I leaned over and gave him a long passionate kiss; my little revenge for all the times he’d left me hanging, let him think of me for a bit for once.

Back in Singapore, I met up on and off with Oon while I was still in school. He was a thin bespectacled man in his mid 30s who lived with his mother and they would argue while Oon and I holed up in his bedroom listening and discussing musical theatre recordings. Oon would reminisce about his days studying in the US when he even snagged a small part in the campus production of Sondheim’s Company. I was surprised to find out he was married though I had never seen his wife. He never touched me and I pretended to be unaware of this nebulous gray area between a mentor and a courtesan relationship.

Robert, like Oon, was a personification of a path I might have taken; whether I had decided to marry a woman to appear normal to Asian society, or to seek shelter with a wealthier older gay lover. I had a soft spot for them and their unhappiness. Like Oon, Robert and I had a nebulous ill-defined relationship as one of us was partnered up whenever we connected. I knew it was wrong but I still went along with it because Robert desiring me made me feel desirable for once. I had always felt my head did not belong to my body, and my body did not belong to my arms etc. I perceived my body and my self as a jumble of mismatched, ugly, disproportionate, scarred parts. During my wanton manic phases, my hypersexuality and promiscuity was for the purpose of validation not pleasure (due to anhedonia). If someone wanted my body, then I was not wholly unattractive (I believed my inability to orgasm and feel pleasure was because of my undesirability).

I reconnected with Robert in Santa Cruz. His older partner had passed away and left him the condo. We chatted about our non-existent work prospects, me still figuring out what I want to do next, and him having no resume to speak of for the past few decades. It was also the first time we were both single when we connected, he had recently left his abusive ex-boyfriend behind in Glacier National Park. Robert invited me to join him and his hiking group the next day at Pinnacles National Park. I balked when I saw the size of the group, so I told Robert I would do the loop hike in the opposite direction instead and meet him at his car. The rock formations at Pinnacles were remnants of a volcanic field formed by subduction when the plates converged but have since been displaced by the San Andreas fault when the movement at plate boundaries changed directions. As I made my way through the rocks and ridges, I mused at how I thought there was the slightest chance Robert and I could make it work this time. After hearing his side of the story when we laid out our collective guilt the night, I knew there was no chance. Like the rocks I trod on, we had been displaced farther than where we were originally supposed to be.

We had not touched each other, unlike previous times we connected when Robert would sneak me off for a do. On my last night in Santa Cruz, I crept tentatively into Robert’s bed, expecting to be rejected as too old and fat. I felt very vulnerable, it was my first time initiating; I had always let it happen to me because I did not think I was desirable or attractive to hope for anything. Robert did not reject me, I think we both wanted one final act to seal the memories between us. They say the road to hell is paved with good intentions. We did not could not finish. Without manic driven arousal or depression numbness, sex was painful. That was how I could tell I was in a “normal” state.

Erik emailed another excuse why we could not meet so I decided to take a side trip and stay a few days in Yosemite; I had always thought of returning with a project to recreate the iconic Ansel Adams photographs anyway. Snow had fallen the night before and I gingerly made my way up the icy walkway up to the bridge viewpoint for Vernal falls. 15 years ago I did not manage to take a good photograph as the Merced river was in full flood and water sprayed all over the bridge. Now I stood in the exact spot and realized that although the falls were still running, the trees had grown much taller in the intervening years till they now obscured the view of the falls. I could no longer recapture the same view, and I suppose I too have grown much older. As I made my way back to my tent accommodations, I stopped when I recognized a copse of trees from across the valley. They were not distinguished nor did they stand out but I recognized them from when I was first in Yosemite with Eric 15 years ago; like muscle memory when playing the piano, the fingers know where to move. And the heart is the muscle that works the hardest.

After fifteen years I passed
by the very spot
we tried to make out
in evening shadow
but thwarted by mosquitoes.

El Capitan (Ascetic Fugitive)

I took the Coast Starlight train from California to Portland. I had fond memories of it back then but like myself it had not aged gracefully. The interior had not been refreshed and it showed, the food in the dining car was limited in selection and meh. There were also multiple delays along the way, and each time it managed to get stuck in an area with no cell reception. Still it was amusing after being stuck for hours somewhere in Northern California to witness a consternation and collective wail amongst the female passengers when the train attendant announced over the intercom that they had ran out of toilet paper.

In Portland I had a happy reunion with Margie and her husband Dave; they married about a year after I’d moved to Ontario. They had known each other since High School but had never dated but reconnected and hit it off after a class reunion. Since then Dave moved to Portland and had to rebuild his career from scratch. I had met Dave briefly on my last visit ages ago albeit briefly, and I got to know him better as we chatted while watching TV. I was happy for Margie to have a wonderful guy like Dave who appreciated her and supported her. It gave me hope that I could find someone like that, I was not just someone who checked some boxes for someone else – there was someone out there who appreciated me for myself.

I was reminded of Chip and Dawn, the couple I met on the packrafting trip. Whenever Dawn experienced difficulty, Chip would take on her extra pack weight. But the true extent was revealed on our last night when Dawn emerged from her tent looking impeccable and smelling fresh to the astonishment of the group. It turned out Chip had hauled full bottles of no-rinse shampoo, conditioner and soap for the entire trip for Dawn to freshen up – the rest of us agreed that that was love, none of use would do that for something so frivolous even for our partners.

Erik did not reply to my emails nor take my calls to confirm when we could meet, so I left some voice messages. I decided to continue on to Seattle and hoped we could connect once I got there.

I called after a long absence,
we had not spoken in years.
The sound of your recorded voice
filled me with strange longing.

Voicemail (Ascetic Fugitive)

I got off the train from Portland. Bob called to tell me Socksy (Smokey’s partner) had passed away, having lost the will to live; she stopped eating and drinking, after Smokey passed away. To her, Smokey went away one day and did not return. My heart broke at her heartbreak and her pain. I arranged for her cremation and promised I will mix her ashes with Smokey’s when I returned so they will be reunited.

I decided to stay in the same hostel on my first trip to Seattle. The hostel experience certainly changed over the years, people used to chat and play games in the common areas, now they sit side by side silently glued to their phones. The room plugs used to taken over by someone’s hair dryer or razer, now they are stacked with 3 to 4 multiplugs to accommodate the chargers for the dorm. Since the atmosphere in the hostel was stifling, I decided to take a walk. I let my legs take me on autopilot as I became lost in thought about Socksy, about Robert, about Eric, about Erik. When I looked up, I saw I was in front of the Stinson Green mansion where Erik had lived in the attic and served as a caretaker when I first met him. I was surprised, this was the last place I thought I would end up. I reflected on the streets I took and realized I had retraced the original route I had taken from the hostel to him as if by homing instinct. I was overwhelmed. “Fuck this.” I sat on a nearby bench and wept. I had always felt guilty harboring lingering feelings for Eric while I was with Erik. After breaking up with Marcus messed me up, I wondered how Erik had changed me. Was it merely a duty and debt for giving me a safe harbor that enabled me to flee Singapore? Now I knew he changed me more than I had suspected, my muscle my memory of this place had been tied to him. What the mantle had been holding up had collapsed, leaving behind a scar.

I followed the route
I carried my belongings
and my heart to you

Se(a)ttle (Ascetic Fugitive)

I finally received a message from Erik that evening. He could not meet as he and a friend decided to take a last minute trip to Vashon Island for the next few days. I thought of backtracking back to Portland but did not want to intrude on Margie and Dave more than I already had. Instead, I decided to take the ferry from Seattle to Victoria, and catch a Greyhound and connecting buses to visit my house on Vancouver Island.

I had not planned to visit and had to make additional last minute arrangements to get a spare key from the security company. When I arrived in the town, one of the first things was to purchase a small rose that I planted in the backyard for Smokey and Socksy. The house was not livable, I was confronted with the half-assed and unfinished renovations that Bob had assured me were done. The basement still leaked, the heating ducts were rusted out, the sewage pipe had backed up again, and the circuit breaker kept tripping in the middle of the wash cycle. So I sat in the middle of a filthy unfinished house as it rained, trying to keep warm on a sleeping bed atop a plank bed while I tried to dry my wet half-clean clothes on a space heater.

What was the point of this? I thought. In the past I had faced the challenges as they came, why is all this bothering so much? Why do I feel it is pointless now and just want to give up? Why did I do all this? Why did I buy a house I did not care for, in a town I could not bother with, on an island I could pass up? And then it hit me. I keeled over at the honesty of a realization so terrifying I did not want admit even to myself. What I had buried and pushed down in order carry on, the rain washed away the sediment exposing it – a part of me was always trying to find my way back to Erik, but now he is moving away, and all this is now meaningless. How terrible to realize I did love him after all this time. I wept into the sleeping bag, why the fuck is my life an endless soap opera? How did I end up like this? What the fuck does it say about me to still love him when I had been treated so?

caught by surprise
I had not realized
i still loved you this much.

I can’t love you anymore.

Confession (Ascetic Fugitive)

In the midst of rain and tears, I received another message from Erik; he was tired from his impromptu trip to Vashon island. Could we push back our meeting for a few days? I was fed up of my feelings. I was fed up of being strung along for almost a month, having to change my plans at the last minute to suit his. Socksy would not have passed away from heartbreak and loneliness if he had not kept me away for so long.

“I’ll be at Maximilien this Sat at 7 pm – show up if you feel like it.” I wrote back. Whether he showed up or not, I no longer cared. I would have my last meal in Seattle in a restaurant overlooking the Sound that we often ate at; it would not be the closure I had hoped for, but it would be closure nonetheless. It was obvious I meant less to him than he meant to me.