In spite of my struggles, I aced my final year research thesis and landed a coveted job quite by accident (I went to the interviews intending them as “practice”). I did not attend graduation, I was sick of everyone in the school, and took another backpacking trip to the US before I started my job.
Like continental plates bound by the other to move inexorably in one direction, I returned once again to Eric for more of the same. The water stain on his ceiling from my last visit, when I did not close the faucet properly and water overflowed through the floor, was still there. I was secretly glad that there was a reminder of me, even it was a stain in his house and his life. I was never once angry with Eric at how he treated me, I was already broken when we met. I would have been too much work for a Prince used to perfect things. Only I can piece myself together; he just rearranged the pieces and shaped my heart.
In the two years watching Eric chat up other guys in gay.com chatrooms (and ignoring me), some guys began chatting with me and I befriended them. We arranged to meet up at some point during my trip and hike together. Continents eventually fracture and slowly drift apart.
The distinctive rock formations of Joshua Tree National Park are joint weathered monzogranite that was formed when volcanic material was forced towards the surface by tectonic plate movements. Kenneth took me to explore a deserted bunker in the area. There was some issue with his truck so Kenneth pulled over the side of the dirt road to address it. I got out and my eyes followed the valley to the hazy mountains. In the distance I saw the silhouette of a jackrabbit hop towards the dirt road and cross it in a surprisingly tall bound.
Kenneth put me at ease, I was always on my guard with other people. He heard me singing “The Saga of Jenny” softly enroute. Instead of the usual criticisms or comments on my “unusual” voice, he said “That sounds pretty cool, sing louder so I can hear it better!” No one has ever said that to me before or since.
We hung out in his apartment where he ran a safety supply business and I befriended his 21 year old cat Honky who was on kitty dialysis. She lay on a cushion looking out the window, unfazed by the regular cacophony of passing fire trucks.
“You know, it’s really rare.” he said, starting up the truck. “It’s rare to find someone who loves the desert too.”
I smiled at him in agreement. We gave each other pet names: he called me bunny, I called him coyote. I think if my life and circumstances had been different, we would have had a grand time together.
It started as a joke. When I made the connection that the Tommy I was chatting on gay.com was the same Tommy whose ex had gone out with Eric, I joked that we should get together so we can start a love quadilateral. He thought it was hilarious.
We spent a day hiking in Big Basin Redwoods State Park, a bowl-shaped depression formed from the seismic uplift of the Waddell Creek watershed. We hiked past California Redwoods, waterfalls and so many banana slugs. “That cute guy is checking you out”, Tommy teased when we passed another hiker at Berry Creek Falls. “That’s because I look like a homeless person” I retorted, gesturing to my mismatched outdoor ensemble that I put together for practicality not style. We missed a turn off or two and found ourselves lost. We weren’t worried at first but we turned grim as the sun began to set. We had to rush and push ourselves to find our way back to the car before it got dark. Towards the end, we were practically running and stumbling on tree roots, but we made it.
Tommy took me out to a nice restaurant for dinner. “I like that you can do the outdoor stuff and the culture stuff,” he told me “Not many people can do that.” He asked if I could stay with him longer. I declined, I had things already planned. He pressed me for my itinerary; I did not realize then he would come to dominate the rest of the trip.
When Eric heard I had stayed with Tommy, he sent me a snippy email asking whether I was going to marry Tommy. I could not tell whether he was jealous of me or Tommy.
I was unpacking my backpack in the guest room when Robert appeared at the doorway naked. He looked like a Greek statue with downcast eyes “It is not much. I hope you like what you see.”
I was not prepared for this. Robert’s retired partner had left for the club and Robert and I had planned on hiking together. They met when Robert was in his 20s and he had taken care of Robert who did not have to work. Now that he is retired and Robert is in his 40s, Robert is taking care of him. Robert had been restless, moving every few years. I sensed Robert’s insecurities about himself and his future to approach me like this. And I know full well the pain of rejection after baring oneself.
“I do like you” I smiled gently and we embraced. A beautiful man like him thought I was attractive, and part of me selfishly wanted to feel beautiful for once.
We hiked sections of the California coast together, buried sediment uplifted and cut by waves, and stole kisses in secluded coves. I was familiar with the feeling, the song I’d repeated ruefully in my room in Singapore for the past 2 years.
Married man, you are what I want for nowNothing Like You’ve Ever Known (Song & Dance)
A love that is not around me day and night
Sounds just right
And nothing like you’ve ever dreamed.
I’ll be there when your life needs a little shine, love.
When you go I’ll cry no tear,
for a love without tomorrow suits me fine, love.
South Kaibab-Bright Angel
The Grand Canyon is one mile deep with multiple impassable cliff bands. The Bright Angel Fault provides one of the few direct routes to the Colorado down the broken, shattered rocks; one of the few breaks in the massive cliff faces that enable descent into the canyon.
I hated the South Kaibab-Bright Angel and not because I had a miserable sleepless night before on the Grand Canyon rim trying to keep warm in a campground outhouse. Trying to minimize weight, I had only packed a blanket tarp and light clothing – forgetting the rim is 7000 feet above sea level and temperatures plummet at night. I had to retreat to the outhouse to shield myself from the cold winds blowing across.
It is said that path to enlightenment requires hardship, solitude and beauty. The South Kaibab and Bright Angel did not check those boxes, with a steady stream of jostling hikers and tourist mule trains. The Tonto section between them was distanced from the rim and the river, I did not feel the connection to the canyon that I did before. I could not draw any strength. Instead of solace, I trudged on fatigued, dwelling on Eric and whether I was to live past 30 in Singapore. The heat was intense, more so than my last trip; I ran out of water and was on a verge of heatstroke when I reached the oasis of Indian Gardens, with blisters upon blisters on my soles and soul.
Robert drove from San Diego to pick me up when I hobbled out the next day. I did not ask him to but he did anyway. I was glad to see him, I liked him, but he was attached to another man. We waited hours at a gas station for a mechanic to drain the fuel tank and fix the engine because he had accidentally filled his diesel car with petrol at the last gas station. I didn’t mind because it extended the time I was around him. When we got back on the road again, I dozed off and dreamt of what would never be.