June 13, 1992
It's been a busy week.
Bill and I started working out what we'll need in the way of climbing and trekking supplies last Sunday and we're only now getting anywhere close to a finalized list. Meanwhile, Tong and Blandy have been working on more military supplies, while Pith has more-or-less acted as a liason between the two efforts.
All right, he's really just been kibbitzing and keeping us supplied with Mendocino greenbud--which hasn't helped our concentration much, but which has done wonders for our morale.
Ten grand per man sounded like a lot of money, but good climbing and mountaineering gear is damned expensive--and we're going to want good gear. It looks as though we're going to need every cent of my REI members' discount.
The bigger problem we face is weight. If this were an Earthly African, Andean or Himalayan expedition, we could depend on hiring local bearers for most of our gear, freeing us to simply hike.
We have to assume we'll be carrying everything ourselves and, as Bill keeps reminding me, there's a good chance we're going to wind up smack dab in the middle of some pretty serious mountains, right off the bat.
"I really think we need a shakedown hike, Drew. Otherwise, we're going to over-pack. I think it would be smarter to get our load down to the essentials before we set out, don't you?"
I couldn't argue with him. The guy is a way more experienced backpacker than I am.
Of course, when we broached the subject to the Bobbsey Twins, their reaction was a little different than mine.
"Yo, yo, yo!" Tong protested. "I look like Mr. Green Jeans to you? I ain't taking no fi'ty-pound hike on no cave boy's say-so. I done got out the Army last year, you know what I'm sayin'?"
"Uh-uh, Scooby Doo, step offa' that."
Blandy egged him on. "Tell it, Brotha'-man!"
"Mister Bill speaks with rightness," Mantami said quietly. "We must be knowing how much to be carrying. If we are not hiking, we will not be knowing."
And that pretty much settled that.
. . .
Bill also insisted we buy new backpacks before we take our shakedown hike.
"But, I have a pack," I protested. "So does Pith, and I'll bet Blandy does, too."
Bill shook his head.
"You have an external-frame pack," he pointed out, gesturing toward my dusty brown American Camper. "They're fine for hiking on the flat, but they suck in high country. You need an internal-frame pack for mountaineering. They balance better and they hold up better in rough conditions."
I surrendered. I do lots of climbing, but it's mostly on rock faces. I'm goal-oriented. When I hike, it's because I'm trying to get someplace to climb something. Overnight hikes in rough country have never really appealed to me as sport. Bill, on the other hand, likes to hike for hiking's sake. I gather he's done a lot of it, under a lot of different conditions.
"I bow to your expert opinion," I said, steepling my hands and suiting action to words, "O flat-footed one."
Bill smiled wryly.
"I wear boots with arch support, O elderly one. And I'm only 25."
. . .
I ran into Alison at Andronico's this afternoon.
Literally, I mean.
I'd just grabbed a bag of Kaiser rolls and was leaving the bread aisle, planning to hit the deli section, as she passed by the meat cooler. I stopped just short of crashing into her shopping cart.
"Hello, Drew," she said levely.
I looked at her, standing there, looking at me, and suddenly the scab pulled off a vast wound I didn't even know I had suffered.
My god, you're beautiful.
"I..I've missed you," I told her, feeling the foolish, inadequate words tumbling out of my face; helpless to stop them and desparate for the gift of instant eloquence.
Her cool, gray eyes regarded me dispassionately, her expression giving nothing away.
"Have you really?" She might as well have been inquiring about the weather.
In that moment, I understood how truly I had spoken, how deeply and achingly I did miss her. Missed her smell on my pillow in the morning. Missed her musical laugh and the "V" of concentration her brows make when I'd watch her be absorbed in reading a novel. Missed her outrage at the political shenannigans in Sacramento and Washington and the way she'd shout at conservative pundits on the radio and TV. Missed the familiar geographies of her body and the way she'd clutch me to her as ecstasy overcame her. Missed the thousand-and-one casual intimacies of our three-year romance. Missed even the fights, the harsh and bitter skirmishes between us, and the reconciliations afterward that transmuted the hostility into accomodation and a keener appreciation of each other's company.
God, I missed her.
The realization clutched at my heart like a hand squeezing a sponge. I'd spent the last week burying myself in the details of Mantami's fantasy excursion, determined to escape from the pain of our relationship's end, rather than from the relationship itself.
And I hadn't realized it, not any of it, until just that moment.
I opened my mouth to tell her, to let the truth spill out of me and onto her, to try, somehow, to make her understand what I, myself, had only just come to know. To tell her how foolish I now knew I had been and how desparately I wanted her back. That I wanted things to be as they'd been..better than they'd been, because I now knew that I loved her and could not be complete without her, that I wanted her and wanted her to want me and that Mantami and company were going to have to chance their great adventure without me, because I was staying here, with Alison, if only she'd have me.
"Hey, Al! I found the balsamic vinegar!"
The voice belonged to a tall, blond, square-jawed guy in a Cal sweatshirt and jeans. He was carrying a jar in either hand as he half-loped toward us from the direction of the ethnic foods section.
"Question is, which kind?"
He walked right past me and up to her and I saw that he was just a kid, really. A tall, gangly kid, perhaps Blandy's age. A kid with eyes for only Alison as he reached her side.
"The Modena Extravecchio, of course," she said, as she stood on tip-toes to kiss the tip of his nose in a gesture of affection I remembered so very, very well.
He grinned at her, the corners of his eyes going all crinkly.
"Of course," he said. "Silly me."
He turned to look at me, as the awful, broken feeling swallowed everything inside me.
Alison turned her empty, gray eyes on me for a long, terrible second's silent appraisal.
"Nobody," she said.
And then she turned her gaze away from me, back up to him, and linked her arm through his and said, "Shall we go look for pasta?"
"Belissima!" he laughed.
And they left me standing there, holding my bag of rolls, my heart shattered like a crusty old glass bong.
(Copyright© 1997 by Thom Stark--all rights reserved)