Monday, Jun. 17, 2019 @ 5:09 pm
Jenna leans her bike against my shoe closet and picks up Alf, strokes his fur. It’s 7:30 am, and we are geared up for hiking. Crows caw outside, breaking the otherwise quiet morning. Robyn arrives shortly, and we pile into her car, and I meet the fourth gal, Lisa.
We drive north up into the mountains. Robyn navigates a rough forest service road, and we hike a long way up to an alpine late. Four women, the dynamic so different from when a man is present. Tough women, the pace is stiff and we pass others easily. I can barely keep up but am determined to not falter.
A grouse whoomps in the forest, and Jenna, a Kiwi only recently arrived in Canada, startles and looks at me questioningly. I reassure her that the sound is a large harmless fowl that lives in the forest.
We arrive at the lake, and the entire basin is still snow-covered. Areas of the lake are melted into slushy holes. I strip down to my bikini. I walk out onto a rocky outcropping that sits adjacent to a slush hole. Four guys from another group, who lay on the rock with bare chests exposed to the hot sun, sit up and cheer me on. I slip silently into the icy water. My body goes into a panic and pumps adrenaline into my blood. I swim for four strokes and then silently emerge and smile up to the guys. My legs shake with the shock. My heart races. I am laughing triumphantly, feeling everything intensely and revelling in the sensations of fear, pain, and excitement.
As we are driving back to the city, Russell messages me and invites me out for dinner. I arrive home, drop my gear, shower, and ride my bike over to meet him. I’ve dressed up nicely in linen, and he has done the same and his shorts are the exact same material as my dress. We go for dinner, then back in his apartment, he kisses me and I feel drugged with endorphins. His hands press into my sunburned back, our clothes in a pile on the floor. This hot summer. These long days. Burning the candle at both ends; I seem to have limitless energy.
He asks me to stay over. I lay awake most of the night, feeling his body pressed up against mine. Each time I move, he shifts in response and resecures his arm around me. The drugged feeling increases with each hour that goes by. My body feels weightless. Everything inside of me is loose and buoyant.
The alarm clock goes off at 7:00 am. He rolls over, kisses my forehead, says good morning.
He makes coffee while I shower, and then we haul our climbing gear down to his car. We pick up Holly en route to the crags.
The day passes on the bluffs. I wedge my body progressively up a chimney. I work my way along several crack routes, shoving my forearm into the narrow space and making a fist to create a hold. Pressing my tightly-shod feet onto minute footholds. The dance up the rock. I run my hands over the granite face as I do Russell’s body. Learning the curves, the imperfections, the heat. Knowing the rock; knowing his body. My face so near to the rocky surface that I smell the minerals, and I push my open mouth against his shoulder. I climb higher and higher, and when I reach the top I look down and make eye contact and nod and he firmly tightens his grip on me. The slow descent to the ground.
When I reach the ground, Holly says, “Nicely done! And, by the way, you’ve got a great climber’s braid. I can’t believe how long your hair is - when I first met you it was all tied up.”
After, we swim together in the ocean. Holly and I bob out in the waves for a while and talk about life. I want to know her more, am grateful for the time I have with her. Her courage, her steadiness, her flashing keen eyes. After, on the shore, we lay in the sun like hauled-up seals. I trace lazy lines on Russell’s warm, tanned back. A bald eagle cries out and rides the thermal above us. Broken shells press into my back.
Later in the night, I sit on the couch in my apartment, Alf kneading my chest. I send him a soft message of gratitude, of caring. He responds with similar sentiments.
I sit for a long time contemplating everything. Why am I so driven to create relationships? What am I aiming for? Why am I continuing to date others? Is there something missing with what I have with Russell, or am I simply seeking reassurance? Will there come a point where I am ultimately reassured and no longer seek outside validation? What does it mean to be ready to love again?
Alf kneads my chest and his purring moves deep into my body. I stroke him from head to tail and breathe in the sweet smell of his fur. I think of diving into the ice-cold lake, of the look on Russell’s face when I successfully climbed the difficult route, of the feeling of his skin against my cheek, the hot hazy summer afternoons, sharing watermelon with my girlfriends, falling asleep with my head on his shoulder and my arm around his strong chest.
There have been moments where I nearly say I love you by accident. I lay naked against him in the middle of the living room floor, and he holds my face and looks into my eyes, and I want to say it. Sitting across from him at the table in the early morning, a mug of steaming coffee between my hands, and I want to say it. Drinking water from the full glass that he brings to me in bed, and I want to say it. Waking up beside him, he kisses my forehead, and I want to say it.
I push my face into the furry abyss of Alf’s stomach and repeat over and over:
I love you. I love you. I love you.