Tuesday, Jun. 25, 2019 @ 1:34 pm
Cabin in the Woods
Russell finishes stoking the fire and turns towards me. We are standing in a small cabin deep in the woods of the Pacific Northwest, a cabin that he helped build with his own hands. The rest of the group are out in the mountains on a hike. We stayed behind to rest his injured calf, the weather mixed and moody, mist coming down in waves from the mountains.
As he turns towards me, a slow song comes on, a romantic and sweet song that hits a nostalgic spot for both of us despite our difference in age. He puts one arm around my waist and takes my other hand in his, and he leads me around the living room. Turns me away into a circle, and brings me back in close to him. Kisses my neck and my cheek.
We dance like this together in the woods. Ferns and huckleberries growing thickly on the ground around the cabin, fir and cedar trees tall and swaying above. A fire burning warmly, the air smelling of coffee and woodsmoke. I am living in a dream. The perfection of this moment, all I’ve ever wanted, all I’ve ever dreamed of.
We travelled here in his camper van, the traffic horrifyingly bad on the highway though he didn’t seem to care. We sang along to songs and laughed, and I had my hand on his shoulder or leg the entire time; I can’t stop touching him.
I hold our documents as we approach the border. I glance at his passport. My focus narrows in on the birth date. He was born on the same day as my mother.
Once stateside, we shop for groceries then arrive at the cabin with a box of food and wine and beer. I place the box on the kitchen counter and introduce myself to his friends - his inner circle - two other couples. Am I part of a couple? A drink is passed to me, and we gather on the fir needle-covered deck and talk. The men eventually leave to cook dinner, and I lean in and delve deep into conversation with the two other women. I can do this.
The wives are both smart, active, and optimistic. They make me want to do better, to be better, to give more to the world.
The night gets boozy, and Russell and I part from the group and slip into the hot tub that is perched in the woods, vine maples arching delicately overhead. The steam rising up in the twilight. So quiet. Deadened silence of the forest. We leave the jets off, and I float up to him, and we are kissing in the dark, the warm water all around us, his hands on my back and my legs around his waist. A perfect moment, suspended weightless in warm water in the middle of a grove of ferns and salal. Cedar-scented wind rustles the underbrush. He holds me close and tells me beautifully kind things that melt everything within me.
We sleep in his camper van, tangled together in the narrow bed. There is no moment in the night in which we are not touching, holding each other, pressed against each other. I feed on his warmth. The times when we are both awake, we are kissing. His light snoring soothes me like ocean waves. I love to hear it; it reminds me that he is alive and beside me.
“I feel lucky to be here, to be here with you,” I whisper to him in the dark. He responds by tightening his grip on me and kissing my cheek.
The next afternoon, there is a moment in which I am overcome with gratitude. To be here, to be included in this. I feel safe and loved and so lucky to have this moment. The kindness of humanity. I could die in this moment and leave the earth fully completed, fulfilled, with all of my needs met. It seems as though I’ve spent my entire life working towards this exact moment. The fire crackling, a large black dog leaning against my leg, a glass of aromatic French red wine, and Russell’s hand on top of my hand under the table, the Douglas fir trees growing tall and straight around us, and the sound of laughter from the other side of the room.
On the last night, we sit around the table and they teach me a card game. I lose the first few rounds as I learn the rules. Slowly I catch on and figure out the algorithm. I rise up from sixth place, to fifth place, to fourth place. They start to notice. By the last round, I make my bid confidently and play out my hand. When the scores are tallied they all turn to look at me. I look around and count up the multiple doctorate degrees and cumulative decades of post-secondary education… it’s a worthy accomplishment to come out on top in this group.
When we are leaving the next day, his friend asks if I’m coming with them all again next weekend. I shrug, “Yes?” and look at Russell, unsure what he wants.
“You passed. Other than the slight problem of you winning both games - you might want to let others win next time - you get 100%. It’d be great to see you again next weekend.”
As we are driving home, he turns on some music. He drives us out of the mountains and onto the long straight stateside country roads. We both start singing along to a song at the exact same moment. We look at each other, and I’m singing the higher part in harmony, and there is such utter levity in this moment. I realize that this playfulness, this element of fun, was completely missing in my previous relationships.
We travel like this for a while, and then a song comes on that I do not know. He continues singing, and I listen to his voice shape the words and carry his own version of the melody.
“You know how to sing,” I comment, more a statement than a question.
“I was taking lessons last year,” he answers.
He drops me off in front of my apartment. We lean into each other for a long while, and I press my nose into his neck and the fabric of his shirt.
I unpack and pull on my running tights and head out into the forest that borders the city. I run alongside creeks and through groves of conifers. Dodge tourists laden with cameras, maps, and water bottles. I run as fast as I can, my feet barely touching down. My breath measured and strong. My hair fastened into two long braids that trail out behind me. I finish after eight kilometres. I’m walking along an unsanctioned forested pathway behind the apartment buildings, and two crows are dive bombing me. I have my arms up in the air to protect myself from their wrath when my phone pings.
“Do you want to come over for dinner?” We’ve been apart for ninety minutes.
I arrive two hours later with salmon, vegetables, and a cold bottle of white wine. We cook together; I trim the green beans and shuck the corn; he slices the yam into sticks and coats them with starch and salt and spices and lays them in a neat row on a tray to slide into the oven. The salmon in a pan, two thick slabs of pink flesh, wild and fresh, the most beautiful fish and the most beautiful summer vegetables.
We eat at the table with the sun setting into the mountainous horizon, the ocean calm and dotted with paddleboarders and kayaks. Crows making a raucous in the trees outside.
“Karen messaged me this afternoon,” he says. “She said that ‘Shannon is awesome’.”
“That’s nice of her to say,” I respond, my cheeks flushing, “And that’s nice of you to tell me.”
“It means a lot coming from her. She is picky and exacting and hasn’t especially liked the women that I dated in the past.”
“I appreciate honesty. I think that her selectiveness shows how much she cares about you.”
“I really must reiterate: it’s rare for her to like someone, nevermind wholeheartedly declare someone to ‘be awesome’. Though you did like their dog, so that probably accounts for more than half of it.”
The sun sets into a pastel palette reminiscent of citrus sorbet. Melon and tangerine, soft oranges and pinks. I stand at the open patio door with a glass of wine in my hand, and he comes up behind me and holds me. I lean back into him. The ease of this.
A while later, laying together on the couch, he sings along unabashedly to the song. Love me, love me, say that you love me. I sing the next line and then he sings the next line and soon my heart is exploding because it’s taking all of my willpower to not say ‘I love you’.
The office administrator comes by my desk.
“We want a new headshot for you. The old one is… well… it doesn’t represent you well. I think we can get a better photo.”
The morning of the photo shoot, I wake up in Russell’s bed, feeling blissfully drugged from hours of his skin against mine. I run my hands through my hair and decide to let it be, to embrace the waves. The photographer lines up the camera. I look into the lens and pretend that I’m looking at Russell, that he’s walking towards me.
An hour later, the photographer sends me the photos. I look at them and am confused. They look different. I look different. I look healthy. I look happy.