After we left the resturant we continued North East for a while on the narrow two lane that threaded through the ever rising hills. We stopped on a bluff by a sign that said "scenic vista". Far below us burdened barges slogged up river against the current toward the locks. The river at this point was divided into channels with low islands cresting wooded above the water. Speedboats and smaller aluminum fishing boats crisscrossed the wake of jet skis whose riders, in bright lifejackets looked like rodeo riders as they bucked across each others paths. My momentary feeling that all was going to be OK had dwindled down to a vague awareness that she was waiting for me to say something significant. As I waited for something other than blankness and a dull feeling of overwhelming doom to fill the gaps in my head part of me regretted having taken this trip with her if only because it had forced my absurd confession of what had been, after I had had time to think about it, an idea that I would have been perhaps wiser to have left unsaid, at least until I had thought it out. But it was too late for that- too late for anything except to finally hash it out or else disappear at the next place we could stop where I had a possibility of escaping from her.
I had been away from this kind of psychodrama for too long and I was out of shape to handle it. The potential and dread of love, or the imagining of it, stirred hungrily within my heart. It was a lie. I knew it but like all lies about potentiality and love, and loss, this one came with such promise of rebirth and, dare I say it, resurrection. I didn't like it one bit. I had learned to live with myself- had finally come to a truce with the non entity that I had created to replace the mythoogical monstor I had once been. Had found, in my invisibility, a respite from the belief that any form of monumentality was a hoax that, in spite of its obvious falseness, must be pursued or at least reconciled to hold some claim on the time it took to live out each moment of its demand on time that otherwise might have been spent in something more vital.
"This is pointless. You know that don't you?" I said, finally putting into words what I had been avoiding.
"Why? You don't believe in miracles?" She responded with that prescient hopefullness that women seem so capable of dredging up out of the detritus of silted sloughed off skin that made up memory.
"Yes I believe in miricles but why do you think I'm talking about miricles? I don't know what this is let alone whether it's a miricle."
"And you're afraid to find out?"
"Something like that."
"Listen. I've got a good idea what it is that you're trying so hard not to tell me and really, it isn't that big a deal. I mean you don't even have to say it if it's such a problem. It's not like I'm expecting to get swept off my feet." She said with a self concious laugh as she tossed back her hair with a nervous sweep of her hand. "I'm too old for that. I know how hard it is to hope for anything. My hope got tucked away in the memory box a long time ago, like my first kiss and the dandilion flower I got from my first boy friend. You seem real, in spite of your tortured soul act. I like real. I suppose that's as good as it gets."
"How do you know it's an act?"
She laughed and punched me lightly on the arm. "Because you try too hard. It's like you read too many books about suffering artists when you were a kid and never learned that you don't need to suffer to be sensitive, or creative, or that love, or the approximation of it doesn't have to be all consuming."
Busted. I didn't know whether she had hit the nail on the head or maybe I refused to admit to myself that she had. What ever it was I suddenly got the feeling that she knew me better than I did myself and it made me feel both resentful and relieved. Living mostly in my own head had made my conversations somewhat predictable, spun my illusions into castles in the air that were both as tenuous and as sticky as cotton candy. The taste for honesty, altough in my own mind I was the most honest of con men, was one that I rarely indulged in, choosing instead to inhabit a fairy tale in which I was forever caught up in the travails of heros and fair maidens trapped by the poisoned apple of life in a bittersweet sleep that left no room for truth but instead colored everything with the unreality of a dream.
"I don't try too hard. I don't try hard enough. I take the easy road. I always wanted all the highlights without having to live through the slogging, day to day work that wasn't nearly so glamourous and look what it got me."
"What did it get you? I don't know anything about you. Where you came from- who you were- god knows, even who you are."
"Be satisfied to find something exciting in mystery. You wouldn't believe my story even if I was willing, or able to tell it to you. Fact is much stranger than fiction. I've chosen not to dwell on either. It's every moment for itself, love. Nothing connected to anything else. That's what I'm trying to do, break the connection."
"Sounds disorienting to me."
She picked up a leaf that lay before her on the dirt backed sliver of rough grass that surrounded our feet. Far below the ponderous barge had moved up to the locks and was waiting for the equally ponderous gates to open. I could see, on the deck, tiny figures with ropes in hand, standing at attention at the bow and stern, waiting for their moment of effort like the cymbol players in an orchestra for their clashing moment of definition in the larger picture of the ensamble. She twirled the leaf in her fingers, searching it as each side displayed its spreading branch of veins and then, seemingly satisfied with what she had read in the tea leaf green of it's surface, she tossed it aside and it went fluttering over the edge and out onto the suddenly bright pocket of air that, warmed by the shaft of sunlight that cut a narrow swath through the blue edged clouds, rose, taking with it the leaf, on a chill breeze off the water below and out into the ever growing distance that stretched over the river.
"It is disorienting. I don't want to talk about what came before . It isn't me. I don't even know if it was me when I was it. I've always felt as if I was a puzzle whose pieces didn't quite fit togather to make up a picture. When I finally did get them to fit it was mostly because of other people who had a reason, their own reason, for needing it to happen."
"You mean you weren't the active partner?"
"I was barely, rarely even there."
"Where were you?" She asked. Suddenly interested, as women always were, in the confessional moments when perhaps they might share in the mysterious emptiness of non communication and silence that made up the lives of the men they were interested in.
"I was someplace else. In my own head for lack of a better explaination. For the most part, what was happening around me wasn't of interest to me except as a background for my own psychodrama."
"So," she replied, pouncing on the obvious but subtly put reference to her superfulousness in my internal drama, "Is that all I am, a background?"
"You? I don't know yet. I'm not that person that I'm talking about. That person, for the most part, died long ago. Now all I am is a nothing man. I have no purpose or power, or glory. I'm, for the most part, invisible."
"Is that what you want? To be invisible?"
"You mean, doesn't my ego hunger and thirst for power and glory? No, not really. It's all phony. Not much of it is worth anything, certainly not worth making a mess out of anyone elses life for. It didn't mean anything to me even when I had it. I only accepted it because I was lazy and it was handed to me. If I would have been required to do the work of attaining it I would have been a complete failure."
She nodded her head. I didn't know if it was because she knew what I was talking about or because she, being somebody that probably had never thirsted after anything greater than to have a comfortable house to live in and a job hat paid the bills, and maybe, if she was lucky, someone to cuddle with at night and grow older with, could relate to my seemingly ambitionless discription of my point of view.
She touched my arm gently with the tips of her fingers and traced its line to my wrist which she encircled with her hand.
"Listen, I don't know anything about you. Who you were, where you came from. My experience of men hasn't been a happy one and distrust them- not you particularly, except that you are one of them. I'm sure that they you as dissimilar to each other at your hearts as are snow flakes however there is a commonality there because after all, a snow flake, like a man, is what it is."
The breeze off the river was starting to rise as the afternoon progressed. Bright reflections off the water ruffled the waves and the bright spring leaves on the steep slope beneath us. In the crook of a branch I saw a nest and wondered at its occupant. I imagined myself as an animal, also in my nest, curled before a fire as the winter snow circled the chimney and the sound of wind whistled in the trees portending a storm. I tried to imagine her next to me but, lacking the inspiration that had gotten me to the point of interjecting her into my imagination in the first place I felt strangely distant from her and, for a moment wished nothing more than to be rid of her but then, what would I do? I had nothing to hope for. Nothing to aspire to that I had not already done except for the thing that my original inspiration had disclosed to me. That life with another might allow me to finally open myself up to something greater than myself. I studied the dirt along the bank where, struggling with a leaf much larger than itself, an ant groped for a grip and then began drawing it away through the tumbled stones and leaves that blocked its way. Such fortitude and single minded purpose made me take hope that, perhaps by applying it to the problem of my life I too might fumble to the success that had eluded me. Again accepting that I had no other alternate person upon whom to fix my efforts and that thus she seemed somehow destined, if only by her proximity, to be that person, who though unwilling would be made willing by my efforts and who, by sharing in my destiny on that homestead which I had imagined myself drawn to posess somewhere in the hills ahead down the highway might transform what had long been a wasted life. I knew that to travel aimlessly from one encounter with experience to another would accomplish no more in the long run than if I would have been a perpetual tourist that only ran from sight to sight, hoping that while being in the superficial proximity of reality I might absorb some of its essence but who, in the end, goes away as empty as when he had arrived, only poorer in spirit of that currency of spirit that causes one to hope for anything.
So there it was. My conclusion was, although not a sentimental one, just as unreal as if it would have been because it was all based upon a moments imagining instead of upon the plodding fortitude that made experience real for the bulk of humanity. But, I rationalized, in my perpetually seperate state, what choise did I have but to accept it none the less? I was too young to think seriously of death and the release from striving that it might make possible and, even in that event, it was unclear if that would in fact be any more definate end than any other experience.
I felt dizzy as if a hole had opened under me that threatened to suck me into a darkness that seemed unavoidably random and inpersonal, like a hit and run. Alone. In that moment of vunerability I reached out to her and, finding her hand, gripped it tightly. She must have understood somehow, in that precience that made women so mysterious, some of what I was experiencing as she returned my grip and then reached out her arm and surrounded my shoulder, drawing me against her, away from darkness into the light.