This post is in response to The Daily Post challenge given by WordPress where we’re to describe a character in our life. While wanting to stay focused on simplicity, I chose the simple man in my life.
When I met him, there was a ferret named Zephyr living in his boot. A pot of beans sat discarded on the dashboard, along with the ferret poop, and an odd assortment of tapes: George Winston, Lynyrd Skynrd, the Steve Miller Band, Indigo Girls, and the soundtrack from Man from Snowy River. The usual signs of disheveled cramped bachelor living littered the white, 1970s Volkswagen bus. An unmade bed crowded the middle of the cab with a couple of mealy, dirt-stained pillows. Discarded shirts and ripped jeans lay strewn across the floor. The Grateful Dead decal on the back window caused me to check the pipes scattered on the counter … tobacco.
He arrived with my pen pal, Donald Miller, an outspoken Republican, vicious Baptist, and brilliant poet. I love enigmas and Donald was one. I fancied I’d marry him someday just because I couldn’t figure him out. Instead, I married his friend. Unbelievably, Paul’s good looks were lost on me. Introspective and bookish, I hardly noticed. It wasn’t until after I fell in love with him that I relished his godlike body, his deep dimples, his surfer blonde hair, and his lifeguard tan.
When Paul shook my hand and introduced himself, he gave a nod of deference that smacked of the South, like he grew up saying, “Yes’m” and “No’m”. Turned out, the formative first five years were in Texas and the gentle, casual grace of old-fashioned etiquette never left him, even after five years in southern California and ten years in the high desert of Oregon.
The date was May 10th, 1993. I invited them in, offered them refreshments, and we talked in the living room, catching up on Donald’s life as a youth pastor for a mega-church in Texas and my semester in Costa Rica. I had just arrived home the previous week. Paul fell asleep.
Convicted for not including him enough, I assessed his outdoor apparel and invited the two of them on a walk. They accepted. The rich and mellow air buzzed with insects, the infamous Mt. St. Helen’s sat primly on its base of blue hills, and we strolled, cutting through neighbor’s fields and driveways. I suffered from reverse culture shock after returning to the United States and had spent most of the week home, terribly sick, and lost in my own thoughts. Perhaps this explains why I said whatever came to my mind, which was, “Do you ever love someone so much, you wish you could eat them up?” I was thinking of my little brother, who we adopted from Colombia four years before.
Donald gave me a strange look and laughed. “No,” he said.
Paul paused in the driveway and looked directly at me, into me. “Yes,” he said, “I do. I know what you mean.”
We reached the river bottom where the grass erupted in brilliant newness, chartreuse blades poking through the dark dirt. By this time, Paul removed his shirt, tucked it into the back of his shorts, and took off his shoes. He ran across the meadow like a Northwestern version of Mowgli, one with the tamed wildness of an uninhabited river bottom.
Donald and I reached the river and sat among the tall grasses to talk.
“How are you, Donald?” I said, attempting to read his expressions. “How are you really, really, really?”
“Oh, it’s been so awesome,” he said. “Traveling with Paul. We hiked the Grand Canyon, and visited Tucker in California. We’ve been doing some crazy stuff.” His eyes shifted toward the direction Paul had run. “Paul is really great. I mean, he’s as cool as he looks, like he’s genuine.”
“But I want to hear about you,” I said.
“Me? I’m doing great.”
“Have you been writing?” I asked.
“Yeah, I’ve been doing some writing.”
“I want to see it.”
Paul erupted from the water in front of us, shouting in boyish glee to surprise us. We started and laughed. He smiled, shook the excess water from his head, turned, and dove back into the river, emerging far downstream where the rapids began.
Eventually, we hiked back out, avoiding the stinging nettles reaching their long arms across the path. By then, my interest in Paul heightened. That night, Donald went to the van early and I stayed up all night with Paul, talking about … what do young people talk about into the night? We can’t even remember the conversations. We only remember they were captivating and we fell asleep at 4 a.m., holding hands
We awoke at dawn. We cut across the fields again to my family’s homestead – the farm where my grandfather grew up and the farm where my father spent the summers. We stood in the yard, holding hands, and as the sun peered over the horizon and shone upon us, we melded together. The moment lasted forever and has never ended. It still exists. It’s still happening.
When we walked back, I put my arm through his, shyly, like we hadn’t spent the night together and like I hadn’t gushed about philosophy and spirituality and Costa Rica. I looked sideways at him and brushed aside the wish to write him off because he was good-looking. I rationalized, “Just ‘cause they’re good looking doesn’t mean they’re shallow. I mean, he looks like a guy bimbo, but he’s not a bimbo. He’s like Donald said … genuine.”
Two weeks later, I was illegally camping with him in Black Butte Ranch and working as a housekeeper for the resort. The spring was unusually rainy for the high desert of Central Oregon and we had to shift our camp to higher ground. We lived on apples, bread, and Grape Nuts eaten dry out of the box. After closing time, I followed Paul through a winding path deep into the woods. He’d stop, analyze a rock in the moonlight, and cut right, or peer at a tree bent across the path which meant we turned left. Once in our sleeping bags under the stars, Paul’s ferret tried to make a nest out of my hair at nights or awoke us with his antics. We watched the stars until we fell asleep. When I had to go to the bathroom, I stumbled around the aspen suckers, trying to find a safe place to go without impaling myself. Once morning came, we went to work – me to housekeeping and Paul to lifeguarding. Neither of us owned a watch. We went to work when the sun hit a notch Paul had carved on the aspen in front of our camp.
One night, Paul left to meet an obligation. The obligation included a visit to the girlfriend he broke up with when he left on the United States trip a year ago.
For the first time, I felt out of control. I liked him. I wanted to say love, but knew I was stupid to say it so soon. I hadn’t fallen for anyone like this before. I could sense the danger my heart was in. It was a set up to get hurt. I hung around the camp, fiddling with items hanging from the clothesline, listless and praying, “Please, God, don’t let him fall for her again. Bring him home to me. He belongs with me here in this crazy little camp. Bring him home to me.”
The rain came, which added to my misery. It was cold. I was alone. Paul was elsewhere.
I fell asleep. Sometime in the night, he climbed in beside me. The rain increased, pounding our tent. The water trickled over the floor, soaking my back. I whimpered.
“Climb on top of me,” Paul said.
I obeyed. The rain fell harder. The trickle running through our tent increased until a small stream hit the side of Paul’s head and pooled beside his neck before running down towards his feet.
I got up to look at the ridiculous situation we were in. Paul sat up, grinned, and suddenly reached down into the stream. He yanked his hands and bobbled an imaginary trout in his hands.
“Look!” he said. “I caught a fish!”
Laughing, he pulled me back into his arms.
I slept sweetly after that, rain and all, and ever since.
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