By the time I made it back to camp after my detour, the fire crackled and most of the fish, already gutted, awaited grilling. With his familiar meal routine, I jumped in to assist without direction, although I happily let him finish cleaning the fish. Apples and tomatoes accompanied our meal again, and the only two differences from our previous meal were the absence of sunlight, and he added more fuel to the fire to keep it burning while we ate.
The silence at lunch time likewise characterized our dinner. Whether exhausted or repulsed, he spoke little since the sun vanished behind the mountains, and admittedly, no less than his usual demeanor. The elephant at the campfire sat right next to me, and at moments, I wished it would just sit on me. Perhaps an occasional, “Watch your step,” as we descended the hill as dusk enveloped our path back to camp, but he wouldn’t take my hand or even walk next to me. Not that any place we walked together today was any different, and maybe I merely imagined the widening chasm, but we remained silent until we nearly finished eating.
“All things considered,” I finally broke the silence hoping to salvage the day, “what grade do you give on my first time camping?”
“I’m grading you?”
“I’m asking for a performance analysis.”
“You said you’d been camping before.”
“Yes, but with public facilities, designated campsites, running water – and I don’t mean a nearby creek – with my air mattress and prepared sandwiches. This is far more rogue than when I camp alone. Does my previous experience help or hinder my grade?”
“Air mattress and prepared sandwiches?”
‘You have your camping routine, I have mine.”
He quietly considered my performance. He ought to weigh in my new-found ability to fish, and although he did not witness it, the extensive contortionism with which I experimented as part of adapting to my primitive restroom facilities also deserved high marks.
“I’d give you a solid C.”
Wow, a C. I thought I might get a B, or perhaps even a B plus. I did build one fire by myself.
“Is there any way to bump my grade up to a C plus?” I would be willing to learn a new camping skill, I’d even try wielding his axe, but I wasn’t going to share any of my latrine highlights to bolster my grade. I would forego those extra credit points. They were far more personal than my earlier proposition.
He pondered silently and then provided me an option for improvement. “Tell me about the guy you left behind when you moved to Wyoming, the one with whom you ‘parted ways.’”
I was shocked by his request. First, this in no way related to camping, upon which I was playfully being graded. Second, I did not want my history on review this weekend, because if it were, I’d be shocked to earn a C. Third, why did he want to know about Jason? I certainly did not plan to discuss him now, or at any time in the future. Fourth, this marked the second time he inquired about my dating history – a topic I had purposefully avoided asking him as well.
Perhaps my own analysis of his intent and my appropriate response mirrors the same thought process that goes on in his mind when he allows long pauses between responses. I desperately wanted to continue to avoid this subject, but how to distract his attention challenged me. His knack to return to topics after extended lapses of time bewildered me, but I did have an idea, and a truthful one at that.
“It wasn’t a guy. It was a girl.”
I watched his face for his reaction, and he raised an eyebrow, which may have been his one facial feature that went unnoticed until now. My detour’s desired effect distracted him enough and I hadn’t provide any misinformation.
“So?” I inquired, “C plus?”
“B minus.” Not bad, I’d take it.