I opened my eyes. My camping companion drove with his gaze fixed ahead, but while I was hiding myself inside my memories, he removed his cowboy hat and set it on the seat between us. I touched its brim, just to give my hands something to do, and somewhere for my gaze to fall. I swallowed the dryness in my mouth and tried to explain myself.
“If I could forget just one day of my life, that would have been the day, because I literally saw myself the way Jason saw me.
“The next day after school, I bought my tent and sleeping bag and found a decent campsite about twenty miles away, but spent a week just locked in my car. I’d arrive at school at the last minute, I’d leave as soon as the day was over and I never let myself be alone until I found a way out.”
He pulled the truck off the side of the road, opened the door and climbed almost as quickly as he halted our forward movement. My hand, still braced against the glove compartment from the sudden stop, had not moved even after he already closed the door behind him. Engine trouble? Did we hit an animal?
I wanted to simply to enjoy the scenery before we put the mountains and the weekend behind us and escape the place where my mind unwillingly traveled and remember just the tranquility of the forest. Buried in hate and images I wanted to extract from my mind, looking out the truck window to see beauty would suffice, but now I could barely hold my head up to see where he went, or why we stopped. I hated that this beautiful, tranquil, powerful scenery was now tangled in my most horrific recollections. The contrast between the two battled violently in my gut.
I suddenly realized how thankful I was that he pulled over regardless of his reason. My abdomen burned with the upheaval of pains clinging to tortured memories. The vivid images I didn’t describe to him still appeared in front of my eyes. My stomach tightened for a reason. I quickly unbuckled my seat belt, opened the door, and practically fell out of the truck spewing and hurling into the grassy shoulder. Ever since I left Texas, Jason tumbled farther into my past, and I thought I pushed him far enough back that he didn’t make me suffer, but clearly it was not far enough.
My brain connected the words into the simplified version I could speak, and the rest, the words I couldn’t tell the Lumberjack, the images I didn’t want to describe, were forcing themselves out vehemently, rancid and noxious contaminating the solitude and silence of the mountains. Yet again, my awkwardness overtook me. I squatted down to keep myself from falling over, and spent several minutes emptying the taste of pain from my system.
As I attempted to lift myself back inside, I could see him wandering behind the truck, staying safely off the right of way, and once seated, I leaned my head back glancing toward the distinct line between the deep greens of the tree line, the sharp gray edges of the granite peaks, and the brilliant blue of the sky. Somewhere a cloud may have dotted its singularly colored palette over the mountains, but my strength was zapped too much to even scan the skies for a small white puff of cloud, much less investigate where my driver disappeared. Perhaps nature called him.
By the time he returned to the truck, I fixed the image of the outside scenery in my mind, closing my eyes against the reality of the day and the visions I didn’t want to see, imprinting the colors and shapes, draping them over the painful memories like clean clothes masking the boxes lingering in my apartment. I felt him touch my leg, so gently, in fact, that I thought I may have imagined it again.
I opened my eyes downward towards the spot and confirmed I did not imagined the sensation. Laying on my leg were a half dozen yellow and lavender wildflowers, snapped from their mountainside and brought to my side. Tiny daisies, petite stems, grasped in his giant hands.
I glanced over at him, standing in the open doorway, as he pushed his seat back, having retrieved the roll of paper towels. He climbed in and fastened his seatbelt after placing the roll between us against the back of the seat. “My gender needed to redeem itself.”
‘Thank you,’ seemed inappropriate for such a sudden and gallant gesture. Nonetheless, I whispered the words as if my breath might damage his offering. He then offered me a bottle of water, which he even opened for me. I unlatched the truck door again, rinsed out my mouth and spit the water onto the ground. I held the handle of the door leaning outward and wondered how I found my way from being handcuffed to Jason’s stair rail to the comfort of this truck? The paper towels likewise came in handy, as he must have known I would need them.
He finally looked at me as I took another drink and tried to smooth my dirty hair, and perhaps not knowing what to say, he offered, “That’s not love.”
“I know.” I didn’t expect him to say anything at all, what could he have said? “What did Ethan and David say?”
He didn’t answer at first, and before he turned the key he turned and looked at me. “It really doesn’t matter.” Maybe he just didn’t want to repeat the words.
“Yeah, I know. It doesn’t matter.”
He looked surprised. “You wanted to know. We made a deal.”
“We did. The deal was I tell you what Jason did to me and you prove that I can trust you.”
He paused, and for the first time since I began telling him what he’d ask to know, his eyes looked directly at mine. He started the engine and navigated back onto the road as I put on my seatbelt.
I let him get up to speed before telling him the rest of the story.