Relationships- or, Looking for That Spatial Someone
(Editor's Note: This article was penned during a long period of bachelorhood in 2004. As many of my friends know, the situation in my own life has since changed considerably. But I think the questions and concepts of the article still apply to modern life and dating. Replies, critiques and debate welcome. Cheers!)
The shade under the trees is deep and green, the beer achingly cold after twelve hours of hellish dust and noise and heat. It cuts through the yellow dirt and the stench of deisel, filling the back of my throat with cool relief as I look out over the site and settle back in the Cruise master's rear booth seat.
Across the tiny, slanting table sprawls Stan, a tiny, slanting man burned and seamed by years skinning Cats and riding heavy equipment in the sun and wind, the snow and freezing rains that are an operator's lot in this part of the south. A cigarette burns in his gnarled fingers as he raises his own beer in the other hand and finishes half of it at a gulp.
"Hell, Stan... one evening you oughta just crash here when I head out to the hotel."
Stan might be the next owner of the mighty white Cruiser, and it occurred to me that this would let him avoid the commute, drink another beer or four with me after a hard day's work, and allow him to check out his potential new purchase, all in the same throw of the proverbial stone.
He looks first surprised and then horrified, all while slightly bemused. One hand clutches the sweating beer just a bit tighter, and his voice rises slightly as he answers.
"Oh... oh, no way, man..." Stan shakes his head, glances up at me over the rims of his glasses. "Nah, man... the old lady would swear I was out with someone else."
I sit and try to absorb this, but the thought is completely beyond me. Echoes of it come from the ghosts of friends and climbing partners down through the years. Someone who loves you would begrudge you a night spent drinking beer and kicking back with friends, would mistrust you even if you had witnesses who would swear you were doing absolutely nothing out of the way? "What in the Name have you done to this woman to make her think like that, and what in the world did you do with your friends when she met you?" He looks amused and says, "That's why you're still single."
Now THAT one hits home.
And so, an exploration, a fumbling of thoughts that actually holds relevance, I swear, towards a climbing end, in the end, or long before, if I shut up and get busy typing.
I have found endless company along this, for the most part, empty road through Wonderland, loved and been loved with a passion that rocked the stars and raised the bar perhaps higher than most mortals aspire to soar.
That's not just a lot of melodrama... I'm a lot like Calvin's analysis of Hobbs- "Tigers have two speeds- off, and turbo." I live large, I love large... seems logical to me. It also seems far more than most lasses can bear, and far more than most lads are capable of. Perhaps romance and adventure, and the beautiful union of the two are all succumbing to the dumbing down of the planet, we see in most of the rest of daily life.
I admit it, I'm a hopeful romantic, somehow surviving beneath this cynical armor. Despite long absence of true affection, I still continue on, seeing most of the lost horizon and the wonders along its length in the company of my own thoughts, and honestly pretty happy that way.
Save for two notable exceptions, none of the wonderful, intelligent, inspiring, amazing, desirable creatures who have crossed my Path and shared my- er- belays has ever quite gotten the hang of me, I think. People like life to be pleasant, which it is not, mostly, and to be simple, which it daily refuses to be in any conceivable way.
I have rarely had the sense to keep my big mouth shut when asked my opinions. The exceptions to my long run of disaffected goodbyes got it, all right... one got over it and turned away on the threshhold of a dream, and the other had a mountain to climb.
So, lost one to life and one to the high places. The first, though still inexplicable, is common enough- people change and grow, and often brave new facades collapse in the face of an inescapable change; throwing caution to the winds, kissing your hateful job and all the same old places you grew up in good-bye and stuffing your life in a backpack to live on the road and explore yourself and the country and each other and just climb for six months. that is a major leap of faith, and anything short of perfect Zen will fall screaming into the Void, or run pell-mell from its brink.
The second- The One That Got Away- well, as I said, she had to go climb a mountain, Now THIS is definitely something I can understand. That's always been a place of closure for me as well; of solace and, if nothing else, escape from questions. I said it once before- "If there are no answers in the desert, there are no questions, either."
Alone, gripped and cranking high on a big boulder somewhere, or stepping out onto tenuous solo aid moves, or, I imagine, standing on the shoulder of some massif with spindrift hissing around your knees and shoulders and the wind screaming in your ears, there is a peculiar satisfaction with simply being there, in the moment, functioning and moving upwards, and onwards, towards the dream.
Of course, then you gotta go spew about it to someone. This is why pubs were invented... not all sports enthusiasts had friends. Of course, most climbers and mountaineers only call people "friend" if they need a drink, a partner, or if they owe them money- really the same thing, if you think about it. People need people.. even socially maladjusted misanthropes like myself.
God help you all, its most of the reason I come along here and yammer at you from time to time. Could I find a soul so patient as to endure the other 75% of my life- working out of town, possibly being out of touch for long stretches, relaxing with almost nuclear intensity and then piling gear into a vehicle and filling all remaining space with supplies on Friday afternoon to drive hours into the nearest concentration of public land and/or climbing, there to remain until the last possible second Sunday, when we will drive back already making plans for the next strike, donating part of each and every paycheck to maintaining and expanding The Rack, settling for cheaper cars because the other $2000.00 buys a lot of beer and climbing- could I find a climbing/hiking/outdoors goddess willing to endure that for the substantial rewards said endurance brings, I would likely and have before fallen silent, at least briefly.
With an ear there to hear my farfetched meanderings and introspections at the moment of inception, much drivel be lost to the world. I could continue on my tiny climbing way; burning and cranking and aging silently into the humus without so much noise and fuss. The World and the Internet would be a much more PC place, and you could all go over About.rockcliming or rock.rek and read really interesting and meaningful things.
Alas for you all, so far, as I said, many strikes and two outs.
I have tried my hand at self pity... I am extraordinarily good at it, and it is disgusting in hindsight, which follows by about two seconds if you are honest and two years if you are only mortal. Having wallowed in the Lough of Despond, I decided, after drinking and smoking and snorting my way up to a short-winded, heart-pounding two hundred and thirty pounds, that self pity felt worse than loneliness and that the view from the heights was better. I gave up smoking cigarettes, kicked out most of the inhaled demons, gave up my love affair with bourbon, and got healthy, heading back out on the rock to sweat out the poisons and drive out the demons. I reasoned that, if nothing else, it kept open the option to jump.
So I travel on, alone and yet never alone. Because I honestly do not think about it too much, I do not so much choose this mode of travel as tacitly accept it. Seeing what's beyond the next pass is more important than seeing what's beyond the next pass, get it?
Oh, before anyone asks... No, I am NOT gay. Lord... if there is a more enthusiastic heterosexual on the planet, please let me meet her. PLEASE, Lord. Besides, I'm pretty sure that if potential homosexuals ever smelled a climber who's been bivvied in the same capilene for three days of portaledge burritos and climbing in the sun on scary aid in between, they would never, ever think of going that way.
So I sit in bars and envy lucky couples. I admire beautiful women in libraries and restaurants, and enjoy the presence of young, healthy female bodies at the crag and gym, occasionally on the other end of my rope, usually with someone else's wedding band on their hand. Oddly enough, it rarely during or after these moments that I am more aware of being single. It is after long, long periods of solitude, often followed by intense activity, when I suddenly become aware of myself after a period of almost "not-being."
Man that was a steep hike yesterday. Sure would be nice to be watching this alpine sunrise with someone snuggled up in another bag here beside me… maybe over on that left side… wind’s been giving me a helluva chill over there all night.
Man… what a killer line! That was an awesome approach… fourth class my ass! Boy… sure wish there was someone here to share this with… maybe she’d have some cheap gear we could bail on.
Alright, alright, so maybe I'm being just the tiniest bit facetious. But it is a paradox. Because I am a single male, I have had the time and luxury to travel and explore and pretty much throw myself headlong into the uncertain arms of adventure for most of what has passed for my adult life. Because I have had time to do this, I have experienced a life unlike very many people I know. If things had been different, that might not be so, and I know damned good and well that I wouldn't want to give up any of this.
Because I once succumbed to an unsuccessful attempt to propagate the species, sacrificing all else to kneel before the god of procreation, I sometimes suspect that I have been somehow marked with the sign of Caine. I do not know how much of this is inner perspective and how much is outer manifestation of that stance. I have lost much of my innocence, but oddly gained in faith and hope. I know that I do not know. I understand so much about humans, and still completely fail to comprehend, except in the broadest of general terms, how the same state of mind on my part, with no more outward manifestation than expression, makes some people very nervous-
“What is wrong, man? No…really… you can tell me. Okay, okay… suit yourself!”
-makes some people very comfortable-
“Hey, bro… you want some of this? Its from home but its purty good….”
-and produces diametrically opposed reactions from the fairer sex.
I also know that, if I did not have the time alone in the wilderness to think about all this and more, most of it would not occur to me, except as one of those maddeningly brilliant flashes that come an instant before you fall asleep and absolutely refuse to return the next day… or ever, for that matter. Then I'd go mad in my little cubicle and my wife and 3.2 kids would never see me anyways, except on weekend visits.
Damned if you do, damned if you didn’t.
Does it matter? I don’t know? This is a Chautauqua, of sorts, and there is no promise of an answer at the rambling rainbows end. For those of you more in search of my usual brand of action-packed stream-of-consciousness narrative, please bear with me and perhaps learn a bit more about the heart that drives the moving hand (or at least the mental dysfunction that makes it twitch that way).
Or skip over to one of those Ronin-type tales of high adventure, and forget all this rambling crap. I wont blame you. I don’t know if I’d read all of this either, if I was in the mood for some hot-and-heavy climbing and outdoors action.
Its a gamble, just like life, and just like leading. A risk for an intangible goal, just like sitting down on this side of the keyboard and pouring my thoughts and hearts blood out over the net for complete strangers and beloved friends to absorb, take from what they will, and say whatever they like about it. This thing may come down with a helluva bang, not a graceful arc, and there might not be any pot of gold waiting at the end. I promise only honesty, as much of it as I can dredge forth from a rationalizing human mind.
And, honestly, I have no answers...
All I can say is that NOT focusing on the lack and enjoying as much as I can the process of filling the spaces, while still trying to be open to the potential of every moment ot bring happiness or revelation, these things have kept me on the move, meeting inspirational folks, learning invaluable lessons, and seeing amazing things for a very long time now.
I don’t know that most of it was running away, but I would be a fool to deny that some of it wasn’t. I don’t think I was running away from much more than me, and a world in which there seemed very little to do that meant anything of happiness for me. I grew up military, and most military marriages are a series of long absences followed by brief intense reunions. We did not live like other people, and I knew it. Nothing was as it was supposed to be, and even a child could feel it.
Relationships seemed the same. As I understood it from physics, the term relationship referred to the statement defining the position of objects in time and space with regard to each other. I think that does a pretty good job of describing human interaction. It is when we become amateur astrophysicists, and try to anticipate or forward project the relationship of those objects that I think we seriously screw the entire process right off its axis. You can never jump the right way to meet a body in motion… YOU are a body in motion. If the forces that attract you are strong enough, your orbits continue to coincide. If not, parting is natural and unavoidable. Adjusting a perfect parabola is only guaranteeing a destabilization of flight.
Shut up, sit back, and enjoy, in other words- after years of introspective breast beating in the bush and perched on the faces of a thousand nameless cliffs, that nugget alone is what Ive learned about almost every state of being in life. Its life, its just a ride, and you will be let off as soon as it is over… no guarantee on just how long or soon that will be. Sometimes someone sits in the car with you, and sometimes they sit real close. What does she want? I dont know… try some popcorn. Seems to me that the only time I wind up alone on the ride is when Im trying to hard to find a partner… or about to learn something that intimate company would cause me to miss seeing.
So I keep waiting for the Little Red-Haired Girl to look my way, or for Rapunzel to let down her hair. And, as any thinking man would, sooner or later I gotta wonder… what’s life like from the other side of the pick-up line?
What would my hypothetical mate want?
As all men want a lady in the hall and a whore in the bedroom (according to Oprah and Doctor Phil), I suppose that all lasses (with- just like males- the exception of those fallen prey to deviants of the species early on in life) want an adventuresome hero with a touch of bad boy who parties and rocks all night long, lasts in the sack until just before dawn, and with the morning light and cocks crow (no pun intended) somehow magically transforms into Joe Responsibility and heads off to his impressive and high-paying job (gets the hell out of your space).
I also know that some folks (a majority across the nation and planet, a few of them right here among you, tender readers, and thus among my dearest friends) have solved this problem by refusing to limit themselves to a solitary partner, instead picking and choosing from the traits they like among agreeable (or unknowing) members of the opposite sex.
Somehow, society and the advent of a wide range of nasty diseases has convinced us that the latter is a less desirable way of finding happiness than the former. If you intend to involve your significant other in your outdoor adventures, the process becomes even more roulette-like.
I’ve tried my hand at it, and decided that it just wasnt my style- somehow I felt like I should have had Blondie playing Call Me whenever I headed out on a date, a tune as inescapable as Gilligans Island once thought of (I bet youre thinking of it right now… try and stop). The result was a mindset that was distracted and slightly ludicrous, which is hard on a dinner date, and DEADLY on a climbing date. I had the debate re: "multiple partners" with a good friend about it, a discussion that ended with him feeling he had carried his point quite nicely.
An hour later, his date for the evening dropped him about 25 feet in the climbing gym (yes, even with a Gri-gri), for "shouting at her".
Darwin says I won the discussion.
I have friends who are entirely comfortable and successful at this kind of interaction and do so routinely. What can I say? Having taken a long hard look at my feelings and reactions in the years (yes, YEARS) since that long ago discussion, all I can say to this day is that if it works for you, God Bless you… enjoy. Guess Im just insecure or unimaginative… I need a lot more continuity than that between the Great Beyond and Back Here in Reality.
I have plenty of examples from which to choose; climbing friends who have made sacrifices and concessions to meet and be with someone, and others who have changed almost completely into non-climbers as they have entered the family phase of their lives. The latter is sheer pragmatism. For all but a tiny elite few of the population of the entire planet, climbing and adventure are counterproductive to the earning of an income or stability of home life. For those who have reproduced, I feel nothing but respect and the occasional twinge of guilty or pity. For those who manage to combine a life of climbing and travel and adventure with a steady income and raising a family, I can only say you approach deity… or are in very close contact with yours.
But, to address the former situation, I have climbing friends who are in relationships that range from fantastic to unsatisfying to downright demented, as well. The One that got Away has somehow found an amazing man who can argue, climb, love, and endure her without giving her good reason to kill him, or vice versa (not sure I'd have been quick enough... likely wound up standing somewhere in Patagonia with an ice tool buried in my head.)
Such balance is admirable, and as rare as a fine brandy. Far more climbers are like one of my best friends, for years far too seldom seen, who once was one of the best example of the extreme opposite of the Dream Team. I watched this poor lad come to a weekend like a dying man to water; watched him revive, and watched his tremendous heart open to the incredible sights and sounds and experiences of the natural world, absorbing the energy of good friends having fun… only to watch the shadow fall as the weekend ended and he approached his return to Purgatory.
I've been there, and I understand the clouded knot of emotion and rationalization that can keep you tied to a hellish no-win situation, when every moment in the forest tells you that you are wasting your life. Compassion and nobility are commendable, but given in unmeasured doses, they can and will drain you and kill you. Is it worth it, just for someone to wake up to?
Absolutely, positively no freaking way. Not ever. Not for Cleopatra or a the Queen of Sheba.
As I said, his case is an extreme, but whenever I smell a faint whiff of self-pity, it is one of the scenarios that makes me think that being alone is not necessarily loneliness.
The final case, I know more people, good people, who have lived together for years, who started out in the adventure madly, passionately, bedbreaking and wall-knockingly in love and lust, breaking all the rules, daring anything for and with each other. I have seen them, or met them after they have become sad people, angry people, distant and confused people. Almost always, it is because they are people who have tried, one or the other or both, to gently but firmly (and failingly) Change, either their partner or themselves, into less of an independent creature.
As long as I live, I will never understand the human propensity for trying to turn a wolf into a lapdog. I suppose until I find someone who feels the same way and can put up with my fits of madness, my unrealistic idealism and romanticism and oddly paradoxical cynicism, I can keep my opinions between myself and, occasionally, you, my constant readers.
And so, before I truly beat this dead beast into dog food, I will drag the curtain down; dredge a point from this sea of soliloquy. After searching and solitude, debate and divination, I can come to only one answer, if answer it is.
The road has been long, and stretches on to an unknown horizon. What was loneliness has become, with years and miles, a time of indwelling centeredness and introspection. Having at least once drunk so deeply from the wine of Heaven, I can live an finally die with the satisfaction of knowing that the cup did not pass me by entirely.
In my long, silent passage through the cities of the night, bound again for that nameless horizon of unknowns that calls and wounds, cradles and renews me, I have known love that crossed the globe, love that shook the stars, love that could almost light the dark spaces within me. Between wonders and innuendo, amid catastrophes and dancing lessons from God, I will again know its touch, if God or Gaea is willing and the spirit moves me.
In the flying, endlessly fleeting moments between, the memory of laughter, of silent waters and falling stars, of hard times shared and victories celebrated, and the reflections faces loved and lost or left behind- no matter what the price or distance, it all still moves a beating heart to believe in tomorrow, and maybe.