It was a March Friday in the second winter after Jake had moved in with me. The weather was dry and cool but gray with low-hanging clouds, a lull between storms according to the weather people. Anne had asked Jake and me to dinner. Jake not only had planned to get home early that day but had managed to get a rare Saturday off.
The dinner was wonderful. We were laughing and enjoying ourselves afterwards in Anne’s living room, Alec once again recounting in excruciating detail about luring Jake into the ice-cold lake on our trip.
“Enough! Enough!” Jake pleaded. “You are so smug about luring me into a lake I knew nothing about, taking advantage of a poor old Bostonian. But I know you can’t handle the undeserved success. You’re really a wimp at heart,” he said, addressing Alec. “And you are too, Celly.”
“Wimps? How dare you call us wimps?” Alec said, as both my children jumped on him on the couch and starting to tickle him under his chin. Jake curled up into a fetal position and dropped to the floor, trying to cover all the ticklish spots. I sat across the room indicating to Alec and Celly where they should start on him next. Eventually, he surrendered.
“Okay, you’re not wimps, but you must prove that you’re not. You must agree to go camping with me,” Jake managed to gasp.
“Yes. Yes,” came the two excited replies.
My two children hadn’t counted on that. It was still winter. I think they had envisioned some nice summer weekend. Nope, Jake had other ideas: “We’ll find some woods and go out and look at what’s there—maybe find some native plants to eat—or maybe, we’ll just have to have hot dogs. Is that okay, wimps?” He challenged them. “Okay?”
“Jake, it’s supposed to rain tomorrow night,” I said. “A camping trip is nuts.” I didn’t want to say he was nuts, because I loved him too much—but he was.
He looked at Alec and Celly who both indicated that they wanted to go. It was a kids’ trip, Jake being the biggest kid of all. I knew I wasn’t going to be invited, and I was sure I didn’t want to invite myself.
“We’ll be pioneers in winter tenting,” he explained.
“And where would you pioneer?” Anne asked, her eyebrows arching.
“I’m sure there are some state campgrounds open. If not we’ll go to the gate of one of them and just park, jump the fence and take one of the camping spots. Aren’t there any state parks around here?” Jake looked pleadingly at Alec. Alec got up, went over to the bookcase and pulled out the road atlas. He, Jake and Celly gathered around and found Dash Point State Park, halfway between Seattle and Tacoma along Puget Sound. I’d never been there. Jake pointed at it and said, “That’s where we’re going.”
I looked at Anne. “There’s no stopping him now. But I insist they take a reliable vehicle, like my van. Anything but his Honda. Even the city bus would be better, if they have to.” I looked at Jake. He gave me his ‘whatever’ shrug. “So, is this crazy idea okay with you?”
“Please, mom,” Celly pleaded. Alec looked eagerly at Anne as well.
Anne rolled her eyes and nodded her acquiescence.
The next morning Jake raided our refrigerator, assembling the strangest assortment of food: condiments, salad dressing—probably for the wild greens—raw potatoes, yogurt, chutney—chutney?—and God knows what else. He put all the stuff in a cardboard box. Fortunately, Alec and Celly were assembling the camping gear, so I figured they would make sure everybody stayed dry at least. They took off about 10 a.m. I gave the kids a hug and kissed Jake good bye at the door as I looked over his shoulders at the glowering clouds. The warmth of the kiss made me want to go with him, but fortunately sanity prevailed.
The gray clouds didn’t let up. In fact they got thicker, but the temperature seemed to be holding steady at about 55 degrees.
About two hours later, it started to rain lightly in Seattle, and, I’m sure, 20 miles away at Dash Point State Park. Five hours later it began to rain hard, and eight hours later, a storm front rolled in with heavy rain and wind. I left the porch light on. I would not have been surprised to see the campers straggling in about 8 that night. But by the time I went to bed, there was no sign of them.
And there was no sign of them the next morning, either, and I had missed my Sunday morning romp in bed with Jake. It was not all bad, though. I got to read the paper in leisure without fighting over the comics and sports sections with Jake and Alec. I drank lots of coffee and juice and made a coffee cake. I watched the Sunday morning talk shows. Afterwards, I flipped the channels to see if there was anything else of interest, but there wasn’t. I read my novel and dozed. Except for a certain horniness, it was almost a perfect Sunday morning.
About 3 in the afternoon, the campers wandered in, bedraggled, with soot and smiles on their faces. Alec went off to call his mother to say they were safe and sound—the latter being somewhat of an exaggeration.
“Dad, it was unbelievable,” Celly said, excitedly. Alec nodded agreement from the phone. “The park was closed, so we had to leave the car outside the gate, and we carried our stuff in.” And they didn’t even get a citation or arrested or have the car towed, I thought.
Celly continued, “We found a camping spot that overlooked the Sound—the best in the park.” Of course you would get the best in the park, I thought, nobody else would be stupid enough to go camping in a rainstorm in winter in a closed campground. “Alec set up a tarp, and we got the tent up just before the winds came. Then, we tried to get a fire started. Jake sent Alec and me out to get dry firewood, and we found dead limbs on the trees. It took us an hour to get the fire started, and the wind really started to blow. We roasted hot dogs and marshmallows on sticks for dinner and put potatoes in the fire to bake.” I wondered what the chutney had been for.
“Then, we climbed in the tent and Jake told us ghost stories while the wind blew. It was really scary and cool,” Celly continued.
“And this morning?” I asked.
“We had doughnuts for breakfast.” Jake must have stopped for reliable provisions. “Then we went into the woods and found mushrooms and plants just budding and a few trilliums. We saw two deer. And then Jake got wet and cold and wanted to go home.” I burst out laughing as I hugged all three of these wood-smoke-smelling people.
“Go get cleaned up,” I said, “and I’ll make some omelets. Alec, you can use our bathroom.” Fortunately, Celly had left enough clean clothes at our place to change into. Jake put the leftover camping-trip food away. The chutney wasn’t there. He sat down, a silly grin on his face, as I handed him a cup of hot coffee and kissed him on the smudged cheek. “You really liked that, didn’t you?” I asked.
His bright eyes and smile gave me the answer. Over the past few months he had become again the child-man I had loved for almost 15 years, the grownup who never quite got there, who never lost the joy of exploration. I knew that even in his darkest days in Asia, Jake would not have conformed to what others might call a civilized view of the world. But he wouldn’t have been happy in a 9-to-5 world in Jakarta or suburbia. Of course, he might eventually have ended his life for other reasons if he had not gone home to Boston, but he would never have gotten set in his ways.
I thought about this silently as Jake finished his coffee and read through the newspaper. Finally, Alec had finished his shower, so Jake went to get cleaned up as I whipped up some ham and cheese omelets and toast and cut up some fruit to serve with the coffee cake. The three people I loved most in the world ate as if they hadn’t eaten in two weeks.
Anne had asked me to lunch again late in March, but I had been ready to ask her as well. She said we needed to visit, and I agreed.
We were seated at a window table overlooking Lake Washington in the same restaurant we had eaten at a year ago. It was even about the same time of year. The early rhododendrons and azaleas were blooming as they had been a year earlier. I ordered a bottle of Woodward Canyon chardonnay. We scanned the menu then made the same choices we had done a year earlier. We both were just too predictable.
The waiter brought the appetizers, and we chatted amiably while we finished them. He cleared the plates and brought us our lunch courses with sauces that smelled of wines and herbs.
I ate some of my lunch, then found myself gazing across the table at her. “You know, I love you still,” I said in a matter-of-fact, not a seductive, tone. I realized this was kind of a strange statement, so I followed with: “How are you doing?”
Anne did not act surprised at my change of subject. “I love you, too, Rob,” she said in a similar tone to mine. “And I’m doing okay. I miss Alec when he’s at your place, but he’s happy, so that makes me happy.”
I took Anne’s hand. “God, I’m so proud of our kids. They’ve survived our breakup. They’ve survived Jake and me. They survived Jake’s dark days. They couldn’t have done so well without you. Thanks.”
Anne eyes glistened. “And they owe you too, Rob. Celly and Alec have become remarkable human beings.”
We ate for a while some more, moving on to talk about miscellaneous lighter things. I started to say something then drew back, then did it again. Shit, I must have been catching the Cantwell family start/stop disease. Finally, I got it out. “What went wrong with us?”
Anne cocked her head and thought about her answer for a while. “We had some good years, and we had some not-so-hot years, and now we have figured out how to relate to each other—like a brother and sister would relate, I think. If we look how it has ended up, I’m not sure anything went wrong.” I poured her some more wine.
We sat in silence for a while. “Rob, it’s odd that you brought the subject of our relationship up. I’ve been thinking about us a lot lately. Maybe it’s because I’m ready to move on to a new relationship. Maybe it’s because our kids are getting older and nearing college. Anyway, I’ve been doing some thinking about us.
“And I’m glad you can say that you love me. But I think I know why it has come up now. It is so obvious that I’m embarrassed that I didn’t see it sooner. The real reason you can say you love me is because you’re in love, which makes you, especially, in love with love—around anybody near to you—if that makes any sense. And that anybody includes me.” She took another sip of wine. “And, I’ll accept it.”
“But what went wrong with us?” I repeated.
“If anything went wrong, it’s because we are just too much alike. We don’t complement each other. We are almost identical pieces of a puzzle trying to fit into the same spot. God forbid, in old age we probably would have worn matching clothes if we’d stayed together.” I laughed as I envisioned us in matching red shirts and plaid Bermuda shorts.
“That means there was a lack of spark—of conflict in our daily life. We never argued, but we never did anything ridiculous or outlandish. We are both overly rational, conservative, reserved and independent people,” Anne continued. “We needed a spark.”
She thought some more in silence. “Then again, we are both outwardly independent but inwardly somewhat insecure. Our insecure sides couldn’t live with each other, either.”
“We needed a spark. We needed someone to make us feel needed so we’d be less insecure. For you that spark came from Jake, and, I realize now, probably it always has been Jake. For me, I haven’t found anybody, but I finally feel secure enough to start looking again.
“You probably didn’t realize it but when we first met, you were that free-spirit person. You were still captured by the magic that Jake exudes and transfers to people around him. It was a combination of Jake, whom I never knew, and you, embodied in the you that I fell in love with. Jake had passed on to you a strong dose of his charisma, his free spirit and his random energy, and I saw it, and it made you so attractive.”
“Bait and switch, huh?”
“No, no! Don’t take it that way. We all carry forward bits and pieces of our last relationships to our next ones. I know you and Jake were close in Mississippi, so it was only natural that the way you and he related carried into our relationship. It was that combination, though—your personality infused with Jake’s quirky energy—that I first encountered and that I fell madly in love with when you came to Seattle. But, sadly, I could not provide what he gives you. I don’t have Jake’s exuberance, and I couldn’t provide that effect he produced—and continues to produce even now—on you.”
“And I couldn’t maintain that effect in me—without him around,” I said, nodding in understanding.
“Once the Jake magic faded, I still had you—a smart, caring, independent, outstandingly handsome person—and that sustained me happily for many years. Besides, when his effect faded away, we were married and I was pregnant. I don’t really have any regrets about what subsequently happened, but I found I was married to someone too much like myself.
“Ultimately, we gave each other all the trappings of marriage, without the vibrancy—and things fell apart. You and I never could recreate that magic. That’s just our temperaments. You and Jake, however, feed off each other and make something better for both of you. I’m envious. Well, I’m joking, but I’m so happy for you.
“You really are a different person with Jake. Jake was and is the sun that brings out what is good in you and pulls you out of your natural reserve.”
Anne finished up, and I just sat there for a while. “Wow!” I said.
“Sorry, I got carried away.”
“No. I appreciate your analysis. I guess I’ve realized that Jake makes me larger than myself,” I said. “That’s one of the reasons why I love him, of course. I just do more things without thinking when he’s around. We do these things that embarrass me and I would never have done on my own, but I’ve never regretted a one. And this energy, as you call it, really does spill over to me even when he’s not around. I just want to dance through life with him”
“What I see across the table from me now is the Rob Ellis that I fell in love with.” Anne had a tear in her eye. “But I can’t touch him now because he is taken by someone who can give him what he needs, and I can’t.
“If we got together we would end up the same way we did. But I do love you, Rob. And I love Jake.”
“You can’t have him!” I smiled. She smiled back.
“Neither I nor anybody else in the world has a chance with him.”
I decided to broach what had been troubling me recently. “He seems to have faced his problems and solved them. What nags at me is this: What if he doesn’t really need me any more,” I said.
Anne recognized the importance of what I had said immediately. “You dodo! Jake adores you. He needs you. He always will need you, Rob. Believe me. Sometimes you can be so dense about personal relationships. You really need to take some time to understand why he loves you.”
“He keeps saying he needs me, but circumstances can change. I needed you at one time. I think you needed me. Things change, Anne.”
“Trust me. He has an enduring love for you. Believe me.
“I love you too, Rob—in a different way.”
I sat for a few minutes, finishing up the main course, thinking about what Anne was saying. The waiter removed our plates. “What are we going to do when Alec and Celly go off to college?” I asked, reaching across the table and taking her hand.
“I don’t know. I’ll find somebody,” Anne said wistfully. She recognized the question was about her, not about us. We sat quietly for a few moments.
The waiter returned with dessert menus and offered us coffee. We opted for some strawberries with Grand Marnier and some coffee.
“You said you still love me,” Anne went on. “I don’t still love you, but I do love you again. I guess I’m jealous in a way of your happiness. If you hadn’t taken Jake, and I had had the opportunity, I would loved to have tried to snatch him. You are such a grand twosome.
“Of course, you would drive me nuts if we, by some remote chance, were to get together again, and I expect Jake might drive me equally nuts, because I am probably more conservative than even you are. I don’t know if I could handle him. But you and Jake are an amazing combination, and I love you both.”
We had talked so long that we were the only ones left in the restaurant. We finally paid our bill and went to get our checked coats. I helped Anne on with hers, then gave her a hug and kissed her on the cheek.
“I wonder if she would say the same thing if it were Jake and I?” I asked.
“Knowing Jake’s charm,” Anne responded, “I think the answer would be yes.”
I had to agree.
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