The Road Taken: Running

When I think of Rick, we’re holding hands. Holding hands and running. And smiling, too.

It was a no-brainer to sit next to him in class. Whichever of us arrived first made a beeline for the other, who happily obliged by saving a seat. Sitting together, our heads as one, reading over each other’s stories, lingering over the words, the nuances, and discussing the symbolism. And, all the while, taking in his scent—the vibrancy of wildflowers on cold, clear Mt. Rainier mornings.

And beaming.

Oh, how we smiled! Grinned, actually. From, ear to ear. This is how it begins. This is what it feels like to fall head over heels.  Like tumbling haphazardly, without a care in the world. Down a hillside, into meadows filled with lavender, violets and jasmine. Arms full of sweet peas bursting with color! This was our time, so innocent, and yet, and yet…

We couldn’t get enough.  The class only lasted so long, after all, and though we stretched it out by spending every moment together, every break, delaying our departures, more and more, it wasn’t enough. Never enough. We were eager. Eager for more.

We skipped the fifth class. Rick caught me, just as I was walking up the steps. He didn’t even have to ask. He didn’t need to say a word. His eyes so intent, burning bright, like a fire that was unstoppable. A tug of my sleeve, a conspiratorial whisper. Like a breeze against my cheek on a moonlit night. His hair slightly tousled, in the dreamiest of ways. Grabbing my hand—which was a most willing captive—we took off, heading for parts unknown.  Running, always running. Bounding through the campus, across the street, then down University Avenue. The Ave, as the locals called it. I didn’t know where he was taking me, but it didn’t matter, did it?

Together, our energy was thrilling.

We stopped in front of a small jazz club. Perfect, I thought. I love jazz. Rick nodded, as if I’d spoken aloud, and held the door open. Warm inside, felt good. A trio was in the middle of a set. Saxophone, bass and piano.  The trifecta of all jazz music. We were led to a tiny, round table by the window, just a few feet away from the musicians.

Rick looked at me and asked, “Is this okay?”

Is what okay? The fact that we ditched class? That I’m here with you? That I’m complete smitten and that I’ve never felt quite this way before? Or, the fact that my husband is at home studying for an exam he has tomorrow? I didn’t want to think about that last one. No regrets, none whatsoever. Just a nagging feeling that I couldn’t quite place. Something niggling at me. That’s all. Ignore it and I was sure it would go away.

I smiled and nodded exuberantly, pushing all thoughts except one, out of my head. I was in the here and now.

“Yes! This is fabulous!”

We ordered a half carafe of chardonnay, bottled by a Northwest vineyard. Suddenly, I loved the Great Northwest. Gateway to the Pacific Rim—and now, to my soul. Yes, the Emerald City had finally stolen my heart, and it was bliss. How happy I was in that moment, in that hour, to be with this boy, who I’d discovered hailed from North Carolina. Holding hands and enjoying the music. Happy together!

As I rubbed his hand, I could feel a thin, snake-like scar that mischievously zigzagged across his right palm, ending near the bottom of his thumb. A childhood injury, he had said, as a result of a fall along the Appalachian Trail. Must have been some gash, that one, but now it was just an imperfection. A flaw on a man that had few.

The jazz trio went on break. The bartender signaled to Rick, holding up his outstretched hand and mouthing the word, “Five.”

Rick got up and walked over to the Steinway baby grand. Sitting down he began to improvise, running his fingers sharply along the keys for an impromptu riff. Five minutes, that’s all he had, and from the looks of it, this wasn’t his first time. His face turned serious, concentrating on the music, the chords. I used to play, but was never this good. Nope. The best I could ever master was playing Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata in high school, and there was a time I could play it by rote. But it had been a long time since those days.

We stayed an hour, maybe more, listening and chatting. Drinking, too. It was getting late, class would be ending soon and it was hard to justify hanging around too much longer than that. I felt like Cinderella, out with my prince, and in danger of turning into a pumpkin if I returned home too late. Rick paid the tab, and we headed back to campus. When we reached the Drumheller Fountain, he abruptly stopped, and pointed to the sky.

“Look at the stars! It’s so clear tonight!”  His eyes, wide with enchantment.

I looked up and, sure enough, above us was an explosion of stars. Rick lay down on the grass and beckoned me beside him. Too nervous to oblige, I kept a short distance between us, forming an upside down “V” with our bodies. He took my hand in his and gazing at the sea of stars, shining above us, we found an intimacy in our silence.

Rick’s voice interrupted the quiet. “If you could travel to any of those stars, which one would you choose?” He pointed at a pinpoint of light to the right. “How about that one?”

I shook my head. “Are you kidding me? That’s too far. I’ll take the Little Dipper any day.”

He laughed. “Why the Little Dipper?”

“Because, I like the name and it’s dipper will keep me from falling off.” The wine had definitely gone to my head.

“You’re crazy, you know. You can’t fall. You’ll just float around forever.”

“Forever?” I asked, wondering if this could last forever. Wondering if he would ever kiss me. Wanting him to, yet afraid he would.

He pushed himself up on one elbow and looked down at me, lying on the grass, shivering. No one ever accused me of having nerves of steel.  He scooted closer.

“You cold?”

I nodded, hesitantly. He was getting too close, and I wasn’t ready to admit the truth. The fear that I had reached the point of no return. Wanting to push forward through this new door that was open to me, yet worried about what would happen if I did.

As he bent down ever so gradually, tortuously slowly, his face hovering slightly above mine, I could hear in the distance classes letting out. Adult education students walking out of the buildings, heading to their vehicles. The engines starting, and cars pulling away. Away from this campus. Away from us. Soon we’d be alone, but in the dark no one could see us, anyway. No one would have thought to look in this secluded spot, by the fountain, under the stars, at two people entwined like lovers. Kissing. Oh yes, there was kissing. Kissing joyfully. This was bliss.

Missed a chapter? Read past installments, by visiting the page, The Road Taken.

The Road Taken: The Reluctant Camper

One Friday night, G and I were heading to Greenlake for a quick bite, when the phone rang. It was Spock, wanting to see if we had plans.

Now, Spock never had much to say, but when he did, it usually had to do with getting high, or satisfying the munchies, which is what he needed to do now. He was always stoned on something–marijuana, hashish, quaaludes, cocaine, you name it–as if he was trying to give Cheech and Chong a run for their money. And the more stoned he was, the hungrier it made him.

A majestic view of Mt. Rainer from Paradise. (

So, Spock and Joanie met us at the Kidd Valley for burgers and onion rings. It was Spock’s favorite place, mostly because of the variety of milkshakes available, and that night he ordered three.

We watched in awe as he gulped down rootbeer, peanut butter, and pineapple shakes, in that order. And this was after he’d eaten his burger and rings. As he finished the last of his pineapple shake, G looked at his watch, and then turned to me and reminded me that we needed to get going in order to finish getting ready for our camping trip the next day. Which was all Joanie needed to hear.

“Camping? Ooh, count us in!”

To me, the idea of Joanie and Spock tagging along actually sounded plausible. After living nearly a year in Seattle, Washington–aka the Emerald City, the Northwest, the Evergreen State and the Pacific Rim–I loved my new home.  It was so different from the concrete jungle of New York. In Seattle, it was, here-comes-nature-right-in-your-face, 24/7. I’d never seen so much green. Evergreen. Purple mountain majesties green. I figured whoever composed “America the Beautiful,” must have written it while visiting the Northwest.

I’d grown quite accustomed to the Seattle way of life, and enjoyed the cool summers and incessantly cloudy days.  I was intrigued by the locals, who could be seen on any given day wearing down vests, parkas, flannel shirts, Birkenstocks and hiking shoes, as if any minute, they were going to hit the trails. But there was one thing I could not get used to:

That the number one pastime seemed to be camping.

It was an obsession, much like eating salmon and wearing sunglasses on days when there was no hint of sunshine.  Everyone went camping, using any excuse to venture out and commune with nature.  Me? I didn’t see the point, since all you really had to do to commune, was step outside your home, and nature would greet you at the door.

Plus, Latinos, as a rule, do not go camping. At least not back then.  In fact, the concept was so alien to my family that, growing up, we’d spend many a vacation in the sleaziest, cheapest motels rather than consider camping. When I was 11, my family took a trip to the Poconos, and I swear, the motel we stayed at was the spitting image of the Bates Motel in Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho. I know this because my brother refused to take a shower there unless I stood guard by the bathroom door. Yet, given the choice of camping or the Bates Motel, we still would have chosen the motel.

Now, there are two kinds of camping.  Camping for the adventurous, which generally involves hiking at least 10 miles off trail, carrying a backpack, with tent and sleeping bag, weighing 40 pounds minimum, and camping out in the middle of nowhere.  As for the bathroom, well, there is none. You’re on your own. Then there’s camping for folks like me. This involves driving up to the camp spot, and setting up your tent. Bingo. There’s a bathroom nearby, complete with toilets and running water, just like you have in civilized society.

So, there you have it. I was a reluctant camper. It was not in my blood. G had to needle and cajole quite a bit before I acquiesced, which I did, provided we didn’t go camping the way he wanted. Nobody was going to make me hike with 40 pounds on my back, just for a chance to be confronted by some wild animals looking for an easy meal ticket. So, G did his best to accommodate me, which meant a shopping spree at REI, the store for all your outdoor needs. I bought supplies as if I was furnishing a home, determined to replicate indoor living in the great outdoors. And if Joanie and Spock came along, so be it. I kind of liked the idea of taking their RV–of which I still had a vested interest–and finally having the chance to spend a night in it.

“Of course, you guys should come!” I offered up in my most enthusiastic voice.

At first, G was puzzled by my over zealousness.  He’d assumed I wouldn’t go for this, knowing how I like things to be planned out in advance with no curve balls tossed in. But, since he was always game for spending time with Joanie and Spock, who was sure to bring with him some pot, he happily agreed.

And so, it was a fete accompli. We were all going camping.

The next morning, the curve ball G knew I didn’t like, landed at our doorstep. For there was Joanie, all alone, with no Spock in sight.

“Ugh!” she moaned. “Poor Spock is sick to his stomach, so he’s not coming. He probably shouldn’t have had that last milkshake is my guess.” Really? It was the last milkshake and not the first two or all the drugs he did before dinner?

I looked out in the driveway. “Where’s the RV?”

“Oh, Geez, didn’t I tell you? Battery died yesterday. Spock’s going to try to get a new one later, if he’s up to it.”

I tried to grasp what she was saying. No Spock? No RV? And she was still coming, anyway? Didn’t she know that three’s a crowd? I glanced at G, but I already knew. Awkward as it felt, there was no way out of this without sounding rude. Nothing left to do but pack up the Datsun.  G got behind the steering wheel, and, just as I was opening the front passenger door, Joanie hollered,

“I call the front!” Making a frowning face, she added, “Can’t sit in the back. It makes me nauseous.”

Darting past me, she slipped into the seat next to G. As I opened the back door, I remembered why I didn’t like curve balls.

Missed a chapter? Read past installments, by visiting the page, The Road Taken.