Survivor’s Diaries: Chapter 20
“I just don’t really go camping, Jesse.”
“I understand, Fiona. You said that already,” Jesse laughed, combing his hands through my hair, “but my question is why?”
Jesse and I were having one of our usual jocular back and forth’s. Well, it was jocular for him. I personally didn’t enjoy being skewered. At the same time, I knew how entertaining he found our little squabbles to be.
Having a lawyer for a boyfriend could be irritating at times. He was already smarter than me (on top of being better in every other measurable way), and because of the legal background, more articulate and logical with the spoken word than anyone I had ever dated, making our arguments all the more frustrating.
We were all set to book our trip to Hawaii, until news broke about a scary virus making its way into the western hemisphere from Eastern China.
Jesse wasn’t concerned about this development in the slightest but I had to admit I was a little freaked. So after enough cajoling, I finally convinced him to explore other vacation options that didn’t involve boarding a plane.
His first suggestion was a tent camping trip.
Instantly — without even a second thought — I shot it down.
Mid-sentence in fact.
My issue with this idea was, well. . . complicated.
I didn’t necessarily have anything against it, per say. . . but the idea of trekking the wilderness. . . in the middle of nowhere. . . in the dark. . . being outside at night? Sleeping outside at night?
It was bound to bring up unwanted memories.
If I let myself slip, I’d end up keeled over, clutching my arms to my chest, gasping for air in full blown basket case mode, and how on Earth would I explain that to Jesse?
I shuddered at the thought.
Bottom line: it was asking for trouble.
So the answer was no.
In response, Jesse’s eyes narrowed in suspicion. He could tell there was more to my denial than I was letting on, that I was hiding something. He understood me well enough by now to know that. And he wanted to know the real reason why I didn’t want to go.
Hence the back and forth.
“I don’t know why you won’t just tell me,” Jesse had insisted, his expression fierce.
“Because there is nothing to tell!” I’d lied.
These types of inquisitions happened a lot.
Whenever I did something that Jesse perceived as cagey or secretive, he would assume his hyper intense lawyer persona, asking question after question as if it were a full blown cross examination.
But the only one who ever got exasperated was me.
He was, as always, cool as a cucumber.
I think I would fair better during these quarrels if I wasn’t so incapacitated by the exquisite beauty of his features, like the black halo of his midnight hair, the snow white of his skin, or the hard square of his jaw. It didn’t help that his body was as equally distracting as his face.
Jesse’s long, lean, sinewy limbs seemed to take up over eighty percent of the couch we both occupied. As he stared at me now, his slender but muscular arms were folded across his chest, and despite being un-flexed, their natural position seemed to be one of perpetual plyometric engagement. It made it hard to focus. My heart was accelerating past the point of control and my mouth almost watering.
But that was my problem, not his.
The quasi-interrogation about why I didn’t want to go camping went on for almost an hour. The way I shut down the idea out of hand made him instantly suspicious as to the true motive.
He latched. And he would not. let. go.
“Just tell me the real reason, Fiona, what is it?” Jesse pressed.
I used every excuse I could think of — camping is dirty, it’s too hot, it’s too cold, it’s being exposed to the elements, it’s sleeping on the ground, it’s eating too many packaged foods, it’s exposure to homeless people — but he knocked them all down one by one with simple solutions to every problem, all the while demonstrating his advanced possession of the English language.
“Jesse,” I sighed. “It — it’s just not safe.”
This excuse was partially true, if not the primary motivation for my not wanting to go. It wasn’t safe.
“What’s not safe?” Jesse countered, a smile in his eyes.
I sighed in frustration. “Being outside alone in the middle of nowhere with no cell service and no police presence for miles.”
He laughed. “Fiona why are you so scared of everything? You’ll be with me the entire time.”
“It’s still not safe.”
“Tell me what could happen that you’re so afraid of.”
He scanned my face back and forth, as if the answer somehow lay within my countenance.
I paused, pursing my lips, searching for an excuse.
“I could get a rash from poison ivy.”
“Not if we stay on the trail.”
My eyes narrowed. “I could freeze to death.”
“I would never let that happen.”
“I could get eaten by a wolf.”
“Wolves don’t eat humans. They never have. They never will,” he shrugged.
“I could get attacked by a bear.”
“Bears hibernate this time of year.”
I threw my hands up in exasperation. “Fine, you know what, let’s just go to Hawaii, screw it!”
That did it.
Jesse leaned back, his expression brimming with triumph and satisfaction. It was like he had finally proofed the desired maxim in an intense legal cross. Like he had won.
A long moment of silence passed as we stared at each other, as he searched back and forth across my fuming face.
Finally he spoke. “Let me get this straight. You would rather risk getting exposed to some unknown virus — a virus you told me you were terrified of a week ago — just to get out of telling me why you don’t want to go camping.”
I pursed my lips.
Well, when he put it like that. . . he had won.
Jesse laughed. Then he folded his arms across his chest and glared. “You know, Fiona, I don’t think I want to go to Hawaii anymore. I want to go camping. With you. I’m planning a trip.”
He started to rise from the couch.
I closed my eyes and gritted my teeth.
The way I said it was almost scary. A cross between hiss and a snarl. Closer to Batman’s voice than my own.
Jesse froze as he was getting up. He looked at me like he had just witnessed an explosion.
I had never put my foot down like that. My sudden defiance and the eery double timber of my tone must have startled him.
He smiled bigger, as if he was now only surer of his course. “Yes.”
“No,” I repeated, fuming. “Let’s go to Hawaii.”
Jesse bit his lip. “I’ll tell you what, Fi’, you reveal to me the real reason why you don’t want to go camping, and we will go to Hawaii.”
I sighed. “Look, Jesse, can’t we just — ”
Before I could finish, he reached forward and wound his hands through my hair, pulling me into a kiss.
I was undone.
I tried to hang on to my resolve but there was no more fire in me, and my efforts failed to find purchase.
As he pulled away he tucked a lock of hair behind my ear. “Would I ever let anyone or anything hurt you on a camping trip?”
I sighed. “No.”
And it was settled.
As promised, since I couldn’t — or wouldn’t, rather — give him a legitimate reason not to, Jesse booked an entire week long tent camping vacation in one of his favorite state parks.
As our departure approached, I started to experience chest pains and high blood pressure — worse than normal.
Not only was I apprehensive about having to sleep outside in the dark wilderness for seven nights straight — the precise backdrop for the worst experience of my life and the perfect trigger for a choking spell — but I didn’t want all the hiking and intense physical activity to reveal how. . .weak I was physically.
If he only knew the basket case I was in that regard as well.
I shuddered at the thought.
He already knew how thin in the extreme I was — there was no way to hide that from a lover — but he didn’t yet know how just a standard or medium amount of physical exertion could have me feeling sick or losing consciousness.
It was embarrassing.
I was already severely underweight to start with, but also dealing with a whole host of other health issues he was unaware of.
Most recently, I was struggling with a bone density problem. My bone mass was extremely low for someone my age, past the level of unhealthy. After breaking several bones in the past year from relatively minor falls, my doctor ordered a bone scan to confirm my osteopenia score, which had me so emotional I was crying about it on and off for weeks (privately, of course, Jesse never saw).
This only compounded my bruising tendencies. I had always been an easy bruiser, but now, with my bones practically wasting away, just sex sessions of even average intensity were leaving me completely purple, let alone rough ones.
On top of it I was living, as I always had, with an undersized heart, which meant physical activity of any kind made me tired very easily, and these last couple years it was only getting worse. The simplest of everyday feats like taking out the garbage, carrying the groceries up the steps, and running to catch Muni were becoming increasingly difficult, more than ever been before.
So far I had done a pretty solid job of concealing all this from him — enough to be smug about it — but a physically exhaustive day of hiking in the elements was sure to upend the (if average) perception of health I had created, laying bare the multiple afflictions taxing my body, which was the last thing I ever wanted to see happen.
I never wanted Jesse to see all this. But it would be hard to hide these health issues from him for such a long, uninterrupted stretch of time. Especially considering how he watched me like a hawk.
These worries were only compounded by the much larger, central worry that being in the wild at night would invoke a full blown, shaking-and-crying, fetal position-inducing PTSD episode for Jesse and anyone nearby to see.
All of this was rolling through the back of my head as I packed for our trip.
On the outside I was able to keep it together pretty well, at least in front of him. Obviously no gagging fits, crying sessions, or any of the usual basket case behaviors when he was around. I did everything I could to be the ideal girlfriend, whatever that entailed, saying yes to everything — sex wise and otherwise but primarily sex wise. For Jesse, I made it an absolute priority to fulfill every sexual fantasy and provide every sexual labor he desired. Usually this meant enduring the roughest sex imaginable, sex so painful I could barely bear it. But I bit my tongue and took it every time without protest, even when I was seeing stars.
Anything he wanted. I would do anything for this man.
And I had known worse pain.
But I honestly wondered if he ever knew just how. . . broken I really was.
Sometimes I thought I fooled him so well and other times I thought he saw through me but I could never be sure.
Pulling the wool over someone’s eyes is a delicate task.
The only thing of which I could be certain was that he knew I was damaged but didn’t know the extent of it. I surmised that he probably assumed I was broken in some kind of aesthetic, poetic way instead of the actual, serious, mind-fucked, curb stomped, hospital job way.
Who knew? We couldn’t read each other’s minds.
He was never going to give up until I told him what happened to me. Jesse was like a dog with a bone. I thought he would just let it go as time passed. . .
Or, the more likely outcome, that as a result of my reticence he would be forced to guess and that he would guess wrong, and we both could leave it there, wherever it was. . .
I was incorrect.
Hence the constant struggle to hide the truth from his gaze.
My packing commenced strategically.
I made sure to cram all of my heart medication in a cleverly disguised double lined toiletry bag so he couldn’t see and packed lightly otherwise. I knew we would each have to carry everything we brought so tried to make my own personal load as light as possible.
“Are you ready?” Jesse whispered in my ear from behind, making me jump.
I haven’t even noticed he entered the room. Gosh I was so jittery. I needed to pay more attention to my surroundings with Jesse around.
“Yes,” I exhaled as my heart rate returned to normal.
“I’m sorry, did I scare you?” he murmured, placing his hands around my shoulders and kissing my neck.
Then my heart rate sped back up again.
“No,” I lied.
“Are you sure?” He asked, combing my hair out of the way and blowing hot air into my ear.
“Y-yes,” I stammered unconvincingly.
He started lifting up my shirt. “Jesse,” I giggled. “I have to pack. We are leaving soon.”
“Pack later,” he shrugged, turning me around to face him.
I would never get tired of seeing this face.
He made all of Raphael’s angels look like gargoyles.
He wound his hands tightly through my hair and pulled me into a kiss. After that, my clothes slowly fell to the floor, piece by piece, and I was becoming undone once again.