OTHER SIDE OF THE MOUNTAIN
“We are on the mountain!” Joe said after he turned on the fan behind where we lay together in bed, raised up by the pile of feather pillows I had bought just before we met. We hadn’t known each other for very long. I bought a brand new bed and all new bedding for the sake of meeting Shyguy31.
“I love it on the mountain, “ I said, and then I hugged him where we sat and gave him a kiss on the cheek. His naked body was bony and thin, his skin was kind of clammy, but smooth. I wasn’t used to it but I liked it.
The mountain wasn’t an actual place, but a feeling we had in the mornings, in my apartment, while we were getting high. Joe liked to get high. It was fun to sit in bed and feel that way. In the mornings the sun and its heat would pour in through the wall of windows that faced the Boulevard, and when that happened we’d turn a fan on that stood behind the bed, which was the only piece of furniture in the room. Almost everything was a shade of white or a little off that. Like cream. I had one plant. A large palm that sat between the foot of the bed and the windows. The fan blew smoke onto its leaves.
“This is the last time we’ll be on the mountain,” I said.
“We’ll find so many mountains Olive. I’ll build you a cabin on the best one. I mean it. I can see it.” He took another hit.
That was our last day in Los Angeles together, as lovers. We had packed up our things and the next day we drove together in my minivan to the Midwest. After three days of driving across country with everything we owned and staying in motels, we moved in with his family who lived in a suburb of Kansas City. We both wanted to get away for a while.
I loved Los Angeles but I needed a break. It seemed as though I would get one if I drove with Joe to where he had come from. He asked me if I wanted to take him there and live with him for a little while. There were a lot of lakes he said, and lakes sounded good.
Joe was running away from the girlfriend he had broken up with right before spending time with me. That was part of why he had been spending time with me. She was angry with him and they shared a room in an apartment. I was lonely. We even collaborated on some performances that were mostly formed during talks while we were on our “mountain.” He took a lot of drugs. We had left Los Angeles in the spring with the plan to return after the summer was over, but I knew that we probably wouldn’t. I went anyway.
On our way out of L.A. Joe and I spent a weekend in Santa Cruz. I needed to make new memories to clear the bad ones I had in the landscape I loved so much. At the same beach where William and I would fuck, Joe and I made love. The beach was secluded. It was exciting and it was beautiful because we were alone in nature, the way I had always wanted it to be. He even spoke about the idea of my becoming pregnant at that moment. Joe said that he’d love to tell his child that he or she was conceived one day on a beach. I writhed on top of him and agreed.
“I love you Olive,” he said.
“I love you Joe,” I said back.
Once we got to the Midwest I felt ridiculous. I was suddenly pretending to be part of his family and they were a part of a church. Joe was the only family member who felt strongly against the faith he was born into and the lifestyle it required them to have. His mother adored him anyway and missed him while he lived on the west coast. He was her oldest child. I was closer to her age than I was to his, but she was glad that I brought him back home to her and expected him to do things like date older women. She didn’t know though that he also dated men. His father seemed a bit concerned about his return, but welcomed us both all the same.
Joe was glad to spend time with his childhood friends who provided him with the drugs he liked to take. His mother’s cable service and tan leather sofa-sectional provided him with a new purpose, or perhaps gave him back an old one. I was determined to view the time as a vacation.
One of the best things Joe did for me, aside from helping me clean my memories, was to build a fire-pit in the back yard of his parent’s home. It was a full moon when he dug it. The lake behind their house reflected the glow and I was happy to see it.
“I’m building this for you!” Joe said as he surrounded the hole with the largest rocks he could find.
In the subsequent weeks I took to using my fire-pit as a place to burn letters and even objects that I brought with me and felt were connected not only to William, but also to feelings I had about him. In Los Angeles I had to deal with the problem of our shared property. Here I had time to think about separating myself from him entirely. Sometimes I chucked things into the lake Joe told me I was crazy to swim in, because snakes were in it.
The Midwestern landscape was totally new to me, and I enjoyed exploring it alone. Joe still worked on film ideas but much less than he did in L.A. He started to make a movie featuring cows edited between footage he took of me late at night as I slept in his twin bed. We stopped having sex. We drank a lot of cheap jug wine and we argued.
On top of it I had completely run out of money. I spent the last of it on motels, gas and meals on the drive out there. I had no friends that weren’t his. One evening I was out with his sister. I had taken her to the movies, because her mother was not feeling well enough to go. Her mother gave us cash. We had a good time.
“Can I ask you something?”
“Sure,” I said.
“Why are you with my brother?” Alex asked as we drove home.
“Well, we’re supposed to move to Kansas City together.”
She adjusted herself so that her foot rested against the dashboard and then twisted a lock of her hair in her fingers. It was summer and the cool nighttime air that came in through the open windows of the van felt good.
“Olive. I like you. I always want you to be my friend.”
“Thank you Alex, I like being around you too. Of course we’ll always be friends.”
She shifted in her seat.
“But I just wonder, because, I have to love him.” She turned her head to face me. “He’s my brother. I wonder why you are with him when you don’t have to love him.”
When we got home we found Joe and his mother on the sofa where we had left them. Alex turned her head toward me and raised her eyebrows before going into her bedroom and switching on her computer. I crinkled my lips and sat down next to Joe.
“How was the movie?” Joe’s mom asked.
“It was good,” I said.
“Joe, I forgot to tell you, Alex and your brother are going camping with the youth group this weekend and your dad has to chaperone, so I won’t have anyone to go to church with me on Sunday, and I’m delivering a sermon on motherhood this week.
“Aw, we’ll go with you mom,” Joe answered and then pulled me by the waist closer to him. “Olive, could you make me a hot-dog? Please?”
“We’re about to make dinner Joe, can you wait two minutes so we can eat together?” his mother asked.
“But I want a hot-dog, and I want it cut up into little slices, like coins.” He put his thumb and index fingers close together and looked between them with one eyes. Then he twisted his body into an upside-down position on the sofa and gave me a toothy grin that made him look exactly like my old standard poodle, Buddy, who not long before I left William, had died.
“I am not going to make you finger food,” I said, then stood up and walked toward the kitchen to help his mother, who found had sliced a hot-dog on a paper plate and was putting it into the microwave.
“You want ketchup or mustard, Hon?”