We turned into the Big Rock campsite around dusk and you immediately got your running shorts from the trunk and stripped your black jean shorts in the middle of the empty site. I watched you do this from the picnic bench near the fire pit and longed to be as confident as you. I found you beautiful and bizarre.
You ran along the curving road as the golden hour rested on the Joshua trees surrounding you. You made all the food and I felt anxious because I wanted to help, but didn’t know how. It was all still tense because you had all the power because I had told you I loved you but you hadn’t said it to me. That night we wrapped our limbs around one another because we only had one sleeping bag and used it as a comforter, but it was 30 degrees outside. Eventually I moved to the car and kept the engine running and the heater on until I fell asleep. You stayed in the tent. You woke me up with a kiss on my cheek. We went to a coffee shop in town because you had to upload poetry. I read while you uploaded. The baristas called out the name Autumn and then Leaf and then Birch. You looked up and into my eyes. “Those eyes.” You said casually and I went to the bathroom and looked in the mirror and looked into those eyes. At some point on this trip you became distant because you were afraid of loving me. On one of our hikes you fell to your knees and put your arms up to the sky and yelled “I am being the best that I can for you. But I don’t know if it is good enough for you. You are so wonderful. You are better than me.” These kinds of theatrics I had no patience for and I continued walking, thinking I’ll just keep walking to the campsite, get in the car and drive away. You’ll figure it out. You knew how to get yourself out of tricky situations. But I didn’t.
You caught up with me and we silently stomped back together and then you suggested that we write when we got back. We wrote for what felt like a long time but was really only half an hour. And then we shared what we wrote. It was our versions of the same hike and in this moment it felt like our entire relationship was a story that we were writing rather than living and it felt like we were living art and our life together felt both beautiful and exploited. Later that night I told you I felt alone and you got angry telling me you were right there. But you weren’t. You were somewhere else. We fell asleep without speaking or kissing. I longed for any sign of affection. You got up early and went for a run, still treating me like a stranger and when you got back we packed up camp in a silence that, for me, was filled with rage. We parked in the lot of the same coffee shop. I yelled at you in the parking lot of the same coffee shop and you yelled back, eventually storming away and slamming the car door. I was worried you would be gone for hours. But you were back soon. “We just need to keep some boundaries. You need to understand that when I become distant like that, I am processing things and I am giving as much of myself to you as I can.” You were calmer now and pulled me towards you from the back of my head. We both wore baseball caps and awkwardly angled our heads so that the bills wouldn’t stop us from putting our lips together. We extended our trip an extra night and I was proud of us communicating so well.