Grand Junction, Colo. Thursday, Oct. 7, 1999
Yesterday, we began the best part of our journey, the stretch between Denver, Colo., and Moab, Utah. E seemed to be buoyant, even exuberant. As we climbed into the Rockies out of Denver, she sighed, "I love the mountains. I think I could even live here. Why would anyone not want to live here?" We cruised through the tunnel that replaced the Loveland pass, and floated down a long, steep grade. The mood was mellow. Multicolored pines lined our path. "I'm so happy now," she said. In the distance, a storm sent the twilight careening at crazy angles. Snow glistened on a perfect peak. I noticed a billboard that said, "Coach Factory Outlet. Left at Next Exit." I laughed and pointed it out. "Look at that. Isn't that ridiculous? What a cheap commercial thing to put into this fabulous natural scene."
E looked at the billboard, then barked "Turn left. Now!"
E wasn't mellow anymore. She was possessed, a look of stony purpose on her face. As we approached the Coach store, she spotted the Donna Karan in the distance.
"Oh, my goodness."
This said quietly, reverentially, as if she were Balboa discovering the Pacific. As it turns out, E had never seen a factory outlet store before. The next three hours were lost. But E seemed ecstatic.
I fear, however, that I may not be the beneficiary of E's new mood. I admit the warning signs are subtle.
Have I mentioned yet that E attracts perverts and molesters like a magnet? It must have something to do with her deceptively childlike look. We were once neighbors in Washington, living across the street from the chancery of an Eastern European nation that will go unnamed. Various surly young men attached to this diplomatic outpost spent their afternoons working on old Buicks in front of the building. One day, one of these men exposed himself to E while she was walking to the store. Oddly, E argued for giving this guy the benefit of the doubt. She said his penis might have just fallen out of his pants by accident. I thought otherwise. On this trip already, a strange, long-haired man in a West Virginia parking lot where we were making a U-turn has struck up a gratuitous conversation. And two nights ago, the motel night clerk phoned our room "just to check and see if everything is all right."
The point is, E realizes she's prey, and is usually afraid to be alone for a second. Last night, we went to a 7-Eleven down the block from the motel. The guy behind the counter, a slightly dissolute ski-bum type, seemed disturbingly interested in E. And E seemed disturbingly interested in him. Later, she insisted on returning to the 7-Eleven, alone, "for coffee."
"But I thought you'd sworn off coffee."
"I think I'm going to need it if I'm going to post anything tonight."
"Do you want me to go with you? It's dark."
"Oh, no. Thanks. What could happen to me?"
She's also been checking her e-mail obsessively. In the glow of the screen, I can see her chuckling to herself. And once when she made a phone call, she asked me to leave the room. Toward me, she's pleasant and friendly, but nothing more.
I admit, I expected something else. Was I crazy? I've transported her and looked after her for 2,000 miles. I took her to the hospital. I do all the manly, driverly things. I check the oil and I tighten the straps that are holding her fucking sofabed onto the roof. We have good times in the car. Then, nothing. Nothing.
I'm tired. I'll be damned if I'm going to stay up for her to get back from the 7-Eleven.