Rare days, I feel like an adult. Take last Friday: I got up at 8 a.m., went to the gym, walked the dog, paid the rent on time, unloaded the dishwasher with NPR’s Morning Edition cooing in the background, signed my name “Elizabeth Sollenberger” at the vet’s office, feigning a marriage, posture, signing off on charges as if the money belonged to me, as if I’d earned it.
That afternoon T. and I drove four hours north to the Appalachian Trail to begin our three-day camping excursion. These plans were made two days prior in a drunken haze at her birthday party; I had to text T. the next morning to be certain the conversation actually happened. It was darkening and cooling quickly when we arrived Friday, the mountains creating an anxiety akin to standing in your father’s shadow as a kid. Nevertheless, an electric anxiety: We saw the horizon! A sun setting! Such luxuries are granted but a few views in Milledgeville, GA, so elevation provides a sense of acute perspective and liberation. But the paradox is: for every notch of salvation you gain on the hike/drive upward, you lose an ounce of oxygen—that insistent chemical keeping us alive—and thus, sometimes your lunch, sometimes your sanity. It’s like being in an airplane, but the encasing is the flesh.
Campground one: “Nope. We full up. Wedding. You hear about the bear?” Campground two, after hiking around a lake, and this from a crazy-eyed fifty-something with a teenager: “Fishing Rodeo this weekend, this place is nuts. You ladies can sleep in my tent, though. Hear about the bear?”
It was too late to walk back around the lake and drive to another site, so we tottered around with our gear, looking for a non-rapist who might let us pitch our tent nearby. We spotted a twenty-something dude (Greg) smokin’ a cig, tossing a can of Bud Light across the campfire, a young boy (Noah) in a life jacket wrapped around his thigh. Here was our invitation.
We pitched our tent by the babbling creek at Greg and Noah’s site then joined at the fire to chug beers. Greg opened his car doors and blared country music, helping himself to our whiskey. He, twenty-seven—just a month younger than me—was already divorced with a five-year-old son, manufacturing glass at a factory outside Atlanta. He was a man, a real adult.
Father and son ducked into their tent around eleven to play “war” and fall asleep. T. and I had nothing to say to each other, really, as we barely knew one another, and, both Michiganders, possessed or at least faked that Midwestern modesty that means you don’t talk about yourself and you don’t pry. So I proposed we play “Truth or Dare.”
Then came the whiskey-slugging dares and with them, the truth. Too much truth. I have always been a woman of secrets; like addictions, secrets keep us safe, friended—the proverbial “Keep Out” sign hammered to the heart. I have many of them (secrets) and pride myself on my ability to keep them shiny and untouched, like a little glass menagerie in my mind. But fuck. They all spilled out that night, the glass animals melting in the popping fire.
I carry around a big bladder of shame for this shit I do when wasted—like the night I spent in jail for taking a dainty little whiz on the Traverse City courthouse steps—but this unveiling felt criminal in a more important way, worse than a sex offense: a knifing of one’s core, of the self.
When I stumbled into the woods for the evening’s last squat, the lantern in Greg and Noah’s tent had been flicked back on and giggles resumed—they had awakened and returned to their game of cards. I paused, feeling painfully lucid and alone. So this is what it means to be an adult: To love. And to let yourself be loved in return.
What rattled me about my divulgence to T. was not that she knew, but what my intentions behind revealing these histories meant. My assessment is that this was an act of self-destruction, one in which you either want to be broken so badly that a broad numbness or shock takes over, or some form of salvation: the other person scoops you up, pets your cheeks, whispers, I love you, we all do.
Later, whilst whizzing, I heard a rustle and thought of the famed bear we’d seen cellphone snapshots of all evening. I’d make a tasty meal, the blood and guts trailing behind me with no one to put me back together. What poetry it would be for him to consume me right there, and for all the fatty secrets to taste and nourish someone—something—else.
Elizabeth Bohnhorst's poetry has appeared in The Pinch, Camroc Press Review, Word Riot, The Austin Poetry Anthology, The Dunes Review, and elsewhere. She has a terrible short-term memory and would love advice on how to remedy this.