Thus Spoke Sarah Through Straw
Back on Earth, I attended Clone Self-Acclimation Academy in early 2205, a throwback to a time when students physically shared classroom space to enhance their learning. In the winter term, I absorbed a CAD (clone awareness design) course with other students during which I made several friends, most notably a nice married woman named Sarah who treated everyone in class like her children (the Mother Hen syndrome). She told the CAD students about the philosophy class sponsoring a backpacking trip in the Elkmont section of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Those in the philosophy class could take the trip in place of an essay.
I had met the philosophy teacher, a laid-back, former long-haired (now partially bald) hippie named Gary Acquaviva, a human who refused to clone himself. He liked some of my poems and philosophical ideas and encouraged me to join the trip. I wasn’t sure about joining a bunch of strangers for a weekend but gave in, especially after I bought some Earth natural relaxants — pot and ThoughtSynth (TS, or acid) — as a diversion for myself in case the trip ending up being boring.
Sarah had attracted more than my idle curiosity. In fact, like many women before and after her, she plucked the emotional chord within me that I call puppy love. In appreciation for my puppy love, and the fact that it was around Valentine’s Day, I wrote Sarah a poem that dealt with the self-centered, nihilistic philosophy of Nietzsche in his book, “Thus Spoke Zarathustra.” She graciously accepted the poem, and I spent the next few weeks fantasizing about a relationship with her (as did many other guys in the class, I learned a year later).
Mr. Acquaviva gave everyone a list of items to bring on the camping trip as well as directions to a meeting place at a grocery store in Newport, a town that I knew nothing about. Sarah gave me directions to her house, located in a community ten or fifteen miles from Newport, so I could meet her there and then the two of us could take just one car to the meeting point. When she handed me the directions, I sensed some apprehension from her. I wrote off the episode as the awkwardness of a married woman trying not to appear forward while giving a strange man directions to her house (although through my hormonal self, I imagined that she was telling me she wanted me).
As I drove to Sarah’s house, a feeling of dread came over me that perhaps I should just attempt to find the meeting place myself and call Mr. Acquaviva on Monday and tell him I got lost. Instead, I drove on. When I got to her house, I made sure that I didn’t show my interest in her, especially with her kids milling about with their wild imaginations.
We loaded the backpacks in her car and drove to the meeting point. The day was slightly cold so we waited in the car for the other folks to arrive. At this point, we carried on a general conversation in which one person would exchange a fact from the past for one from the other person. You know what I mean:
One person says, “It sure is cold today. Sorta reminds me of a trip I took last fall.”
“Oh?” says the other.
“Yeah, but it wasn’t so bad because we got to see some turkeys.”
The other chimes in, “I hate cold weather.”
All throughout the conversation, we sat in our seats facing each other uncomfortably, I because I could not help thinking about my previous fantasies, and I guessed she was uncomfortable with me because she was alone with a strange male. Within fifteen minutes, however, we had established a friendship based on similar thinking and knowledge of each other’s backgrounds. By the time the first person from the philosophy class arrived, Sarah and I had that winking relationship that two people get who think they know something that other people with them do not know.
During the trip to Elkmont, I was “forced” to ride between two women — Sarah, who was driving, and a young woman named Dena who sat on the other side of me — they knew each other from the philosophy class and shared their own winking relationship. Consciously aware of my vanity, I felt they were using girl talk to talk about me in front of me although I knew I was just vainly pretending to hear it (in fact, they were talking about me, especially about Sarah’s earlier confession to Dena that Sarah was interested in me but also about Dena’s interest in a guy who was supposed to meet us at Elkmont).
When we got to the Elkmont parking lot, Dena found that her male friend had not made it. We waited a while but Acquaviva (as he wanted to be called) urged us on because we had a long hike ahead of us and he wanted to get to the camping site before it rained.
The hike mainly consisted of Sarah and I exchanging curious glances while consoling Dena in her pitiful state of sorrow and disappointment. Along the way, we got to know the names and personalities of the other hikers, most of whom have faded in time, but I remember a long-haired guy named Barry who fell in a creek right before we got to the campsite.
At the campsite, we quickly set up all the tents next to a creek and began to search for firewood because we were all cold and damp from the slight misty rain that had surrounded us during the hike. Acquaviva split us into groups to find wood, and because I was the only one along on the trip who was not in his class, I was left to watch the campsite. Instead, I pulled out my pot and walked off a little distance to get high. The group soon found that most of the wood in the area was wet. A couple of guys who were also in the CAD class saw me smoking and gave me a suspicious look. I walked further off into the woods and they followed me. Out of my paranoia, I pretended to be looking for some wood. When they approached me, they asked if they could smoke some of the pot with me. I relented. They then admitted they no longer thought of me as the nerd in the class.
Back at the campsite, Acquaviva divided us up again, this time into fire tenders/ gatherers, food preparers, and food cookers. I split my time between tending the fire and passing out snacks I had carried in my backpack. During the meal, Acquaviva and Sarah shared their containers of wine — flimsy metallic containers taken out of boxed wine — similar to the goatskins of the past. A few other people had brought beer. Knowing that I would later be in a different world of my own, I declined all but the dinner toast drink of wine. By the time the meal was over, several people were starting to feel intoxicated. Sarah, Dena, and I cleaned the dishes at the creek in the dark using rocks to scrub the dishes and a flashlight to see by.
Afterwards, I sneaked over to my backpack to take a hit of acid. Barry saw me put the hit on my tongue and asked if I had one for him. I actually had brought two hits to take that night, but gave him the other hit, if for no other reason than the old maxim that no one should ever take acid alone.
By this time, Acquaviva had gathered everyone at the fire to discuss philosophy. As you can imagine, a bunch of near drunks discussing philosophy makes for a bad sitcom at its best and a violent argument or fight at its worst. We fell somewhere in between. In fact, people were falling all over the place. Apparently, the hike, the altitude, and lack of much food made everyone get drunk much faster than usual, some off only three glasses of wine.
Throughout the night, I shared knowing glances and brief conversations with Barry as he and I buzzed on our trips. One time, when I left the fire to relieve myself of the little fluid I had consumed, I found Barry looking at the brilliance of the stars through the trees and mumbling something about the infinite possibilities of life on other worlds. He wanted me to get involved in a long conversation but soon my neck grew tired and my eyes grew weary of staring upward into near darkness.
Returning to the campsite, I sat at the fire and saw what appeared to be an illusion on the other side of the fire, an illusion of Acquaviva standing on a rock at the top of the embankment next to the creek. Suddenly, he disappeared. I looked around me and no one else seemed to notice or showed alarm so I shook my head and looked into the fire. Some time later (time loses meaning to me while I’m on acid), someone commented that Acquaviva had been gone a long time. Another person expressed concern. I sat in silence, questioning my earlier illusion. Finally, we heard a low moan and some people began looking in the woods. I suggested to one guy that he look next to the creek. Sure enough, a bit of searching revealed the body of Acquaviva spread out on a large rock next to the creek. My illusion turned out to be Acquaviva losing his balance at the top of the embankment, falling backward and knocking his head on the rock below.
As the night wore on, everyone had pretty well finished off the alcohol and found a log, stump, tree, or rock – anything remotely solid – for support. They all considered me to be sober and left me in charge of taking care of the fire. Acquaviva and Sarah made sure everyone got to a tent and into a sleeping bag to prevent someone passing out in the woods somewhere and developing hypothermia. Eventually, Acquaviva ended up sitting beside Sarah on a log next to the fire. She gave him a backrub, as she had done for several people that night. He then turned to give her a hug of appreciation which turned into his inviting her into a tent for the night. She gave me a raised-eyebrow glance that yelled for help.
I quietly spoke to Acquaviva across the fire. “I’m amazed that you have stayed up so late, especially after all the alcohol you’ve consumed, not to mention your smashing your head on that rock.”
“Oh, I don’t know,” he said as he leaned against Sarah and then slipped and fell off the log. We all laughed. He continued, “Yeah, I’m a little tired.” He turned to Sarah and said in almost a husbandly voice, “Do you want me to go?” which we all translated as “Mind if I go?”
“Go ahead,” Sarah nodded, “I want to warm up by the fire before I go to bed.”
Acquaviva climbed into the tent where Dena was sleeping and attempted to climb into the sleeping bag with her. Sarah and I quietly snickered at Dena’s protests. When Sarah realized Acquaviva wasn’t taking no for answer, she suggested we get him out. She asked me to hold her up and support her over to the tent, since I was the only sober one left. I gingerly put my arms around her and walked us to the tent. After a few minutes, we extracted Acquaviva, who first said, “Everything would be fine if you would just leave us alone,” and ended up claiming, “I’m on my way to the guys’ tent anyway.”
I returned Sarah to the log, sat down beside her and stared at the dying embers of the fire, which make wonderful visual effects on acid. I felt like I had been staring at the fire for thirty minutes when Sarah broke the silence.
“You know, it’s getting awfully cold.”
“I, um…I could put more wood on the fire.”
“Well, Lee, it’s pretty late already.”
“Yeah,” I said, still staring at the fire.
She leaned against me and I tensed up. “I hope you don’t mind,” she said in what I perceived as a fake drunk voice.
I shook my head.
“I haven’t given you a backrub yet,” she said more as a question than a statement.
My left side was tuned to every drunken sway her body made against mine. I told myself, “I’m an Eagle Scout and she’s a married woman with two children. You are in very dangerous territory here.” I looked at her as nonchalantly as possible. “You’re right.”
“Okay, then turn around.”
As I turned around, she lost me as a support and fell backward off the log. She began to laugh a quiet, drunken laugh, more than a snicker but definitely not a guffaw, more like the way a person laughs out loud at an amusing private thought. As I helped her up, I quickly suggested, “Perhaps you ought to go on to bed.”
Sarah laughed until she gained her balance on the log. “I almost believe you’re too good to be true. I mean, here I am, drunk and willing, you’re sober and…oh, never mind,” she finished with a wave of her hand, “help me to the tent.”
I grabbed her arm as she turned to get up. “You probably won’t remember this tomorrow but I’m not as sober as you think.”
“I haven’t seen you touch alcohol since dinner.”
“No, I don’t mean like that.”
Sarah shook her head. “Okay, then what do you mean?”
“I’m on acid.”
“Huh?” She paused a moment. “No way, you’ve been normal all night.”
“Well, I am. I can stare at that fire and produce all sorts of wild patterns.” We both looked down at the fire.
“Yeah, you have been staring at the fire most of the night.” She turned to look at me and fell against me. “Just hold me a minute, okay?”
I put an arm around her and she leaned her head against my shoulder. While I held her, I turned my goody-two-shoes voice off and imagined a night of wild passion with her. We could move Dena to the other tent and have a tent all to ourselves. I thought of our kissing by the fire, of her kissing me on the neck…suddenly, I realized she was kissing me on the neck!
“Uh, Sarah,” I whispered.
She stopped kissing my neck and looked up at my face just inches from hers. “Oh, I’m sorry, I’ll stop.”
At that point, I racked my brain for an answer to this dilemma, if there was one. “Kissing,” I tried to tell myself, “is not all that bad. Besides, she is drunk, or at least is willing to pretend to be. If anything serious happens, we can claim to have been drunk and won’t remember anything tomorrow. What guy wouldn’t be tempted by those beautiful brown eyes?” I turned back to look at the fire.
“What do you see?” she asked, leaning her head on my shoulder again.
I pointed to the last orange flame flickering among the coals. “My mind magnifies that little flame until it fills my whole vision and I see nothing but a mixture of orange, blue and yellow and a million other colors in front of me. Then, I get the feeling I’m staring into the indescribable nothingness that people call eternity, infinity, heaven or hell. Time, that sense of what has passed and what will pass, disappears. Everything appears before me, everything that is, was, will be, will never be, could be…a tunnel with no walls…” I wasn’t sure if was making sense. “I don’t know, the fire just kinda looks more brilliant than normal.”
Sarah snickered, “Sounds like we both need to get to bed. As much as I’d like to talk about this, I’m too tired to think. Walk me to the tent.”
We stood up and I realized how the cold air penetrated my clothes as if I was sitting in an ice bath. I looked over to where Barry had strung a hammock between two trees, claiming that sleeping in the air was warmer than sleeping on the ground. He looked sound asleep.
I helped Sarah to Dena’s tent, which I suddenly realized was my pup tent. I went to my backpack, put on an extra shirt and dared the cold to take off my boots and put on another pair of socks. I then carried my sleeping bag into the guys’ tent, built for five people but only holding four including myself. I lay in the sleeping bag, shivering, not able to sleep, still tripping, and listening to the snoring patterns of the guys around me. After a few minutes, I heard Dena and Sarah talking.
“Psst. Sarah, are you awake?”
“Yeah,” Sarah muttered.
“I’m freezin’ my buns off. How about you?”
“Yeah, just go to sleep.”
“I can’t, I’m too cold.”
“Well, you’ll be tired tomorrow.”
“What time is it?” Dena asked with an obvious shiver in her voice.
“Geez, I can’t lie here three or four more hours.”
“What do suggest, then?”
“How about the guys?”
“What do you mean?”
“Do you think they still have room in their tent?”
Sarah paused before she answered. “Do you want to go into the same tent with Acquaviva?”
“Hmm…maybe you’re right.”
I waited a few more minutes with my attention sharply focused into a giant antenna, listening for more conversation, but to no avail. I then went back to wondering what would have happened if I had taken Sarah up on her drunken offer. Or had I imagined the whole thing to begin with? After all, I was shivering in a cold sleeping bag with a bunch of guys snoring around me. I could easily have dreamed up the whole thing to justify my shivering alone in the dark.
“Sarah,” Dena whispered.
“I can’t stand this anymore. I’m going to the guys’ tent.”
“I’m going with you,” Sarah said cheerfully.
They gathered up their sleeping bags and walked over.
They opened the tent flap and Sarah whispered, “Hey, Doug.”
I started to answer and decided to wait. I could feel someone shaking the guy beside me. “Unh, what is it?” he said and rolled against me.
“What do you want?” I said in the sleepiest voice I could imagine.
“We’re freezin’ to death,” Dena blurted, “so make room. Where’s Acquaviva?”
He grunted from the other side of Doug.
Dena patted the space between Doug and me. “I’ll squeeze in here and you get on the other side of Lee.”
My heart rate jumped and my blood pressure soared. Out of the frying pan and into the fire! Suddenly, I didn’t feel cold.
All the guys adjusted to make room for Dena and Sarah. Dena squeezed in so that her back was to me while Sarah lay facing me. Every person adjusted to one side or another to make room.
I made sure I never opened my eyes and moved very little to give the impression I was asleep. I finally moved my hand to my face and saw the time was 4:30 on my illuminated digital watch. I looked over at Sarah in the dark tent and barely saw her sleeping bag. At first, I thought I was looking at a pattern in the folds of her sleeping bag. Then, I noticed that two spots were coming and going and realized she was looking at me and blinking. I quickly shut my eyes, hoping that she hadn’t seen mine. With my eyes shut, I wasn’t sure if I had really seen her eyes or I was still tripping. I was beginning to feel tired which usually indicated the TS was losing its effect.
I opened my eyes again to see not only two eyes but also a smile. I figured at least forty-five minutes had passed since Sarah and Dena had come into the tent so everyone must surely be asleep. I stuck my hand out of the sleeping bag and waved my fingers. Sarah reached a hand out of her sleeping bag and grasped mine. For a moment I marveled at the wonderment of two cold hands squeezing in the darkness like two condemned prisoners reaching through cell bars and silently saying, “I want to live another day.” Then, the reality of the situation hit me again: I was holding the hand of a married woman and wishing I was with her in one sleeping bag, committing adultery like there was no tomorrow.
“Lee,” Sarah whispered with a smile in her voice.
“Yes?” I said, hoping no one else was listening.
“Are you awake?”
“I think so. Or this a wonderful dream I’m having.” She squeezed my hand tighter.
“Are you still on acid?”
“I don’t believe so.”
“Good,” she said, and let go of my hand.
For a brief moment, perhaps only half a second, I felt she had been leading me on. I suddenly brought forth all my defensive postures, waiting to strike like a bobcat standing silently on a rock above a grazing rabbit.
The shhht of a zipper broke the air like an explosion.
“What,” I responded three octaves higher.
“Undo your zipper.”
I asked myself, “My pants zipper?” and knew as quickly she meant my sleeping bag. I undid the zipper on the sleeping bag about a foot when Sarah grasped my hand in hers again.
“Are you okay?” she asked gently, in her motherly voice.
I began to feel very weird. “I’m not sure what you mean?” I paused for what seemed like hours. “Do you want to go over to the other tent?” I ventured to ask.
“I don’t think that’d be a good idea.”
“Why?” I asked with just a hint of a hurt, defensive posture.
“I don’t even think the two of us could keep out the cold.”
I smiled. “Are you cold right now?”
“Neither am I.”
We continued to hold hands forever, or at least for a few minutes, I couldn’t tell which. My head was spinning and I couldn’t pull my eyes away from hers. I felt like I could fall into her eyes and be enwrapped in an eternal feeling of one hundred percent love and care. No wonder everyone saw her as the motherly type while most guys saw her as a voluptuous female. Her eyes had a power that no cliché’ could adequately describe.
Dena pushed against my back. I closed my eyes and froze, thinking that Dena was awake and had heard what Sarah and I had been saying. Feeling something warm against my face, I opened my eyes to see that Dena had pushed me up to Sarah. Our noses were almost touching. I took a chance and pushed my nose against Sarah’s. She pushed back and without any hesitation, we kissed.
How do I describe a kiss? The Webster’s dictionary describes a kiss as “a caress with the lips” and Roget’s thesaurus gives kiss the synonyms of buss, peck, smack and smooch. Romance novels surround kisses with fireworks while Mafioso movies refer to the kiss of death. Some people believe a kiss involves an electrochemical process that science will be able to fully describe one day (I hope that day never arrives).
While we kissed, we kept our eyes open, as if our eyes were caressing too. We did not kiss with abandon. Instead, we explored each other’s mouth with lips and tongue. I memorized every crack of her chapped lips and savored the taste of her wine-flavored tongue. I ran my tongue across her teeth, noticing how the scraping of her teeth against my tongue excited me, causing pleasurable tingles to pass in waves down the back of my neck. I felt like we were scientific researchers trying to accurately describe all the sensations of kissing.
Occasionally, we would stop kissing and close our eyes, catching a catnap.
At one point, I attempted to put my arm around her. She grabbed the back of my hand and pressed my hand against her back. She then reached her other hand into my sleeping bag and held her hand against my back. Neither one dared to move, not sure what was next. Fate stepped in and made the decision for us.
Acquaviva began to moan and woke everyone up. Sarah and I returned our hands to our sleeping bags. I looked at my watch in the dim light of morning to see it was 6:30. Someone told Acquaviva to either get up or go back to sleep.
I awoke to the bright light of morning. Several dim dreams lingered in my mind, and in my grogginess I wasn’t sure what had been dreams and what had been the imaginings of my acid trip. For a moment, I thought I had lived out my fantasies about Sarah. I looked down at my watch to see it was 8:30. Suddenly, the whole evening flashed before me. I looked up, expecting to see Sarah’s face in front of me only to discover I was alone in the tent. I could hear people talking all around me.
Acquaviva leaned into the tent. “Hey, sleepy head, time to get up. We need to fold this tent up.”
I rolled up my sleeping bag and crawled out of the tent. In a fit of desperation, I looked quickly around me to find Sarah. She and Dena sat by the fire. Sarah looked at me with a warm smile.
Barry came up behind me and slapped my back. “Want some breakfast? I bet you’re famished from last night. Do you remember running through the woods, frantically looking for a clearing to see the Big Dipper?”
I turned to look at him through half-open eyes. “Are you kidding?”
“Do you remember the meteor shower?”
I thought for a moment and memories of spending a long time getting lost in the woods came back to me. “I think so. Did we find my pot pipe?”
“Hell, no. You said you’d remember in the morning exactly where you dropped it.”
My head began to clear and I saw the image of a rotten log between a dry creek bed and a trail. “I think I know where it is.”
“If you want breakfast, come and get it,” Acquaviva interrupted. “Otherwise, we need to get these dishes cleaned up.”
I loaded my sleeping bag in my backpack and put the pup tent, which someone had been kind enough to pack up, on top.
I walked back to the fire and got some burnt bacon and dry, scrambled eggs. Dena looked at me with a knowing smile, stood up, and pointed to her place on the log. “Sit here, I’m finished.”
I sat down next to Sarah and ate in silence. I did not speak to her until we were putting our backpacks on and she needed help getting a strap untangled.
Once on the trail, I took my turn at the rear of the group, momentarily taking advantage of seeing where other people had been walking, thus avoiding the mud puddles and hidden holes on the pathway. I spent the time to go over the past evening in my mind, separating the drug-induced hallucinations from the real events. Some points were fuzzy, especially right before I went to sleep, but I decided to throw them from my mind. They seemed too confusing to try to remember.
About a mile down the trail, Dena developed a bad blister and I slowed down to walk with her. We talked about her disappointment about her friend not coming along and how an essay would have been a lot less painful than this trip. She had a headache from the night before, and complained about an ache or pain in every joint of her body. I was beginning to think about leaving her behind when Barry said he would take over the rear.
I picked up my pace and caught up with Sarah. I remained silent, still trying to piece the evening together.
“You can’t just keep quiet,” Sarah finally said.
“I mean let’s talk about something.”
“Right now, I’m trying to figure out last night.”
“What’s there to figure out?”
“Well, because my sense of time was messed up, I can’t figure out if I’m missing parts of the evening or if I stared at the fire most of the night.”
“You did stare at the fire a lot.”
“Yeah, but did I…” I stopped.
“Did you what?”
“No, I don’t know what you mean.”
“Is it possible to imagine a whole evening?”
“You’re beginning to sound like Acquaviva.”
“Yeah, I know.”
Sarah reached over and held my hand. “Can I help?”
I looked up and down the trail. We were out of sight of the rest of the group. “What do you mean? Is there something you can help me with?”
“If you aren’t sure if something happened, I can tell you if it did.”
“I’m not so sure about that. You were pretty drunk.”
“I only had four glasses of wine.”
I decided to stop playing word games. I pulled Sarah to me and we kissed as we had the night before, eyes open, exploring lips and all.
“Well?” she asked wryly.
“Do you need me to help you remember anything?”
“No, now I’ve got to figure it all out.”
“Figure what out?”
“You and me.”
“What’s there to figure?” We kissed.
“Yeah, but I think there’s more to this than that.”
“You think so? Either there is or there isn’t. You and I can think that tree’s over there and agree that it’s there but if we walk over and feel nothing there, then there’s no tree.”
“I know, I know. I’m just tired…”
“And I’ve got to figure it all out.”
“Okay,” she said, turning her head to one side. We continued to hike down the trail, swinging our interlocked hands up and down between us, a bounce in our step, like two kids without a care in the world.
The philosophy of Nietzsche was alive and well in the 23rd century…