Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Love on the Road

Right now, in an empty spare bedroom, Ira is laying in his sleeping gear on a hard wood floor of a North Portland rust colored bungalow reading the Deer Park by Norman Mailer. The bungalow is owned by a 30 something couple, whom we have only just met. Having moved to Portland a year before, they have purchased this house in this up and coming neighborhood where we have been told you would be quite easily shot at 10 years back.

I am in the basement of the North Portland rust colored bungalow on an old futon, also wrapped up in my sleeping gear contemplating the current state of affairs.

Our hosts rent out two downstairs bedrooms which are currently vacant. Ira lays in one. I, as I mentioned above, prefer the basement. As I lay in bed, I think about the fight Ira and I had earlier in the night. Really, it was about nothing and I can't even remember what sparked it. Whatever it was quickly degraded into pot shots about my lacking in "good girlfriend qualities" and his lacking of hair (Ira is going bald rather quickly these days).

I was very upset earlier, but now replaying it my mind, it doesn't conjure up the same heated emotions I felt then. In fact, my reactions earlier seem strange, unnecessarily exaggerated; out of line. As I lie in bed and think about Ira, I don't feel any animosity or lingering anger. In fact, the concept of him now makes me think of his gentle voice, his curious way of being incredibly goofy and sentimental at the same time, his dark deep set eyes, and I realize I should get out of my incredibly comfortable sleeping situation to go upstairs and tell him I love him. It takes a little bit of time to fully convince myself to abandon my warm little sleeping cocoon, but finally love wins the battle. I unzip my sleeping bag, slap my feet on the cold basement cement floor, and pad upstairs to his room to express my feelings.

I open the door and walk into the brightly lit room. Our bags have been casually flopped around the walls of the vacant room and our few belongings are overflowing out of the bags and all over the empty floor. Ira lies in a random position on the floor with a look of false concentration of reading the Deer Park by Norman Mailer clearly showing he is doing his best to ignore my presence even though my very presence is being exaggerated by the echoing of my every movement against the emptiness of the room.

He finally looks up and pierces me with an icy glance before returning once again to the Deer Park by Norman Mailor. "You don't look very happy to see me" I say, knowing immediately what the response will be..."I'm reading". Oh these two words really communicate sooo much more. Ira is constantly getting irritated with me for interrupting him while reading or writing. He has lectured me about it countless times and I for whatever reason, thoughtlessness, a need to be spontaneous or out of sheer pettiness am constantly interrupting him in such cases. I stand there for a while just sort of staring down at him. Obviously this terse reply has hurt my feelings, especially since I left the comfort of my downstairs situation to pad all the way up here to tell him I love him. I spend moments trying to decide whether I will be above pettiness and give him my message of love anyway, or if I will succumb to the pettiness and make a sarcastic remark before stomping out.

Sarcastic laugh. "Oh yeah, I forgot. We are at currently at odds."
I stomp out.

Being on a bicycle tour for 6 months with only your significant other as a companion definitely takes its tool on a relationship. We did surprisingly well for the first 4 months, but during this last one, Ira and I are having a lot of trouble engaging in a civil conversation about anything. Our friends are not surprised.

"Oh yeah, I had some friends who biked across the country together, but they didn't make it to end together. They broke up somewhere around Colorado."


"When I was about your age, my girlfriend at the time and I tried to bike from Vermont where her family lived, to Oregon, but I got so sick of her bitching I encouraged her to take a ride in South Dakota and I continued on by myself."


"My boyfriend at the time, the 'monster', and I biked down the Mississippi to New Orleans and then to California. I am glad I haven't seen him since."

Such were the stories we were inundated with before leaving for this trip. The thing is, Ira and I fight about everything in our regular life. For the past five years of our relationship, we have been consistently embarrassing to be around because of our public and private displays of stubborn spats. In fact our friends have dubbed us "Angria and Irate". So I assumed Ira and I were prepared.

We talked again and again about how important good communication was going to be for this trip. We really did get off to a good start. Sure we had some quality fights along the way, but for the most part we were enjoying our trip and enjoying each others company. For the first couple of months I would truthfully reassure people Ira and I were doing really well, working as a team, etc.

Recently however, Angria and Irate have returned.

I pad back downstairs to my not so warm cocoon. I crawl back inside my bag and zip up. What is going on with us?

Things started to get bad in Montana, but they got better again in Washington to Seattle. We left Seattle and as we headed south so did our relationship. Yesterday morning it all started with a tear in the cook set bag. Ira had put the cook set away the night before and was not too happy to be doing it. He jammed all the pots, spoons and spatula in the bag half hazardly. The next morning revealed the spoon had been jammed down in the bag in such a way as to force it through the mesh creating a rip. In the long run this of course is not a big deal at all. However that morning, it set me off. I lectured Ira about it, how he always half-asses any tasks he doesn't want to do. He in turned responded that although he was the one to put the cook set away last night the whole situation was really my fault because I am on the one who came up with the system of storing all the afore mentioned items in said bag. The system was obviously faulty , I came up with the system, I am to blame. I countered with the statement that if it was done correctly, with care, everything would fit in the bag just fine, but when you just throw stuff around, it’s bound to break. Blah blah blah.

He wouldn't apologize and I wouldn't let it go until he apologized. He wouldn't apologize because he thought I was being totally out of line. I was proceeded to get further and further out of line because he wasn't apologizing.

Finally I got out a piece of paper, wrote out the directions for the days ride, threw it over to him and said "fine, just meet me in Longview". The directions fell on the ground. He turned in disgust and said, I don't need your directions and stomped off with his 100 lb bike in tow.

Good, I thought, finally I'll have some peace. During the 30 mile ride to Longview, Wa, I found myself ceasing to be angry with Ira and once again, begin to focus on his gentle voice, his sweet mannerisms ... When we finally meet up in Longview I apologize for being so crazy earlier that morning and he apologizes for not apologizing earlier. Things are good again until 15 minutes later, we start discussing where we are planning to stay in Portland the next night, something he said he was taking care of, and he tells me he has made no plans. AHHHHH. Fight Fight Fight.

This is a constant recurring theme with us. Fight fight fight, brief make up and then minutes later fight, fight, fight. I've gotten to the point where it seems the best situation is to just not talk at all. This tactic works pretty well.

My sleeping bag is heating up again now from my body heat and I wiggle my toes around in my socks enjoying the warmth. I also am enjoying my solitude. Being away from Ira at night is such a luxury. Normally we are only sleeping inches apart in a tent so small we are constantly bumping elbows, kicking each other and can barely sit up to read a book or for me to fix my hair. Beside the tight quarters, Ira snores. I bought ear plugs but I can still hear his slurpy sloshy snoring through them. The silence of the basement gives me true comfort.

I keep wondering if our relationship is on the outs or not. I wonder if we really don't work together well as a team or if a situation like this would break the bonds of any relationship. I just don't know. What I do know is Ira and I have spent every day for the last 136 days together. We have little social contact with others for days on end. We get up around 7 in the morning, are on our bikes around 8:30 and ride till around 6 or 7 when we are so tired we can't think straight. We have to find a place set up our tent in some out of the way place where we won't be caught and made to pay camping fees. We may not have the everyday work-a-day stress to worry about but never knowing where you are going to sleep at the end of the day can wear on you.

Ira says my fuse is getting so short it is nonexistent. This is probably true. Little things he does are really starting to wear on me. Like this book he is reading right now. It seems he goes out of his way to tell everyone he is reading "The Deer Park, by Norman Mailor". He talks about the book all the time. When he is done reading it, he will ask me if I would like to read it, and I will respond I have no need to because although I may not know the book in a linear fashion, I am pretty familiar with the general story since he has given multiple different people the synopsis, over and over.

Everyone has their "stories". Annecdotes which are funny and cute or ideas which we obsess about. However when you are with the same person all the time, you start really getting annoyed at hearing the same stories over and over again. I don't mean to particularly single Ira out on this. I know I do the same thing. I am conscious of the stories I tell over and over, so I before I begin one of them, I usually preface it with, "Ira, I am sure is getting sick of this story..." As if somehow this sentence will make it less annoying for him. Probably not.

What it all comes down to is, I am getting irritated with Ira over the little things more then anything. I catch myself complaining about something or criticizing him and I realize how petty I am being. I hate this pettiness in myself and it makes me more annoyed and more crabby. It is a never ending cycle.

How can we solve this problem? I have no idea. Sure I can say I need to practice more patience, but how easy is it to be patient when it is almost dark, we have no place to camp, it has started raining and Ira keeps vetoing every camping option? How patient can Ira be of my incessant need to complain about everything and anything that goes wrong? Or my inability to make decisions, depending on him to make a choice, so I can later blame him if something goes wrong. Our fighting all the time isn't anyone's fault. It is a mixture of physical and emotional fatigue, lack of social stimulus and lack of patience.

In three weeks we will be in San Francisco and our passage over the Golden Gate will mark the completion of this half of the trip. Before we start the second half of our planned ride from Austin, Texas to Halifax, Nova Scotia we will have a three month break. We fly back to the Midwest. Ira will stay in Chicago, and I will be going back to Michigan to be with my family. Three months apart. I can't wait. How we will deal with the second half of our trip is like anything else in the future, unknown. However, I am hoping our distance from each over the break will have its needed affect. I will probably start thinking about his gentle voice and his deep-set eyes.

I don't have the energy to dwell on it anymore tonight. I, unconsciously, roll over on my stomach and start drooling on my warm pillow.

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