perfect stranger

The text message from an unfamiliar number read, “I’m late.”
“For what?” I respond.
“My period,” she replies.

Emotion overpowered rationale as my heart began beating with trepidation. I knew who was on the other line and for unknown reasons I didn’t doubt her.

Four weeks ago in southern Oregon, I met a waitress as she was getting off work. I decided to forgo travel word scrawling for the day and asked her to accompany me to the beach.

Leaving the motorbike at her house, we took her car out to the coast. The rural highway tacked back and forth like a sailboat in low wind and after an hour of driving we arrived. Walking along the dunes, abrasive sand scratching at our toes while we drank beers in the sun and I avoided thinking about kissing this woman as she choked down cigarettes.

After a few hours we got back in her car and drove to the closest town, which had fallen onto hardship since the closing of the cheese factory. On a Saturday summer night, there was only one restaurant open at nine so we dinned inside, eating sandwiches as she spoke about life.

“I want to go back to collage to study music,” she says between sandwich bites.
“You should,” I reply. “You can do anything you want.”

Staccato conversations like this continued through dinner and the ride back to her small Oregon town. Her early 80s Honda Prelude lacked brake lights and we were pulled over twice by the police. With alcohol on her breath and dope in her car both interactions seemed to take too long as the cops grasped for probable cause. At this point I just needed to sleep.

Having camped under Douglas firs and bathed in snowmelt lakes for the past twp weeks, even her hovel of a home seemed nice. A pit bull stayed at the foot of her twin bed as we had loud, rough sex until late in the night. Removing the condom, it burst into two pieces but I was too tired to pay much attention and we fell asleep.

She had work in the morning and I needed to snap photos of southern Oregon before continuing south into California. I gave her a kiss and my phone number before parting ways.

“Give me a call if you’re ever up in Portland,” I say, mounting the bike.
“I will,” she replies. “It was nice meeting you.”
“Good luck,” I say before racing off into the sun-bleached, terraced hillsides growing tempranillo grapes.

My heart was heavy as I rode south and east; I felt shameful when everything was said and done. Having mechanical sex with a perfect stranger seems like a great idea in the moment but afterwards regret sets in and I felt worse than before.

Before long I promised myself I’d no longer have sex just because I could. I rationalized that if my actions don’t lead to greater happiness, than what was the point? For too long I’ve had a laissez faire approach to sex and the visceral pleasures that came with it. But the great moments, the great partners I’ve had in life weren’t met in a club or bar and when we finally had a sexual experience it was only after weeks of getting to know them.

Fucking for fucking’s sake is cooperative masturbation and I am getting too old to settle for immediate gratification. With this in mind I set about my trip, avoiding cities and spending my nights alone in the desert under a blanket of shooting stars. The only other time I got lucky was when a rattlesnake decided not to bite me.

Too much time in the desert make anyone go mad; our brain dehydrates and you begin taking too many risks too far from safety but I was determined to have complete stories. I felt fortunate to receive .20 per word for my travel articles, not much but when combined with my other accounts, it was enough to quit my real job.

Ever since I broke up with my last girlfriend I abhorred commitment, whether it was to some company, some woman or some time frame and was willing to sacrifice my security for freedom. I was in control of my life, deciding where to go and when to go there but the euphoria of wondering wore off and at some point under bogus pretext, I went home.

Soon after getting home I received that text and it felt like my freedom was being boxed in. I felt cursed as if I was being punished for sins already repent for but despite my immediate selfishness dizziness I knew she was scared.

“How do you feel?” I ask overtop her sobbing voice.
“I’m so scared and I didn’t know if I should call you,” she replies.
“Of course you should have. Thank you,” I say.

It was a strange thing that I had already been intimate with this woman and yet I knew next to nothing about her. She begins tells me her past.

Her father left at an early age and her mom worked incessantly to support her and her older sister. She always had to look out for herself. She wanted love but confused affection with sex.

She made an appointment at the clinic but ran out before the surgery. She made another appointment and ran out again. There was nothing I could do and despite how much I disliked the circumstance, I would abide by her decision even if we were strangers without health insurance.

As much as I feared raising a child with this woman and I was even more fearful that I would repeat my father’s mistakes. I knew too well how painful it is for a boy to grow up without a father. She promised to go for sure. I could hardly sleep as I lay there worrying but I eventually fell asleep each night and one morning my phone rang with a message.

“I’m here,” read the text but I didn’t get the message until three hours after it was sent.
“Stay strong,” I replied.

She called some hours later to say everything was done with and that she received my message right before the procedure began. She begins crying and I don’t interrupt her. She might be a perfect stranger but I owe her that much.