Then there was Eve Amundsen. I first met her at fine arts camp up in Fairbanks in the summer between my junior and senior year, right in the middle of my punk rock period. There were no girls in the punk scene where I lived, in Kenai. Just skater guys and me. There were a bunch of punk rock girls up in Fairbanks at fine arts camp, but not many that were smoking hot like Eve was. She had a bitching dyed black mohawk, wore gothic makeup, leather jacket, pointy boots, lots of piercings, including a nose pierce, which in 1987 was a daring thing to have. She was the whole package. However, she was also intense and catty, so I hardly said more than two words to her. Anyway, this was right after Nina so I was still kind of bugged out about girls in general.
I went back to Kenai, had a rebound thing with Kim, got together with Bernadette at the end of senior year, then went off to Holland for a year to be an exchange student. Bernadette went to Holland too, but our relationship never really went anywhere; we stayed in a weird kind of limbo for almost the whole year. I didn’t know yet where I wanted to go to college after Holland, so I applied to the University of Alaska in Fairbanks, thinking I would spend another year there figuring out what to do with myself.
The summer after Holland I worked on my old friend Corey Wehner’s family fishing site back in Kenai. I told Corey about Eve when we were out in the skiff one day, and how I planned on looking her up and dating her when I got to Fairbanks. I was pretty sure of myself. Very confident.
I found her as soon as I got there, working as a cashier in the canteen. She didn’t have the black mohawk anymore, or the goth makeup. But she still had the torn jeans and the leather jacket and all the piercings, including the nose pierce. And if anything she was even more beautiful than I remembered her. I waited for her shift to end and then I presented myself.
She was a bit taken aback by my sudden appearance, but after a minute or two of remember-this, remember-that on my part she said Oh yeah, you, and agreed to hang out.
I lived in an eight-story dorm up on the hill at UAF, Lathrop Hall, but for some reason my assigned roommate never showed up to move in. His name was Rocky Blocker, and I ran into him one day walking around campus. He wore a trenchcoat and a wide brimmed Crocodile Dundee-type hat with a bandanna underneath. He had cultivated that kind of post-apocalyptic, “don’t-fuck-with-me” aesthetic that you really look for in a roommate. I imagined that, had I asked to borrow his butterfly knife or telescoping metal whip, he would have produced one from a sleeve without missing a beat.
Instead I asked him when he would be moving in, because there was a friend I wanted to have over on Friday evening. Oh yeah, he said with a knowing look, Need a little scrump time, eh? Don’t worry, I won’t be around.
That was creepy, but also a relief, and in fact it was the last time I ever saw him. So I got to have some quality alone time with Eve that Friday night and several more times during the first several weeks of school before a replacement roommate showed up.
We hit it off right away. We both loved art; that much was already established, and gave us tons to talk about. We were in nearly full agreement on music – that most crucial element in getting a successful young romance off the ground. The Dead Kennedys, Bauhaus and Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds had ruled, and we still respected them mightily, but we didn’t listen to them much anymore. We agreed that The Cocteau Twins had many interesting things going on, and we laughed to discover that we both liked Jimi Hendrix a lot, but mainly just Electric Ladyland, and no other classic rock. At some later point we discovered that Peter Murphy, former lead singer of Bauhaus had a solo album out, and we wore out that cassette as we drove around in her pea-green ‘72 Nova with the American flag in the back seat. But I’m jumping ahead…
Have I mentioned this already? I was brimming with confidence. I wasted no time getting to the first kiss, using the tried and true method of talking about something fascinating in a lower and lower voice while moving closer and closer together and then shutting up just in time to lock lips. We discovered that making out together was super great, and we did it often.
At one point we took a short break in our necking for her to tell me about a dream she’d had. There was the usual disjointed dream strangeness, something about a raging river and being swept up in a driftwood logjam, and the account ended with …And my shirt was ripped off and all I could think was,’Oh no, the scars! He’ll see the scars!’ Nervous laughter.
Hmmm… Queer indeed. Why bring this up in the middle of making out? Are there emotional scars she needs to tell me about? Real scars? But I did not ask my questions. Just agreed that that was a pretty weird dream, and we continued smooching. Soon after that though, she confided to me that there were real scars. They were on her breasts, and she was very self-conscious about them.
It was a milestone in our budding relationship, a bond of trust had formed between us for her to feel safe telling me about this. I was alarmed, and filled with compassion. What terrible accident had caused this? What vicious act of violence had marred this beautiful woman’s body?
She said she had had a breast reduction. (Cartoon sound of a giant record needle scratch.) Yes, a reduction.
Nooo! The shallow little man inside me howled.
But I was leading with the big noble man nearly all the time in those days, so I assured her that she needn’t be concerned.
One night in my dorm room it got so late that we decided it might be better if she not try to drive home. That seemed quite sensible, as well as exciting. The make-out session moved along through some familiar stages; an article or two of clothing came off, breathing got heavier, pelvises found each other and got into a rhythm. But for some reason I was finding it difficult to go to the next level. Like something was stopping me.
I whispered to her, For some reason I’m finding it difficult to go to the next level. It’s like something is stopping me.
Yeah, she whispered back. It’s me.(Cartoon sound of a giant record needle scratch.)
I would not have been more surprised if she had revealed she was a guy. It was unfathomable that anyone but a nun would not want to get busy at this stage of a hot and heavy make-out session. She told me she wanted to wait. She wasn’t ready yet.
Abstinence? What kind of person is this? I thought to myself. I didn’t know, but I had to find out.
What I found out was, Eve and I were a perfect match. Our lifelines seemed to have converged flawlessly, effortlessly, as if right on schedule. I was in Fairbanks for the year just deciding whether to go to art school or a liberal arts college, and she was finishing her last year of high school with her heart firmly set on Cornish College of the Arts in Seattle after graduation. She had a part-time job (I didn’t), and other than that we had no distractions besides each other, and we poured our energy into that.
Autumn in Fairbanks was beautiful, and unlike down south in Kenai where I grew up it was warm and sunny most days. She had a good collection of fossils, and we both loved drawing skulls and bones. We rode our mountain bikes around Fairbanks and looked for bones in the woods and fossils in the riverbanks. Mining had been big industry in the area in the past, but was now on the wane, and she took me to various and sundry mining graveyards full of antiquated, rusted out machinery. There we would eat the lunch we had brought, talk earnestly about important things, hang out, make out.
Fall was stunning, but over even more quickly than where I came from. It got darker much earlier and colder much faster. One of our last excursions before the really cold weather hit was a night visit to a ghost plane, an old B-17 bomber languishing at the edge of a long unused airfield. We climbed up into the dark, jumbled fuselage, and Eve led me to the hatch in the roof. We hoisted ourselves up through it and sat on the top of the plane in silent wonder. The immense, indigo sky gleaming with more stars than I had ever seen, the air in my nostrils more crisp and pure than I had ever breathed, this old, cold metal hulk with its untold stories that we sat atop, high above the frosty field – the whole scene had a calm, electrified presence. The whole scene was here just for us, I and this amazing, enchanting woman who sat in front of me shivering every once in a while. We passed a hand rolled smoke back and forth with numb fingers and then made our way back to her warm car, fully in love.
When the snows came they really came. The temperature plummeted and daylight became a precious commodity. Frequently, even after it got light in the late morning there would be ice fog, a seemingly semisolid substance that made mobility a tentative affair – cars and people became phantoms that slowly drifted about through it. Eve and my relationship incubated well ensconced in this muffled environment. We would spend long periods gazing into one another’s eyes, falling into one another’s souls, lingering like that and losing track of time, without a care for anything outside the warm, womb-like environment we were creating. If anyone spoke it would be a truncated murmur: How did this…? Amazing…
Sometime close to Halloween her sister Ellie was housesitting for family friends, an orthodontist or psychiatrist or somebody professional like that, and his wife. Ellie wanted a night off so she asked Eve to fill in for her. Eve gladly accepted, with my eager endorsement. It seemed like that might be our chance to finally seal the deal, physically speaking.
It was a big house, typical of well-to-do folks like the orthodontists I guess, but nicer than any house I had been in, and full of nicer and more interesting things: Scandinavian furniture, paintings that did not depict mountains or salmon, objets d’art, and so on. This, plus its sequestered location up on a hill, deep in the woods, deep in the snow… It just felt like this was the place.
And it was.
I can’t say the experience was that smooth, and there were some tears involved, and it was over fairly quickly, but the whole thing was as special as you could want a first time to be. Well, it was Eve’s first time, not mine, but it was so special that it felt like mine too. If only her sister Ellie and her mom and Mr. and Mrs. Orthodontist had found it as special as we did. How things might have been different.
See, we had been smart enough at the ages of 17 and 19 to use protection, but then dumb enough to toss it in the trash in the master bathroom afterwards. That made it a cinch for the orthodontist and his wife to discover it when they came back, and quickly deduce not only that Ellie the housesitter had had carnal affairs in their house, but that she had done it right in their very own bed. This displeased them, but they were happy to know that she and her lover had used a condom, and they tried to reassure her with this when they confronted her.
Ellie was of course mortified at being wrongly accused like this, and even moreso because she had to keep silent about what had really happened – because having sex in someone else’s bed without their knowledge is not as bad as inadvertently letting someone else have sex in someone else’s bed – and that was outrageous enough on its own, even without Mr. and Mrs. Orthodontist finding out and thinking it was her.
The fact is, even though Ellie was older than Eve she was much more virginal and innocent to the ways of the world. Right up until the moment she was being accused of fornication I doubt that any thoughts, words or images remotely relating to fornication had ever entered her mind, and now they were being forced upon her out of nowhere by a couple of adults. But it must have been exceedingly, shockingly outrageous to simultaneously realize that the lewd behavior they were forcing her to think about had actually been carried out by her dear younger sister whom she trusted so completely – and that Mark guy whom she thought was funny but also a weirdo.
So the whole thing was much too much for her to handle, and she had to tell someone – even after bitching Eve out soundly – so she told their mom, Judy, who joined Ellie in flipping her wig. Now the two quote-normal people in the family were completely unhinged, while the developmentally challenged younger sister Emma and the La-Z-Boy-bound, semicomatose stepdad, Gary, were unfazed by the drama, and Eve just kept her head down for a while. Judy kind of came around after a week or so and gave Eve and me the parental talk, but admitted that she was proud of us for using protection, BUT had to stress again how disappointed she was in our choice of venue.
So all cool with Judy, but Ellie didn’t speak to Eve for almost a whole year, and that really sucked because up until then they had been good buddies, despite their personality differences.
I doubt if her dad Jim ever caught wind of the kerfuffle, or if he did he never said a word about it. Of course, he didn’t say many words, period. He was a big Nordic guy with a white handlebar mustache that had nicotine stains on it. The only reason he does not now turn up at the top of a Google image search for “quintessential Alaskan bush pilot” is probably that no photos of him exist. He was an elusive guy, is what I’m saying.
I could tell he loved his little girl though. He called her “kid” and he let her use a corner of his airplane-fixin’ shop as an art studio. He was okay with me I guess, and he was okay with us smoking in his shop too. We used an upside down piston head as an ashtray, which I thought was pretty cool. We spent some time in there for a while working on a collaborative painting.
Eve was a gifted artist, especially with chalk pastels, and she had a ruthless work ethic. She disliked other people’s comparisons of her work with Frida Kahlo and Georgia O’Keefe, and I supported her, but secretly I had to admit strong similarities. She introduced me to the amazing German artist Käthe Kollwitz, and we were both into Gustav Klimt (you know, way before middle-aged soccer moms discovered his work on calendars and tote bags and ruined it!). We loved Klimt’s more twisted contemporary Egon Schiele even more, and – Speaking of twisted Teutons, she told me, check out Hans Bellmer! and we eewed and ahhed over his pornographic multi-legged manikins with glee. We dug Dali of course, and the surrealist collages of Max Ernst. Being marooned as we were in Fairbanks, in winter, in Alaska, we had no way to see any of this stuff in person, so we spent a lot of time poring over giant art books in the UAF library. That’s how we found the Bosnian surrealist Ljuba, and the Italian surrealist Leonor Fini, whom we never would have learned about otherwise. It’s also where we discovered Tristan Tzara, the Romanian Dadaist and poet laureate of our love. Here’s one of his:
Vegetable Swallow two smiles meet towards the child-wheel of my zeal the bloody baggage of creatures made flesh in physical legends-lives the nimble stags storms cloud over rain falls under the scissors of the dark hairdresser-furiously swimming under the clashing arpeggios in the machine's sap grass grows around with sharp eyes here the share of our caresses dead and departed with the waves gives itself up to the judgment of time parted by the meridian of hairs non strikes in our hands the spices of human pleasures
It felt as if all of this art had been made just for us and we were the only ones who knew about it. We were both into symbolism and allegory, and we tried to express this in the painting we had collaborated on. It showed our two torsos entwined and surrounded by a plethora of suggestive objects: a raven, clay vessels with tribal designs, antlers and bones. The piece didn’t really go anywhere because our styles didn’t mesh well – hers was more like Frida and mine was more like Egon – but we didn’t care. We were pleased with ourselves for mythologizing our relationship, and besides, we meshed in absolutely every other way.
We did have lives outside of each other. She worked hard on her portfolio for Cornish. She went to her job – now it was at a gourmet ice cream shop (just what Fairbanksians are hankering for in February). I went to my classes: Intro to Short Fiction, Art History, Painting II, Drawing III, Intro to Eastern Philosophy, French II, Yoga. I dropped that one because it was an 8 AM class in an unheated gym all the way at the bottom of lower campus. I applied to colleges: Reed in Portland, St. John’s in Santa Fe, San Francisco Art Institute in San Francisco, Pacific Northwest College of Art in Portland. (None in Seattle.) We both had friends to hang out with from time to time.
Neither of us was the slightest bit interested in winter sports, so we spent the rest of our time with each other, mostly indoors. We watched movies at her house – Wings of Desire; The Unbearable Lightness of Being; Evil Dead 2. The usual fare for artsy outsiders like us.
We went through the winter like this, hibernating together. We never had any conflict. That is, we didn’t fight. There were periods of moodiness I suppose. No surprise. Two artists, joined at the hip in the middle of winter – it would have been excusable for us to exchange volleys with kitchen implements from time to time like a normal Alaskan couple, but we never even came close to that.
There was the muffin incident, though. She came to my dorm room one morning and happily presented me with a muffin she had baked, which was still warm. I forgot to get coffee though, she said chippily. Be right back! And she zipped out the door. Some time went by. That warm muffin smelled amazing, and it was getting less warm at roughly the same rate as the gnawing hunger was growing inside me, which is to say, damned fast. I held off as long as I could, but finally I unwrapped it and started in.
She finally skipped into my room holding two coffees and looking pleased as punch. She saw me with the half-chewed muffin and stopped in her tracks. The blissful look on her face morphed into a mélange of shock, pain and betrayal. She put the coffees down and left the room without a word. I finished that delicious muffin wondering what the hell that was all about. Half an hour later when she returned (not skipping this time), I found out.
How… she muttered. Could… she seethed. You! she gasped, clenching her fists at her sides and beginning to cry. And that was the preamble to an emotional outpouring on how I had erred and how that made her feel. It wasn’t as if she had walked in on me sodomizing her cat, and yet…somehow… it was. I felt bad once it got through my head that sharing this muffin with me had been a big deal for her. She had evidently put a lot of care and planning, not to mention some pretty high expectations into it, while I, on the other hand, had uncouthly taken the gesture at face value: Here, have a muffin. Thanks. Chomp.
So I got it that I had been a cad and let her down. Still though, her reaction seemed a bit over the top. She was overwrought, and she stayed that way for just a little too long, I thought, and I felt that my previous experience with Nina made me somewhat qualified in that assessment. I had never seen this side of her. It really caught me off guard, and it was a bummer because it made me realize she wasn’t perfect, as I had thought.
When she cooled off and we had patched things up she told me, I guess I get really wrapped up in the planning stage of doing something for somebody and imagining how great their reaction is going to be. I have really high expectations of them, so I’m easily disappointed. Once I gave this dried black dahlia to Lars and he didn’t say thank you, he was just like, cool, or something, so I didn’t speak to him again, and that was like two years ago.
Zoinks! Mental note: Express a proper amount of gratitude to Eve’s gifts.
So she’s not perfect, I concluded, big deal. Just nearly perfect, and things went back to being sweet and wonderful between us after that. However, from time to time I would catch nuances in friends’ comments that suggested perhaps being her friend was a little more high stakes than being her boyfriend. Interesting, and I had to say, lucky for me.
As winter wore on, another thing became apparent. I liked partying a lot more than she did. The first time we went to a party together she installed herself on the stairs and nursed a single beer the whole time, while I bounced around the room sucking down beers and acting like a college freshman. It was disappointing that she wasn’t more social. I wished she would keep up with me a little more. I wanted people to know what a great couple we were. And we were soulmates for sure, so why couldn’t she also be my drinking buddy? Deep down it bothered me that we had this pretty big difference in our characters. It also bothered me to realize that I was one way with her – serious, sincere and thoughtful – and another way in social settings – goofy, gregarious and sarcastic. She was the same in either situation, and that made her seem more genuine than me. That stung my ego, but also put pressure on me to keep making sure she was okay at parties.
So we didn’t go to many social engagements together. We spent a lot of time alone together, as I mentioned, and when I wanted to party I joined my friends solo, and there was never any problem with that.
Against all odds, break-up eventually came. I don’t mean that Eve and I broke up; not at all. We were still as solid as any couple could be. No, break-up is Alaska’s unofficial fifth season. It is the period before spring when the days get longer and the sun gets warm again, and the ice in the river breaks up (see?), and everything kind of looks like shit. The crusty old snow is melting and getting mixed up with the mud and road grit underneath, everything is brown and gray and trees don’t have any leaves on them yet. If you have only ever seen picture books of Alaska you will not know about this horrendously ugly time of year because no photographer has ever endangered her career by taking a picture of it.
For Alaskans though, it is a time to rejoice. Time to clean house, time to take that truck-load of empty liquor bottles to the dump, time to be outside, living again. You almost can’t believe you made it.
A bit later, when spring was actually underway, Eve said we should go camp overnight in this ghost town she knew of. We could look for fossils in the washouts – streambanks that miners would hit with high pressure hoses hoping that gold nuggets would fall out. She said lots of fossils fell out too. We got some gear together, jumped in the car and headed north.
The town was built up the side of a ravine, broken down tin-roofed buildings invaded by alder and birch, windows all gone to let the spirits come and go freely. After exploring a bit we picked our way along the dry, rocky streambed. We kept at it for quite a while but didn’t turn up anything exciting. In the evening we climbed up to a house that was in a little better shape than the others. Eve had stayed here before and left a few amenities, kitchen utensils, a decent mattress. We heated up our dinner and ate it in silence, and after that we sat in the window sill overlooking the overgrown ravine, sharing a smoke, listening to the wind whisper through the trees in the waning light, and feeling supremely at peace.
I, of course, was ready to have sex. You would be, too, right? Who wouldn’t be?
Eve Amundsen, that’s who. She put me off gently. I persisted. Finally she said, No, we can’t. This is a sacred place. It wouldn’t be right. And she rolled over and was soon asleep. For an atheist, she sure can be pious, I grumbled to myself. I was miffed, and slept fitfully.
In the morning I awoke with a fever. I had a flu bug setting in fast, and that cut short our planned explorations. I was hot and achy and could barely get my eyes open, let alone do anything else, so Eve packed everything up and we headed back to the car. She was disappointed, of course, but what else could we do?
Just as we were beginning to lurch down the old road out of there Eve said, Hey what’s that? and pulled to a stop. I was slumped over against the passenger door, immobile, so I couldn’t see what she was looking at, but it seemed like she was looking up the embankment on her side. Hold on a sec, she said, getting out of the car. I listened to the sounds of her scrambling up the embankment. I waited, mentally nursing my misery. She came back, breathless and excited. There’s something big up there! I momentarily forgot my misery.
She said she could see just the tip of some bones sticking out of the overhang at the top of the bank. I murmured my excitement. She said we’d better go back to town for some proper excavating tools. I groaned my agreement, and she hit the gas. She was over the moon and chattered nonstop the whole way back about the possibilities. I was too delirious to reciprocate, but not too delirious to feel bad about missing out on this find, and feeling somehow responsible for my sorry state. Maybe I had offended the local deities with my lust the night before, and now I was paying for it. She had remained pure and was being rewarded.
So I was sick and sulky all the way back, but couldn’t help being awestruck at the same time; she had just seen the thing’s nose or something sticking out; there could be a whole woolly mammoth in that bank! How fucking cool.
Back in Fairbanks she got together rope and trowels and shovels and brushes and other odds and ends. It was my great loss that I was sick and useless, but I understood that she couldn’t wait around for me to get better. She went straight back out there to excavate on her own.
I expected her to be gone for a while, but she showed up again at my dorm the next day. She said, Come and look! We went down to her car and she popped the trunk. Inside was a big cardboard box lined with newspaper in which rested what looked like a couple of twisted, mud-encrusted chunks of wood, except that they were roughly the same shape. She said, Watch this. She moved the pieces around until they fit together in a big U-shape. It’s a jawbone, she said. There were three or four smaller loaf-like pieces with serrations on them – teeth. She fit them into corresponding sockets along the ridge of each jawbone. My own jawbone was hanging open and she had a big smile on her face.
I said, When do we go back for the rest of it? This is all there was, she replied. I took all this time rigging up ropes so I could dangle myself off the overhang, then after five minutes of digging with a trowel these just drop out. I poked all around up there but I didn’t find anything else.
Being the good citizens that we were, we took it down to the museum to let them know we had found it and ask them what do. They thought that was pretty amusing and thanked us, but said they were full up on 12 – 14,000 year-old mastodons and that we could keep it. They told us how to clean and shellac it to preserve it. It wasn’t actually a fossil, they said, just bones that had been really well preserved in permafrost. They also informed us that what we had was not the jawbone, but the maxillary area, the upper part, and they showed us how these curious curved parts on either side were where the tusks had once come out.
We were simultaneously blown away, and intensely let down that our find did not include the coolest and most mastodony parts of the mastodon. Most likely, the museum people said, the tusks had fallen out of the embankment long ago and washed away, or had deteriorated in the elements, or were claimed by other people. Damn them. Damn those other people who got our tusks, who didn’t have to do any work to get them, who weren’t even sick, who probably weren’t even deeply in love with each other.
Nevertheless, it was an amazing find, and Eve let me take some credit for it when she talked about it to others. We agreed that it was quite fortuitous that it had come to us in two complementary halves, and we agreed to each keep one half, without it occurring to either of us how symbolic this was, like those couples who share a broken heart locket when they are separated.
I had been accepted to all the schools I applied to, but couldn’t afford any of them except PNCA in Portland, who had sweetened the deal by awarding me the $2000 portfolio prize. Eve not only got into Cornish in Seattle, but was awarded a full ride scholarship. We were both achieving life goals we had been working on all year. We were also willingly going our separate ways. We had not yet discussed it, nor, I believe, even allowed the thought to enter our minds, to acknowledge that our achievement was effectively splitting us apart. Even as it dawned on us, we could not envision what that might mean for the future.
People at school would ask about Eve and me and I only had vague answers about staying in touch. Seattle and Portland were not that far apart, I reasoned. We’d make it work. An older lady in my drawing class made the comment, A judicious separation can be good. I liked that, “judicious”.
School ended and I needed to go back to Kenai to fish for the summer. Corey had made the 14-hour drive up to Fairbanks for some reason, and we were going to drive back together. Eve and I stayed together my last night. It had fully sunken in that what we had had was finished and would never be the same. Something new and big and unknown was about to begin. We stayed up all night talking and sobbing, making love, sobbing some more. Early the next morning we said our final goodbyes and she left.
Corey showed up a few hours later. He was eager to get on the road, but we were both hungry so we stopped in at Denny’s for some chow. I spotted a familiar green Chevy Nova in the parking lot as we pulled in. We went inside the restaurant and sure enough, there was Eve. Corey blurted out, Cool coincidence! Let’s eat together! Awkward. We ate an awkward meal, and then said awkward goodbyes again in the parking lot while Corey stood by humming and playing with his keys.