Sunday, March 13, 2016

Joe Omundson

Arizona hot spring craziness

Recently I went on a 12 day road trip through the southwest states. One night, I stayed at a hot spring in central Arizona, which required a 21-mile drive on a rough gravel road and a 0.8-mile hike including a river ford. Due to the difficulty of access, and the fact that it was a Monday night, I met only 5 people at this luxurious and beautiful spring.

The first guy I met was maybe a few years older than me, a commerial plumber who lives near Phoenix. He told me that he had stopped believing in Mormonism just 2.5 years ago, and was out to his wife; he said she’s giving him hell w/ all this stuff about being influenced by Satan and it’s really tough. All the stuff you would expect to happen socially when a Mormon is doubting. He hasn’t told his parents, and he lives near them and still goes to church weekly. Man I felt so bad for that dude. He has been coming to the hot spring every Monday for the last 4 weeks to help process that stuff and recuperate, which I thought was a pretty cool idea. You have to ford a river to get there, and when I crossed, the flow was something like 200 cubic feet per second (he looks it up before he comes every time). It wasn’t too bad to cross, but you had to be careful, you wouldn’t want to get swept downstream. But a couple weeks previously he tried to cross when it was at 900. He got totally tumbled around and went down the rapids. Dude is lucky he lived! I appreciated him because despite the difficulty of his family situation, he didn’t have a shitty attitude or blame his wife for her reaction. He just chose to cope by going to a rad hot spring and relaxing. I think he’d never gone nude before trying the hot spring, but he seemed to be embracing it fully.

Then 2 more guys arrived. They had been in the military together, and one of them finished with that 4 years ago while the other one had just gotten out, and they were also around my age. They were from Chicago and Pennsylvania but both moved to Phoenix. They were pretty cool. I especially liked the one who had been done for a while, he reminded me of a thru-hiker in certain ways, just really happy and thoughtful. A couple times he said things that were like he’d taken them out of my mouth and i was like yeaahh!. His friend was agreeable too, he just seemed a little more uncomfortable there, more rigid from being in the military recently. Those 2 kept their shorts on and nobody cared either way. So the 4 of us were talking for a while and hanging out, and usually hanging out in groups of guys makes me nervous because the conversation can easily start to objectify women, become competitive, etc., and then I don’t feel comfortable being myself. Like if someone said “did you run into that couple on the hike out here? damn that girl had amazing tits” it could spiral out of control really fast. And with no women present men can be even less restrained. But it was so refreshing that nothing like that happened… we interacted as humans and didn’t have to inject gender into the conversation. I felt I could be myself. Eventually they all went back across the river because the sun went down, and I had it to myself again. I found myself unwinding pretty deeply in one of the tubs, relaxing into and sensing certain parts of my body. I

Just as I was starting to relax deeply, this couple walked up to the springs. There are 2 pools at the springs; one that is outside, and one that is enclosed by 4 walls but no roof. I was in the open pool and they went into the enclosed pool, and I could hear them talking, and my vibe from them from the start was that it wasn’t going to be a peaceful experience. They were the type to constantly belittle each other and get defensive about everything. I couldn’t tell her age, he said he was 23 and I assume she was similar or maybe a bit older. They had been drinking quite a bit and had brought more with them.

Trigger warning, I’m about to describe in detail the interaction between this couple, and it’s kind of ugly.

They moved to the same pool as me, and things were mostly OK. I was enough of a buffer or a distraction that they weren’t too out of control. I could only begin to guess at what emotional stuff they’ve both been through as kids, perhaps they both came from families where the father was manipulative and abusive and that’s the paradigm they know. It wouldn’t be surprising. I wasn’t there to judge them, and as individuals, I would have enjoyed hanging out with either one of them. But their dynamic was poisonous, and it reminded me of some of some relationship dynamics that have affected me personally so it was hard not to feel triggered by that. I just tried to be respectful and kind to each of them, and by valuing everything that they both said, maybe give an example of how to respect each other. One time the guy got confused between astrology and astronomy, and quickly got frustrated and called himself stupid for mixing up those two… seemingly expecting ridicule for the confusion. I just shrugged and said “ehh, it’s easy to mix up terms like that.” and the girl was like “see how nice he is!!”, and I feel like maybe when she said that, he felt threatened because he was pretty insecure. I’m not sure exactly what he said to her right then but it wasn’t long after that she went to the other corner of the pool by herself and became very quiet. He went over to check on her and she falsely informed him that everything was fine. Soon after, she went into the enclosed hot tub by herself as I continued to talk to him, and then she called him in to join her

This might seem unrelated, but i’m tying it back in. I think I am creative with my sense of hearing, but not so much my sense of vision. My sense of vision is very literal, I’m not a very visually creative person or artist. I can be very accurate/logical with my sense of sight, like with observational drawings or shooting pool, but my “mind’s eye” is pretty blank. Even when I take mushrooms or acid I don’t really see colors or hallucinate very much. Hearing, on the other hand, when I trip, I hear all kinds of crazy shit. Music sounds amazing. I create complex music instantaneously in my brain. If there is a white noise source like a rushing creek, I can hear crowds of people talking, animal sounds, laughter, anything really. Musical creativity is a daily companion in my life, mostly by listening to it.

And, when I hear people murmuring at a distance, sometimes I think I hear them say certain things… things that I’m mostly projecting onto their conversations, which are sometimes biased toward being about myself, or being more sinister than they really are. So, when this couple went into the other hot tub, talked for a while, then had sex for a while, and were then talking again and she was crying, I can’t say for sure what happened. I could only get a vague idea what they were talking about usually. It seemed like the kind of thing where he was being emotionally manipulative, acting hurt about something so that she would feel sorry and compensate by fucking him. Maybe it was, “you like that guy out there better than me don’t you?”, it kind of sounded like they were having that talk at one point. His voice was lowered very quietly so I could never make out his words, but I could imply enough from his tone, and from the words she was saying in reply (she spoke louder). A couple times I clearly heard her saying “no” repeatedly; I can only assume to what question.

Then I could hear repetitive splashing, they seemed to be having sex underwater. My understanding is that this can probably strip out any lubrication and make for a very rough experience. In any case I was imagining it hurting for her, he seemed kind of forceful. Then they got out of the tub, onto the cold dirty concrete I guess, and were doing it there; at one point it sounded like she was really enjoying it and maybe orgasming, and I was thinking, OK maybe this is totally fine, maybe she went in there and then called him to her because she wanted him, and their previous dispute was unrelated. Maybe it's all consensual and mutual and I don't have a problem with it. But then, they went into “porn sex” mode where she was shouting ohh yeah fuck me fuck me baby! goddamn yes fuck it! (slap slap slap slap slap) interspersed with a much lower toned, come on baby I know you can do it, just come. Clearly trying to fulfill some perceived notion of what will get him off and only doing it so that he will finally orgasm. I think I hear her say “hit me” and him complying. I think I hear her saying she can only hold out so much longer. Maybe I’m wrong to judge, maybe all of this works for them, but I know that in my own life whenever it's been me trying to force an orgasm it was never good sex for either of us. There’s no curiosity or playfulness at that point, it’s just trying to grind out an orgasm. He gets tired and frustrated, neither of them is truly aroused, the attempted sex act has been a failure and despair ensues. I get the feeling that she’s despairing because she knows he’s going to make this her fault somehow. She has failed to make amends for whatever was wrong earlier, and now she is even deeper in debt.

My heart has been pounding and I’ve been trying to decide what to do. I’m alone with this couple out in the middle of nowhere and I don’t really know what my boundaries are in the situation. But when I heard him say that she just needs to get more drunk -- I couldn’t handle that shit. Seriously? Her blood alcohol content is what’s keeping you from getting your orgasm in this situation? You just want to numb her pain with alcohol so you can take advantage of her body longer? I was like “hey man, that’s not cool, don’t pressure someone to drink so you can have sex with them!” and he was like… “i know what you mean, i apologize” and i said “don’t apologize to me! she’s not your sex toy!”. I heard her laugh and say something and they kind of went back to talking, and I continued to sit uncomfortably in the other pool. (later, he said that he was hard of hearing and hadn’t actually heard what I said to him, and had just apologized by default. possibly bullshit) Had I done all I could do? Should I be going in there and like, intervening somehow? I just felt overwhelmed by the injustice of it. And I thought of how these same patterns have hurt so many of my friends. I know that many of my female friends have endured similar experiences, and that totally sucks. I know the stories of abuse I’ve heard from their lives and this is what it was *really like* for them. This girl wasn’t dumb, she wasn’t weak. She’s coped with life the best she could and this is what all of her experience has taught her to expect as normal. That’s why our system is so sick. It’s true that our system has hurt the boyfriend too. The sex being painful for her didn’t actually make it better for him, he missed out on any connection there might have been. BUT it is a huge difference that she is expected to just get drunk and endure the pain as her part of the deal. What guy would subject himself to having his penis used roughly long after it was raw and bleeding? I am certain that only my female friends do this.

My intervention did seem to change something… their tone changed and she began to cry. This went on for a while and I couldn’t really hear what they were talking about, except I think I did hear something like “I’ve never been fucked in a pool like that, it hurt!” amidst tears. I never saw this guy demonstrate genuine caring for her, he would act the part sometimes, but I felt like he was a giant fucking slimy snake face who would rape his girlfriend and then turn around and suck up to me as though my perception of him mattered. The whole time that’s how it felt energetically. After she was crying a while longer I got out of my pool and went to them and asked if they were OK. From this point on, for the rest of the evening, the guy assumed responsibility for telling me her feelings and preferences, while she stayed silent. He played it off like, “yeah I really appreciate your concern, I understand why it’s awkward to hear us, it’s just that I’m leaving to go back to Canada soon and she’s really sad about that. Women tend to connect with their emotions more than men.” I said that I wanted to hear from Amanda if everything was OK and she was kinda like yeah everything’s fine. They came back into the other pool with me for a while to settle down. They must have been drinking even more (maybe she gulped some at his request) because she got really out of it, started feeling sick, got out of the pool and couldn’t balance well… so they decided to head back to their campsite, to my relief. He was gathering all their things from the enclosed pool, and she started walking away by herself, towards the narrow hill-traversing trail in the dark with no light or clothes or anything, just carrying a towel. He was still gathering their things, and I was concerned for her safety but assumed she probably just wanted some space and would wait for him at the top of the stairs. Then he was ready to leave too, and was about to leave his empty fifth of crown royale or whatever by the side of the hot tub. i said “didn’t you bring this?” he said “yeah, but it’s empty.” I said “...yeah...” and he was like oh oh right because i shouldn’t litter, and picked it up. Haha. I'm not sure who he expected would be coming through to clean up after him.

He started down the trail after her and then I heard her yelling, “I fell! I fell! I’m halfway down the hill!” She’d fallen off the trail onto a steep gravely slope and slid down maybe 20 feet! I ran over and sure enough she was down there. I was imagining the worst, and it looked like if she kept sliding another 10-15 feet she might fall off a ledge into the river below. (It turned out not to be that crazy of a drop beneath her when I saw it in the morning, but I knew that bad things could happen if someone that drunk fell in the water.) I just felt like, shit shit shit are you kidding me you guys. He was holding all their stuff and was like “i don’t know what to do!” so i started telling him what to do. Put down your stuff, first of all. I ran back really fast and put my shorts and shoes on, grabbed my light and ran back to them, he had started trying to climb down to get her and they were kind of shouting back and forth. She was saying she was fine and his point was like uhh you’re sliding down a gravel cliff and you’re naked. He was insisting on climbing down to her and she was insisting she could get up by herself. I asked him not to go any farther because we didn’t need 2 people getting stuck and if she could get up with her own power that would be best. But he really needed to feel like he was saving her. Well maybe I can’t judge that too hard, crisis moments are weird. She was able to climb back up completely on her own, she just needed some light to be able to see, so I shined it in front of her from up above and everyone got back to the trail safely. Even as she was still climbing up to safety he was already spraying her with criticism and I told him to stop that. She was bloodied up somewhat but didn’t have any deep cuts or obvious injuries. I offered my first aid kit but she wasn’t interested so she got dressed and they walked back to their campsite. Oh, man… just a couple hours of these people was enough to put me over the edge, I can’t even imagine being in that relationship. Waking up the next morning horribly dehydrated and hung over, with cuts and blood all over your legs, probably a sore vagina, and the same jerk of a boyfriend. I so hope that something changes for them soon. but maybe they will persist in relationships like this for another 10 years, 30 years, or forever. How can it be that this gets overlooked in our society?

Also, how can it be that alcohol is perfectly legal to drink, yet contributes to so much bullshit like what I saw that night… yet the awesome guy I met earlier, who was so happy and friendly, literally got a felony on the way to the spring for marijuana possession. He was pulled over for speeding 10mph above the limit, the cop was suspicious about a bag in the back, he complied and removed its cover and then the cop smelled weed. He'd just bought an eighth. Enough to get you a class 6 felony in AZ, whatever that is. This guy is white and can probably afford some kind of legal help so he probably won’t have to go to jail for it like if he wasn’t privileged, but that’s a topic for another email.

So, that couple left. And I went back to the pool and thought about it all. It hurts so bad to see it. And yet I know the reality is that this kind of stuff is going on every day, all around me. In general, the world has a lot of pain and suffering. It’s weird because a big part of life is learning to enjoy it and be happy, yet how can we do this when our brothers and sisters need so much help? I know there needs to be a balance of helping the world and enjoying it for yourself, either extreme can kind of lead to a bad place. But how do you work it out tangibly in the real world, the idea that you can simultaneously see the suffering and feel joy? This has always been difficult for me. Like could I really just go on with my night and feel OK after what happened? I definitely felt like I’d done the best I could. It was far from perfect, and I saw some of my own flaws in my response to the situation, but I know I did my personal best to love and care for them that night, and the bigger picture was out of my control. And that helped me relax again. I'd played my part. It would have felt a lot worse in the long run if I’d sat there scared and not said anything, or if I’d run away. It’s all a part of the hot spring experience… it’s unregulated. Life's that way. There’s pleasant and unpleasant, easy and hard. I think that has to be embraced. An interaction that some people would consider a massive turn-off can instead be seen as a chance to find even more insight. And maybe our interaction which seemed so saddening to me will actually help one of them someday.

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