The camper was supposed to bring us closer. Our marriage counselor felt that after fifteen years together, we needed an activity that we could share. She said we needed to find places, free from stress and distraction, to be alone. She knows we have problems communicating, and wanted us to be isolated and practicing the exercises she gave us. She thought we needed to complete some sort of project together, something moderately difficult, that required both of us, working together, to accomplish.
We had camped before, when the kids were younger, before our careers took over our lives. We had outfitted a Chevy van with a center seat that folded into a bunk for the kids, with a pedestal platform behind holding a mattress for us. Both of us still held fond memories of driving in the dark, holding hands, exploring the possibilities of the future while searching for a campsite for the night, with our kids tucked in, asleep behind us.
So we settled on a camping vacation. Our project was a family calendar, something the counselor said had been productive for other couples. We would travel to take a series of pictures that would represent the landscape and landmarks of our lives. We would edit the pictures, identify the significant dates, birthdays, anniversaries and family triumphs, and publish the results as Christmas presents.
Preparations went quickly. I had months of unused vacation time accumulated. Joanna team-taught, so a month sabbatical was only a coordination problem for her. The grandparents were moved in, to see that the kids were fed, cleaned, and found their way onto the school bus.
I had purchased a pop-up camper that was small enough to tow with my Lexus. We made some weekend trips, and then I had some modifications made to fine-tune it for our needs. The camper started with the typical floor plan, with bunks at both ends, cabinets and a dining table that converted to a bed in the center. I had half of the center cushions removed, added lights, storage, and a sturdy work surface, creating a cozy eating and working area for two. I kept both end mattresses, but placed a hinged drafting table under one for map study and calendar layout. I discarded the ice chest, and built in a small refrigerator and microwave. We added a roll-up canopy over the door. I had extra gas fittings, electrical outlets, and brackets for the range and a worktop installed, to allow cooking at the side in camp or at the rear when connected for towing.
I already had a laptop and digital camera for work, but I purchased a photo-quality printer. Our counselor helped us find and learn the calendar software. We were ready. We selected October for our departure. Autumn seemed to fit the nostalgic nature of our quest. We had a final session with the therapist, then ceremonially turned over our cell-phones, beepers, and the modem from my laptop to be placed in her safe. Alone, together, we left the city to try to recreate our relationship.
We laid out an ambitious course to visit and photograph our children's childhood homes: First Dallas, then to Saint Louis to Madison Wisconsin to Bloomington Indiana to Nashville, then home. The map was covered with color-coded pins indicating spots we had always been going to revisit, or which held significant memories. It was going to be difficult to cover everything, but that was part of the process. Working in harness together, at a tough but worthy task, was supposed to reforge our bonds.
There were conflicts, of course. I had awoken at 5:30 every morning for the last twenty years, to be at work at seven. Joanna's first class wasn't usually before ten; her evening classes weren't over before nine. I was asleep by ten, while she graded papers till midnight. Old habits prevailed. She left the covers to read for a few hours each night. I took two-hour hikes before awakening her in the morning.
Sex was a new delight. At first. Each night she would join me when I bunked down, then ride me to exhaustion, holding me until I fell asleep afterwards. Mornings, after my hikes, I would slip back into warm sheets and gently wake her into long slow lovemaking. Mid-day brought nostalgic couplings, recreating moments from our youth: A pond in Texas where we had learned to make love in the water, unnoticed by the kids or the other swimmers, oral sex in a fire tower, anal sex in a hot tub at a resort inn in Illinois. I could barely keep up! I was inspired by her boundless hunger. I thought it was for me.
Our destination cities were college towns. We revisited places we had been when she was a struggling grad student or untenured instructor. The waiters and attraction staff were generally part-time college guys, like her students at home. I began to notice how she interacted with them.
She enjoyed looking at them, flirting with them. When they stole glances down at her breasts, her nipples hardened. When a handsome youth was our server, she found reasons to leave the table, to press against him while whispering in his ear, seeking directions to the phone, or the washroom, or asking for assistance with a map. Often when she returned she would stand at my shoulder and slip her panties into my pocket, or crack open her bag to reveal her bra within. Waiters would conceal themselves from me with a menu or a tray, then, perhaps inadvertently, press their crotch against her elbow or shoulder as they refilled her tea, or removed a plate. Her cleavage was on display when they leaned over the maps, pointing out local landmarks, or gossiping about other teachers.
Two weeks ago Tuesday, we found a student at his serving station, cramming from the textbook she co-authored. While he worked our table, they shared conversation, flirting like co-eds. Her bra was in her bag, her blouse undone an extra button. She told him that if he gave her good service, she would autograph his text. He asked if she could come, back to the office, to explain a couple of paragraphs he couldn't quite grasp. She glanced to me before agreeing. I didn't object. When she returned, her lipstick was gone and there was a split in her lip. I pretended not to notice. I forced my mind not to speculate.
Our journey came to a fork at a campsite in Missouri last week. I can pull the trailer anywhere, through anything, but I can't back up worth a damn. Joanna can't give direction. So our routine is for me to get out, move behind the trailer, and direct her as she backs into the site. This time she ignored me, as I waved my arms and banged on the trailer trying to get her to move back. She was in a trance, staring off onto the next site.
The object of her attention was a well-built kid in a park ranger uniform, coaching an equally well-built blonde in a bikini as she laid kindling in the fire-pit. From a distance, now, it's almost amusing. Joanna was absolutely entranced by him, he as much so with the young woman's cleavage, while all were oblivious to the others' attention. I was just mad enough to ask Joanna if she was going to go "Gaga" over every hunky young male she saw on the trip. "Would you rather be here with me, or across the street with him?" I demanded, forever altering our life together.
"Young men... " she said, " ... my relationships with kids, particularly my students, mean a lot to me. So does ours. Don't make me choose between them."
Our relationship changed then. I saw the same things, but now they were unfamiliar, in a different light, like the change produced by slipping a polarizing filter on a camera. I timed her trips to the phone or restroom, and tried to keep track of the staff. What I had seen as flirtation, now seemed seduction. That casual touch could now be a caress. Her erect nipples might not be the result of the air conditioning. Her lean across the table to return a menu now might be an opportunity for her to reveal her breasts. The inadvertent contact with a server now perhaps was an occasion to confirm the fullness of her breasts, or to evaluate the length and hardness of an erection. And there were erections. She made an impression on quite a few, and I found myself contrasting their eager young hardness with my middle-aged spread.
My sexual performance suffered. On a scenic overlook on a trail above the Illinois River, she knelt on a rustic bench, flipping up her skirt to reveal her naked rump, just as she had fifteen years earlier. This time, I couldn't produce an erection. I found myself thinking about her with others, and was unable to perform, to compete.
During foreplay, I would inevitably compare my cock with the younger larger more-ready ones of her admirers, and my erection would disappear. I would imagine her, on her knees before a young stud with a massive cock. He would be thrusting between her breasts, or full-length into her welcoming mouth and throat, long enough to erase her lipstick, hard enough to bruise her breasts, or split her lip. I would lose myself in the images of others fulfilling her desires, and ejaculate before satisfying her. I mourned my lost days of rampant virility and boundless energy. The images of her with younger men both aroused and unmanned me.
We stopped early one night at a state park in Wisconsin. We've gotten pretty efficient at setting up camp, good enough to look down upon our noses at those who have to struggle to level their rig, to pop up their trailer or to erect their tent. They guy in the next site was easily ten years younger than we were, and in the latter category.
He was camping out of the trunk of an older BMW coupe. Gear was strewn about in cardboard boxes, and he seemed to be missing pieces of the tent. The tent was one of those intended to fasten onto a Suburban, or a pickup with a shell, to add on an extra room. He was struggling to hold everything together and losing the battle. We watched for a while, amused, before Joanna took pity on him, and left to offer her help.
I stayed behind to review the day's crop of pictures. Something was messed up, big time. Every image had an awful orange tint. I worked for quite some time, before lucking into a way to salvage them. When I finally raised my head and looked around, it was nearly dark. The tent was up, they had given up on trying to fit it to the BMW. They were messing around with an air mattress on the picnic table.
The guy had worked up a sweat, and had stripped down to a pair of gym shorts. He was built like a weightlifter, and I noticed Joanna's approving glances when his attention was elsewhere. She took every opportunity to touch him, to place her hand on him to make a point in conversation or to steady herself when she shifted position. They were laughing and talking like old friends. When I saw her stroke his chest, moving her hands from the center of his muscular chest out to grasp his biceps, I stirred myself to intervene.
They had their heads together, tying to figure out the instructions for attaching mantles to a Coleman lamp. She had her arm around his waist, his hand was on her butt. I walked up and introduced myself. He tried to move away from her, but she maintained her grasp on him. Her expression was almost defiant.
I removed the mess they had made in the lantern, tied on new mantles, burned them to ash, and then repositioned the globe. The lamp lit with the first match, as the light spread, they stepped apart. I looked at my watch. "Shit," I said, "We're nearly late for dinner. We really need to hustle."
Dinner was a small success, visiting with friends I'd worked with on my first job out of school. Joanna was nearly silent all evening, but after drinks started to entertain us with stories about her new friend's misadventures. I learned that the guy's name was Don. He was a high school teacher, on sabbatical, trying to research his thesis and vacation on a shoestring. The tent and equipment were all borrowed, and he was completely lost in the woods.
When I returned from my hike in the morning, I visited the bathhouse, then stopped to check out the items on the bulletin board. I glanced up and saw my wife in her bathrobe, leaving our camper and heading toward me. Our neighbor called to her, detouring her onto his site. I realized that in my position, behind the bulletin board, in the shadows of the roof overhang, I was invisible to them.
I watched them, silently. Mr. BMW wore sweatpants and a T-shirt in the morning drizzle. Don was trying to cook over a smoky mass of damp firewood in the firepit, using one of those worthless aluminum pans they sell to gullible Boy Scouts. His eggs and bacon ended up on the ground when the flimsy handle collapsed. He gave up, and led my wife toward the tent, discussing gear and equipment.
She showed him our rig in turn. I watched him stand behind her, as she bent over to demonstrate how the leveling jacks at the rear of the trailer operated. I watched him grin as the hem of her short robe rose to reveal the lower curves of the cheeks of her ass. When she leaned forward to show him where the crank fit to raise the top, even I got a long glimpse of her full breasts. Her nipples were like marbles. His cock was stuffed down the leg of his sweatpants, outlined by the damp fabric, twice as thick, and half again as long as mine, inches from her nose.
I heard him ask something about the weight of the trailer, then they moved to the opposite side, where the data plate is mounted. I shifted position, to where I could continue to watch.