Gretchen returned from Belize and Guatemala with a tan and many photographs. These lay in piles on her kitchen counter, showing Gretchen in a kayak with a sunset sky in the background, a scrubby beach in a jungle, a Mayan man and woman holding up a fish, a Guatemalan town beneath billowy clouds.
"Here's a good one of me." She showed a photo of herself being fitted into a harness and wearing a helmet.
"That was my canopy walk," she said. "Some university was doing research on the canopy of the rainforest and they let me go along one of their catwalks." She held up another photo of herself, wearing helmet and harness, walking a catwalk miles above the forest floor.
"Here's another good one of me." She held a photo of herself, clad in the briefest of bikinis, walking a beach beneath palm trees.
She flipped through the pile.
"Here's another good one of me."
She showed me another good one of her.
She had gone by air from Philadelphia to Belize City, from there to Punta Gorda. Of course, she wasn't looking for a man; she'd turned over a new leaf. She wanted someone spiritual. She was looking for the right one. Too many men see a blonde bimbo and they don't know what she's like inside. They don't know her spiritual side.
In Guatemala she took a boat to a small town on the penninsula, found a guide, and from there went by a smaller boat across the big bay, up a river and across a beautiful lake to the mountains opposite, then hiked up into a national park in the hills. It was paradise on earth. Then she met a man who offered to show her the National Park personally.
"Oh, really?" I said.
"No he was a spiritual person. I was asking him how I could get to another place I knew of, and he said, `What is your journey about?' So I knew he wasn't your typical I'm-gonna-get-in-your-pants sort of guy."
"I'm sure he wasn't."
"And he's the one who took me. I had him as a personal guide the whole way."
"And just how personal did you get with him?"
"Very personal. I got in touch with him deeply, and sometimes he kissed me. We'd be looking at a sunset and he would lean over and kiss me. Sometimes after dark he would put his arms around me and kiss me. Until I had to take him aside and say, `Now look, we are on a journey here.'"
"Really? Just kisses?"
"All right. I wouldn't tell this to anyone but you. But he wasn't just any guy. I knew from the first day that he wasn't interested in sex. The first day he met me he took hold of me like this"--she took hold of my face, one palm on each cheek--"and he said, `I really care about you.'"
"That sounds pretty genuine," I said. "So he took you into the jungle and he got to kiss you."
“Yes. And then, we had rented a cabana on the beach with one bed in it, and he knew he was sleeping on the floor. The next morning I woke up and he was rubbing my whole body over with oil, and it felt so nice."
"And then he just turned me over and lay down on me. I closed my eyes and thought, Okay, I guess this is his tip. I wound up not even paying for the trip."
"Closed your eyes and thought of England."
"Yes. Besides, I was still ass over teacup in love with another guy I'd met."
"Ah, so you had a spiritual experience with two men on the trip."
The other guy was a Greek man, in Guatemala doing something like environmental work. Gretchen was walking along the road and saw a very handsome man, whom she had absolutely no designs upon. But it turned out he had seen her in the bar the previous night. They talked. He was a bit dejected because he'd missed the last plane to Belize City and now had 18 hours in Guatemala with nothing to do.
"You have something now," Gretchen told him.
They went back to her cabana and, because she had taken a vow of chastity, told him he could do certain things and not others, but this restraint lasted maybe three minutes, and then it was fiesta time once again.
"It was clear he knew what he was doing,” she said, concerning a certain activity that is still considered a crime in some states.
“And after that, what does he do but pull out a book of poetry and start reading poems to me. I had to love a man who, in the tiny space of his backpack, devoted that much room to a huge poetry book.
"So you see, I didn't violate my promise to stop being wild. Anyway, I don’t think the second guy counts: It was over in less than a minute."
"Clearly the second guy doesn't count."
“I can say I am still looking for the right one and not jumping into bed with the first man I see.”
“That is quite obvious,” I said.