The Easter Girl
Summary: Last Easter, my planned vacation went off the rails when I found myself traveling with an unnerving pair of companions. I am still not sure which of them was creepier.
Last year, I had planned a trip with a friend over my Easter break. I was a graduate student, and she was a dental student at different universities, so it would be a good chance to hang out with her. I had a crush on her at the time as well, which certainly helped matters. Our plan was to fly into a nearby city, rent a car, and go sightseeing for a week before returning. Boy, did that plan go to hell.
To put things in perspective, my friend was 24 at the time. I had just turned 28. I had known this person, let's call her Jen, for about two years. I knew she had experienced depression due to the overwhelming course load she experienced and emotional neglect from her parents, including her biological father.
I did not know how deeply those issues affected her until the trip. At the time, the prospect of taking a break from programming research and traveling with a friend I liked were enough to get me to brush aside any red flags. In retrospect, boy how wrong I was.
The first sign of trouble happened shortly before the day of my flight out. She sent me a text asking if it was okay if she brought a friend along. She didn't bother elaborating on the friend's sex, character, or similar details. I stupidly consented to it, as I was all too eager to put programming behind me for a week. If some genius devises time travel in the future, I eagerly anticipate the chance to pummel some sense into my past self.
Before I continue, I would like to mention that I consider myself fairly confident and open minded, and also fairly familiar with self defense. I typically do not care what people do, so long as they don't hurt others. I read everything from horror to fantasy to sci-fi to thrillers to nonfiction, and regularly keep up with current events. I've done public speaking sessions from improvised presentations to scientific talks to poetry readings to voice acting.
I collected weapons, from antique firearms to blades to more esoteric things. I regularly practiced martial arts as I have for over a decade. I've relied on my parkour experience to help climbing into a fourth floor window after accidentally locking myself out. I've also got a keen interest in world history and other cultures, as well as a background in technology. I used to camp, hike, and swim frequently in the Boy Scouts. I based my daily workout regimen on military boot-camp and martial arts conditioning. I've lived abroad for years. That said, I was still completely unprepared for what would transpire.
So, the big day arrives, and I take my flight out. I'm standing in the parking lot lane when Jen shows up in a car. She eagerly beckons me in, and that is when I take my first look at her abhorrent companion. He's obviously an older man, perhaps in his sixties, dressed in ratty clothing, and having tanned skin that cannot help but remind me of an Oompa Loompa. As the car pulled away, I saw the two feeling each other up in the front seat. Things all went downhill from there.
During an awkward few hours in the car, I learned more about the Creepy Old Guy (COG) that I ever wanted to. He was a convicted drug dealer. His wife and daughter left him after his conviction. He had no education above high school. He seemed innately familiar with the methodologies of harming others. He had some muscle, maintained by steroids at his true age of 70. He uttered the occasional racist slur under his breath. He proudly described himself as a "cave man," a comparison which no doubt our Neolithic ancestors would find offensive. He had met Jen at a backpacker hostel, and a seemingly embarrassed Jen informed me that she was involved in a physical relationship. "We only screw," she said with a hushed tone in a gas station, as if that was any comfort.
As the sun sank lower over the darkening hills, the distant flames of a distant oil refinery's smokestack burnt like a chthonic funeral pyre. The COG pulled off the highway towards our fateful destination. The geriatric sybarite hurried us along down unfamiliar territory, well away from where I had planned to drive. We stopped in a small coastal town, where COG informed us he had grown up. If there was anyone who knew the finer points of body disposal on his home turf, it would be this fellow.
We stopped at a motel on the edge of town, a place with an unmistakable Norman Bates vibe. The delightful duo rent a room with a double bed for them, and a small bed as an afterthought from me. The concept of renting two rooms was never discussed. I had never known Jen for excessive planning, but I had ended up the third wheel in a relationship between an oafish washed up thug and an emotionally crippled young woman.
We took a brief sojourn to a local grocery store, where I was now considering ways to escape. On my way out, a sign for a nearby airport promised an escape by air. All the way there, the delightful duo's tempo of fondling was increasing. I pretended to ignore it as I bought a few things while trying to mostly ignore the others.
I noticed COG hitting on two other (unnerved) young women while Jen was pushing a shopping cart behind him. My mind raised the uncomfortable question of just how many partners this fellow had had. Fidelity did not appear to be his strong suite. I could not help but notice the bottle of cheap wine that which Jen had purchased, undoubtedly for some perverse courtship ritual. On our arrival back to the Bates Motel, I was treated to a front row seat.
Not possessing much of an appetite, I sated myself with a bowl of cereal. I began to read a Ludlum novel I had brought as I noticed Jen cooking something on the stove. She cooked some chicken and vegetables while COG poured the wine out into glasses. I mentally found myself tracking the knife that Jen used to cut the vegetables with, half-expecting COG to charge me at any moment. Once she finished the meal, she and COG sat down to an awkward dinner while doing their best to ignore me in the corner table. Predictably, I wasn't offered a seat there. I am unsure what type of dubious honor that would have been.
As COG and Jen finished their meals, COG moved the plates towards the sink. An undoubtedly inebriated Jen tugged COG towards the motel room's only bathroom. The two went in, and I could hear the night reaching its climax in more ways than one. Due to the thin bathroom walls, I tried to listen to my headphones, onto to find the battery had died. I tried forcing myself to read the novel, do some recreational writing, or brainstorm ideas for a scientific paper. None worked, and the fact I had to use the bathroom made it even harder to ignore.
Just when I thought it could not get any stranger, I heard a few words from the couple fornicating in the bathroom. "Why did you bring him along?" COG asked. I knew there was only one person to whom his limited intellect could refer to.
"Because he's so cute," Jen replied in a bubbly tone.
I neither cared nor desired to hear the remainder of their conversation. They walked triumphantly out of the bathroom later, and I was greeted with a final horrific sight: a half-naked COG, wrapped in towels from the waist down. I could see his chest was covered in tattoos that resembled sagging cartoon animals, stretched by the passage of time on his flabby skin. Traces of steroid maintained muscle looked as though they'd been stencilled on. By this time, I was only too eager to urinate and try forgetting what had occurred. The used condom in the toilet was more than enough reminder not to touch any surface I didn't have to.
That night, COG and Jen slept in the big bed while I was consigned to the smaller bed in the corner. I began to relish the role as I asked Jen to use her smart phone. I mentioned I needed help booking a plane ticket back. The urge to check my research results gnawing at my mind now seemed like a siren song. As I booked the flight back, what remained of Jen's sanity returned to her as she realized my intent. To her credit, she offered to pay for the flight ticket. That was one thing I am glad she realized would be for the best.
That night, however, I had difficulties forcing myself to sleep. I kept expecting COG to start trying to dismember me and feed me to an ATM, shove my mutilated cadaver in a crawlspace, or sacrifice me to Cthulhu. Despite that, my heart raced with the exciting prospect of returning home to my lab. Research suddenly seemed a lot more appealing.
The following morning could not come fast enough. I arose from bed before the others, practicing some boxing drills and calisthenics in case I had use of them. Jen awoke and asked in a half-whispered tone, "Are we still friends?"
"What do you think of him?"
I replied far more diplomatically than I should have. "Dodgy as hell."
I suppose it was my self-preservation instincts telling me to stay in their good graces until I was out of their reach. The way to the airport took us towards a scenic vista that COG and Jen pointed out. I could not help but notice the ornamentation added to a local bridge was unmistakable phallic. Soon afterwards, I sat in the airport lobby. While COG was distracted with a trip to the toilet, Jen hugged me before I left.
I hurried to the plane, which could not fly fast enough. I landed in the city I had arrived in the previous day, but it felt a lot longer than that had elapsed. I hurried to make the connecting flight back home, making it just in time. That was how I spent my Eastern Sunday morning last year.
Likely against my better judgement, I kept in touch with Jen. It boiled down to a Skype conversation every few months, but she moved in with COG during her final semester and after graduation. She went looking for work across the country, and I met her in person twice. Each time, I insisted on meeting in a public location I knew well, so I did a sweep of the location for COG before meeting her. She largely avoided her romantic life in conversations, asking more about my life. Despite this, I still would still toss in a few jokes at her abhorrent beau's expense now and then.
Whenever the topic was raised, she'd break down in tears at any criticism or hint of it. This was a far cry from the Jen I knew earlier, when she had healthy relationships with others. Any offers of mine to introduce her to better people were shot down. She mentioned COG took her to meet his mother and daughter, despite the daughter being older than her. What suspected kept them together, as I came to suspect, was not love nor money. COG barely had any savings, from what I understood.
On Skype, I could hear COG's voice in the background and his silhouette shifting around in the background, only for Jen to move the camera as if engaged in some illicit conversation. She did not attend her own graduation due to being hospitalized in an "accident" in December that hospitalized her. When I saw her face months later, I saw scars I did not recognize from earlier. The priest reject she had shacked up with certainly fit the profile of an abuser in my mind, and Jen's emotional state left her a high risk demographic. It is only a true loser that abuses their partner.
When I look at someone like the COG, I see an embodiment of what I loathe, someone that makes me recoil in outright revulsion. I see a horny teenage junkie wearing an old man's body, with puerile mannerisms and living for hedonism. I see the culmination of a life lived only for pleasure and easy money, without learning lessons along the way. I see the repugnant traits I identified with the guidos of New Jersey. I see the entitlement of the debauched. I see the smug revelry in ignorance. While it is only natural to want to die young in life as old as possible, reliance upon carcinogen steroids and other odious substances will not end well. He still lived with his doddering parents when at highly advanced age, and eagerly moves in with an emotionally damaged young woman.
The young woman in question began a serious relationship with such a person. I am not sure which unnerves me more. Jen tries to keep up appearances, but that is what they come across as. She claims she wants to be friends with me, and even offers me money. I declined her generosity, but she is very well off as a dentist. She's mentioned she's stood up to her parents during a recent visit, a fact I take some solace in. The fact she is living with the COG is clear at any scan of her room from the laptop camera: the double bed, the ratty old men's clothes, and the odd ghostly glimpse of a failure at life lurking beyond the camera's edges.
At the same time, I have my own doubts. I dislike letting people suffer, even someone I am not on good terms with. I know she's experienced hard times, but much of her behavior is impulsive rather than malevolent. At the same time, I wonder if I am not projecting my own "damsel-in-distress" fantasies onto two people I shouldn't be associating with. I realize that certain people should be kept at safe distance, and that is precisely where I am content to leave the delightful duo. All I can really offer is an empathetic ear and advice, and that is what I will offer. At the very least, I had a very memorable Easter.