Everytime I think I understand Antarctica, she undoes another button. She shows me a tattoo she got when she was studying the Maori tribesmen. She shows me another magma-breathing hole in the mountain, or a lake made of antifreeze.
Everytime I leave Antarctica I wonder how I lasted as long as I did without my identity. Or am I this right now? Is this what there is, when you take everything else away?
This is something else, now. Months of accumulated ice time. Miles of volcanic rock under my feet and it comes to tears. Something as powerful as saline washing away a hundred years of frostbite and death.
I say, "It's not you."
She says it is.
No. I'm married. That's what it is. She is plenty attractive to me. I was never as available as she wanted. Maybe I should have just walked away hours ago. She seemed to want someone to listen. I didn't want to be rude. Or maybe I liked the attention.
"You don't know how it is here," she says. And I thought I did. I thought I did.
"I fell in love. And he's gone."
This is something, now.
She needs to be held, so I do. She's crying into my chest, this Antarctican, this woman who climbs blue glass mountains and fords oceans in giant ice breakers. Tough as granite. No fear. No emotion.
Everything's fine. Everything's fine.
She has to be fine because on this planet if there's a dent in your armor the continent will exploit it and brush you off the face of life. The community is trained to see weakness and weed it out. So she hasn't told anyone how she feels.
And it's terrible and it hurts and she smiles at me saying, "I'm so sorry."
"Don't be sorry."
"I'm a wreck. Can we not tell anyone?"
"It takes a long time to get over something like that. You have to let it happen." Because I know how it is when it drowns you alive. It's not good to swallow it and let it steal your strength, take you under.
"Let what happen?" she says.
I wipe her cheek dry with a finger. What do we think we're doing out here in the polar nothing?