I haven't written about Rick in a while. He's still living outside, and we still spend time together every week, tracking. He comes with me sometimes to do trail work, too.
I would have thought he'd welcome summer, since he doesn't have to worry about freezing anymore. He says he doesn't, though he likes that food is easier to find.
The thing is, summer is full of mosquitoes. I hadn't thought about this, but the rules he's following--almost no gear he couldn't, in principle, make himself with local materials--he can make himself warm clothes and blankets, but he can't make mosquito mesh. When he goes back to camp at night, the mosquitoes follow him.
Rain is hard for him, too. In the winter I noticed him doing everything he could to keep his clothes dry because getting wet meant getting cold--it was dangerous. It's less dangerous now, but there's so much more water. Once his gear gets wet, it can't get dry again until we have a couple of days of dry weather in a row--there's no inside place he can hang things. We've had stretches of a few weeks at a time when we never had three days in a row without rain. All his stuff grew mold.
Rick doesn't complain. The only reason I know all of this bothers him is that the other week it was ridiculously hot and I said to him something like "well, at least it's not too cold anymore. I bet you're glad it's not winter!" And he explained why he wasn't.
"Did you notice I'm always barefoot now?" he asked.
"Yes," I told him. "I assumed you were taking after Charlie." I'd started going barefoot more, too. There's no rule against it, not even in the Dining Hall, except we have to wear shoes to do certain kinds of work--digging in the gardens, for example. Rick smiled.
"I might have," he explained. "But mostly I don't want my feet to rot. Most of my socks got wet."
"It sounds like a giant pain in the neck, what you're doing."
"Worth it, though, for what I'm learning."
"Yeah? What are you learning?" I asked him. He didn't reply immediately. Sometimes I'm not entirely sure why he hangs out with me. He doesn't seem to like humans, and I definitely qualify. And yet, here I am and here he is, and we're still hanging out together.
"I'm learning what it's really like to do the things I imagined doing," he said, finally. "This is real. Rotting socks are real. Logistical hassles are real. Mosquito swarms are real. My inside matches my outsides." He smiled at me. He looks more alien, somehow, when he does that.
"Oh?" I wasn't sure I knew what he meant, though I wanted to. I wanted to be the guy who could understand him. I'm kind of fascinated by Rick.
"Yeah. I imagined living out here, like this, for so long. I never stopped imagining it. Now I'm really here. My thoughts match my reality."
"Do you ever imagine not being around people at all?" I asked him, smiling, but there was a question underneath my question and he heard it and grimaced, embarrassed.
"No, I like people, in moderation," he explained. "I just wish there were fewer of them."
"You make it sound as though you're not one."
"I sometimes feel as though I'm not one. That's the other way in which I'm outside. I don't mind. Only, I wish others didn't expect me to belong when I don't. That's the only time I feel lonely."
I was surprised to hear Rick share with me on that level. Also, I wasn't sure I knew what he meant. How can you feel lonely only when people think you belong? But that wasn't quite what he said.
"Like, when they expect you to be what you're not?" I guessed.
I suppose that Rick likes being outside, both literally and otherwise, mosquitoes notwithstanding. But the outside of a thing is still part of a thing--if a box, say, had no outside, it wouldn't be a box. I'm not sure what it would be, actually. Everything has an outside, and outside is how and where he belongs.
Maybe this has something to do with why he likes hanging out with me.