One thing you hardly ever ask somebody on your first online date is, “Are you allergic to bee stings?” I read like a thousand websites with top ten lists of dos and don’ts for meeting someone on a dating app. Not one of these mentioned bee sting allergies as an important compatibility question. I’m here to tell you it’s important. It’s a Do.
It’s a strange time to try online dating. I recently sold my house, closed my business, and currently have no physical address. I’m living in the camper of my Tacoma, driving around California, a strictly nomadic life. Today, I’m taking the Forest Service road through the San Bernardino mountains between Joshua Tree and Lake Arrowhead. It’s my first attempt at a serious off-road situation. The road is too advanced for my skills. I almost roll the truck and almost break an axle, and then two hours of white knuckling to the summit. I park the truck and get out to stretch my back. Then . . . I wake up. Everything’s out of focus. My face is in the dirt. I’m staring at the sidewall of the rear tire. I struggle to my feet and notice ten parallel finger streaks in the dust on the door panels, ten straight lines, like lanes of freeway traffic. Apparently I leaned against the truck and dragged my hands down the side as I passed out. There’s blood on the left knee and left arm, so I guess I fell to the side. My head hurts. I sit there for an hour or so in the heat, sipping water, and eventually make it down to an Airbnb at Lake Arrowhead.
Anyway, this is the day that I decide to try online dating.
Day 1. I match with Patrice. We text all afternoon. I look at her photos forty-seven times: a little black dress at a winery in Barcelona, a rugged mud-smeared hike in the jungle, a flirty pic in a two piece. She lives in the mountains, a can-do adventurer with a PhD in biochemistry who totally buys into my shpiel about being on a sabbatical. We meet in the bar at the Lake Arrowhead Resort. Bright green eyes, cool jewelry, long dark hair, skinny jeans in an armchair by the fireplace. She sips a mojito, I have a margarita, we get a couple more. She tells me a long story about missing her train and being stranded in Cairo. I make self-deprecating jokes and we laugh our asses off. I go in for a closing hug that sort of lingers. It couldn’t be better.
And then it does get better. On the drive back to my campsite, she calls.
“Hey, my kids are with their dad. What if I jump in my camper van and meet you? Is it cool if I bring my dog?”
Definitely. I’m staying at a private campground tomorrow on a nature preserve (like I’m some kind of van life VIP). I’ll text you the address. Is three o’clock good?
She’s in. Yes! This is a good sign. It’s the beginning of my new life with Patrice, tripping down highways of laughter and chocolate and money, starting tomorrow afternoon.
Day 2. She calls exactly at three. “Something's wrong with my camper van. I don’t think it’ll run.”
I find Patrice and Mia, her three-year-old mixed breed, standing outside a fruit market on Highway 62. There’s antifreeze on the ground, and there’s a hose clamp under the van, the metal ring that attaches the hose to the radiator. I hold it up like it’s the Stanley Cup.
Look! I say, easy fix. We’re good.
The problem now is that my campground tonight is off the grid. I can’t call the guy, there’s no reception, only GPS. I have to meet him at the gate at five or else I lose my spot and have nowhere to stay. I need to get this chick’s van fixed in the next hour and get us to the campground so we can get busy building our life together.
“I don't know . . . I'm going to call my insurance company.”
Wait—you didn't have an accident. You don’t need to--
“I'll call the insurance company, and then I'll call triple A. And then I'm calling my friend Janine.”
She’s not talking to me. She’s talking to herself, or maybe to Mia. She’s making a mental list, putting imaginary sticky notes up on the inside of her head. I get the feeling she does this as a response mechanism, any time she’s confronted with the unexpected. What happened to the can-do confidence of that woman from the lobby bar who hikes in the jungle?
Look, I say, there’s a mechanic’s shop over there, the white sign. We can drive your camper—it’s downhill. But if you tow it home, you’ll just have a broken van in your driveway. I’m impressed with my skill at rhetoric. The guys from the shop come out and predictably tell her she needs a new radiator for $1,500. She starts to hyperventilate, and calls Janine.
I go in and tell the guys, look, it’s just the hose clamp. Charge her fifty dollars and attach the hose. If she gets a tow, you get nothing. They have a meeting and say, okay, half an hour.
In some hidden corner of my mind, I see the crack widening down the center of my fantasy. I know it’s over. But I can’t leave. I need this story of luck and timing and redemption to be true. I can’t exit the narrative I’ve already written.
They finish two hours later. The van runs fine, but I miss my campground meeting. It’s colder now and getting dark. The mechanics tell us no one cares if we park overnight by the nature preserve.
We find a couple of parking spots under the trees. I pull out the stops. On my camp stove I make us a chicken piccata, fresh lemon and garlic, capers, bowtie pasta, even chilled sauvignon blanc. Making dinner in the parking lot! Years from now we will laugh when we tell our friends this story.
Patrice eats everything and says nothing. No eye contact, except with Mia. Why isn’t she being more fun and flirty, after I fixed her van and made her dinner and saved her fifteen hundred dollars? She chugs two glasses of wine, stacks her dirty dishes on the ground, and tells me her plan to get up early and call the tow truck. She wonders if tow trucks are more plentiful before 7am or after. She is blind to every detail of this experience except this desperate, irrational need to tow her fully-functioning camper van seventy-five miles back to Lake Arrowhead. She’s tired now, and needs to feed Mia, and disappears inside.
I’m doing the dishes. I hate her. But--maybe she’s embarrassed, or she’s afraid I’m not interested after kind of a shitty day. I’ll make breakfast tomorrow, and tell her I’m having a great time. Which I’m not. I’ll help with the tow, and we’ll go back to her place. Maybe we’ll have makeup sex, and start our life together. Soapy water runs over my shoes.
Day 3. I make pour-over coffee, hash browns, veggie sausage. No morning flirt, no thanks-for-everything yesterday. She scowls at her phone. It’s an hour until the tow truck gets here. She offers, “Let’s go check out the nature preserve.”
I’ve never been here so, sure, why not? We bring Mia and a couple of water bottles. The hiking trail wanders through an oasis in the Mojave. There’s a creek, some little waterfalls, lush vegetation on both sides of the trail. The cool air and fresh water sort of wash away my frustration. It’s fine. Just end it. Say goodbye and part as friends.
She says, “There’s a lot of bees here.”
It’s fine—they won’t bother you.
“I might be allergic to bee stings.”
Really? But I’m not thinking, “Really?” I’m thinking, You don’t know whether you're allergic to bee stings? You’re 46.
I say, Don’t worry. It’s just a bunch of honeybees.
She says, “Ow.”
Please, let it be a cactus.
“I got stung.”
No, you didn’t.
“I did. Look at this red streak going up my arm.”
I see the mark of a beesting on her wrist. There is, in fact, a red streak climbing her forearm towards the elbow.
“I need to get back to my camper.”
I’m calculating. Twenty minutes. I know exactly nothing about the physiology of the body's allergic response to bee venom. This is a purely uneducated guess. Do honeybees even have venom? I’ve probably got twenty minutes before Patrice passes out or foams at the mouth or something.
Let's get back. Here’s some water.
“I feel dizzy. I’m getting a headache.”
We need to get you back to your van.
“My vision's getting cloudy.”
You’ll be fine. It’s not far.
“No, it's not that way. It's this way.”
No, it’s not.
“Yes it is—it’s this way.”
It's fucking not. It's fucking that way. This relationship outlived its potential a day and a half ago. The only thing keeping me here at this point is my fear of being charged with misdemeanor accidental negligent homicide or something if Patrice spasms to death by bee venom on this nature walk.
We make it back to the parking lot. Twelve minutes left. She appears to be fine even after walking back. Ordinary beesting.
She says, “I have an epi pen in my camper.”
She comes out with a little zippered kit, and hurries through the pages of the instruction booklet on how to self-administer a rescue dosage of epinephrine. Looks like her vision is not so cloudy anymore. Nine minutes to go. She sits on the ground, positioning various items from the case uncertainly on the ground around her.
Have you done this before?
“No. I've never been stung by a bee before.”
If you’ve never been stung why do you think you’re allergic?
“Well I just don't know. I better call 911.”
I don't think you need to call 911. You seem okay, no respiratory problems, no seizure. I’ll drive you to urgent care. I immediately regret saying this aloud. And by the way, that's the fire station right there. I saw it when we pulled in.
“No. I’m calling 911.”
Well, if you call 911, they're just going to call those guys. I point at them, even though we can’t see them, inside their cinderblock firehouse across the street. I get a bowl from the back of my truck and pour some water for Mia.
She calls 911 and tells the operator, “Medical emergency.” Is it? Six more minutes. She recounts the hiking trail, the bee sting, the epi pen, our location. A minute and a half later, the station doors swing open. An ambulance and a fire truck roll out, sirens on, lights on, a whole production. They drive past three houses and a length of chain link fence, and turn into our parking lot.
I’m holding the leash. Mia and I watch on our left where two EMTs exit the ambulance, connect Patrice to a saline IV, and help her onto a gurney. On our right, two other first responders are doing paperwork when the truck arrives from Yucca Valley Towing. Rick the driver winches Patrice’s camper up onto his flatbed, so now Patrice and her van each have their own gurney, even though they are both running fine. The tow truck drives away as Patrice is hoisted into the back of the ambulance.
Where are you guys taking her?
“Desert Regional—closest emergency room.”
That’s an hour away.
As the doors close, Patrice calls out, “Hey! Bring my dog! And my purse!”
Then four hours waiting with Mia in the ninety-degree sun outside the hospital. Then Patrice is discharged with no sign of allergic reaction or anaphylactic shock. Then the seventy-mile drive back to her house where the camper sits waiting in the driveway. On the way, Mia pees in my truck.