The End

“Do something incredible” I looked up from my phone at the sound of her voice “anything in particular?” I asked, mock in my voice. “Anything” she confirmed seriously “it doesn’t have to be big or incredible to anyone else, just as long as it’s incredible to you” she smiled at me. “Just think Becs, if we both did one incredible thing a year, and we started now, by the time you’re 60 and I’m 90, we’ll both have done 30 incredible things each. And by the time you’re 90, you’ll have done 60 incredible things! Think about that! A lifetime of being incredible” she took a sip of wine and looked at me over the rim, “ok” I answered.

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‘Can she do it? I don’t think the old bags got it in her! She’s going to stumble at the final hurdle! No, no she’s trying! She might have this! She’s going for the zip! She’s got it! She’s got it! The Brit has just made history! She has zipped the bag shut and the crowd has gone wild! We have a new British hero folks, the first person to ever zip an overstuffed bag shut! We’ll I don’t think we’ll ever see such an achievement in our lifetime again!‘ I was spread eagled across my suitcase, sweating and swearing at the challenge to fit a years worth of travel into one bag.

Blonde and Geo had departed a week earlier; with a goodbye meal we toasted cocktails to the trip and tried to laugh off the fights. They left the next morning for Costa Rica before Geo returned home and Blonde went on to Europe to visit family. We made promises to meet up in London but the approaching winter was too cold for her summer blood, she cut the trip off early and returned to Oz before we were able to reconnect.

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As soon as the door clicked shut a wave of nostalgia washed over me, the room felt suddenly very empty, I missed them instantly. Alaska however bounced up and down on the bed “they’re gone!! Now it’s just you and me! You and me. You and meeeee” he burst into song and jumped to the floor, trying to spin me into a kiss which I rejected, unaffected he danced around the room.

We moved back up the coast to a hotel where we spent our final week in a tango of affection and fire, flaring up before finding tender moments to promise each other the future was possible.

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On our final day, Alaska left for the airport with the waking day, a sleepy departure full of hugs and whispered ‘I love yous’. And with the click of another door, he too was gone, leaving me alone once again. He flew to the UK for Christmas however unbeknown to me, he’d already slept with a girl back home by then. We broke up pretty soon after that.
I sat in Cancun airport a few hours after Alaska had flown out; plugged into a pillar, I watched the world go by from kneecap level, a sea of flip flops, wheelie bags and whining kids. I didn’t know what I was going home to, all I knew was that there was no home to return. No one would be at the airport and I was under no illusions that there was some fairy tale happy ending waiting for me.

What I did know however, was that although the world hadn’t changed, I had. Before this all began, I’d never done anything on my own, never travelled alone. I relied on someone to hold my hand through everything. I avoided confrontation, convinced if I said ‘no’ people might not like me and what could possibly be worse that being liked?

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The fear of loneliness hovered in my mind for just a moment on that airport floor, but it didn’t hold the same power it once had. I’d see the Facebook posts of parties, the groups of people giggling over lunch, couples squishing their faces together in pictures, family picnics, holidays; on and on it went and with it, I’d compare, always coming up short, feeling much worse for it. The truth was, everyone has those things, but those moments are only a snapshot, behind them lies all the insecurity, despair, heartache, frustrations and loneliness that make up being human. I wasn’t adrift from the rest of society, I just couldn’t see through the fog to realise we all feel alone sometimes and what’s more, that’s perfectly normal.

I stepped off the plane to the grey skies of Britain. There is was, exactly two years to the day of her death, the entire grief cycle having spun its course. Two years sounded like an awfully long time to the rest of the world, for me it was but a blink of the eye. Just because time has passed and it gets easier to breath, doesn’t mean the pain clears, I’m not sure it ever will but you learn to live with it. It changes you that kind of pain, making you question things, things that were lost like boyfriends and friendships, dignity and confidence. It makes you lash out and act like a jerk at times in unexplainable outbursts that you’d like to be forgiven for.

But through it all, you learn and grow and hope that somewhere your mother will be proud of you. After all, you are your mothers daughter.

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I’d love to say I walked through those airport doors with my head held high, but this is real life and it was raining. I sat on the floor, jet lagged and cold, waiting an hour for the taxi I’d luxuriously booked as the last treat to end my trip with.

According to the psychologists, grief takes two years to get over. I don’t believe you ever truly get over the loss, but the waves get more manageable and those intense emotions aren’t so all consuming as they once were. For awhile I walked around London like a ghost in the background of other peoples happy lives, unsure of my own footing, the London life I’d once inhabited having died with my mother.

My mother and I arrived in this world with the beginning of spring, she left at the end of a September, never a fan of the cold, preferring to burn out with the summer. After my return to England, through the bitter adjustment of winter, finally the leaves began to bud and with it, little by little whispers grew louder, confidence returned and happiness started to warm my edges once again.

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I’d been fighting myself for so long, this journey was never really about my mother, it was about myself, about accepting who I was for every hormonal, difficult, embarrassing flaw and accepting that. I wasn’t perfect but then no one but myself ever said I had to be. And I was finally ok, being the multilayed, pain in the arse but mildly amicable person I was.

I will always mourn for my mother, I’ll crave for the relationship we had and the one I’ll never know. For the moments we won’t share, the grandchilden she’ll never know, I’ll look at the person walking me down the aisle and just for a moment I’ll feel a lump in my throat. I won’t know who to call in the middle of the night when things go wrong. I will miss her forever but that’s ok too because she taught me to face the storm and to trust myself. It might have taken a trip around the globe, Santa Claus and perhaps one or two meltdowns but I got there eventually.

My mother always said people never know how to end well. Perhaps that’s because stories never truly end, strong characters will always live on in our hearts. And after all, down the rabbit’s hole, at the back of the wardrobe, through the platform, after the second star on the right or at the end of a kites tail,…there is always another adventure just waiting to be had.

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Mexico and the turtle

It was a three hour bus ride up the Mexican coast, Blonde was dozing in the seat opposite, Geo would be joining us the next day having messed up his flight bookings from Cuba and Alaska and I were leaning against one another. Alaska leaned in, pulling a headphone pod from my ear “our raccoon will be called Franklin” he smiled and turned back to the sunset beyond the window. I pressed my mouth close to his ear “no raccoon. A dog and I’m naming it!”.

He laughed “no, raccoon first, dog second. Franklin will be awesome! Especially when I dress him in a tux” he followed up his statement with noises “thrttttt” which sounded like a chirping bird despite his assurances they were entirely raccoon.

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“I am not staying here!” I snapped. The taxi from the bus terminal had dropped us off in a run down street in the back of Tulum. No one answered the door, it was dark and the mosquitoes had found me. I wrapped myself in whatever layers I could but they buried into my skin regardless, by the morning I’d have forty swollen bites to scratch.

‘I’m not staying here!’ I moaned internally once we eventually gained access ‘There is one lumpy bed and an old sofa. In the same room! For all four of us to share! The air conditioning is one tiny fan that shakes in the ceiling, squealing with every rotation and threatening to fly off at any second to decapitate us! The fridge doesn’t work, the freezer is about one degree cooler than the non functioning fridge. The living room is an oven, there are ants everywhere and OH MY GOD! WHAT WAS THAT! WAS THAT, WAS THAT A COCKROACH!!!! AGGGHHHHH I’M NOT STAYING HERE!!!! And we only have one key for four people! So we either stay in or all go out together. So much for space!’ I debated, trying to get the front door to shut, only to discover the net shutter was torn to shreds, allowing more mosquitoes to come feast on my arms.

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“Who booked this?!” I spun around to face Blonde and Alaska. “Geo and I did” Blonde determined. “Why?” I questioned, there had been so many options, places with sea views, balconies, private swimming pools, two beds! And all the prices were reasonable. “Because it had two bikes available for guests to use. Geo and I thought we might do some cycling” Blonde answered.

I sighed, dragging my hands down my face “What? You’re telling me we are in this shit-hole when we could have been in an apartment with two bedrooms, a pool, AIR CONDITIONING! Oh and working wifi! All so you two can have bikes….which appear to have flat tyres?! And you did realise four of us would be staying here didn’t you? We might all want to cycle….” I wasn’t surprised any more.

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“I’m not staying here” I insisted to Alaska the next day as we headed out to find a supermarket. The lumpy looking mattress  must have been made of concrete because my back from screaming from it! Unable to sleep I tossed and turned itching at the bites whilst mosquitoes continued to dive bomb for me. “I’m going to book somewhere else” I determined.

“But if I don’t come with you, you’ll just hold it against me and I can’t afford to pay for accommodation twice!” he retorted. “I feel trapped here! I can’t stay in a room with those two for two more weeks! And I’m getting eaten alive! Look at my skin!” I held up an arm, great welts broke angrily in the pattern of star constellations across my skin. “Well what do you expect me to do!” he snapped back.

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We yelled at each other as we walked back from the store. It irritated me that he wasn’t sympathetic to my cause and worse, that he was could only snap back rather than listen.

“Don’t follow me” I’d had enough, yanking my shopping from him into my arms and stomping off. Alaska followed “you’re going the wrong way” he called down the road after me. “Well you don’t have to follow me!” I yelled back stubbornly.

He had a point though, all the streets looked the same, I was completely lost. I walked into a random shop and asked for directions “four blocks over”. Alaska appeared at my side “see, I told you, you were going the wrong way”. “Ughh fuck off” I hated being wrong, I hated it even more when people pointed it out to me.

I let him walk ahead, turning off on a side street to get away from his over the shoulder glares. I contemplated buying a coconut from a street vendor until I realised I wouldn’t be able to carry that and the shopping, plus the machete looked rather dirty, the last thing I needed was the runs! Especially when the big sign above the toilet told us ‘do not flush paper’.

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Two blocks later, my bearings had all but given up when I turned a corner and walked straight into Alaska, it appeared he too was lost. I wanted to be mad at him but at the sight of me, he asked “you lost too?”. I tried to pull my smile down, determined to hold onto the annoyance but my eyes gave it away and he laughed. We wiggled our way around the streets until we came across the blue gates signalling home. Swapping the keys over, Blonde took off for a walk “it’s really easy to get lost, stick to the main road” we called to ignoring ears.

An hour or so later, a storm rolled into town, breaking down some of the closeness we’d all been suffering. Alaska had managed to persuade the gas on the stove into action, as I emerged from the shower he presented me with an egg sandwich he’d already taken a bite from. “We should dance in the rain!” he announced as we took bites from the sandwich – not exactly in turn, his two for every one of mine. I stood in the yard in only my towel, heavy rain splash on my closed eyelids as the sky rumbled above.

Alaska appeared with giant slices of watermelon. “Thanks but I don’t like watermelon” I reacted. “Try, it’s good” he handed it over, I held the giant wedge with two hands, unsure how to proceed. “What do I do with the pips?” I shouted over the arguing gods above. “Spit them out, or eat them” he yelled back.

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So we stood in the rain of the storm, under an umbrella sky of dark clouds, spitting pips to the ground and watching them swim to the gutter. The watermelon juice ran down our chins and I’d smile as he’d lean in to kiss the flavour from my face.

Geo arrived later that day, as did the apartment owner who showed us through to a secret second bedroom, built into the garage. It wasn’t any better than the first but at least we wouldn’t all have to share the one room.

Blonde and Geo booked an organised bus tour so Alaska and I rode the bikes to nearby ruins before finding a small beach fronted bar to eat seafood and drink Pina Coladas. We laid in hammocks, swaying back and forth watching the sun sink and moon rise over the ocean. “We should probably be getting back, it was a long ride to get here and it’s getting dark” Alaska advised.

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“Oh no, we’ve stayed out too late” I realised as we walked back to the bikes “the mosquitoes are out!” I screamed, swiping four off my thigh “quickkkkkk to the bikes!!” I ran. We peddled as though our lives depended on it, Alaska laughed behind me as a cloud of the blood biters formed behind me if ever my peddling slowed. It was getting dark and the bikes had no brakes, I tore around corners unable to slow, it was only once I’d reached the accommodation that I realised I’d left Alaska far behind.

We arose early the next day to go swim with turtles but Alaska announced he was sick. So we napped and laid around instead, I made smoothies and searched for jobs on the computer, tortured by intermittent wifi. “Even though I’m sick, I’m glad I’m here with you” Alaska rolled over on the bed, speaking in that feeling sorry for yourself kind of way that men do when they catch man-flu.

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With Alaska a little more perky the following morning, we hired a scooter “why can’t I drive?” I enquired when Alaska insisted on being the named driver “because I don’t want to die today” he responded. “Err, I just drove you around all of America!” I pointed out. “Exactly, I’m amazed any of us made it!” he smiled. “Hey! I’m a great driver” I declared. “Didn’t you crash the car and get a speeding ticket?!” he laughed, which was technically true but I felt justifiable.

I sat on the back of the scooter feeling far less stable than if I’d been in charge. Alaska revved the engine, we lurched forward, and abruptly stopped. He tried again, we sped down the street, my hands only just managing to hold on before I fell off the back. He raced through the gaps in the speed bumps as we headed to the beach, the wind tore at my face so I buried it in his back.

He sped up on the open highway, less careful until the wheels slipped from beneath us. We spun to one side as he tried to correct the steering, over compensating as we skidded to the other. The scooter veering dangerously low either side as I pictured my skin being torn from knees. We flew across the road, I screamed before he managed to gain control. “WHAT THE HELL!! YOU ALMOST KILLED US!” I yelled when we finally reached the beach. “Well I wasn’t doing it on purpose!” he snarled back “it’s not like you would have done any better” he stated meanly.

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The beach wasn’t quite as idyllic as I’d been hoping, a bit dirty, a lot of tourists, grey coloured sand plus a ring of seaweed on the shoreline that made crossing into the water a slippery path of crustaceans and litter. But Blonde and Geo assured us there were turtles to be found, and therefore slippery crustaceans would have to be abided!

We swam out into the murky waters, waves slightly too choppy for any clear visibility but no turtles could be found. Disappointed we returned to the apartment, dogs flying out of yards to chase the scooter “faster” I screamed as they tried to nip my heels.

“You didn’t see any turtles?” Blonde asked that evening over dinner “we went yesterday, there were loads. Geo gave one cancer!”. “What?” I questioned. “I touched one” Geo added, I turned to Blonde confused “apparently if you touch them, you can give them cancer because they’re allergic to humans” she informed.

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“Can I drive today?” I enquired the next morning. Alaska sniffed, still suffering from his cold “no, you’re not on the insurance”. Despite my reluctance to risk my life again by his driving, I climbed on the back of the bike.

“Ooh these are cool!” I announced when we’d arrived at the cenotes, large pools of water in limestone sink holes. “You go in first” Alaska nudged me forward. The water was cool but not unpleasant “come on” I called swimming further away from the dock, the dark overhanging caves disguising the crystal cut clearness of the mirror in which I’d entered. “Oooh” Alaska giggled at the change of temperature to the humid heat we’d been suffering all day.

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“Oh wow,  there are fish in here! And bats! Look up there!” we stayed mostly in the light where the sun drifted through the trees and showed the bottom of the pool, far deeper than it seemed. The dark parts of the cave scared us a little, unsure how deep we could swim into the black and if we’d ever come out again. “Shall we try another pool?” Alaska asked after our skin began to pimple and teeth chattered from the cold.

“This one is even bigger!” I squealed, my t-shirt billowing around me as I jumped into the water. Despite our modest diet in Cuba, I was still feeling uncomfortably heavy from our American diet; my skin had a strange puffiness to it, I was convinced I’d grown cellulite on my knees and calves, and even my feet felt fatter. I tugged at the t-shirt, trying to keep it from floating up in the water whilst Alaska’s words from months before floated through my mind ‘well you have got a fat ass‘ ‘you’re not attractive’have you got any pictures from when you were thinner?‘.

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We were having a nice time in Mexico but my legs met in places they hadn’t used to, my hip bones were much more cushioned and I was pretty sure I once had a collarbone!

You’re doing this to yourself, you’re ok, it’s not like you have to wash yourself with a stick on a rag! And look, he loves you, so what if he doesn’t find you physically attractive, who needs that?’ I asked myself ‘Ummm I do!’ I answered. ‘No, it’s fine, I’m totally self assured, I’ll just be content in my fleshy, flabby self and be happy for good health and a positive outlook. Yes. I’m having a lovely day. This is fine. If I feel too self conscious to take the t-shirt off and reveal my bikini body, fine, but let’s just enjoy these beautiful pools and not worry about it’ and just as I gave myself a prep-talk an eruption of chatter burst the stillness and drew our attention.

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I looked up in time to see a horde of diamanté covered wedged heels wobbling down the wooden stairs to the pool. Long, slim, tanned limbs followed until an army of Valley Girls stood before us.

I’d never seen people like them, Barbie come to life in all her various guises. Tiny bodies with stuck on boobs, waists that looked sculpted, bums usually reserved for fitness models in magazines after a lot of photoshop. They each wore a face full of carefully contoured make-up and hair so big, they might topple over if they leant too far to the side. I yanked at my t-shirt and wished the pool really would swallow me up. All the insecurities I’d ever had raising to the surface. I felt mortified and so self conscious I almost couldn’t move.

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I treaded water for awhile trying to plan an escape route whilst the girls removed tiny denim shorts and cropped tops to reveal even tinnier bikinis, more dental floss than swimwear and yet magically, everything on their body seemed to be supported, remaining in place. I glanced at Alaska, the big jerk looked like all his Christmases had come at once! A massive smile was spread across his face as I deemed he too had never seen creatures such as these in real life.

Whilst Hugh Hefner’s wives descended into the water, squealing at the cold and running back up the steps to “Ohh Tiffany, it’s soo cold, you go first” “No, you first Courtney” I swam around to the other-side and escaped the water, pulling my t-shirt away from my skin with that annoying suction sound.

I went and waited by our bags for Alaska to join me so we could head to the safety of another pool. I waited. But soon I was surrounded by Valley Girls, who’d decided they needed sun-cream for the shaded cave. I stood in the middle whilst models lathered each other up, trying not to listen to their conversation but unable to avoid it “What are you talking about? You look so slim! You do not have a belly! Why am I so white! I feel pasty! You have amazing boobs, mine aren’t as good as yours” they swapped back and forth.

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Alaska had taken the route to leave the pool through the busy side of the dock where the girls were all entering, of course he had! I watched as he took great delight “after you” “Do you need a hand, here…” “it’s not that cold, I’ll help you”. By the time he’d joined me I was a beating myself up for every Teddy Graham ever consumed and had convinced myself I was the most hideous creature to ever walk the planet.

“I knew you’d be feeling self conscious” was the first words he spoke, a look of amusement twinkled in his eyes. It kind of angered me, if he knew that, why hadn’t he come straight out of the water and hugged me or something? I don’t know? Made me feel special rather than the weed in a garden of roses? Perhaps I expected too much?

In reality, I knew I didn’t want to look like those girls, and I was perfectly fine as I was, no matter what size or shape but I seemed to construct rejection, loneliness and self confidence into physical appearance. In some warped logic, I was convinced everything would be better if I was thinner, prettier, smaller ass’d.

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For some reason, right at the very bottom of it all, I thought that if I was prettier, people might like me more and then I’d be accepted and good enough. This went beyond the grief; that had only dialled things up and I could never quite get control of my self esteem during the whole grieving process. Instead, I’d worn those insecurities like a sign around my neck, inviting the world to chip away at them and telling myself every word was true.

I thrust it at Alaska to take swipes at and then blamed him for doing so. I guess these things go back to childhood, classic Daddy issues anyone? You don’t get the attention from one parent so you cling to the other but it’s not enough so you develop this extroverted, attention seeking persona that’s tells you, you’re only as good as the next male figure thinks you are. Grief dug it all up and made those buried issues more vulnerable and exposed to the seasons.

We moved on to another pool but the Stepford Wives in making only followed, I tried to swim between caves to escape but succeeded only in bashing my head on a low hanging stalactite. “Can we go soon?” I begged Alaska, my fingers tracing the bump in my hair.

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We returned to the apartment just as it was getting dark, as I curled up on the bed, Alaska was about to head out for water when he paused in the doorway “why the hell am I getting water! I’m the one who’s sick!” he sniffed for good measure, apparently his bug hadn’t stopped him from swimming in cold pools all day but when it came to going five minutes around the corner for water upon an evening, well, he was a dying man!

“I can’t go out when it’s dark, look at me! I’m covered! No offence but my concern for your dehydration is out weighed by my fear of gaining another hundred or so mosquito bites!” I cut my reply. The fight escalated as they always did with us until Geo and Blonde walked in.

They gave each other knowingly looks and smirked “we were just saying today we wondered if you two would be fighting or having a good day. We settled on fighting” Blonde sat smugly. “You know, if you were sick, I’d go get you water” Blonde turned to Geo, her legs draped over his lap.

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“Oh, I’d get you water too” he dazed back adoringly. I felt ganged up on, Alaska informed the room I was selfish. “How is me not wanting to get water because I’m the only one the mosquitoes seem to go for and as soon as I step outside I’m covered in them, making me selfish!” I screamed back. “Because I’m SICK!” Alaska yelled. Blonde laughed “oh this is fun, I like watching you two fight, you’re both always yelling at each other” she looked at Geo bemused who only draped an arm around her shoulder and stroked her in sickening longing.

Ughhhh it was too much to take, Blonde smiled like a cat ‘get out! Get out now you smug, stupid bitch‘ I yelled internally wishing I could go for a walk or get away but the mosquitoes buzzed at the windows trapping me in. Blonde laughed “You guys are always fighting. I don’t think we’ve had one fight have we?” she looked at Geo again for confirmation who was smart enough to smile back, all the approval needed. I wanted to scream.

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Alaska and Blonde were trying to sort out money the next morning “you’re a smart guy, I’m sure you can work it out” she informed him. “Oh my god! You’re being so patronising” I butted in. “No I’m not!” she said defensively, I repeated her phrase back to her.

“No, I’m just saying!” she countered. “Well it’s hard to keep track of everything when you keep all of these hidden costs with 15 dozen bloody receipts for everything!” Alaska stated. “I just keep track of things” Blonde lifted her head defiantly. “Yeah, every single cent!” I pointed out; Blonde seemed to forget the numerous coffees brought for her but made sure to charge back every bottle of water or stick of chewing gum she bought for others.

Alaska laughed at my comment. “Ughh you two are hard work sometimes” Blonde informed, shaking her head. “Ha!” was all I could manage before Alaska tore into her, before I knew it, both were in full screaming mode, Geo trying to cool things down but being pulled in every direction by his childhood friend and the girl he’d fallen for.

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The stress of the apartment combined with the growing anxiety of going home and what might happen had been triggering mum dreams. She just kept dying. Over and over again when ever I closed my eyes. ‘Please don’t die!‘ I’d beg in my sleep, tears crystallizing on my cheeks in the dark whilst Alaska snored alongside. It had been nearly two years, the world had moved on, but for me, she still died for the first time in my arms every night.

I swam out far into the waters, Alaska had given up, returning to the sand to sleep under a palm. The waves rose and fell gently, I let them submerge me, my snorkel mask providing all the air I needed ‘please let me see one, a hint of shell, the edge of a fin, something’ I called into the gloom, desperate for a sighting.

It was calm beneath the waves, I didn’t feel like I was drowning any more, I knew I could resurface whenever I needed and there would always be air waiting for me. But the stillness, the cloudy waters, shapes in the dark, I was at peace with them at last. It was almost two years and finally I could fall beneath the surface without being consumed.

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I felt suspended for a moment, peace washing over me at the acceptance, the world a frozen dream, alone in the gloom but finally ok with it. The world hadn’t changed, but I had learned to live it it.

And slowly, another miracle. A face appeared out of the dark. Swimming directly towards me, a slow dance of graceful wings glided into the light as the turtle and I came face to face. He turned at last and nodded I follow, together we swam further out to sea, he dove down to the sand beneath us, introducing me to his wife who winked in reply to my smile. I watched from above as their neighbours popped around, my own private street party. When it was time, I surfaced, I surfaced back into the day, to a clear sky and promises of tomorrow.

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Cuba and ongoing battles

I lay watching the ceiling fan, silently trying not to rupture the storm that was Alaska. We’d reunited at the airport in Mexico; Alaska flying in from LA and Geo from San Francisco. Blonde and I, who’d arrived a day earlier, spent the night in separate hotels, keen to avoid each other. It was the first time I’d been alone in over three months; I awoke rested and dare I say…almost optimistic! A good nights sleep really does do wonders!

I’d arrived at the airport excited; Blonde and I chatted incessantly, almost clinging to one another whilst relaying every detail from the few days spent apart. Our conversation was manic in the speed of exchanges, our smiles frozen, both of us in fear of mentioning the fight in LA. We were all jubilant at the prospect of reaching Cuba and being together once again, well, all except Alaska who snapped from tiredness at every turn.

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Alaska paced back and forth that night, complaining about anything he could grasp, exhausted from not having slept for 30 hours due to an overnight flight, he tore up the world in frustration. We were staying with his extended family, the grown children of his aunts husband; Alaska felt responsible for organising the group, showing gratitude and entertaining, all of which he was too tired to manage but carried the burden regardless.

After an oddly satisfying breakfast of boiled eggs, hard bread, mayonnaise and tinned spam the next morning; Alaska and I laid on the bed, his irritation not having improved from a nights rest. “What can I do to help?” I asked. “Just tell me you love me” he returned blindly.

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We stayed talking awhile, I thought he was perking up, I was wrong. “You don’t get stressed like I do” he stated out of the blue. “What? You know nothing of my stress” I jarred.

With it drawing close to the end of the trip and approaching the two year mark of my mothers death, I’d been thinking a lot about how things had turned out and how they might have if she hadn’t died, or had I made different choices.

Somewhere in an alternative reality, if I’d have kept the baby, my toddler daughter would be running up to Granny right now asking for white chocolate buttons, there would be a home with pictures on the wall, a partner, a family. I’d have a job, security and with that, a sense of belonging. I’d have known nothing of how deep and dark emotions could run, of how quickly things could be stripped away and the awful loneliness that consumes. I silently longed for that other world.

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I didn’t regret the journey or how my life seemed to be working out; embarrassed and ashamed from my behaviour at times, yes, but generally, I thought I’d held up kinda well, in that, car crash, what the hell am I doing kind of way. But it had also been the hardest, most challenging period I’d ever know and probably ever would. I’d felt raw and exposed, so stripped back a gust of wind might have broken my fragility. There were times, when I wanted to sleep and never wake up again. When every breath was hard to swallow. And the utter desperation of loneliness sunk so deep into my bones, I ached from it. So when Alaska told me I didn’t really ‘get stressed’, I could only stare at him.

“You know why I have grey hairs coming through at 26?!” he shot at me in that aggressive, direct way he had when something was bothering him and he wanted to lash out at whoever was nearest. “Genetics?” I smiled. “Because a childhood of heartbreak. Grey hairs come from stress caused by love” he answered as if it were scientific fact. ‘Does this mean I didn’t really love my mum, or Bridezilla or anyone else because my hair remains a satisfactory shade of mahogany?’ I pondered.

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“Then why am I not grey?” I couldn’t resist. “A childhood does not compare to a year” he explained and I wanted to smack him for it. “Ummm” I was trying not to rise to it, keen to avoid another explosion like LA “you know nothing of how I’ve felt, you can’t compare it” I couldn’t help the anger rising. “I have a reservoir of sorrow” he explained “you only have a well”.

Alaska’s tiredness darkened his mood for the rest of the day, short with everyone except me, I suspect he knew I’d pull away if he had a go at me again. Blonde got the worst of it, she couldn’t help herself, asking perfectly innocent questions that if she only thought for a second, would have been able to answer herself. It wasn’t her fault but she wasn’t reading Alaska’s temperance “do you think your cousin will drive us to Havana tomorrow? Are they cooking us dinner? We were thinking of going to find a beach, will you cousin give us a lift?”. I was avoiding her, partly embarrassed of my own behaviour in LA, partly sore from the exchanged words of that argument but mostly I’d had enough, the initial reconnection at Mexico airport was short lived. Alaska vented about everyone else’s idiocy and then got agitated by anything I said. He fell asleep with the fans whirling. I was cold, he stole my sheets and refused to be disturbed, yelling in his sleep when I tried to pull them back.

havana-street

“I’m going to have to babysit the other two all afternoon” he moaned the next day when I expressed my preference to avoid them. The cousin took us into Havana that morning. We walked the rubble streets, still being cleaned after a recent earthquake. Old Spanish buildings, statues with faces worn away from years of sun, eye sockets glazed over with dust, bicycle taxis, eyes of the locals on us “where you from, where you from” they called hoping to engage in conversation for spare change.

Alaska disappeared down an alley, he’d moaned about being stuck with the other two but he left us all. I felt abandoned, he’d been complaining that everyone would get lost but he left me. As though seizing the opportunity Blonde and Geo took swipes as we walked on “Why’s Alaska so grumpy today?” she asked without looking for an answer. “You never get frustrated” she smiled at Geo. “No, neither do you” he smiled back, they both looked at me so I played along, hating it “yep, me neither” I gave them the tools. “Oh yeah, you’re such an angel aren’t you Becky” Geo looked at me pointedly, him and Blonde exchanged a smug look, the sides of their mouths curled up. ‘Oh you’re both so wonderful aren’t you’ I swallowed.

woah-bitch

“Chica Chica” a man called as we passed. “What’s he saying?” Blonde asked Geo, even my lack of Spanish knew Chica meant chick. “He’s talking about you” Geo gave her a doe-eyed look. I literally saw her ego grow, she baited him “oh he’s talking about Becky” she said with a sly smile waiting for Geo’s reply “no, he’s talking about you” he corrected “everyone’s looking at you” he added to her beaming face. My eyes rolled “we should really be getting back to the car, can you check the map?”. “Oh, we’ve been walking in the wrong direction” Blonde realised, tilting her phone.

We sat by the river drinking mojitos, Blonde and Geo finally finding a drink they liked despite not being fans of alcohol. Alaska laughed as Blonde and Geo slurred their words, playing up to the attention. The coolness of the evening blew in on the breeze. Alaska didn’t catch my annoyance whilst Blonde and Geo made drunken hints about how they never fight in comparison to Alaska and I.

My period arrived in the outhouse with the crooked door hanging off one hinge so you could look out to sea from the toilet seat. I felt low and weepy returning to the group, watching them laugh as the alcohol warmed their spirits, I felt left out and cold. I sat back down, watching the scene through a pane of glass, not really part of it.

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Blonde and Geo continued to drink “Tango! We should go tango dancing” Blonde announced, her elbow slipping from the table to everyone’s amusement. “Geo, you can dance because you can dance with me” she lent in, smiling at me as she said it as though it were a challenge. “I don’t have any rhythm” Geo answered but looking like the cat that got the cream at the prospect of Blonde dancing with him. “Oh you will when you have a few more drinks” Alaska laughed. “We will find it, the rhythm, in the mojitos” the cousin stated in broken English.

A few drinks down, Alaska and I concluded the other two were too drunk to do anything other than trip over each their own feet. Blonde leaned out the side of the car window, resting her spinning head on her arms “he’s got a machete” she called as we passed a man on the street. “Nothing wrong with that, a man with a machete is an awesome thing” Geo deemed. “Why am I talking like an idiot” Geo uttered a while later when his words weren’t falling into order. “Why isn’t the dog waving back at me!” Blonde yelled. “Hey dogs are people too” Geo insisted. Alaska leaned over from the front seat laughing at the exchange of conversation. I sat in the back, sandwiched between the two drunks, never feeling more sober in my life. Geo was sick in the toilet bowl as soon as we got home “go rub his back” Alaska instructed to Blonde.

cuba-cars

We were sitting with the family the next morning when Blonde walked in wearing a strappy vest top, her hair unusually piled up top of her head, displaying a map of love bites all over her neck. “We’re going to the mountains today” she declared, making a show of walking around the table, twisting her head back and forth as though looking for something. “Do we have to stay with them? They took swipes at me all day yesterday, I thought we were suppose to be having space” I leant into Alaska as Blonde continued to walk about like a peacock.

We laid around on the bed again, no hurry to get up and nowhere to get to. Conversation turned to Alaska’s ex girlfriend and with that, sex. “Well how often did you and your ex have sex then?!” I enquired, he’d been excited that Geo might finally have seen some action, expressing how hard it was to meet girls back home and even if you did manage to get a girlfriend, the girls were always bitches who used sex like a weapon. “Three times a year” came the reply. I was shocked “what do you mean? Three different people or actually just three separate times?” I tried to clarify.

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“Just three times” he looked away. “How can that be? You were dating your ex-girlfriend for what? Three months? Don’t tell me you only had sex three times in three months! She lived around the corner from you!” I was confused.

He clammed up “well yeah, we did it once, then I went away for a few weeks, then we did it again but she said it wasn’t comfortable so we waited awhile, tried again, then we ended”.

I thought for a moment “but, but that barely sounds like a relationship” I wasn’t being terribly tactful. He closed his eyes and refused to look at me. “Why is this so hard for you to talk about?” I pushed. “I put it in a box and left it behind” he deflected. “Why do you find relationships so hard to talk about? I find it hard to admit when I was wrong or apologise or when I’m embarrassed or insecure. But I still talk about that stuff, I don’t always want to but I try ” I explained, wondering if we had it in us to be really open with each other.

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“I know you find it hard to apologise” he stated “speaking of which, you never apologised for taking your stress out on me at Yosemite”. I pushed my head into the pillow and let out a sigh “I don’t feel I need to apologise”. “Yes you do!” he sat up, ready to explain his standing on that fight once again. “But I don’t feel I do! We’ve been through this already, why are you dragging it up again?!” I stared at the fan, tired of fighting but he continued to push until I found myself revisiting the memory once again and listing all the points where I felt I was right in it “….we’ve already discussed all this, we moved on” I concluded.

“I need you to apologise to me” he laid back down and closed his eyes whilst he waited. I stared at his face, tracing his features with my eyes, the shape of his lips, the constant angry crease between his eyes, always giving him a slight look of annoyance. It would have been so easy to kiss him, instead I let the silence draw out, finally speaking one word “no”.

screw-you

His eyes snapped opened but I spoke before he could argue “I’m not apologising when I feel it would be a lie.. It’s not genuine, I won’t be forced into saying something I don’t mean! Stop trying to control me!” he’d got my back up, I’d switched from wanting to lie on the bed and hug him to fighting the urge to march out the room. “I’m not controlling you!” his voice began to rise. “Yes you are, why do you always orchestrate a fight between us? We were having a nice time and now look where it’s heading?” I was so tired of fighting but the old buttons were being pushed.

“Me?” he laughed meanly “You’re the one always in a mood! Why do you think Geo said that yesterday? About you being such an angel!”. My fists clenched “because he’s got Blonde in his ear moaning about me losing my shit and taking the car, he’s so puppy dog in love with her, anything she says he’d go with!” I spat back. Alaska stared at me, any light in his eyes extracted, leaving only dead pools “yes but he’s also been on the trip half the time, he’s seen you be in a mood for most of it. You’re always moaning” for someone who wanted to move to England to be with me, who had started naming our children and insisted he loved me, he sure had a way to make me feel shit about myself.

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“Right that’s it” I was done, I got up and headed to the bathroom door, keen to escape the environment before I said something I might regret. “Don’t walk away!” he glared, more or a warning than a request.

“No fuck you, fuck all three of you! None of you know me, you don’t know what I’ve been through the last two years, you don’t know the person I was before all this, the fun happy me who was, generally, very positive and go lucky. All you know if the grief version and you judge me for it! The version stuck in a fucking car with Blonde asking a million stupid questions, copying every thing I do and then trying to compete at every turn. And you! You putting all your issues on to me, always asking for help like I’d be able to save you. And Geo, who’s 27 and never done anything, never lived away from home, had a relationship, lost anyone close to him, fuck, he hadn’t even kissed a girl since he was 15 before Blonde came along! No! None of you get to fucking judge me! Fuck you all!” I shut the bathroom door, stared at my reflection in the mirror and took a deep breath, steadying myself on the sink for support.

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“You know why, I like you the most when you’re like this” Alaska called through the door, I closed my eyes, wishing I could shut out the next manipulation that was sure to follow. “Because you think I’m being real” I replied, not wanting to hear him say it. “Yeah” he called back, I turned the shower on, letting the water drown out the rest of his words as I submerged my head in the stream.

His words, Blonde’s words, even Geo’s at times, they cut through like knives as the water tried to wash the wounds away, despair trickling down my back. ‘Was I nasty? I certainly had it in me but was that how people saw me? Was I always in a mood?’. It felt like it recently, I couldn’t remember the last time I was happy, I feared it had been years. I still felt like I was simply existing, not really living. Trapped in the now but nowhere left to run to, I couldn’t go back and yet I’d gone around the world and still hadn’t found the answers. I didn’t want to be the person they described me as ‘this isn’t who I am! I’m a happy person, I’m fun, I am, or at least I used to be. I think’.

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Alaska tried to grab my wrists when I finally emerged from the bathroom, appearing with a cloud of steam. “Why is it ok for you to expect an apology from me but I can’t get one from you?!” he was angry. I told him to fuck off, retrieved my hairbrush and returned to the sanctuary of the bathroom. He did, I heard the main door close with his exit, leaving me alone to fight my demons.

I found him on the beach a short while later, we talked over our difference, my feet digging a hole into the sand under the shade of a single palm tree, our words trying to balm the wounds. We spent the evening with the family sharing a meal of rice, pork, potatoes and plantain fritters, it was a simple meal but full of flavour and free from the corn syrup of America.

cuba-car

Keen to avoid Blonde and Geo again the next day, this time Alaska and I headed to the mountains. We rode in the 1952 Chrysler, battered cream leather seats, no seatbelts, cigarette trays, wooden handles and chrome details. It was spacious and solid, six decades old and a credit to both the manufacture and the mechanic who kept it’s wheels turning after all those years. The old car rattled whilst warm breeze streamed in through the windows and caught my hair. Alaska closed his eyes, his curls flying around his face and a smile travelling across his lips, one arm hung limp out the window.

We sat by a waterfall that only the locals knew, kids jumped into the pools, swimming in and out of the caves. We snacked on the sweetest mangoes I’d ever eaten, I didn’t even like mangoes but I liked them, sucking the flesh from the skins, juice dripping down our chins, we smiled at each other.

We played dominoes that night with whoever dropped by the house, rum and cokes poured over ice, hot air and sticky backs, a ceiling fan offering the only respite from the heat whilst the sky turned pink behind the palm trees.

hot-as-sin

Blonde was in a mood the next day, I didn’t care to ask why, happy to stay as far away as possible. She took swipes at Alaska over breakfast but left me be, too scared to say anything I might bite back for. After a morning round of tears to Geo, curiosity got the better of me and I asked the problem, concerned it had to do with me. I hadn’t said a word to the girl since we’d arrived in Cuba, actively avoiding her where possible, what had I  done now?!

Perhaps my avoidance was upsetting her? But after LA, I couldn’t be around her, I didn’t want to explode again but enough time hadn’t passed. Geo informed me she was crying about old text message arguments sent six week earlier in Vegas, I couldn’t care, I didn’t want to be part of it any more. ‘Friendships die sometimes, that’s what happens. Bridezilla taught be that’ and then I felt guilt and bitterness for thinking that lesson.

cuba-locals

“The food is really bland here” she complained, my eyes shot up from my plate, fork suspended in mid air, searching Alaska’s face, that blazed. I glanced at Geo who was watching us both, even he seemed embarrassed by the statement.

We were sat eating a meal of rice, potatoes, onion and breaded fish, simple yet delicious. A meal lovingly prepared for us. I’d felt humbled by the generosity of the host, sharing what little they had, every bite warmed my belly that someone had taken the time to make it for me. I looked at Blonde, probably for the first time properly since America. Had it been my family we were staying with, I’d have taken her aside ‘you want to be in a mood, fine! But don’t you dare act so rudely or insult this lovely family who have welcomed us into their home!’. Alaska was fuming, containing his patience only for the sake of his cousin but ready to pounce the next time she crossed the line.

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He didn’t have to wait long, the next day Alaska was sitting talking to Geo over lunch, asking for details of how to get the bus to Havana, Blonde walked into the room and interjected herself into the conversation “it’s perfectly simple,  if I can work it out and I’m was suppose to be the naive one of the group, then you should be able to manage the bus too” she flashed me a quick look to see if I’d caught it. I glanced over my spaghetti at Alaska to see if he recognised the slight, he nodded back.

“Excuse me! I wasn’t talking to you! I was talking to Geo, if I wanted your opinion or advice I’d ask for it” he snarled. She stepped back as if bitten, looking at each of us for support, even Geo seemed fed up, finding no solace, she retreated to her bedroom.

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Alaska and I spent the afternoon at the beach after returning from Havana, reading to each other from the book I was digesting. We looked like one of those awful couples, locked in their own world reading sonnets or some shit. Geo sat alone further down the beach, reluctant to join us, keen for the space as Blonde refused to leave her room.

That night Blonde discovered Alaska alone in the kitchen “I want a copy of those pictures tonight!” she demanded he instruct me. “What?” I questioned at the relayed message “I told her I’d give her a copy of MY pictures when we get to Mexico, we’ve got three weeks! Why is she in such a hurry now?! I said I’d copy them, why does it have to be done this second! She had a camera, we took the exact same shots!” she’d been trying to demonstrate some power over me all week, she’d pushed me to the wall but I was never going to let her win!

havana-locals

Alaska only shook his shoulders and tried to hug me. “No! You think I’m being petty! I told her I was done with the road-trip and with her! I don’t want to make any effort any more, she infuriates me! The snide comments, subtle digs, the way she’s bossing every one around! Did you hear her earlier ‘I’m going for a walk! Geo, you’re coming with me!’ ‘We’re leaving early tomorrow to go to the town aren’t we!’. She’s not the boss of Geo but she’s horrid to him and he doesn’t even notice” I complained. “Oh he does, but what choice does he have. He’s desperate for her to fall for him” Alaska added. “She treats him appallingly! She’s been in a mood the last two days. I’ve not said one word to her, made no comments, not risen to any of her remarks or attacks and actively stayed out of her way” I stated.

“Oh I know!” Alaska offered looking at me kindly. “What’s that mean?” I enquired at the tone of his remark. “It’s been noticed, my family are starting to ask if you’re ill or something. You only leave this room for meals or if we’re going out! You need to be the bigger person, you need to make more effort”.

ta-da

“Why do you keep saying that? I thought I was being the bigger person, I’m staying out her way and not rising to anything. I’ve taken all her comments on the shoulder and not even rolled my eyes! I thought I was doing really well” I seemed to be failing again without knowing how.

You need to make more effort. Your absence is missed, people notice when you’re not around” Alaska pointed out, I started to smile thinking it was a compliment but then he added “and then it seems like you’re the one in a mood” and my smile faded again.
“But I’m removing myself from the situation. I don’t want the drama, the comments etc. I’m not acting like that, why do I have to put up with it? Why do you call me out but no one calls her out?” I asked, everything feeling unjust.

its-not-fair

Heading his advice I set about trying to copy the pictures onto her USB sticks, for five hours I sat trying to transfer the images “are you going to come downstairs, you’re being antisocial” Alaska stood in the doorway as I was half way through the transfer process “I’m trying to copy the pictures, I thought that’s what you advised!” I couldn’t win.

The disks were too small to fit the files, by midnight I gave up and fell asleep. We all headed to one of the famous beaches the next day, long white stretches of sand. I hid under a t-shirt, ashamed of my swollen body from all the American candy I’d consumed.

Blonde continued to make demands about the pictures right up until I’d gone to bed despite Alaska’s best efforts at explaining the USB’s simply weren’t large enough and it would be a much slower process of copying, uploading, deleting and repeating, all of which we didn’t have time for in Cuba. Blonde was having none of it and insisted she had the pictures the next day.

photographs

Geo and Blonde forgot to bring money to the beach and as such, had on funds to cover the taxi home. We arranged a time to leave however when it came to it, Blonde decided she wanted another dip in the sea and stayed out in the water determinedly.

We waited until Alaska lost his patience and swam out after her, telling her we were leaving. She started to moan about the pictures again, I could see their discussion getting heated by the frequency of arm movements and splashing of water. Geo swam out to break up the fight whilst I remained with the bags, determined to stay out of it. All three of them treaded water, rising and falling with the waves yelling at one another, wild arms and sulking faces.

cuba-beach

Alaska returned “come on” he nodded his head angrily. We walked together to the taxi rank, no longer concerned if they followed. They did. Alaska turned to Geo, asking him to translate to find out the cost of the trip with the taxi driver in Spanish. Blonde turned to me “for future reference we wanted to stay the whole day!”. I glanced at Geo, recalling his preference to leave an hour earlier, it appeared she now spoke for both of them. Alaska stared at her blankly “don’t give a fuck!”. Blonde looked around for backup but with Geo busy, found none.

“The taxi said he’d take us” Geo returned. Alaska and I turned to leave but Blonde fought back “I want those pictures tonight! You have to give them to me today!”. I was fed up with the demands, spinning on my heels “they are MY pictures, taken on MY camera, by ME! I do not owe you anything! I tried to copy them for you yesterday, for hours! But your memory sticks are too small. I’ll copy them when I can but if you keep acting like a spoilt brat and making demands in such a rude way, I’m not going to do anything!” I stated, hoping that would be the end of it.

dont-give-a-shit

“But you kept telling me to take pictures on your camera!” Blonde complained. “Yeah, when I was driving and couldn’t. You had two cameras and a mobile phone of your own. It’s not like I was stopping you taking your own pictures!” I pointed out. “I want the pictures today. And the edited versions too!” she insisted, climbing into the car. “I’m really sorry Becky, I know, she’s, she’s a bit wound up at the moment” Geo tried to explain “noooo! It’s not your fault. Sorry. Sorry you’re in the middle of this. Sorry, it’s not you, sorry” I tired to explain to Geo how guilty I felt that he was caught up in it all.

I sat in the taxi watching palm trees fly by, my irritation once again threatening the happiness of everyone else’s day. I’d drawn my line so clearly in the sand, but it was almost salvageable at the airport in Mexico, however, after a few days in Cuba, even Blonde could see any patience was at an end. I desperately wanted to be as far away from them all as I could possibly get, we might not have been in car any more but that tin can of claustrophobia still seemed to be over our heads.

cuba

The Jerk

The average sized person contains around 7×10(18) joules of energy. That’s enough to explode with the force of thirty very large hydrogen bombs. On a sunny Tuesday afternoon in LA, I unleashed my energy and with it, all the destructive force.

“Do you want to drive to LA?” I asked. “How long is it?” Blonde replied, I could tell by the tone of her voice that she was reluctant, probably thinking it was unfair of me to expect her to do the entire stretch. “It’s about an hour and a half” I answered, avoiding eye contact, already having calculated the five hours I’d driven the day before and the three that morning, compared to her two yesterday and one that day.

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Somehow, I ended up driving regardless but after an hour of sitting in traffic I pulled off into a run down shack of a town to find a bathroom and swap over. The high street was a ghost town, boarded up windows and broken down cars “do you want to get back on the free-way and we can find a gas station there?” Blonde offered.

The sharp stabs on pain in my shoulders advised otherwise “no, there has to be something around here…” I spoke through gritted teeth. After 12 weeks I was sick of doing the majority of the driving. I hadn’t noticed it at first, not until Alaska pointed out it was always me delivering a third more each day. I’d worn it as a badge of honour at first, a silent act of martyr to push through over the final hump and get us to that night’s accommodation. But my efforts went unnoticed and finally became expected; unconsciously I started keeping a mental log that rubbed away, yet another thing I’d failed to communicate.

driving

It really was unfair on Blonde ‘how could she not notice I was always driving more often and longer, she’s just selfish and lazy!’ I’d moan internally when she’d suggest we swap over, only half the time put in. Realistically she was probably completely unaware or thought I’d say something if it was grating. “Yeah but I haven’t had my coffee yet” “I’m tired” “well I can drive more later on” she’d respond the few times I did brave a confrontation on the subject, but my words always seem to go in one ear and have drifted out again by the next day as the cycle repeated itself.

“I’m going to nip to the loo” I stated once we found a supermarket, “I’ll come with you” Blonde followed. I knew I was being petty but the conversation in the car had been getting to me, I could feel agitation building. I needed a moment alone, to calm myself before I rolled my eyes or got snappy, but Blonde never quite mastered giving other people space, and so, together we went.

“Can we sort the money out, who owes who what?” I asked once back in the car. “Yeah, I’ll do it in the next few days” Blonde decided, adjusting the mirrors to her position in the driving seat. “No!” I said a little too sharply “I’ve been asking you to look at your receipts everyday for the last two weeks and you keep saying you’ll do it in the ‘next few days’! We leave America in three days and then we’d have to convert the money into Mexican or Cuban! It’s getting annoying, can you just sort it out tonight! I want to know who owes what!” I snapped.

bills

“Ok. I’ll do it later. I’ve got it all here and on my phone. And on some receipts” she held up a bunch of crumpled papers with scribbles all over them, dropping some on the floor as she drove. ‘Ugghhhh why couldn’t she be organised, why isn’t it all neatly written down on her phone, with dates and who paid for what and clearly laid out? This is how you lose stuff!’ I complained to my subconscious. ‘This is how you lose stuff‘ my mothers words forever chasing me throughout my 20’s, she’d have laughed to know I was echoing her. ‘I should never have left her to keep track of the finances, why hadn’t I just done it’. I clamped my mouth shut, tasting the pill before it sat on the top of my throat, threatening to spill back out.

“Can you text the host to let him know what time we’ll arrive? I haven’t topped up the credit on my phone” Blonde asked, immune to my inner rage, she’d been out of phone credit for three days now, requesting I send messages back and forth to Geo or looking up everything that needed looking up.

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With the LA rush-hour successfully navigated, we reached our final couch surfing host, a Columbian man in his early 30’s who sold Christmas cookies for a living. Cans of Santa shaped biscuits sat boxed up in his kitchen, I was starting to think the Universe was playing some sort of Santa based joke on me that had long grown old.

After some additional nagging, Blonde, at last, sat down to sort the money out “I think I’ve lost some receipts, I’m sure there are more than these” she waved her hand over the pile of tatty papers scattered across the kitchen table “I might go check the car again”.

“Wait a sec, I’m looking up hotels for Mexico, we still have to book for when we land on Friday, or we’ll be sleeping in the airport before our flight to Cuba in the morning!” I pointed out, something I’d been suggesting we booked since before we left Australia. “I’ve got a deal here, it’s got a pool too! We can land from LA and spend the afternoon by the pool, it’s not a bad price” I twisted the computer for her to see. “Hmmmm, I don’t know, I reckon we can get somewhere cheaper, I’ll have a look tomorrow” Blonde announced, heading towards the front door, car keys in hand.

enough-now

I felt provoked, infuriated I snapped “ughhh, I have been trying to book this one night accommodation for five bloody months and every time I mention it, you say you’ll look at it tomorrow! Now we’re three days away and you’re still putting it off! You know what, I’m just going to book mine, you can stay there or not but I just want to get it done”. She looked at me, anger flashing behind her eyes “fine” she clamped her mouth shut.

I tried to be friendlier the next morning, I really tried. I woke early, tip toeing around not to wake Blonde whilst I showered and gathered the washing, ready to put in the machine as soon as she awoke and could give me her items. I was sat at the computer searching for jobs “I’m going to go top up my phone, do you want to stay here and get the washing out when it’s done?” Blonde reported, jingling the car keys.

cinderella

She returned in time for lunch “I picked up some food” she called cheerfully and set about plating up some salads. “Ahhh thanks for getting these” I’d been a little annoyed to have been left with the washing and waiting around all morning alone but most things can be forgiven when presented with lunch. “So shall we head down to Santa Monica in a bit? We can walk around for awhile and then maybe watch the sunset on the pier?” I suggested.

“How much longer are you going to be?” Blonde nodded at the computer I was typing away on. “Almost finished, give me ten minutes and I’ll be done” I answered without looking up. “Ok well I might go for a walk then” she decided. ‘I just said I’d be 10 minutes! How far are you going to get in ten minutes?! Can’t you just hang on ten minutes? Fine, just go, I just can’t today!‘.

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Half an hour came and went. I packed the computer away and sat on the couch. I cleaned the plates and stacked them away. I used the bathroom. Folded the clean laundry. Looked at Facebook. At the clock. I put my shoes on. ‘Where was she!‘. “Hey, where abouts are you? I’m done here, ready to go when you are” I text. No reply. “Ummm are you nearby?” I text fifteen minutes later. I tried to call, she didn’t answer. ‘Umm should I be worried?’ I pondered. ‘She’s probably calling her mum, that’s why she’s not picking up or responding to the messages‘. I sent a message on Facebook. The hour passed. ‘SERIOUSLY! Where the fuck is she! I said I’d be 10 minutes and she’s been gone over an hour! We were suppose to leave ages ago! She’s wasting one of our last days and I’m stuck inside!’. The hormones began to race.

“You know what, fuck this! If she won’t answer her phone or reply to text messages, I’m just going to leave her. Screw it, I’m taking the car. She takes the car without saying anything all the time, I’ve never taken the car. Fuck it, I’m taking the fucking car and going to Santa Monica for the afternoon. It’s her own fault for pissing off for so long!” I decided, grabbing my bag and heading to the front door. “AAGHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!” I groaned to the door, she’d taken the hosts keys, I had no way of exiting the apartment without leaving his apartment unlocked. I stomped back to the couch and flopped down.

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I was bored and annoyed. “WHERE ARE YOU!!!!” I text, everything screaming at me for the unfairness of the situation, bright sunlight streamed through the window teasing me, I felt trapped in a box. I paced back and forth, every moment stretching into hours. “Fuck this, fuck this. I’m so fucking bored!!!” I complained to the walls, acting like a caged animal.

After an hour and a half I’d had enough. “Screw it, I’m taking the car! And if the apartment gets broken into, well, that’s on her!” I rationalised unfairly, all sense of self control long since gone. A strange sort of excitement rushed over me as I clambered down the stairwell, the rebelliousness at taking the car without permission. Only I couldn’t find the entrance to the underground parking lot, deflated that my adventure had ended so easily I huffed my way back to the apartment, the door was locked.

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“What!” I knocked to no answer. I didn’t understand, now I was trapped in the building, couldn’t workout how to access the car park and was locked out the apartment too. I stamped my foot just as my phone rang “WHERE ARE YOU! ARE YOU IN THE APARTMENT? IT’S LOCKED!” I yelled. “I’m outside, I just went up but you weren’t there so I locked it” Blonde replied.

I flew down the stairs, every hormonal impulse I ever had heightened beyond control ‘calm down Becky, there’s probably a reasonable explanation for this two-hour disappearing act’ the logical side of my brain insisted ‘fuck off! It’s been two decades! I’m so fucking mad right now. She’s done it on purpose to annoy you‘ the emotional side screamed back. I took a deep breath at the fire exit door ‘ok, be nice‘ I warned as the door opened. And then I saw Blonde sitting in the car. ‘SHE TOOK THE MOTHER FUCKING, FUCKING, FUCK FUCK OF THE FUCKING CAR! AGAINNNNNNNNNNNNNNNN‘ I lost it. I absolutely lost it.

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In thirty years of friendships not once have I raised my voice to a friend, not once. Sure I’d had plenty of fights over the years, drawn out silences, short text messages exchanged, notes explaining who said what in class, but I’d never yelled. Not even at Bridezilla and she probably deserved a good yelling. No, if I was ever upset at someone, I’d bite my tongue and go moan to my mum until I felt better. But not this day, this day I became something else entirely.

I launched into the passenger seat and like a tornado, tore up everything in my path. “WHERE THE ROYAL FUCKING FUCK HAVE YOU FUCKING FUCKKKKK….AND YOU TOOK THE FUCKING FUCK OF THE FUCKING FUCKKK CARRRRR A.FUCKING.GAIN. I CAN’T FUCKING STAND YOU, I’M FUCKING DONE, YOU SUCH A FUCKING….” and so I went on.

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And you know what? It felt AWESOME!!! Why don’t people scream at each other more often? It feels utterly amazing to yell at the top of your voice, throwing in as many swear words of choice as you can. It was as though every bitter pill I’d swallowed came tumbling out and I felt so much better for it, poisoning the air. It felt amazing for exactly three minutes and then I ran out of words. Blonde however hadn’t, I guess she’d been holding back her frustrations too, and unleash them, she did.

“I didn’t know you were trying to call me. Your messages all just came through at once. I thought you were on your computer, you seemed irritable, I didn’t want to disturb you, I thought I was giving you time to finish what you were doing, I didn’t take the car, I went to the apartment as I hadn’t heard from you but you weren’t there so then I went to get the car…” her excuses all seemed plausible but I could only counter them.

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“You’ve been gone nearly two hours, I said I was almost finished, why would you not think that there might be something wrong with your phone if you’d not heard from me in that time! You always take the car! You were just doing what you wanted to do as usual!” I snarled.

We were driving by the time Blonde started listing off all the ways I was a terrible person, how all the couch surfing hosts had agreed when she read out the text argument exchange from Vegas to them, how I needed to get my hormone levels checked out “there’s nothing wrong with my hormones”I screamed back. “You’re a nasty person” she spat.

It stung, “well you’re fucking selfish!” I countered as she drove erratically in the direction of Santa Monica. “You need medication for your hormones, you’re a nasty person, it always has to be your way” she repeated. “Are you fucking kidding me! It’s always your prerogative first! You always do what’s best for you, never thinking of anyone else! You act like you’re the victim all the time,’oh poor Blonde blah blah blah’ fucking grow up! It’s pathetic” I insisted, no longer feeling the need to yell.

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“You’re horrible, it’s always your way, you get in a mood and I can’t say anything” she started to sniff. “Oh here we go, go on, cry, poor Blonde, again!” I rolled my eyes.

“See! You’re nasty!” she insisted. “No! Every time anyone calls you out on your shit you put on crocodile tears so people feel bad for you!” I answered, beyond fed up. “They’re not crocodile tears! I’m upset!” she instantly stopped crying.

“I can’t be bothered pandering to you any more. I’m done! All I do is spend my days explaining stuff to you because you’re completely incapable of reading a situation or knowing the appropriate thing to say, it’s fucking exhausting!” I calmed down after that but Blonde was far from done, continuing to yell.

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“And you’re always yelling…” she went on. “I haven’t said anything for the last twenty minutes, you’re the one yelling. You’ve said the same thing ten times over, like usual! I get it, I’m the worst person in the world, you’re the greatest person, you’ve made it all clear. Shall we just leave it now?!” she didn’t, she kept going, reeling over and over again every single thing I’d done wrong.

“OK! Right, I get it! I’m done. With you. With this trip. With everything! Tomorrow we can part ways. I’ll go stay with my friends, you can remain with the host. The car is in my name, I’ll just pay for the last two days” I instructed.

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“What if I don’t want to stay with the host! I don’t see why I can’t come stay with your friends, we don’t have to talk” she asked naively. For the last time my eyes rolled uncontrollably in their sockets “because they’re my friends, why would I bring this” I waved between her and me “into their house! It’s not really my problem what you do any more” I spoke callously “I’m done with organising everything for you!”.

“Well then I don’t think you should get to stay at the couch surfers tonight!” she shot back. “What, with the person we met together, at the same time, who neither of us had any prior relationship with? It’s not like you’re friends with him! I’ll leave in the morning. You can do what you like!” we fell silent after that, pulling into the busier traffic as we approached the coast.

Tears started to spill behind my sunglasses, I tried not to sniff and reveal myself but I couldn’t hold them back. Blonde didn’t notice, or pretended like she hadn’t and I had no right to want her to care. I turned my head to look out the window and great blobs dripped down my face, whilst I subtly whipped them away. I felt sick  and empty, it was all I could do not to wail, partly from release but mostly from desperation.

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We parked in a multi-storey car park near the beach and agreed to meet back in a few hours, Blonde strolled away from the car as I hung back. As soon as she was out of sight I cracked into inconsolable tears. I felt awful ‘What was my problem! I’m an asshole! I’d gone beyond snapping, she hadn’t deserved that, no one deserved how I acted. I’d called her a selfish bitch, I’d gone so far beyond what was acceptable, there was no coming back from this’ another wave of tears engulfed me as I tried to come to terms with destroying another relationship, hurting Blonde was like hurting a puppy, as irritating as I’d found her, the blame lay at my door, all she’d ever done was be naive and innocent.

I’d never sworn at any of my friends before, well not to their faces at least. Of all the things she’d said back, it was the nasty comment that really stung. Most of her arguments had been true, but the nasty one? ‘Was I really a nasty person?’.  Things usually hurt the most when you’re scared they might be true.

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The car was hot but I couldn’t leave my bubble, it was all that was left. Sweat mingled with my tears. There hadn’t been a single day that passed since mum had died that I hadn’t missed her, there were countless times where I longed to hear her voice. But at no point in the entire two years did I ache so badly than in that moment. Not that I deserved it but I so wanted her to tell me ‘it was ok, how I’d coped really well and for as long as I could, I was bound to boil over at some point, Blonde would forgive me and most of all, I wasn’t nasty’. It didn’t matter that I was 31, as I sat alone crying, I really, really wanted my mummy.


And because the world is made up of a million tiny miracles, my phone beeped.

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Burnley, my fellow expat friend from Oz “hey chick, how’s it all going?”. I wiped the snot with the back of my hand and laughed a tear as I typed an explanation.

“You’re not a nasty person at all, you know that! Travelling with someone is super hard. We discussed this before you left, you knew it would be hard. I was the same way with the girl I travelled with. I looked like a super nasty person too but deep down I knew I wasn’t. Don’t be so hard on yourself. It’s ok to get upset and stressed out, you’re human and it’s hard to be in close proximity with someone that you don’t know that well and travelling certainly makes or breaks people. I’m here if you need me doll…any time!”. I smiled and cried and smiled a little more, feeling just a little less alone.

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“But Blonde has a point, I have been really irritable the whole trip and snapped whenever she’s done something annoying which felt like a lot! It’s been so hard, everything has got to me, when she wears my stuff, buys the same things as me. She never leaves me alone, it’s a million questions, all the time. I can’t take it any more, I’m so tired, I’m tired all the time. I feel like I’ve been fighting for so long, I can’t do it” I wrote, not really talking about Blonde at all. “Everything she said was true, anything I said back sounded petty because I just can’t articulate it. I hate that her and the boys think I’m this moody, irrational cow. It’s horrible feeling like a bitch all the time” I sent the message with fresh tears streaming down my face.

I waited as Burnley typed a reply through “you have come so far, and being snappy isn’t like you, have you thought why you’ve been feeling like that? I was the same when I was travelling, I was constantly snapping at the other girl” this surprised me, for Burnley had been one of the most laid back, easy going souls I’d ever met, if she’d had similar troubles travelling, perhaps this wasn’t unusual after all!

To be honest it’s totally understandable to feel the way you do, after everything… Take a step back, you don’t have to stay with them, take a few days and see how you feel, this is your experience too and you want to enjoy it! You’re not failing lovely, I know what you are going through, you’re ok” Burnley added, I silently thanked the stars for letting me have her as my friend.

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The next day I left. I drove to my friends, the friends I’d met three years earlier with Bridezilla. I hadn’t seen them since the holiday with Bridezilla but we’d stayed in touch online, they were vaguely aware Bridezilla and I no longer spoke. If I’m honest, I was a little worried about having to explain that relationship breakdown and now turning up without Blonde too! I was afraid they’d also think I was a nasty person, but fortunately, because people are lovely, they welcome me with opened arms, settled me on the sofa and gave me tea. That’s what people do with British people in crisis, they feed us tea and it’s exactly what we need!

I felt awful to be heading to Disney World the next day with my LA friends without Blonde. I messaged asking if she wanted to join us, that I’d come pick her up, she sent a frosty reply declining. I couldn’t blame her.

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Whilst I wore Minnie Mouse ears and rode roller-coasters, Blonde took herself for a walk. Feeling a little lost and hurt she strolled the streets of LA until she came to a large building, the sign on the front of the building struck her curiosity and so, she walked into the headquarters of the Church of Scientology.

I posed for pictures with Cinderella and filled my arms with Disney merchandise. Blonde was rushed in for testing “oh dear, you have big emotional problems, you need urgent counselling, we should do it now” she was told. She’d been amused at first, texting Geo a running commentary of events but when Blonde decided she’d had enough she made excuses of being hungry and needing to go for lunch in an attempt to leave. The church offered her crackers which she then panicked had been poisoned, running out on to the street convinced she was about to be brainwashed.

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Two days later we sat next to each other on the plane to Mexico in silence, heading in different directions for our hotels once we’d landed. The next morning we reconnected with the boys at the airport to fly to Cuba, another three weeks of each others company…

The Big Sur, Santa and the return of hormones

Honestly, we haven’t seen any mosquitoes, you really can’t miss this” I closed my phone to Blonde’s message, I was sulking. We’d driven north from Yosemite, back to Lake Tahoe. It had been over two months since our first stay with Matt Damon, he’d been amongst the first of our couch surfing hosts and remained one of our firm favourites.

With Alaska and I not having settled our differences from the fight earlier that day, I was continuing to self-alienate, refusing to join the others on the beach, using the threat of mosquitoes as an excuse to remain in the car alone. “You have to come see this!” Blonde messaged again. ‘Damn it, I did hate to miss out‘ I muttered, heading to the beach, rewarded with the most incredible sunset “it’s caused by the pollution from LA and San Fran” Alaska pointed out as I joined them, I ignored him hoping his words wouldn’t dull the sky for me.

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We dropped the boys at the bus station the next day, waving them off as they made their way to San Francisco, to stay with Geo’s aunt. Blonde and I had chosen to remain a few days longer in Lake Tahoe, keen for a rest. “So, come on, tell me about the trip, what’s going on with the boys?” Matt Damon enquired as soon as we returned.

Blonde and I glanced at each other, neither quite sure where to start. We relayed what details we could but the conversation was stilted. I liked Matt Damon, the first time we visited, he and I stayed up long into the night talking. He had that wonderful calmness about him that was so rare, the type of quiet where silences aren’t uncomfortable and anything can be shared without judgement. I’d been looking forward to catching up again, to talk to someone outside of our group but who wasn’t too far detached from it all, someone who understood.

I wanted to talk about Alaska, my growing anxieties of the relationship I found myself in but I didn’t want to have that discussion in front of Blonde. Gradually, as the weeks rolled on, I became aware exchanges shared about Alaska to Blonde always made their way back to Geo who in turn let them slip to Alaska, before we knew it, the car was a circle of Chinese whispers. “I’ll tell you later!” I laughed at Matt Damon’s questioning on the subject. Blonde looked put out, insulted to be excluded “well I’ll talk to you separately as well!” she stated to Matt Damon. I rolled my eyes. “I hate it when you do that!” I was unaware she’d been watching me “It’s really rude Becky!” Blonde pointed out.

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With a few days to relax, no driving, no sightseeing, no boys creating drama; I breathed a huge sigh of relief, stretched out my back and….got right down to making myself busy.

Conscious it wasn’t long until my return to England and with no mother’s house to base myself from whilst I sorted my life out, I flew into action. Searching for somewhere to live, updating my CV, applying for jobs, looking at mobile phone contracts, arranging my social life; I worked myself up into a state. All in all, the realities of life came crashing back down, adult life seemed a little overwhelming after a year of gallivanting around the world.

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Blonde returned from the supermarket that evening and found me at the computer on my bed, she perched on the end “I couldn’t find the right butter” she complained before bursting into tears. “Oh my god! What’s happened?!” I asked concerned at her reaction, placing the computer aside.

“I don’t know. Seeing you all stressed and trying to get stuff sorted for when you get home made me think about when I go home too. I started to get a bit worked up about it. Then I went to get the stuff for dinner and I couldn’t find all the ingredients, so I went to another store and they still didn’t have everything we needed, so I came back here” she offered up half laughing, half crying in gulps. I laughed with her “oh god, girls are the worst aren’t they! Why do we get ourselves so worked up over nothing! I totally get it though, sometimes if feels like everything just gets on top you and you need to let it out” I replied, smiling, wondering if I ever took my own advice.

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Matt Damon called up the stairs announcing his friend’s arrival for the BBQ. “I’m going to go get changed” Blonde turned to me wiping the last of her tears away, “cool, I’ll be down in a second”. I smiled as she left, a little touched that she came to me and slightly nostalgic at knowing that feeling, when there isn’t really anything wrong but you feel a bit overwhelmed regardless.

My phone beeped a message from Alaska, asking how my day had been. As I listed all the progress I’d made in trying to sort my life out, that little hormonal devil on my shoulder began to filter in some dark thoughts. Blonde wasn’t writing her CV or looking for jobs, she’d gone on dog walks and read magazines all day. When she goes home, she has a loving family to pick her up at the airport with open arms to embrace her, a bedroom with all her belongings exactly how she left it. There’s security, home cooked meals and the world no different, all waiting for her return. And yet it was her crying about feeling stressed.

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I’d confused my reaction at the time for a flash of PMT, but in reality, I was jealous. I was so jealous it stirred all these emotions that I didn’t know how to process and ruptured my go to response of angry. A wave of sadness engulfed me as the realisation that no one would be waiting at the airport to collect me. My mind raced back a decade earlier, my mother and I waiting eagerly at Heathrow.

He’d been gone a year, travelling the world with his girlfriend but finally, he was coming home. My mum’s face was etched with excitement and then worry when my brother’s face didn’t walk through the sliding doors. We waited hours unaware his flight had been delayed, causing him to miss a connection. Eventually, the doors opened and there was my lanky big brother, more skinny and tanned than he’d left. My mum’s face practically burst with joy at the safe return of her son, the love shining out of her like sunbeams. But not for me, that face would not be there when I arrived jet lagged and cold from the change of climate and the realisation broke my heart a little.

Blonde had everything to go home to, I didn’t even have a home. I’d worked all day trying to straighten things out for a smooth return to normality but she’d been the one to cry. It’s unfair I know, but it made me kind of mad. That’s what jealousy does to a person, it makes you concentrate on all the things you don’t have, forgetting the amazing things you do.

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The following day, Blonde and I set out for some morning paddle boarding, it had been a long time since she sat on the front of my board as I negotiated the waves at the beginning of our trip in Hawaii, I’d thought at the start, we’d be so close by the end but our friendship had frayed with every new day, no inner twine of history and time to hold it together.

I needed to get back to the house and finish off a few more emails but was easily swayed into going for a walk along the lakefront. Within moments the hormones were reigning their ugly head as I became frustrated at Blonde walking too quick for my legs to match pace comfortably. I stopped abruptly “I’m going back, I don’t have time to walk” I announced spinning on my heels.

I marched back in the direction of the house, annoyed at myself for being too short with Blonde, verbally and physically it turned out, annoyed my long legs weren’t quite as long as hers to match the speed. Annoyed that I couldn’t act like a normal person for half an hours walk without letting my hormones get the better of me. I walked faster, mentally checking all the things I wanted to get done that afternoon. I was so engrossed in my own thoughts I almost missed the old lady hurrying across the road to me.

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“Can I ask you a question?” the woman stopped “Are we in Lake Tahoe?”. I was confused, of course we were in Lake Tahoe, where else would we be?! She’d have had to of driven here to have come from anywhere else but before I could answer she added “I’ve pee’d myself” she gestured to a damp patch on her trousers that I hadn’t noticed. “I’m lost. I have Alzheimer’s. I know I went for a walk, I’m staying at my brothers, but I couldn’t remember how to get back and I couldn’t find a bathroom. I’ve been walking around for ages. I don’t know where I live. Where will I live?” the panic bubbled over, as she burst into tears.

I didn’t know what to do other than tell her it would all be alright. “I’m so embarrassed” she remarked, gesturing to the wet again “it’s fine, don’t worry, honestly, we’ve all been there” I stated, pretty sure my drunken stories of early drinking accidents weren’t really of any comfort as we walked the streets trying to find a familiar house.

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I called Blonde to come meet us with the car, deciding it might be easier to drive around than walk, or worse case, find a police station for help. Somehow, I managed to track down the brother’s telephone number on the internet and call his wife. A rather disgruntled woman appeared at the front door as soon as we reached the correct house, she was angry, yelling at the old woman “where have you been! I told you not to go out! I was about to call the police. I thought you’d been kidnapped, how would I pay the ransom, we haven’t any money…” she went on as the older lady was ushered into the house.

“Why was she yelling at her, it’s not her fault, she’s ill!” Blonde asked alarmed, pulling the car away from the kerb. “She was probably just worried” I answered, my face still turned towards the house, wondering what would become of the woman. It felt overwhelmingly sad, that a physically fit person could have everything stripped away from them, even their memories. I thought of my mum, how quickly the cancer had withered her frame ‘perhaps it was better she was taken so quickly, I couldn’t imagine how awful it would be to watch someone you love suffer for extended periods of time. No years of pain or invasive treatments, no retirement home or loss of independence – she’d have hated that the most! Maybe going the way she did was better?‘ I pondered internally and then felt a rush of guilt that I could ever think her death was a good thing. I swallowed back the surge of tears that blazed at my eyes before Blonde could notice any shift in my temperance.

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A day or so later, we joined the boys in San Francisco. I was getting ratty as the hormones increased, or at least that’s what I was blaming it on, in reality, I was probably worn out from being a walking, talking  pressure kettle, always simmering, ready to boil over but never quite blowing my load, just the occasional spit up to burn people with. That, combined with the understanding that I would soon be going home and then the real challenges would be faced of what I was supposed to do next! Everything was annoying me and those around me stood no chance.

It was our last night in San Francisco, Geo was going to stay with his aunt a few more days before joining us in Cuba whilst Alaska headed to LA to visit friends before he too flew to Cuba. Blonde had ruled out Alaska joining us for the drive down the Big Sur, determined that we should end the road-trip as we’d started, ‘just the two of us‘, as such, Alaska was left with no option but to get the bus.

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I laid in bed, unable to sleep. Blonde was out cold on the spare cot. Geo sleeping on the floor next to her was snoring to extremes, like small locomotives escaping the tunnel of his mouth to torment me. Alaska lay next to me on the mattress, my body pulsing with frustration which he chose to ignore. Unable to sleep, anger surfaced, I needed Geo to stop snoring! I needed to get away from the lot of them! Fucking hormones!

The bitter pills were almost over flowing from my stomach, I was ready to scream in desperation. Alaska eventually sat up and tried to hug me, he might as well have hugged a ticking bomb. Nothing I tried could block out the noise, every rasp alerted my heightened senses until I was waiting for the next sound. I lay down, listening to every fucking breath, feeling so awake and so angry. My feet kicked out uncontrollably, my body riddled with chemicals and hormones that I wish I knew how to control.

We left the next morning, I, in my ever grumpy morning state had initiated a disagreement with Alaska as we departed. “Why do you always orchestrate a fight between us when we part ways?” his text once Blonde and I reached the highway. I stared out the windows, dry grassy banks, bleached yellow from the sun rose high on one side and the twisting coast of the Big Sur fell beneath us on the other. “Is it to make saying goodbye easier on yourself?” Alaska enquired.

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I watched the pelicans fly overhead; the pull of the winding road and gentle rhythm of the rolling sea, accompanied by the acoustic soundtrack we were playing on the radio was doing much to calm my senses. “Is that what I do? I didn’t realise until you just pointed it out” I replied. I thought for a moment “You’re right. It’s easier to say goodbye when you’re angry, you can hold on to that. It makes the sadness more bearable when you don’t want to leave them” a gust of wind caught my hair as I pressed send, the sea breeze so much more refreshing than the stagnant air of the roads in the mid-west we’d become so familiar with.

The shore line reflected the beauty of the sky, lending itself to the calmness. It dawned on me I’d done the same thing with my mother, I was so angry at her for dying that I’d never really accepted it, clinging on to that anger for so long, scared something more painful might be lurking underneath.

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We were shattered by the time we reached the restaurant that evening “I’m not hungry, are you? Do you think we can just meet the host, stay for an hour and then get an early night?” Blonde asked whilst we parked the car. “Yeah, I don’t want to eat either. Let’s say hi and then go to bed! He said to meet him here, it’s his friends birthday, I’m sure he won’t mind us leaving early” I yawned my reply. The host, however, had other ideas.

“The worst kind of couch surfers are the ones who turn up and just want to go to bed, can’t be bothered interacting with the hosts, use it as a free hotel” he eyed us wearingly, it felt somewhat like a warning. “We’re going to a bar after this and you two are going to sing karaoke”. The man wasn’t taking no for an answer, forcing a reluctant agreement from us, but when it came time to sing the song, I wimped out. I didn’t appreciate being bullied into doing something I didn’t want to do but worse, singing in public and what’s more, singing sober, utterly terrified me! Overcome with stage fright I refused the microphone.

Blonde took one for the team and stepped up, about two lines in I felt overcome with guilt once again and managed to join her, we sounded like a pair of banshees as we jumped about, the lyrics well rehearsed from our hours in the car. We finished the song to not a single clap. “We’ve sung! We’re going to bed!” Blonde marched up to the host, stating the facts.

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A short while later I was stretched across a sofa, my feet dangling over the edge, listening to Blonde’s breathing from the other couch. We’d had a pretty good day together, and I so admired her balls at getting up to sing alone, not to mention standing up to the host. It was nice to be away from the boys, some of the anxiety of the trip forgotten as I remembered all the fun we’d had along the way.

I felt like I’d been in a mood the entire time, and for no apparent reason either. Maybe we were friends after all; that constant ache in my shoulders, the hunchback I was sure to be developing, the lack of sleep, it all seemed rather silly now. Why did I think she annoyed me so much? And my hormones weren’t that bad, especially not this time around, in fact, I was barely noticing them. A rolled over, mildly content ‘Yeah, it’s ok, we’ll all be ok. I just need to chill out a bit, the rest of the trip is going to be fine, a good night sleep will see me right..’ I told myself, falling asleep with a smile on my face.

“Right girls, get up! We’re going for breakfast” the host announced the next morning, opening a door to let a great dane bounce into the room, his wagging tail knocking everything in sight. At some point the night before I must have mentioned the Santa Claus job I’d had in Australia “I’ve a great idea” the host announced, disappearing. He returned holding up a Santa outfit “you can wear this to breakfast”. There was no getting out of it, plus I kind of felt like I owed Blonde for taking the slack with the singing the night before, so to breakfast I went. I swear Santa was out to haunt me!

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Despite insistence I should keep it on for the rest of the day, I managed to escape the Santa outfit and before long we were back on our way.

“Do we really have time for this tour?” Blonde muttered as we rode the bus up to Hearst Castle. “Sure we do, we’ll take a quite look around and get going again” I announced, the structure peeking over the bridge of the hill. “Oh wow!” Blonde remarked as the house came into view.

“Hearst employed the only female architect in San Francisco. He was looking to build a grand house on the coast but after the great earthquake that devastated San Francisco…anyone know what year that was? Yes, that’s right sir! 1906. The great earthquake of 1906. Hearst wanted to ensure his house would remain standing. He walked amongst the rubble streets of San Francisco enquiring so to who had built all the buildings still standing” the tour guide informed as we were led around the grounds. “Think I’d like a house like this” I told Blonde in a whisper.

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“Hearst was directed to a young female architect who claimed she was too busy to work on his house no matter how much he paid but after much persuasion, she finally gave in and accepted the job on weekends only. Hearst liked animals so set about making his own zoo. He sent a few men off to Africa to find him a pair of Giraffes. Well after a few weeks the men sent a telegram saying they had the giraffes but were having trouble getting them on the train. Can you guess what Hearst did ladies and gents?  Hearst said ‘no problem, give me a couple of days’. And a few days later, the men received a telegram stating ‘I’ve bought the railroad, get my giraffes on the train’. He was a character that Hearst!” the guide glared at Blonde and I who were busy gossiping about what features we’d have in our dream houses, mine had a slide from the bedroom to the pool, hers had at least three yachts moored on the private marina.

Aware of the glare from the guide, we remained silent for the rest of the tour, absorbing the history and characters entertained in this grand villa. The house was so beautiful, full of details and snippets of the famous guests who’d visited, Amelia Earhart, Winston Churchill, Edwin Hubble. Everyone ate the same, staff, guests, builders (the building was never finished, always more work to be done). Hearst was really conscious of his guests and didn’t want them to have to share bathrooms, he even built closets outside of the bedrooms so they wouldn’t be disturbed by the maid. At the time the general population had outside loos, his house had 67 toilets! And showers with seven jets – you’d never get planning permission in California for that now. He was a real advocate of women being equal, believing they could do anything just as well as men. By the time we caught the bus back down the hill to the carparks, Blonde and I were pretty much in love with the man and his home.

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“Thanks for suggesting we visit this place, I wouldn’t have even thought to come” Blonde said in passing as we left, it touched me that she would say so, I’d been a bit insistent that we visited, despite the lack of time to reach Santa Barbara before dark.

The next afternoon Blonde pulled the car over so I could nip into a store before we left Santa Barbara for the drive to LA, our final stop on the road-trip. I returned to find a traffic warden writing a ticket. Blonde sat oblivious in the front seat, unaware she was parked in an ambulance only spot.

The ticket was $300 and the warden would not hear a word against it as I tried to talk my way out, Blonde having looked up and noticed me talking to the warden pulled the car back into the road and parked across the street, leaving me alone with the now angry warden “moving the car isn’t going to help her” the warden stated sassily, readjusting her belt over her belly. She was about to hand me the ticket when an 80-year-old man dashed over to our rescue, insisting the cop tore up the ticket, we were foreigners, we didn’t know the rules and it would set a bad impression for the town. Before I knew it, the ticket was dismissed and the man was encouraging me to hug the cop.

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With the warden’s departure, the old man insisted he take Blonde and I for lunch. He was local but from England originally and keen to talk about the homeland. Indebted to him for getting us out of the rather large fine, but having already eaten and concerned about the time, we settled on coffee.

On the walk back to the car, Blonde grew a craving for frozen yoghurt. Spying a bathroom before the drive, I nipped in. Meanwhile Blonde offered the old gent a taste of her ice cream. Rather than accept the small plastic spoon she was holding, he decided to suck a drip of ice cream from the end of her finger. Blonde was too in shock to respond.

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By the time we reached the car, the old man was in full swing trying to convince us to stay “the traffic will be bad, you should hang out for another hour. Or leave in the morning!”.

We said our goodbyes, thanking him once again for getting us out of the ticket. With a kiss on each cheek, he handed over his address and email with requests we stay in touch. Believing we were done with the goodbyes, I moved around to the side of the car, only to watch in amusement as he went in for one last hug with Blonde.

Only this time, he wasn’t aiming for her cheeks when planting the kiss, she dodged it at the last second and got in the care flustered. “Yeah, getting him to suck your finger was definitely sending the wrong impression” I teased as soon as the door was shut. “Oh shut up! That was so strange, let’s get out of here!” she responded, a little shell-shocked.

Yosemite and self alienation

At 47 degrees Celsius , Death Valley was a little uncomfortable, to say the least! My flip flops began to melt on the crusted earth if I stood in the same spot for too long, spiky grass sliced into my feet and ankles as we made our way out onto the salt flats, even the car was having a hard time.  Struggling to keep the engine cool with the suppressing heat, the car started pumping the smell of gas through the AC and providing everyone with head aches. No air travelled through the windows and without the air conditioning, we slowly baked alive. The engine sputtered and stalled a couple of times as we mentally prepared ourselves for a breakdown followed by swift death from dehydration.

Miraculously, as we climbed into higher-ground, gulping in the fresh cool air whilst the car found it’s wheels once again, we lived to fight another day, and of course, a fight it would be…

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The boys, not recovered from the heat of Death Valley insisted on turning the air conditioner on the motel room. It was noisy and plunged the room into a nuclear winter. Blonde grew angry and with it, restless. A short war raged based entirely of turning the thing off and on, a battle Alaska won but at the cost of Blonde’s patience and the rest of our ears as she shared her complaints. Enraged by the discomfort, Blonde trekked back and forth to the loo, to the car for a sleeping bag, to dig out more jumpers from her bag. She moaned, sat bolt upright in the bed, pushing the covers back with an elaborated sigh as she shredded and then reapplied the jumpers “can you just settle! Everyone else is trying to sleep!” somebody called into the dark, it was probably me.

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She finally fell asleep around 2, I breathed a sigh of relief and tried to finally succumb to that beautiful place of rest. Blonde had other ideas. A soft rippled of snores erupted, growing louder as she fell deeper. I was convinced she’d was doing it on purpose to torment me, she rarely snored, they only ever came out when I was really, really tired. Geo joined her and before long the room was a chorus of other people’s dreams, even Alaska had rolled over, his hair falling on my face as hot tainted breath blew loudly in my ears.

Blonde wasn’t done, with the creeping dawn, Blonde rose repeatedly to go to the toilet, I was beginning to question her bladder control as she stumbled over bags, pulled light cords, slammed bathroom doors and let the fans whiz and clatter into noisy action. Finally, finally with the morning sun sneaking through the curtains, the world fell silent and with it, blissfully, sleep came.

And then Blonde’s alarm attacked the room. She was up bashing about in no time, opening the front door to flood the room with aggressive light, sunbeams prising at my eye lids. I pulled the cover over my head and cursed the world. How I hated her in that moment.

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I was grumpy, oh so, so grumpy. I reached out to Alaska, wanting to be consoled at my loss, my dear friend sleep, forever missed, never enough time spent together. Alaska misread the signals, pointing his dick at me instead. I pushed him away, even more irritated, a rejection that sparked an argument.

My feet rested on the dashboard, body sunk low in the passenger seat, reading the message Alaska had fired through.

When I don’t act the way you expect or the way you want me to, then you need to communicate it. Which you did well enough. But not recognising your part in the fuck-up is childish and immature. I’m not going to apologise for what I said, I was right about the way you venting frustration at me, when you should have been yelling at Blonde. You venting is fine, but attacking me because of your issues is not ok. Period. I will always call you out on it. I’ve had enough of that in my lifetime to where I refuse to put up with that shitty behaviour. This is something that I’m not going to back down on, so argument is moot. Venting = ok; attacking Alaska when someone else deserves it = not ok!” I wasn’t really in the mood to be reasoned with but he probably had a point, not that I was going to admit it to him. I had been a bit shitty with him after all.

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I could hear him type out another message, which buzzed through before I had a chance to reply. “I still love you and will keep loving you. In the shower this morning I was thinking about what you said about me giving up everything for you if I moved to the UK and you not wanting me to do that. I don’t see myself giving up anything. I see it as being able to be with someone I love. It’s not a sacrifice to go hungry, to get possibly some of the shittiest jobs in my life before finding one that has me contributing as much as I should and want to towards our relationship”.

I love you very much, and unfortunately the only way I seem to know how to express it to you is to continuously throw myself into the void. Whether you want to take that leap is still a fear I have and will openly admit. If you want to talk more in depth about it later I’m here for you” my hands tightened around the phone, I didn’t want him to move to London, I didn’t know what I wanted!

He’d been trying to broach the subject of us living together for weeks, a conversation I’d been avoiding, telling him that we should both go to our separate homes after the trip and just see how things went. I felt trapped and misunderstood, he’d completely misread the mornings fight, my fingers went to work on the phone keyboard.

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Last night, before we went to sleep, you were very huggy and not in a sexual way, so I we hugged for a long time. This morning I was agitated because I was very tired. I wanted comfort from you and went to hug you, you didn’t instantly respond so I twisted your nipple. It was meant to be playful but perhaps it didn’t come across that way? What’s not on, is the second Geo and Blonde went for a walk, you tried to have sex. You didn’t even hug me! You just went straight for it. I wanted comfort and it felt like you just wanted sex. There was no affection, hugging, kissing, just you trying to poke me! Fine, if I didn’t communicate what I was wanting and you interrupted it as something different but regardless, even had it been sex, the way you went about it felt disrespectful and made me feel cheap and uncomfortable, none of which you even recognised!” I paused, looking at the grey cloud in the wing mirror, it had been chasing us since we’d woken.

Yes later I was angry at Blonde for using all the hot water and ruining sleep and not apologising or even realising. I vented to you, wanting support but you just got annoyed at me. All I wanted was to be hugged and told it was ok but you tried offering me solutions which only frustrated me so I lashed out…and you lashed back! You really lashed back!”

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“You yelled at me and then slammed the door in my face! Then you sent Blonde to come and see me as I was packing up my things, telling her I wanted to have a go at her! It is not your place to intervene in Blonde and my irritations at each other! It is NEVER your place to force a conversation or argument between other people! How dare you tell her to come see me and that I needed to ‘vent’ at her! I will have a conversation with Blonde on my own time, in my own way. You do not get to decide when! We’ve had this fight before, it’s not up to you to dictate my actions, you know I hate that! It feels like you’re trying to manipulate and control me, instruct when and how I do things” I took a deep breath, there were too many words to say all the things I really thought.

“I yelled at you when I came down to the car for sending Blonde up. That eruption was nothing to do with not having got enough sleep or being annoyed at Blonde, it was entirely about you sticking your nose in and trying to force my hand! You didn’t like me standing up for myself against you or pointing out that you’re controlling. When I said this you screamed at me. I yelled yes but I’ve never been screamed at the way you did. You lost all your patience and it scared me. I got in the car to get away from you and you leaned in the other side, continuing to scream at me, in public with people staring and then slammed the door in my face again! Why would I want to be with someone like that?! I told you to leave me alone because you were scaring me, I even put my head phones in to block you out and you just kept standing there, yelling”.

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“I switch between thinking maybe we could be something and then getting completely freaked out when you act like this! I never want to be with someone who gets so angry, slams doors, makes me feel cheap, or tries to force my reactions. I don’t want to be in that kind of relationship! And if you’re like that, even if it’s your way of fighting back at me when you think I’m being unreasonable, then I don’t want it. I don’t want you if you’re that person. Half the time good isn’t enough” I bashed send, watching the rain drops speckle and race each other on the windscreen before the wipers ended the game early.

His reply came through a short while later. “I was huggy last night and you pushed me away when you got bored of it! This morning I misread what you were doing as playing, to make up for yesterday, and I thought I was playing back. I’m sorry that I made you feel cheap. That definitely was not my intention, my intention was *poke* and then you going ‘stop, behave yourself’. It makes me smile when you bat my advances away. I didn’t mean for it to appear that I was forcing myself upon you. I knew we wouldn’t be able to have enough time for sex, but we would have at least had some playful banter”.

I was tired this morning too. You looking for comfort was fine and me offering solutions was me not being in the right head space considering that I wanted to get packed up due to always being last to cover for your packing” This annoyed me, I’d gained a reputation as being the last ready in the mornings but this had rarely been the case, it was pointed out early in the trip that I was always last out, ever since I’d been making effort not to but yet, the blame remained at my door no matter who was to blame.

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I read on “Contributing to the lack of being in the right head space is I don’t see us having much space when we all go to Mexico and Cuba together, for us to be us and be together. Put that along with trying to figure out how to make things work for London being another issue that is still in my mind” I bit my tongue, as much as Alaska tried to discuss him moving to London, I always remained relatively quiet on the subject, largely convinced the intensity of the road-trip would fade away and we’d all start to see things in a different light.

This is the first time, I feel, that I’ve honestly yelled directly at you. It’s very significant and I want to make sure to highlight it. We’ve fought in the past, but I’ve never been pissed off at you. Frustrated, yes, pissed, no” I rolled my eyes, why was he making such a big point of this, it was all getting so dramatic.

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The main reason for yelling I already expressed in the previous message. The other contributing factors though is the way you feel about being controlled is exactly the same as how I feel about being controlled. You treating me as a lapdog and getting upset when something doesn’t go your way. For example, when I said in Vegas that I might go to Pheonx instead of continuing on to San Francisco, of not comforting you when you’re in the wrong or when I’m upset or frankly just not in the mood, makes me feel like I’m being manipulated. These are things that grate on me. I’m there for you but you seem to be setting double standards if things don’t go your way. This is how I feel”.

Last night you expressed wanting to be free but that I wasn’t allowed to be free. That was completely fucked up, we both know that. The reason we both work is that we both know that we trust and love each other and can be free with no worries about the other person straying but to put restrictions on the other person is a HUGE fuck no” I bit hard into my lip to avoid turning around and smacking him on the head.

We’d been joking the night before when I’d said at the end of the trip we should just see how things went, no pressures, that I wanted to feel free to find my feet again but that I’d be pissed if he just went home and shagged about. It had been an off hand comment that he’d said nothing about at the time, and now here he was making out it was a major factor in our relationship. I wanted to throw the phone out the window and Alaska along with it, instead, I read on.

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You crossed the line and didn’t even recognise it or flinch to correct it. We are both free and can do whatever we want, because I’m yours and you are mine. But you didn’t do anything to fix what you said” ughhhh I am NOT yours and I don’t want you to be mine, I internally screamed.

Forcing the convo was me venting to Blonde and literally saying ‘fucking talk to Becky, she’s in a mood because of last night and lashing out at me. I am not fucking dealing with it right now’. Geo laughed when Blonde went up the stairs. I asked him what was so funny and he said ‘when you guys are married it’ll be like this all the time between you’ which I said ‘I’m not in the mood right now to hear that, it’s not funny’. I have every right to be upset right now but will apologise for the way I made you feel cheap this morning and will also apologise for appearing to ‘force’ the conversation with Blonde but everything else is on you. I’m still angry and will probably calm down in half an hour or so. Love you and hate that you feel as torn as you do, due to the argument (which I will entirely own and have been mostly my fault the rest of the time. Talk to you later and love you skunk breath” he signed off with an emoticon, I wanted to punch it and him.

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A wise person might have left it there but I was not wise, plus I wanted to address all the inaccuracies of his message, most importantly however, I wanted to have the last word! And so, my fingers danced…

I only pushed you away in the hugging last nigh when I wanted to go to sleep. I’ve told you before, I find it hard to sleep when someone is breathing on my face and hugging me. I like my space. You insisted on hugging all evening, we hugged for hours! I just wanted a little space to sleep, that’s not pushing you away, I certainly didn’t feel the need to ‘make it up to you’ this morning!”

Always covering up for me being late in the mornings?! Fuck you! I wasn’t even last yesterday, that was Geo! And Blonde the day before that, and you the one before that! In fact, apart from today I haven’t been late in weeks! Do not try and make out you’ve been covering for me!”

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“And I do not treat you like a lapdog! That’s so unfair! You vent your frustrations about Blonde to me, but where I might complain about trivial things, you go far deeper calling her stupid, spoilt and saying things that really are quite mean! You aren’t nice in how you talk about people. You confide in me all this ‘poor you’ stuff, it’s always how you’ve been dealt a bad hand in life, how tough it was growing up in a broken family and that no one ever loved you, you even told me you’ve had it far worse than me or anyone else”.

You’re so stuck in this martyr act and you put it all on me to pull you out of it and cheer you up. You say all this stuff as if I’m suppose to save you, it’s SO much pressure and I can’t live up to that kind of expectation. It’s too much to put on one person. Loads of people come from divorced homes, feeling guilty for the pain of the break up they see in their parents faces, no teenager ever feels wanted, that’s just how teenagers feel, but you have so many people around you who care and all you do is push them away. And you think your pain is worse than other peoples? Pain isn’t comparable, what counts is how you move on. So when I say things like I did last night about wanting freedom when I get home, you think I’m being unfair to you. But I’m trying to protect myself, to keep you at arms length away because I don’t want you to expect too much and then I not be able to deliver. I was trying to lighten the mood by making a joke but you take it all so seriously. You take the words for the words, never hearing what’s truly being said”.

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Also fuck you about Phoenix! Yeah I didn’t want you to go and yes that spiralled into a fight because we always do. We went through that fight we don’t need to go through it again!  I said go to Phoenix. I said go because I didn’t want you deciding to stay being used against me later on. You said you would never do that and it was entirely your decision whether to stay or go. I said you would use it against me in a fight. And you, you promised you never would…you just fucking brought it up in an argument, just as I predicted! You’re so fucking out of order! You can’t be trusted!”

Yeah sure, be upset, yes you have every right. Fine if you felt I was lashing out at you for things you didn’t do. I was lashing out half for Blonde and half for you! You didn’t see your part and then you retaliated. You tried to forced a fight between me and Blonde. I snapped at you for that and then you really went for me like I’ve never seen before. But yeah, sure, you get all upset but when you decide you want to kiss and make up, I’m suppose to suddenly be fine. You try to control me. I will not be controlled, not by you, or by anyone!”

‘Leave me the fuck alone!’ I yelled inside again, all the world crashing down around me because right there on that road trip, the car was the world.

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The conversation lasted the entire drive to Yosemite National Park, one of the most famous parks in America. We’d been looking forward to a hike, some fresh air and a few hours away from the car….typically it was raining. It always rained when we got to a national park, possibly a good thing considering I wasn’t in the mood to climb a mountain, all I really wanted was a very long nap in a private hotel room, away from everyone else, maybe followed by a few cosmopolitans too for good measure! I’d probably have been a much nicer person for it.

With a break in the clouds, Blonde and Geo, left for a short meadow loop walk, keen to get away from the building tension between Alaska and I. Unable to communicate, we only inflamed each other further until he told me all the reasons why no one would ever love me and slammed his exit from the car.

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I wanted to drive away. To leave them all, I inched to take to the open road and never look back. I didn’t know these people, not really, what did I care, in a few years they’d discuss that crazy Brit who ditched them in Yosemite but what would I ever know of that conversation, why should I care?! I should go, fuck em all! Fuck Blonde and her stupid sleep ruining antics, fuck Geo and his, well Geo hadn’t really done anything wrong other than sucking up to Blonde always on her side, whether she’d was in the right or not, yeah fuck Geo too. AND FUCKKKKKK Alaska! Of course there is someone out there who will love me, all of me, the good and the bad. I’m not the miserable person he insisted I was! It’s not me ruining the trip for everyone, it’s them! It’s everyone else!

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I spun the car away hearing the wheels scream as I pulled on to the road, zooming for the park entrance. I knew I couldn’t leave them for good, as much as I wanted to, I didn’t have it in me to be that callous, plus that would have involved emptying all their stuff from the boot and I was a little worried the pile of bags might get stolen while they walked, that and I was far too tired for such exertion. But, I needed to get away just for an hour or so, to clear my head, to breath, the pressure on my chest was so heavy.

My hands clung tightly to the steering wheel as I tried to catch my breath, short, raspy gulps whilst anger roared over me in waves ‘fuck em, fuck him, fuck everyone. I hate this. Why am I here! Why am I with them. I need to call someone, I want to talk to my mum, I want my mum’. And with that the sky tore open again, raining down with the tears on my face. The car slowed as guilt rippled through me. I turned the car around, ashamed to be leaving my friends in the rain, pulling up at the entrance to the meadow walk where I left them.

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They didn’t spot the car, walking part as I cried, staring at pictures of my mum on my phone and feeling entirely consumed ‘why am I not over this yet, when will it end! I’m soooo tired‘. The hail began to fall so I drove the ten yards to the visitors centre where I could see them watching the rocks fall from the safety of the centre’s balcony. I watched them laughing and joking with each other, the storm overhead increasing, drowning out the sound of the stereo until I was left with nothing but the beat of the outside world.

I tried to beep the horn, so they’d know I hadn’t left them, that I was here but the hail stole the sound. I text them and called but their phones went unnoticed and eventually even the mobile signal gave up on me. There’s nothing worse than being so close to people and feeling so alone, especially when you’ve built the walls yourself.

Finally they spotted me but the hail fell like bullets, leaving no choice but to wait it out. The storm increased until I could no longer see. I stayed in the car.

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When I was a very young child, my father would have the news on, watching it behind a newspaper. The stories filled the screen with pictures of war in far off lands. I later learnt these were civil unrests in Eastern Europe. IRA bomb attacks and protests for Thatcher. I didn’t understand any of it, standing there in my nightgown, still a little too big for me, the fabric puddling around my feet, hiding my toes from the ground.

In my child like naivety, I wanted to speak to the Queen, to ask her to fly me in to the trouble – even at three years old I wanted to be in the centre of the drama! I thought, if I could just be there, in the middle of all the angry people somehow I’d be able to make them see that their fights were silly and they needed to learn to share their toys. All would be better after a bedtime story and a good nights sleep. I thought it was that easy.

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Vegas weddings and the alien brothel

Going to the chapel and I’m…gonna get mar-a-arrriedddd’ fake church towers, neon flashing  signs and giant hearts blurred past the windows as we entered Old Vegas.

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“Do you want to be Best Man?” Blonde enquired, turning to Geo. “Err what?!” I interrupted “hang on, it’s our wedding!” my hand waved between myself and Alaska “you don’t get to decide who’s in the wedding party!” I announced. Blonde only smiled “yeah, but what other choices do you have?”. I had to admit “well you have a point. I guess that makes you Maid of Honour then?” I glanced at the Little White Chapel across the street.

‘It’s not real, just a Vegas wedding, they don’t count, not in England, it’s not legal. It’ll be fun, Elvis might be there…’ I rationalised internally. “Errr, ok, well, I guess we should do this then…” I added, sounding more sure that I felt. “I’m up for it” Alaska laughed, everything a game to him. “I’m getting a frozen coke first!” Blonde insisted, clambering out the car and disappearing into the 7Elleven.

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An argument similar to the one between Blonde and myself a few days earlier would usually have derailed a friendship to weeks of the silent treatment at best and serious questions over the continuation of friendship at worst. We’d conducted the argument over text message, thus removing a level of confrontation that neither of us felt quite brave enough to face. Well that, and if we let the words hang out to dry, we might really mean them and we just weren’t quite ready for that.

Everything was magnified in the car, every action a personal slight or the funniest exchange. We laughed till our sides hurt and rolled our eyes at each other in equal annoyance. The wonderful thing about travel however, is that arguments blow over with the sunrise. The next day we continued on as though the fight had never happened, or at least that’s how it appeared on the surface, internally Blonde harboured growing hurt at my increasing irritation and I continued to gnaw at my severely bitten tongue.

In an effort to experience the ‘real Vegas’ we booked ourselves into a hotel on the strip for our last night. Geo, who was easily convinced to remain on the trip until as far as San Francisco, checked into a room with Blonde.

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Alaska and I, finally finding ourselves entirely alone for the first time since meeting and with no risk of being disturbed, did what any new couple would do when faced with such an opportunity! That’s right!… We took a nap.

Ok fine, we had sex! Really awkward, this is pretty shit, staring at the ceiling, can you just finish now, kind of sex. It’s not that I didn’t like Alaska in that way but where I should have been lost in the moment, the reality was, all I could think about was his comments on my physical appearance. The words he’d said in anger about finding me fat and unattractive still burned bright in their memory making me conscious of his every touch.

‘Oh no, don’t touch there! That bits squidgy! No! not the stomach! Ughhh oh god, the hips are the worst bit, go back to the stomach! Actually no! I’m just a sack of lard! I am so not comfortable right now! Do you think we could possibly have sex without touching? With the lights out? Maybe if we could get drunk first? Or how about I just lay here and not move?’.

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So I did what I’m sure thousands have done before me, I pretended all was well because it really wasn’t him after all. It was entirely down to how I felt about myself, having lost layers of self confidence and with no one to go to for reassurance to help me build myself back up, my self worth had slipped pretty low.

“Oh yeahhhh,….that was amazingggg! Great sex! The best! Best sex ever! Loved it! High five?”. I laid there, waiting for sleep, riddled with guilt for failing as a girlfriend and wondering if I’d ever be able to find enough conviction to make this relationship work.

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“This place is cool!” Alaska announced the next morning as we pulled on our hospital gowns and settled in for a meal at the heart attack grill. “I forgot we were coming here for lunch, I’ve already eaten” Geo declared, reviewing the menu “I could eat though…”.

A nurse approached the table “what can I get you guys?” she enquired, pulling up a seat and leaning forward in her tight costume. “I’ll just get a chocolate shake, double ‘quadruple bypass burger’ and some fries…” Geo announced. “Ummm you do realise the shakes are made with butterfat? They’re like 3,500 calories each!” I asked Geo, wondering if he’d actually read the menu.

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“4000 and they’re served with a lump of butter on top too!” the nurse corrected. “Umm I’ll go with the hot-dog and a shake please” I asked mentally totting up the 7000 calories for my meal. Once we were finished ordering the nurse turned to leave before hanging back “You’ll know that if you don’t finish your meals you get spanked right?” she winked as a loud cheer erupted from the other diners.

A man was pulled from his seat by a nurse and taken to a wall where he clung to a metal rail. We watched in horror and amusement as a midget nurse swung a paddle at his behind. This was followed by a series of nurses who each took their turn in blistering the poor man’s cheeks. As his yells of pain amused the other diners, I calculated Geo’s meal. “You know you just ordered 15,000 calories of food right? You’re so going to get spanked!”.

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Sweat dripped from Geo’s brow as he alternated between the butter fat shake and lard fried burger. My own meal sat heavy in my stomach, I’d forced down the last few bites, determined no waitress was going to bruise my ass! My body would spend the next few days working through the mass of calories, no inclination of hunger was felt again until we reached Cuba a couple of weeks later.

Defeated, Geo made his way to the spanking supports. The paddle whistled through the air before landing with a sharp thwack. Again and again the paddle swung, finally Geo hobbled back to us, a slight elation creeping at the edges of his features.

“Good on you” Alaska praised, “it wasn’t too bad actually” Geo decided. Alaska shot a wink at me “oh really? Almost sound like you enjoyed that!” I teased. “You did!” Blonde joined in to Geo’s protest. “Is your bum bruised?” Blonde continued as the cheeks on Geo’s face grew red, I presume to match those of his arse. “Come on, show us!!” Alaska encouraged. “Shouldn’t we get going?” Geo attempted a change in conversation.

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With bloated bellies, we waddled away from the restaurant, ambitiously trying to walk off our gained pounds…and for one of us, swollen bum cheeks!

Old Vegas was filled with wedding chapels, the little white wedding church made famous by various celebrity couplings, signs for Elvis as the minister, pirate themed receptions, drive through ceremony….they had it all! It was a world that felt both naff and charmingly nostalgic. The sugar/lard influx had sent us all into a rather loopy mood, somehow it was decided Alaska and I should visit one of the venues.

“They want to get married!” Blonde leaned across me to yell out my window at the lady in the booth. We’d chosen the Little White Chapel drive through branch, a wedding ceremony that didn’t even require getting out of the car, for those really in a rush (or too weighed down by burgers to be bothered walking down an aisle). I wasn’t entirely sure what I’d agreed to, it might be nice to be married, my friends seemed to enjoy it, but then, they had been in love with each other to begin with, that was probably important?

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‘What if this is my only chance to ever get married? Who wants a wedding anyway? Ugghh I’d hate to make anyone feel even a hint of how Bridezilla made me feel! Plus without Mum to walk me down the aisle or drink champagne at the dress fitting or sit on the top table with me, well…what’s the point in having a big do anyway!  A normal wedding someday would be far too painful to get through! And who’d marry me anyway! ….hmmm Alaska wants to, maybe I’ve had the whole love thing all wrong? I’ve been looking for one of those Hollywood love stories, with sweeping gestures and butterflies in the belly. What if love is completely different than that? Perhaps I could grow to fall in love with Alaska? Hmmm, yeah, this is good idea, yeah, I can definitely get married in Vegas! What could possibly go wrong? Solid plan!’ I mentally concluded, turning to face the lady who’s own face looked less than impressed at the contents of our car.

“License?” she requested, any enthusiasm for the sanctuary of marriage long gone from the conveyor belt of drunken couples she’d witnessed.

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“Oh, we haven’t got one…” I answered. “Courthouse’s around the corner, it’s open 24 hours, it’s 70 bucks and will take 20 minutes, go get that, then come back here and you can choose which package you want” she relayed with a bored voice, clicking an invisible button to open the gates for us to leave.

“Oh damn! We don’t really have time if we’re going to get to our motel before dark….we should probably leave it” I advised, some logic finally surfacing.

The seducing lights of Vegas faded in the wing mirrors as we headed deep into the Nevada desert. The roads were quiet with only the odd truck mysteriously pulling off the free-way onto dirt tracks that led to a single run down building viewable from the main road. “They’re brothels” Alaska explained “it’s legal in this part of Nevada”.

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“Ohh look! They sell hot sauce!” Blonde announced, pointing at a washed out billboard whilst pulling into a neon green painted gas station. Large letters attached to the building read ‘Area 51 Alien Centre’.

“Are we in Area 51?” I asked excitedly, “close to it I think, it’s not exactly listed on the map” Geo replied. “I’m going to see what hot sauce they have” Blonde remarked, heading into the station.

The shelves were lined with alien themed tourist tat, I was in my element! “Oooohhh I could get an alien hat! And an inflatable alien! Everyone needs an inflatable alien! Do you think they’ll tell me how to get to the actual Area 51 site! We might see a real alien!! How cool would that be!” I blabbered whilst roaming the shelves, “you don’t need an inflatable alien, put it down. PUT IT DOWN!” Alaska wrestled E.T from my clutches, rolling his eyes as I handed him some bug eyed sunglasses to wear.

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“The hot sauce is next door?” I found Blonde at the till speaking to the cashier who didn’t appear terribly amused as I emptied my arms of the Area 51 ‘keep out’ sign, iron on Alien patch and neon yellow alien face socks onto the counter. The woman was probably only a few years older than me but she wore a face of twice that, she looked tired of life, like someone who’d seen it all and had long since given up on any expectations from people.

“Well yeah, they have hot sauce, but…you know it’s a brothel?!” the woman explained to Blonde whilst readjusting her cleavage. “Yeah, that’s fine, I just really love hot sauce” Blonde bubbled back. The woman’s eyes flitted between me and Blonde “you know what a brothel is?!”.

Blonde giggled “yeah, but I just want hot sauce” she laughed again, I was beginning to feel uncomfortable something about the encounter seemed rude, I worried the cashier would think Blonde was playing dumb on purpose, misunderstanding her naivety and think she was taking the piss at the cashiers expense. “I’m going to go next door” Blonde sauntered off. The woman watched her go, wearing a somewhat bewildered expression as the door slammed shut at Blonde’s departure “She knows what a brothel is doesn’t she?”.

“Umm yeah, sorry, sorry about that. She really likes hot sauce and so errr yeah, sorry. Can I please just have these please, thanks, sorry. Thanks, thank you” I bothered in a typical British way, feeling as though I ought to be apologising for everything that had caused the woman to reside in this strange place, living her life alternating between her shifts next door and selling alien junk to tourists.

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Alaska was lying down in the back seat of the car, his feet the only part visible sticking out of the door as the radio played loudly. “Where’s the others?” I asked kicking a foot once I’d reached the vehicle. “They’ve gone in there” Alaska sat up, nodding in the direction of the brothel. “Oh god! She took Geo in too!” I smiled, a little alarmed. “This has been a big day for him! Getting spanked by a host of women, including a midget lady and now he’s in a brothel. In Area 51! An alien themed brothel at that!” I remarked, flinging my bag of merchandise onto the passenger seat.

I debated going in to fetch them, a little concerned they were being forced to part with all their money for a type of hot sauce they hadn’t been expecting. Alaska appeared at my side before I had a chance to move “let’s dance” he reached for my hand, motioning me into a twirl.

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We swayed under the ‘Aliens welcome sign’ in the empty car park, the sky a patchwork of pinks whilst we both fought to lead. “You ready to go?” Blonde’s voice interrupted, announcing their return.

“How was the brothel?” I enquired. “Bit weird, we asked for hot sauce, so she went and got some chips for us to try it with, we just sat in the foyer alone waiting” Blonde answered as I pulled back onto the free-way. “She told us she’d put a glove on first before touching the chips” Geo added commentary from the back seat, Alaska and I grimaced at the understanding. “The hot sauce wasn’t hot enough but they kept asking if we wanted to try anything else” Blonde finished. I laughed “so brothels aren’t the place to go for decent hot sauce then? Good to know”. I watched the road ahead, half expecting a UFO to fall out of the sky and a little disappointed when one didn’t.

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