Monuments and condoms

“BECAUSE I’M BLEEDING FROM THE VAGINA!!!!” I yelled from the end of my tether, silently wondering where exactly I left my dignity.
….
With its copper ground and cumbersome pillars, Monument Valley was a world dedicated to Cowboys and Indians. A landscaped captured on the silver-screen that played across my childhood. Whilst my mother repainted the hallway walls and my father read the newspaper; I lost many a rain-drenched Sunday afternoon to the fire of guns and arrows respectively, all tangled up with racing horses and hell-bent bikers disappearing into dust clouds on lonely roads. The world in that box, so far removed from the battered rock in the Irish Sea I’d called home, provided a delightful escapism, a hint of freedom and adventure.
Monument Valley
 That rocky image lay dormant for years, sleeping in forgotten memory. Quietly burning like an ember waiting to catch light again. And then mum got sick.
Gradually the red sands began to blaze, the clouds cleared and that single path called. Through the twisted roads of cancer, the image burnt brighter and brighter. I clung to the escapism through the cluttered responsibility that comes with tidying up after other people’s death, from daydreaming out of office windows and empty bank balances. As the emotions rained down and smashed into office windows, I stared on longingly from my desk. Over the year, when I’d held myself together so tightly that I cracked apart, I mentally built layer upon layer on those rocks of Monument Valley. Hair whipping in the wind of my daydream, Baba O’Riley blasting from the stereo in my head. Only then, as I drove towards the gates of the mountains blurring on the horizon, would I finally be free of it all.
Cowboy Monument Valley
Or at least that was the idea…
In reality, I’d combined Monument Valley with the road from Death Valley, two entirely different places. I wasn’t in a Cadillac or on a Harley Davidson or even a horse for that matter. I also happened to have three other people coming along for the ride, all of which were never going to quite appreciate how monumental, Monument Valley really was to me. However, worst of all, my life still wasn’t a heart warming film with a kick ass indie soundtrack! Plus, as we drove towards the valley of rocks, I really, really needed to pee!
monument valley view
“That was pretty cool” Geo declared as we left the reservation. “Hmmm” I responded, the rocks slipping from view in the rear mirror. “Didn’t you like it?” Alaska asked leaning forward to make his voice heard over the radio. “No. Yeah. I did. I just, dunno. It just wasn’t quite how I pictured it. It’s beautiful, just, well, I always thought they were part of the backdrop of America, that you kind of stumble across, not an actual reservation were you pay to enter and then drive around following each car like on a safari, stopping to take pictures of the rocks like you would an elephant!”really, I’d been expecting some big life changing moment, a realisation of something or shift in perspective. The only change of perspective we’d gained was checking the bottom of the car to make sure we hadn’t caused any damage as Blonde bumped us around the rocky track.
“Me and Geo thought we would camp tonight. So we can drop you guys off at a motel if you like and then pick you up in the morning” Blonde declared nonchalantly as we headed towards Lake Powell. ‘Why do you presume you’d get to have the car and drop us off, why can’t we drop you off! Also, there is only one tent so if you’re camping it means we have to get a motel, and it also means we have to pay twice as much than if we were all sharing!’ the thoughts flooded through, building on a bitterness that kept growing ‘ughhhh you’re so selfish! Why don’t you think of anyone but yourself!‘ I took a deep sigh ‘calm down, she’s not trying to annoy you on purpose, you’re being overly sensitive again‘ I swallowed the bitter pill back down, it landed on top of all the others as I silently wondered how long it would be until there was no room left.
camping
“Ummm, no I don’t want to be without the car tonight. If you two are camping we can drop you off and then pick you up in the morning” I responded trying and failing to sound friendly. “What? No, I don’t want to be camping without having the car nearby, what if something happens!” Blonde replied alarmed. “If something happens you can call us and we’ll come and get you” I stared at the road, refusing to compromise. I felt the boys fall back deeper into their seats, an icy tension frosting the windows once again.
“But that doesn’t make sense, I don’t see why we can’t have the car…”Blonde started before I snapped an interruption “I am not being without the car tonight! I don’t care. If you want to camp fine! But I’m having the car!” I was fed up with her always taking it without saying anything in the evenings, making decisions that affected everyone else without any consideration, if it meant I had to act like a stubborn cow then fine, I hadn’t got to feel the wind in my hair or a life changing moment that morning but I could at least hold on to a tiny slither of freedom that the car represented should I suddenly need to create my own dust cloud in the distance!
road trip
“But you’re being unreasonable! You can’t just decide like that!” Blonde started again. “You just said the exact same thing! You decided! I don’t care, I’m not being without the car tonight!” even in my stubbornness I had to admit to myself it did make more sense for them to take it than Alaska and I but there was no was I was going to admit it. “The car is both of ours, you can’t just decide who takes it” Blonde tried. “Well, you have for the last two months! Presides, the car is in my name, on my credit card so actually, I can decide and I’m taking it tonight!” I declared once again, feeling rather uncomfortable on the rocky ground I’d placed my feet.
“Why don’t we camp as well?” Alaska interjected, I flashed him a warning look in the mirror. “We don’t have a tent!”.  “Well we could pick up a cheap one from a Walmart or something” he suggested. “You can camp if you want to but I’m not!” I responded, flashbacks of freezing to death in Alaska and hiking through the dark to find a loo in the middle of the night.
“The stars will be really clear tonight and we can camp near the water, it’ll be really good” Geo offered. “I’m not camping!” the truth was, lying beneath the stars on a warm evening followed by a morning swim as the mirrored lake reflected the sunrise was something I desperately wanted to do but it appeared I’d rather cut my nose to spite my face. The prospect of a night without Blonde waking me every time she went to the bathroom or sleep going uninterrupted from the removal of Geo’s snoring was too good an opportunity to pass up, presides, I couldn’t possibly admit they were right or let them win!
stars
“Yeah! Let’s camp” Alaska joined in. I felt bullied “You do what you want, we don’t even know if we can find a tent to buy! Presides, I’ll get eaten to death my mosquitoes!” I moaned. “Well we’ll sleep in the car, it’ll be fun” Alaska added. “You can all sleep where you like, but I’m not!” I was getting angry, the pills in my stomach begin to rattle. “Well I don’t think it’s fair that you get to have the car, what if Geo and I need to get something or go somewhere” Blonde started up again.
“You won’t and you can call us if you do” I said as finally as I could. “But it’s not fairrrrr” she began as my knuckles turned white around the steering wheel. “We could all share the tent, it says two-man but I can sleep outside…” Geo was trying to be appease the situation but it was too late. “I AM NOT CAMPING!” I snapped “but why…” he stated before I cut in, spitting over my shoulder, trying not to pull the car along with me “BECAUSE I’M BLEEDING FROM THE VAGINAAAAAAA!!!!!” I yelled, only the tiniest spark of embarrassment burning and dying in my conscience.
meanwhile
What is it about periods that freaks boys out so much? The mere mention of blood and vagina in the same sentence and the boys were silenced. Blonde, having lost the battle also retreated back into her seat, silently fuming out the window.
I sat on the grass whilst Blonde, Geo and Alaska emptied the boot trying to locate the various sleeping bags and every possible item Blonde might need for an impending apocalypse or preparing for a months stay. The sun dyed the clouds pink and basked the world in gold, I rested my head on my arms, my knees pulled up close and tried to find some level of peace whilst the  voices of the others floated towards me.
Sunset at Ahlstrom Point, Arizona
“Do you think I can take Becky’s blanket” I could hear Blonde ask Alaska ‘No! And I’ve told you, it’s a scarf, not a blanket! It’s like 100 degrees anyway, you don’t need my blanket!‘ I muttered. “I wouldn’t” Alaska responded reading my mind. “I don’t understand why she’s being so difficult…” Blonde complained. “Don’t…” Alaska answered. “It’s not fair though, maybe you can talk to her? Why does she get to have the car tonight?” Blonde dug up. “Oh shut uppppp!” Alaska fired.
“Hey, don’t talk to me like that” Blonde really never knew when to back off. “Shut the fuck up! Don’t even start with me! You started this when you made demands…” Alaska was yelling now. “Hey, calm down! Don’t yell at her” Geo jumped in. I zoned out as the three of them screamed back and forth at each other, Alaska warning Geo to back down before turning back to Blonde who to her credit gave as good as she got.
The sun sunk lower, I probably should have pulled Alaska away but I stayed rooted to the sandy grass, feeling the warmth of the day subdue.
lake powell
It was dark by the time the boys had the tent up, Blonde walked back and forth carrying blankets and her luggage. With promises to answer the phone at any time should the bogeyman come out to get them, Alaska and I departed.
I quickly realised camping might not have been such a bad idea as we drove around for hours, stopping at every hotel and motel in the small town, finally finding the last bedroom available that came complete with a flooding roof and inch of water across the floor.
Whilst Alaska and I moaned about the frustrations of the day, Blonde was facing her own trials. At some point early on in the evening she discovered a pile of condoms in Geo’s bag, her initial surprise was quickly replaced by anger. “I can’t believe he thought I was going to sleep with him just like that!” she bequeathed to me the next day in whispers across bathroom stalls. Appalled by his audacity and presumption, she quickly closed the bag shut before he saw and kept her legs firmly crossed. “It was a really awkward” she whispered as soon as we were alone the next morning “we took the top cover off the tent so we were just under the netting and could see the stars”.
watching the stars
“Arrr that sounds romantic!” I remarked, a pang of jealousy at having missed out. “Yeah but, we were lying there and he turned his head to face me. I didn’t want him to go in for a kiss so I sort of kept talking. I was constantly blabbing and pointing at the stars and talking and talking without a break so he couldn’t lean in. But he just kept staring at me with this look on his face!” she stopped talking when I started to giggle.
“No, go on, sorry, it’s just, I’ve been there, I’ve done the exact same thing! Just waffled on about nonsense so they don’t have a chance to try and kiss you” I offered my experience in the hope it might make her feel better. “Right, ok” she dismissed “but I don’t think I like him like that. He’s a really nice guy but I don’t fancy him. And how dare he think I was going to sleep with him as soon as we were alone and camping!” she finished. “Oh yeah, beautiful back drop, amazing sky, all the other tents far from earshot, a tall blond Australian in the bed next to him! God, what was he thinking!” my sarcasm was lost on her. “Well I said night in the end and rolled over and pretended to go to sleep”.
camping under the stars
We headed north that afternoon, in search of another national park for the next day. Geo had awoken in a mood that next morning. We were staying with a group of college boys, Alaska had taken it in his stride, presuming I was too old to be of any interest to them. Geo, however looked much less comfortable as Blonde chatted over dinner with one of the locals.
The entrance queue for the park was long and slow, Geo, fed up with the lack of movement stepped out the car and proceeded to climb a tree, resting on the branches and pulling his hat low to cover his face. When we finally reached the car park (having first coached him back into the vehicles once the traffic started moving again) he marked off to the information centre. “What’s up with him today?” I glanced at Blonde. “Well, I think I know” she answered cryptically, I raised an eyebrow for more information.
“I sort of told him I wasn’t interested” she replied. “What do you mean sort of told him?” I enquired. “Well, I kind of made a point that I don’t want to date anyone on this trip and that I just want to have fun and go out and flirt with people in bars and that we’re really good as friends and that he’s really nice”. I looked at her a little bewildered “errrr, so you told him you don’t want to get with anyone but you want to go out and flirt. And then you said he’s a really nice guy? I think you’ve just confused him even more!” I smiled. “What? No, he knows it’s not like that” Blonde defended. “Well I think you might need to spell it out a little more clearly…” I pulled at visitors door handle to follow the boys inside.
man in tree
We walked the famous Narrows path in Zion national park, with only a few days drive
from Las Vegas, there was something about the daunting cliffs that rose either side of the river, our feet slipping off the wet rocks, their outlines lost in the current. It felt like we were sinking further into Dante’s Inferno as we crossed through the river of skulls.
“Here, can you stick this in your pocket” Alaska fished out a sticky looking wrapper from the water. “Ewww, I’m not putting that in my pocket, put it in your own!” I retorted back. “Why won’t you put it in yours! I’m trying to save the environment and you want to destroy it!” he argued. “What?! That’s not true, I just don’t want to put a dirty wrapper in my pocket, you picked it up, why do I have to carry it! Why are you making such a fuss!” I snapped back, confused as to why every outing was descending into bickering. “You’re so stuck up! It’s because you’re from a city, you don’t care about the environment, it’s shallow and vain!” he stated, stopping ahead of me whilst the river pooled around his legs.
the narrows
“What the hell! What are you talking about!” I growled back, his swipes denting my perception of myself ‘I’m not shallow! Or vain. Ok maybe a little vain but I’m not that bad! But just because I lived in London doesn’t mean I don’t care about the world‘ I debated internally. It was only later I realised the litter was another one of Alaska’s tests to see my standing on certain things, tests I always failed without ever knowing the question.
Rather than discuss whatever was really annoying him, we blew up at each other in the middle of the river. Following, Blonde and Geo, who had already turned back, I stomped through the water after them, trying to get far away from Alaska and as quickly as possible. He took his time, whilst Geo, Blonde and I sat at the path entrance. Blonde lost her patience in the wait, resulting in her own fight with him.
With Geo annoyed at Blonde for not responding to his feelings, Blonde annoyed at Alaska, Alaska annoyed at me, and finally me annoyed at everything; we were a ‘happy’ little group, as we headed off to the cinema that evening. ‘Why is it so hard to get on with people, what’s wrong with me?’ I mentally examined not for the first time that trip.
bullllllshiiiiittttt
A couple of days later our journey found us once again on route 66, we’d snaked on and off it since Chicago, those double 6’s providing a hint of both familiarity and a sense that our trip was nearing its end.
“Tell them” a smile twitched at the corners of Blonde’s mouth “I mean, only if you want to of course” she added, glancing at Geo in the mirror. “Oohh come on, now you have to tell us!” I spun in my seat. “Yeah, come on” Alaska cheered on.
An embarrassed smile crept across Geo’s face “Ok, well…” he started. “He bought condoms…” Blonde interrupted excitedly, her initial annoyance at the discovery having clearly passed, “wait! Let him tell it!” I jumped in. Geo picked up the thread “well, yeah. So it was just before I flew out of Colorado to come meet you all in Texas. My uncle took me to the store, and I was trying to get them as quickly as possible whilst he was shopping” he paused for breath. “What was wrong with him seeing?” I asked.
protection
“Well he was staying at my grandparents the same time I was, they’re quite religious and I wasn’t sure if he’d mention it to them. And it’s embarrassing having your family see you buy condoms!” he explained. “Good point! On with the story!” I responded.
“I kept looking to see if my uncle was coming, the person in front of me was taking ages. When I finally got to the checkout the cashier looks at me and goes, really loudly, ‘I’m so proud of you’ and then added ‘I wish my son had bought protection’ I didn’t know what to say, so just said ‘oh’ and she went on ‘now he’s knocked some girls up and he’s not father material. Well good for you! I’m so proud of you!‘ it was a very surreal moment, all I could think of was my uncle is going to appear any second!” Geo laughed. “Ha! That’s brilliant!!” I joined. “There’s more!” Blonde added.
“Well I was trying to hide the packet the entire ride home, I went straight to my room and thought I’d got away with it…” Geo answered. “And then his gran walked in!” Blonde bounced in, unable to contain herself. “And then my Gran came in holding this piece of paper ‘you left your receipt in the car‘ she said handing me the receipt, I couldn’t meet her eyes!”.
she knows

Should I stay or should I go?

Utah welcomed us from beyond the dashboard, it’s open vastness drawing a collective intake of breath from the audience within the car. Sponsored by the lengthy discussion held the night prior, the relief was almost tangible as we slipped from the grasp of the Colorado mountains that morning. The humidity we’d felt trapped between the peaks of the Rockies, with its constant threats of torrential showers and tension filled closeness only reflected the suffocation that had been weighing down on us.

Leaving colorado

“Oh yes! Classic!” I exclaimed buoyantly, leaning across the car and spinning the radio up as we fell into the chorus of the Lion King. I spun in my seat to laugh at the boys whilst Blonde steered the car up the twisted sandstone road towards Arches national park. “It means no worries, for the rest of your days……” whilst our voices sailed, I stared out the window, lost in the contrast of rust coloured sand and turquoise sky, my mind melting back to the night before…
“Do I have toooooo?” my feet dragged along the carpet, trailing Alaska. “I’m tired, can’t we talk about it in the morninggggg” I begged. “But, but….”. “No” he interrupted sternly, flashing a smile over his shoulder to soften the blow “you’ve been putting it off for days already, just say how you feel” he advised. “But I don’t know how I feellllll” I came to a stop, trying to delay the confrontation for as long as I could. Alaska turned “sure you do, if you want to end the trip with them and just you and me continue,that’s ok. I think it’s what would be best for you…”. “Hmmm…” I pondered, hovering at the entrance to the sitting room where Blonde and Geo were waiting.
rock climbing
“Are you coming?” Alaska pulled me back to the present as we came to a stop at the national park “come on!” he called racing after Geo who was already half way up a rock formation.
“I’m not sure that’s safe” Blonde appeared next to me. “If they kill themselves you’re calling their mothers ok?” I joked. “That would kind be kind of awkward!” Blonde replied amused. “We could just leave their bodies here, someone would find them after awhile right? We don’t really have time to deal with them dying” I continued, slightly alarmed as Alaska’s hand slipped, his limbs not as long as Geo’s to reach the next hole.
“Can we dump their stuff out the car too?” Blonde smiled as Geo finally reached the top, shortly followed by Alaska “take a photo” he called, his voice almost stolen by the wind.
“Yeah, would be nice to get rid of all their stinky boy stuff, they’re worse than us for dumping it everywhere, we can barely see out the back window now!” I moaned whilst snapping the picture. “Shall we just leave them now?” Blonde added as we laid down on the rock waiting for the boys decent, the sun trying to stain our skin the same colour as the earth around us.
Climbing the sandstone
Alaska pushed open the door to the downstairs living room, revealing Blonde sitting cross-legged on the floor and Geo perched in a chair in the corner, their conversation silenced by our arrival. “Hey” Alaska cracked the air, settling himself on the floor and leaning back against a bookcase “did you guys want to talk about the rest of the trip then?”.
I took the last available seat, curling my legs under myself on the sofa, facing opposite Blonde. I could feel all the eyes on me. We tangoed in limbo for a short period until Blonde started “yeah, well, do you want to go first?” directing the question at me. ‘No not really’ I twisted uncomfortably.
“Well, I don’t know what to say, like what about? The fight in Santa Fe? The road-trip? What happens next? What?” I questioned, still trying to delay making any decisions. “Yeah, well, all of it!” Blonde prompted. I rolled my eyes ‘why do I have to do all the hard work‘ I internally digested before warning myself to play nice.
hard work
 “How far are we going?” Blonde called after Alaska, the four of us following a trail to one of the famous arches. “It’s just a bit further, nother ten mins or so” Alaska yelled back.
“How far are we going?” Blonde called after Alaska, the four of us following a trail to one of the famous arches. “It’s just a bit further, nother ten mins or so” Alaska yelled back.
“It’s starting to get dark and we’re up pretty high, I don’t want to be climbing over boulders in the dark” Blonde warned. “We’ll be fine” Geo dismissed, offering her his hand to step down onto the next ridge. Alaska ran down a sharp rock face, keen to keep the lead ahead of Geo. It was clear from the various structures we’d stopped at that Geo was the superior climber, Alaska, not used to coming in second place to his quieter friend was seizing the opportunity to lead the pack.
“Will you be careful!” I yelled, as my own feet slipped out from under me and I landed on my bum. Gravity making the safe decision to make the rest of the decent on my arse until my feet could reach firm ground again.
slipping down the revine
“I really think we should be heading back soon” Blonde stated again, her face turned to the inking sky. “Where’s he’s gone?” Geo scanned our surroundings, low bushes casting long shadows as large rocks circled in on us. The light was getting lost behind the pillars, I stared up at the smooth face we’d slid down on, beginning to think Blonde had been right about heading back sooner.
Alaska’s voice echoed around the enclosure, we followed it’s trail, finally finding him attempting to climb to the top of one of the arches. “I’ll go get him” I informed the others, trying to find a path in the sand and foliage to the double arch framing a window onto the sunset.
“We really should go soon” Blondes voice carried, a note of concern audible. “Yeah, come on guys” Geo added. “We’re fine, stop worrying” Alaska shouted back excited at his one-man adventure.
Having made it to the arch I found Alaska back on solid ground, out of view of the other two, he leant in to kiss me “we really should go” I pushed back. The shadows had grown in the escaping light for our return to the sloping rock, it worried me how easily disorientated we’d become in the brief minutes that had past whilst fetching Alaska. A coyote called in the distance as our Geo and Blonde’s voices guided us back to the them and the path.
arches
I sank lower into the sofa, twisting a finger in my hand “ok well. You see. I mean. Well road-trips are hard” I glanced up, no one said anything, forcing me to continue. “And I think we’ve all done really well, it’s been two months and we’ve covered a lot of miles. And, and we’ve done really well haven’t we?” I paused, trying to find the words, how to explain all the things that had been frustrating me, the pressure and responsibility I’d felt, the grief that still hung like a weight from my neck and cut like knives when no one was watching.
I didn’t know how to explain it all, no one spoke. “Ok, Well. I’ve found it harder than I thought I would. You see, I guess it’s felt like I’ve had to organise everything…” I began. “That’s not true..” Blonde began, catching herself from saying anything further, worried I might explode. I twisted my finger tighter “I arranged the flights, planned the route, booked accommodation….” I listed. “I’ve booked accommodation too!” Blonde defended.
“Yes. The drug den in Chicago. That arse in St Louis. The serial killer a few days ago…” I was being unfair. “No, I’ve booked other ones too!”. “Ok yeah, you have booked some accommodation, but only after it was pointed out to you that I was doing everything! Unless I say anything, then it’s left to me to organise everything! I’ve even tried to hold back planning stuff, thinking one of you would realise we had nowhere to stay that night but none of you ever do, it can get to 5pm and the thought of where we will sleep hasn’t even crossed your minds…until I point it out! Then you all stare at me to come up with the solution” I stated, getting agitated.
waiting for the train
“No, that’s not true, we do plan stuff. It’s just… you’re better at it. Anyway, you like organising!” Blonded informed. I sighed “I do like organising, and I find it relatively easy to do so, but that shouldn’t mean it always gets put on me. It’s a lot of pressure and I don’t think any of you realise how much has to be done. It’s hard having to accommodate everyone’s plans” a sadness settled on my shoulders, I hadn’t realised this was how I felt until the words left my mouth.
“But we do your plan all the time” Blonde stated. “What? No we don’t, I’m always asking what everyone else wants to do and then adjusting the route or timings to fit. I really wanted to see Dolly Parton world but you and Alaska didn’t so we didn’t go and I didn’t say a thing!”.
scooby doo at night
 It was almost pitch black as we stumbled over rocks, guided only by our phone lights until the car park emerged behind a gap in two boulders. “I’m so tired” Blonde yawned, I crossed to the drivers seat. It was only a few more miles to the motel, my shoulders ached from the concentration of navigating the sharp turns out of the national park in the dark, the longing for sleep driving me on.
“The stars would be amazing here, let’s pull over!” one of the boys announced, “yeah, lets!!” Blonde added excitedly. The lights of a truck glared in my wing mirrors as it raced up behind us “can we pull over to see the stars” Blonde asked again “I know, I’m trying to find somewhere to stop!” I responded a little too sharply. “Ok but we need to pull over before we get to the town or we won’t be able to see anything” she added. “I know!” I gritted my teeth as the truck rushed past, the change in air pressure pulling the car whilst I struggled to keep a straight line in the dark.
driving at night
Geo busied himself with a cushion in the corner. Alaska’s thumb spun up and down on the screen of his phone. The conversation wasn’t going how I wanted it to, the last thing we needed was another fight, I tried to change tact. “Anyway, it’s not just the organising stuff. I feel like I’ve become a bit of an agony aunt, every conversation is either about your problems or about Alaska’s. It’s exhausting! I never get a moment alone!” I was talking at my feet again, afraid to raise my eyes and meet judgemental stares.
“We share beds, eat together, spend all day driving, go to tourist attractions together. I can’t even use the toilet or shower without one of you knocking on the door asking a question or wanting something!” I paused for breath and went on. “Even in the evenings, if I say I’m going for a walk or to the store, you insist on coming with me! Literally, I can’t remember the last time I was alone for more than five minutes!” it spilled out of me, hanging in the air.
“Well, why don’t you just say you want to go for a walk alone? I go for walks on my own” Blonde questioned. “Because every time I say, you start putting your trainers on!” I answered back. “Well then tell me you want to be on your own” she offered as if it were that easy. “How! How am I suppose to do that?! If I said, you’d think there was something wrong. If I’m quiet for more than a few minutes you all think I’m in a mood!” I raised my shoulders as my eyebrows knitted at the frustration.
Shit directions
“The stars are amazing! They’re so clear!” Alaska observed, his head tilted back. I stared at the spray painted ceiling above us, it was beautiful but couldn’t compare to the entire universe that had hung above the outback outside Alice Springs back in Oz. I knew this should have been a magical moment, the film version would have had us all perched on the bonnet of the car, a blanket wrapped around our shoulders as we watched meteors fall wishes to the ground.
Instead goose bumps pricked my skin as mosquitoes dived at my scent in the dark, tiredness etched the edges of my brain, making me question where I’d find the energy to get us back to the motel safely “umm can we go now” I asked, worrying I was ruining the moment for the others. “A few more minutes, Alaska spun in a circle, his mouth wide. “Do you know the constellation names?” Blonde asked Geo. “Some of them” he responded, pointing out what he knew.
star gazing
 “That’s the Big Dipper” he pointed up. “Which one?” I asked, “See that one there?” I followed his hand. “Oohh the plough?” I realised. “What?” Blonde asked. “The plough, see it looks like an upside down plough, that’s what it’s called in England” I explained.
“That’s the Big Dipper” he pointed up. “Which one?” I asked, “See that one there?” I followed his hand. “Oohh the plough?” I realised. “What?” Blonde asked. “The plough, see it looks like an upside down plough, that’s what it’s called in England” I explained.
“Doesn’t look like any tractor I’ve ever seen!” Alaska laughed. “No, like ploughs used in olden days!” I tried. “They still farm by hand in England, no wonder you’re not a super power anymore!” he joked. “No! Whatever! shut up! Can we go now!” I defended, swatting another mosquito on my leg. “I’m getting eaten alive here, I’m getting in the car!” I was beginning to get a little scared on the dark lane we’d parked in just off the highway, afraid any old nutcase could appear out of the dark, turning us into the next midwest horror story.
“Fine, we can go!” they moaned climbing into the car, a sequence of doors slamming shut. A rabbit darted across the road as I pulled the car away with the crunch of gravel under the tyres, a spark of light flashed across the sky in my wing mirror ‘please let us make this work‘ I silently wished.
Star wishing
“And that’s another thing! You always take the car!” I was on a roll. “Huh?” Blonde met my eyes confused. “You do! Like every day! Twice a day! You take it in the morning to go get your coffee. And then again at night, to coffee shops to call your mum, or to the supermarket. But you never even say, you just go! You don’t even ask if anyone else wants to go or would need to use the car, you just take it! I’d like to go for a drive to a supermarket some evenings but I never get a chance!” I spat, trying to hold on to some softness so not to sound too aggressive.
“I don’t need to use the car” Geo interrupted, coming to the defense of Blonde. I shot him a warning look, telling him to keep the hell out of it, a wave of guilt filling me as he clamped his mouth shut and looked away sheepishly.
“I don’t take the car that often…” Blonde started. “Yeah you do! All the time!” Alaska jumped in, coming to my defense.
“Oh. Well, I didn’t realise, I’ll try to make sure I let you all know in future and check no one else needs it from now on….if you still want to continue that is?” she lifted her head and looked through her lashes. I looked down, toying with a loose thread on my dress.
runaway
I awoke no more rested than when I’d gone to sleep in the motel room, between Geo’s snoring, Blonde’s trips to the bathroom and Alaska’s insistence of hugging me whilst he slept, I’d been battered against the shores of sleep never quite managing to dock. That morning the boys and I laid across the two double beds clicking through web pages on our computers passing the time. Blonde emerged from the bathroom, took one look at us, grabbed the car keys and was out the door before anyone could say a word. “Where’s she going?!” I spoke to the room. “Errr, don’t know. I got up early and got her a coffee already” Geo replied.
An hour later we were on our way to another national park “I went to the tourist information. You were all on your laptops” Blonde answered our demands to where she’d disappeared to. “Because we were waiting for you! We were ready to go!” I snarled. “Oh, I thought you were all busy and I didn’t want to wait around so went out” she replied. “We were waiting for you so we could leave! You took the car again without saying anything!” I was shaking my head in disbelief. “Well I…” she began.
“We literally had this conversation two days ago!! We said how annoying it is when you do that! Where you’re going, when you’ll be back. It’s not fair! We’re late leaving today because you decided to go for a drive! Ugghhh what was the point in even having that whole conversation if you’re just going to ignore everything we talked about!” I was furious, our peace treaty had lasted less than a day.
sulking
There was nowhere to look in the living room that didn’t have eyes, I still didn’t know if I wanted to continue to trip with everyone. Alaska had been increasing the pressure that he and I take off on some romantic cross-country adventure together, leaving the other two in the dust.
Part of me wanted to go alone, finish how I’d started when I first left for Australia but something deep inside knew that would be a mistake, the fear of being alone again gawing at my bones. I wanted to talk it out but it seemed such an inconsequential thing to be debating in the grand scheme of life’s problems. For me there was no home, job or family waiting back home for me, that car, that road, it was the only existence I had at the time, the others had somewhere to return to and I didn’t know what was going to happen next.
It was just a road-trip, just a decision to stay with the travel partners or choose a different exit, but for me, it was the only world I had. Sadness again crept upon me from the corners, the others had no idea how important or how hard it all felt, they were on holiday, I was trying to survive.
 running away from home
“You see, the thing is, I know you all think I’m just being a moody cow most of the time, and I hate that! I wish you could see the happy go-lucky person I usually am. Or sometimes am, or used to be I think. I swear I’m not this awful all the time! I don’t like coming across that way, or that you have this impression of me. It’s just…” I stopped.
“What?” Blonde pushed “you have to say everything or we won’t know”….
hole in the earth
“Shall we stop here to refill the water?” Blonde suggested as we entered Canyonlands national park. Whilst Alaska and Geo refilled, Blonde and I crossed the road to observe the view. A deep quarry dropped beneath us, ridges circling rings into the ground. We watched a car become a toy as it navigated the tight road down. “Oohh we should drive down there!” Alaska announced appearing at our side. Blonde and I shared a glance “shall we keep driving into the park?”. “Yeah, yeah let’s do that!”.
Separating ourselves from the tour groups gathering at the main look-out point we perched on the edge of the world and ate sandwiches. Rivers of canyons spread like veins for as far as the eye could see. We sat like eagles above it all, no sign of humanity’s footprint in existence, just an apocalypse of nature.
Each of us clambered down to get closer to the void, toying with death as a wind lifted the hair off our faces and made us feel alive. I stood as close as I dared to the edge, the copper  world so far beneath my feet. That was the moment, when your hairs stand on edge and every fibre feels electrified, like you’re lost between being so small and inconsequential and yet you’re standing on the shoulders of giants preparing to rule, it’s a place where nothing is impossible.
Had I been alone and not in fear of the coach parties or my friends hearing me, I might have screamed into the nothingness ‘CAN YOU HEAR ME! RAWWAAAWWWWWWWWWWW’ letting anything and everything out of me. For fear of being carted away by men in white coats I simply turned back to the others “terrific view, rather spiffing don’t you think”.
edge of the world
Unaware of the great outdoors waiting for me I tried to explain the emotions locked up in my head still in the living room. Blonde waited eagerly, the boys pretended not to be interested but I noticed how Alaska had placed down his phone and Geo was leaning forward, ears pricked.
“I don’t really know how to explain it, it’s, it’s the grief thing” I felt like a broken record, fully aware if you hadn’t experienced a loss that shook your world then, like I used to, you couldn’t possibly understand and presume the person should be over it by now.
No one spoke so I continued “you see, in the past, if I ever found something upsetting or wasn’t sure how to handle a situation I’d call my mum. Even if I just needed a sounding board, just to get the words out, you know? I thought that was how everyone handled their problems, talking about them with someone who was patient enough to listen and not judge? I didn’t know there were other ways, I never learnt how else people do it!” no one commented, I began to feel embarrassed, playing with that thread again.
screwed up
“I thought I’d got through the grief thing, when I left Australia I thought I was, well cured. I mean I’d done all those stages you read about, The anger, denial etc stuff. And I’d been depressed and the whole getting drunk and hooking up with surfer dude stage – which is totally a stage by the way!” I smiled, more to myself than my small audience.
“But I was pretty happy after New Zealand, I thought I was over it, and this trip would just be about having fun and being happy and well, being who I used to be again” I lump grew in my throat, ‘what if I never feel happy again or whole. What is no one ever loves me and I spend the rest of my days unloved and alone?’ the question floated into my mind as I spoke.
“Only this trip has been so hard. I don’t know how to communicate when I’m hurt or frustrated or irritated by something. And it always seems like silly, petty stuff, things not worth mentioning. So I don’t say anything. But everything builds up and then I sort of bubble over and you all think I’m being overly sensitive or difficult. And I get annoyed because you don’t understand. Then I feel horribly guilty, worried I’m ruining it for everyone which makes me sad, so I try to work-out how I’ve dealt with similar things in the past….and I called my mum. And I can’t do that anymore. And I don’t know what to do. Which all makes me sad and then I miss her. And I go through this cycle over and over again every time someone slams the car door or snaps back or gets annoyed if I roll my eyes. And I want to talk to my mum and ask what to do because I don’t know how to adult. And I’m scared. And I miss her” I was waffling. I stopped, worried if I said another word my eyes might spill over.
Sad face
I’d been talking to the floor, afraid if I met their eyes I might get scared and not finish my point, or worse, crumble and need their support! Slowly I lifted my eyes, Blonde and Alaska had their head cocked in sympathy, I hated it. I caught Geo in the corner of my eye, his face looked both surprised and uncomfortable with the honesty.
“So, errr, yeah. The road-trip then. Well, I guess I do want us all to continue together, just maybe we could all organise stuff, and say if we need the car and…yeah? We could go as far as Vegas and then reevaluate if we want to go any further? What do you think?” I offered cheerfully, trying to cover any vulnerability I’d shown.”Ummmm. Is there anything you wanted to say from your side of things?” I suggested to Blonde.
The four of us sat together, our feet dangling over the ravine, Alaska’s hand resting on my knee, Geo’s arm around Blonde’s shoulders, we’d agreed to stick it out but old wounds are easily opened…
End of the road

The tensions of road trips and smashing rocks

 

“….and that’s how we escaped the serial killer” I concluded to our new hosts, a young family of five. “Well we don’t know he was actually a serial killer, he only admitted to being a rapist” Alaska added, I squirmed in my seat, silently thankful the kids were too busy playing video games in their rooms upstairs to hear the conversation. “Oh, well in that case we should have stayed another night then!” I replied dryly, casting my eye over Alaska’s grubby appearance.

grubby

We’d fled the serial killer’s that morning still in our pyjamas, choosing to freshen up in the run down shack of a toilet at the first gas station we could find rather than spend another second risking our lives at the house of death.

I realised any effort to make ourselves look presentable had been done in vain. This became apparent when we popped into a department store on the edge of Denver and spent the visit being followed around by a security officer who eventually called the store manager to come and find out what we were doing. Unfortunately, Blonde, Alaska and Geo all chose that exact moment to test the quality of the beds in the home section of the store!

We’d driven further north to a small town sandwiched between Denver and the foot of the Rocky mountains, their jagged edges shadowing the community below. “He might have only been joking ab0ut being a rapist, it was hard to tell” Geo offered, interrupted my thoughts and knocking me back into the present. “Hmmm, I’m not sure he was joking! He sounded pretty serious about it when he was talking about the vortex remember?” Blonde joined in.

vortex

Despite the brief pause in tension from our stop over with the serial killer and the rush of warmth I’d felt as the beer cursedthrough my veins, Blonde and I had reprised our growing frustrations with each other as the day had worn on. My blood cooling once again in annoyance as the road carried us higher into the mountains of Colorado. Everyone seemed to be making the effort to remain courteous, afraid of the eggshells they might crack in the car and the risk of another Santa Fe style explosion. We took turns twisting in the passenger seat to talk over our shoulder at the boys in the back, aware the other who was driving felt left out and angry as a result. We’d  barely exchanged a word to each other by the time we arrived at the host’s house.

“Umm so anyway, yeah. Thank you for letting us stay” I turned to the mum, keen to steer the conversation away from talk of rape, serial killers and vortex’s, again thankful that the kids were out of earshot. I shifted uncomfortably on the white sofa “I’m so sorry for how messy we look, we haven’t had a chance to shower properly since a couple of days ago and the house last night wasn’t exactly…sparkling!”. Alaska laughed “yeah, we probably could do with a wash” he flashed a smile at the parents whilst leaning forward to retrieve his drink, a whiff of odour escaping his t-shirt with the effort.

dirty feet

I unconsciously moved a little closer to the edge of the sofa, worrying about what grimy stains we might be leaving on the furniture. “Well, we’ve got running water here, so you can take a shower before dinner…and if you need to wash any clothes…”the mum looked us up and down “we’ve got a large washer downstairs too”. “I think I’ll have a shower” Blonde announced standing before anyone else had a chance to speak or decide unanimously who should get to go first. I gritted my teeth.

“Why don’t we skip the park today? We could have a zero day, just you and me?” Alaska asked, typing his questions out on my phone and passing it back to me the next morning. We were conducting our conversation in silence so as not to wake Blonde and Geo who were still fast asleep on the floor by our feet. They’d declined the option of the water bed offered the night before, preferring Blonde’s camping mattress and some couch cushions. I’d thought the water bed sounded like great fun, picturing myself floating off on a lilo at some resort. I was wrong. Instead, I spent the night being dashed against rocks as Alaska caused the bed to rise and fall with every shift of his body.

water-bed

“But I want to see the Rockies too!” I typed back “surely Blonde and I could survive the short drive to the national park, we could go on separate hiking paths when we get there?”.  Alaska sighed as he took my phone from my hand “yeah, but you know Blonde will try and get you alone at some point, she wants to talk about the fight in Santa Fe, see what’s happening etc”.

The truth was, I probably did owe Blonde some answers, she was stuck in limbo as to whether the trip would continue or not and I was refusing to communicate. “But I don’t want to talk or make any decisions right now” I bashed the keyboard annoyed that he was making me think about it all. I hadn’t worked it out yet in my head, we weren’t getting on that was clear, everything was annoying me, I was so tired all the time, never a moments peace…. but the thought of continuing the trip alone seemed unfeasible.

driving alone

I didn’t want to be alone, not again, I didn’t want to keep cutting off friendships or hiding from confrontation just because things had become uncomfortable. If I couldn’t make this trip work then how was I ever going to make any friendship or relationship work? What was wrong with me, why couldn’t I just be nice and get on with people like everyone else seems to manage?  Hormones weren’t helping matters, they’d been spiking my mood levels increasingly for days, every look or comment was taken oversensitivity and with intent. I couldn’t think straight, how could Alaska or Blonde possibly think I’d be able to make any rational decisions, and worse, have the patience to explain what I meant?!.

“Well you gotta have that conversation some time” Alaska typed. I pulled the phone back. “She’ll get in a mood again, you know she will! She gets upset every time anyone says anything she doesn’t like the sound of! Plus she still hasn’t sorted out the money, I don’t want to talk about anything until she does that! Don’t you think we should all just have a few days to cool off? Maybe we could talk about this at Geo’s grandparents? Yeah! That’s a great idea! We’ll get there tomorrow and have a couple of days to relax” I passed the phone back and awaited his opinion.

“What are you going to do?” he pushed, turning to face me. The movement of his body caused me to rise and sink with the water in the bed. “I don’t know, I don’t want to ruin the trip for everyone but I’m so frustrated, I feel like I’m going a bit crazy with it all, like all my bad sides are coming out and I’m ruining it for everyone anyway. Everyone thinks I’m a massive bitch!”.

looking

 

I watched as he read, our noses close enough to touch. His eyes met mine, deep pools of chocolate filled with kindness, I lifted a hand behind my head, Alaska reached up and squeezed my fingers reassuringly before pulling his hand away to type a response, I felt a coldness at the loss of warmth from his touch. “I think you should leave them. They’ll be fine at Geo’s Grandparents. You need to do this trip for yourself, it’s your journey, you need to finish it alone. But I’ll come with you if you want me to” he wrote.

It wasn’t the first time Alaska had suggested him and I leave the other two; somehow he always said it in such a way that it was for my own good and the only real option available to me. It wasn’t until brief moments when everyone else had drifted off and I’d drive in silence, the radio low and my own thoughts filling my head, that I’d be able to try and align my thoughts to what I actually wanted. Alaska’s words pulled me one way but a strange sense of loyalty to Blonde pulled me another. I didn’t know how I felt about any of it, about Blonde and I as friends, about Alaska wanting to be more than friends, how Geo’s presence in the car was having an effect.

road trip

Geo seemed increasingly dishearted by Blonde’s unwillingness to respond to his attention. Unable to direct any frustration at the object of his affection or take it out on his extroverted friend who he had years of foundation with and knowledge that Alaska would not take kindly to any biting remarks, I became the only source to filter his frustration at.

His quiet nature meant any attacks were subtle, so subtle in fact that I thought at first I was being overly sensitive, imagining things. But as the days had dragged by since he’d joined us in Texas, I was becoming increasingly aware. I’m not sure even Geo was conscious to the slight digs, comments and rolls of the eyes made in my direction but I noticed them and after awhile, they were starting to hurt. I mentioned it to Alaska “you’re being paranoid, I’ve not seen anything” he dismissed. That car was like a furnace and every emotion burnt with a flame that would never have ignited outside.

fire road

I was beginning to feel trapped, everything was getting jumbled up. I couldn’t talk to Alaska about how I felt, he’d twist the conversations until I found myself bitching about Blonde as he threw in comments that she’d made in passing, kindling to my fire, anything to get me riled up and then slip in a suggestion that we spend time away from the other two or better yet, leave them completely. Blonde and I could barely be civil with one another, and yet, she increasingly tried to find ways to get me alone and force the conversation I wasn’t ready to have. Geo, probably the most emotionally balanced of all of us, was so in love with Blonde, he was just happy to spend time with her in whatever way he could.

The claustrophobia was so inflamed and inconsequential that I couldn’t find the words to explain to friends back home or seek their comfort at my inner turmoil, aware of how petty everything sounded. ‘Hey, I’m on this amazing trip but everyone is annoying me and I’m a big moaning loser who doesn’t appreciate how lucky I am, feel bad for me and tell me it’ll be ok! Oh, how’s the real world by the way?‘ I pictured myself writing in a Facebook message, mentally deleting it before it was written.  What I needed was a sounding board, someone who wasn’t in that car suffering from an ulterior motive, someone impartial, who’d let me get all the words out of my head and give me time to let them float in the air whilst I tried to rearrange them into some sort of order as they gently guided me, calming me down and helping me act slightly less insane. As ever, I needed my mum.

What I needed was a sounding board, someone who wasn’t in that car suffering from an ulterior motive, but someone impartial. Who’d let me get all the words out of my head and give me time to let them float in the air whilst I tried to rearrange them into some sort of order, all whilst that person gently guided me, calming me down and helping me act slightly less insane. As ever, I needed my mum.

hugging mum

Blonde was in a mood as soon as she woke up, snapping at everyone, annoyed that we were leaving for the national park later than had been planned, unaware that it was her who was making us late as she sat sideways in the car front seat, pumping up her airbed from the car battery. “I wanted to leave an hour ago” she snapped. “Well we’re all ready! You’re the one pumping your bed up. Which makes no sense by the way! You’ll only have to do it again tonight!” I answered back avoiding eye contract.

“I’m only doing this now because I was waiting for the rest of you!”she replied with her back to me whilst I fished out the ice box from the back seat. “We’re ready! You’ve been in the shower for the last hour ago!” I argued back. “You were all on your computers!” she continued. “Because we were waiting for your shorts to dry in the machine and you couldn’t leave without them!” I huffed, storming back to the house. I passed Alaska in the doorway “What’s happening, are we going?” he asked, examining the look on my face. “Ask her!” I pushed past him.

“I’m only doing this now because I was waiting for the rest of you!”she replied with her back to me whilst I fished out the ice box from the back seat. “We’re ready! You’ve been in the shower for the last hour!” I argued. “You were all on your computers!” she continued. “Because we were waiting for your shorts to dry in the machine and you couldn’t leave without them!” I huffed, storming back to the house. I passed Alaska in the doorway “What’s happening, are we going?” he asked, examining the look on my face. “Ask her!” I pushed past him.

mosquito that bit me

We hadn’t spoken on the drive up the mountain road but upon reaching the park and unsure on route timings, we’d decided to stick together. “Agghh, there are mosquitoes up here” Geo swiped at the air. “Just go stand by Becky, they love her, they’ll leave you right alone!” Blonde said, no hint of humour in her voice. As if

As if following instruction, a swarm of mosquitoes gathered around me, dive bombing attacks at my exposed skin. “You’ve actually got a cloud of them following you” Blonde laughed as we started on the dirt trail, her voice softening a little as we climbed through the park. The boys ran ahead, scaling rocks, competing for the fastest route to the top, Alaska’s strong shoulders proved no competition to Geo’s long limbs, as he scaled the boulders ahead like a mountain goat.

mountain goats

Despite the smiles in our group photos, staged at the various beauty spots, a sadness hung over us, the uncertainty of the trip poisoning the air. It weighed down on me as we drove back to the family that evening. I glanced at Blonde in the car, tears sneaking out from under her sunglasses “Are you ok?” I offered. “I’m fine!” she rebutted coldly, turning away to face the window. That

That evening, whilst the rest of us played board-games with the family, Blonde took the car without saying anything, driving off to a coffee shop to write in her diary and call her mum. It annoyed me more than it should have, the rudeness to the family, once again taking the car without even a word or thought the rest of us might want to go somewhere and the fact she could call her mum.

We left for Geo’s grandparents the next day, crossing over the spine of America and officially slipping into the West. With a couple of days to rest (and decide if we would continue on together or go separate ways) we each split up to get some much-needed space from each other.

colorado directions

Whilst Geo and Blonde headed off for hike, Alaska and I ventured into town. They’d both been grating on me all morning, Blonde presumed she could take the car and leave Alaska and I stranded at Geo’s Grandparents for the day “Well we can drop you in town and pick you up this afternoon if you like?” she offered. “Why do you think you automatically get the car?!” I’d snapped.

“We want to go to Aspen and see the ski village, I might come back in the winter and get a job for the ski season. Geo was telling me the roads have underfloor heating” she went on. I rolled my eyes ‘of course, because it will be soooo easy for you to get an American working visa, and you’ll just walk into a ski job despite having only seen snow about twice in your life, and why the hell do they have under-floor heating on the roads anyway!? Can’t the rich people keep their feet warm in their posh boots?!‘ I muttered internally. A compromise was finally established with Geo’s uncle lending them his car.

aspen

“There is definitely coffee in it!” I snarled at Alaska, my mood not having improved since the morning’s confrontation. “I’m telling you, I watched him make it, it’s just got white hot chocolate in there” Alaska responded with a deep breath. “Oh, so you know what my taste buds are sensing do you! I’m telling you, there is coffee in here! I can taste it!” I loudly whispered, hoping the other customers hadn’t heard. I shoved the mug across the table, Alaska raised an eyebrow and  stood from his seat, appearing a moment later next to me on the bench, his arm reaching around to embrace me.

“It’s ok” he coo’d as I rolled a shoulder out of his embrace, uncomfortable. “I’m fine! I just, I want to be on my own!” I grumbled, placing my head down to rest on my crossed arms on the table, desperate to find some space in my head. He hugged tighter as hormones flooded my system making me feel like one of those crazy women in newspaper cartoons with steam coming out their ears. “I’ve an idea!” Alaska remarked “come on!!” he headed for the door, pulling me with him.

crystal rocks

“Here” we weree standing on the street corner as he handed me a bag purchased from a nearby tourist shop, I poured out the contents to find a large rock. “What? I don’t get it?” I said confused “I don’t want to play games” I tried to hand the stone back to him. “No, see, throw it at the ground” I did as I was told. “No harder than that!” he encouraged. I tried again, and then again, nothing happened.

“What?! Here let me try”. I watched from a bench as he repeatedly slammed the stone into the ground, tiny flints chipping off with the effort of each throw “it’s supposed to break open and reveal crystals, I thought it might help with you PMT, you know, smashing things open and stuff?” he smiled whilst slamming the rock once more at the ground, it bounced off the pavement, jumping up and ricocheting of the glass front of a shop window “Shitttt” he yelled as I burst out laughing.

He turned at the sound of my giggle, a smile etching across his face but before it could reach his eyes it fell again “You know, you’re going to have to talk to Blonde and Geo about the trip tonight, whether it’s over or not”. I looked at the chips of flint on the ground, letting my eyes fall sadly, still not sure what I should do “I know”.

cookie survival

The serial killer

“Errr….what is this place?!” I stared at the dome-shaped structure, it’s bubble construction looking more at home on the moon than it’s current location on the grassy carpet plains of south Colorado, Eureka mountain acting as a painted backdrop on the horizon, marking the start of the Rockies. The land around the house was littered with broken toys, rusted cars, piles of wood, sheets of plastic and piles of nondescript junk. We were staying on the Cosmic Highway, so named for its many UFO sightings.

moon house.jpg

Blonde and I were still prickling with fever, burning off each other; tension carried along the road from Santa Fe. The boys had advised Blonde to leave me be until I could cool my blood enough to act like a rational person, advice she’d chosen to ignore. On the approach to the Great Sand Dunes national park, located on the border between New Mexico and Colorado, we’d had another spat.

For the first time in two months on the road, Blonde decided to roll her window all the way down, an act I took as an intentional threat to irate me. Just as I was beginning to thaw, and gently singing along to a song, she let the warm air rush in and fill the car with noise. It felt deliberate, my blood soared ‘it’s ok, she’s not doing it on purpose, you’re just being paranoid because of the fight.  Don’t say anything, if she wants the window down she can have the window down. So what if you can barely hear the song, you’ve sung it a thousand times, you know the words. Ughhhh she’s never had the window down before, in fact if I ever put it down she gets annoyed because it messes up the balance when she’s driving, that’s why we always have the air con on instead, plus everything on the back window blows around. Put the window up! No, calm down, you’re almost at the national park, it’s ok, calm down, you’re ok’ I kept telling myself as my knuckles tightened. I caught Geo’s eyes in the mirror, I look of apprehension in the whites of his eye like he knew what was coming.

turning down the radio.jpg

One of the boys asked a question, their voices drowned out by the whirl of the wind, Blonde shot me a sideways look, I thought I detected a smile twitching on the edge of her lips, she leaned towards the radio, spinning the volume dial down. My anger roared, already simmering on my pressure pot level, I spilled over, snapping at her and spinning the music back up. She yelled back. I’d clamped my mouth shut, trying not to fully blow again. The boys winced in the back seat, Alaska shook his head at Blonde.

Once at the park I stalked off to the toilet whilst Blonde complained to the boys at what a cow I was being before being put in her place, having been warned not to antagonise me “but I couldn’t hear what you were saying” she complained in Geo’s direction, “because your window was down and we were going over 80!” interjected Alaska.

cosmic highway.jpg

With the dunes mastered, we drove in silence before arriving at our next’s hosts house, sore and frustrated; a silent conversation held in each of our heads as to how much longer we’d survive together before one of us had the courage to cut the cords. The Cosmic Highway had been a straight line cutting through the flat green; road signs displaying symbols of UFOs with arrows pointing up were the only indication of anything unusual and yet, as we turned onto a dirt road and bubble houses scattered the landscape, a strangeness descended that we couldn’t shake. The unease of our surrounding succeeding in slicing the edge off the tension in the car.

“Becky you can’t get out the car!” one of the boys joked as I parked, I looked out to see mosquitoes swarming the vehicles. “How do they know!” I moaned. “It’s the car, they’re attracted to the fumes and heat of it” Geo responded dryly, not playing the game. The other three left the vehicle as I contemplated what to do, the bugs smashed themselves at the windows, desperate for my blood. I hadn’t been taking the vitamin B tablets that, according to a ‘fisherman’ on a yahoo answers page advised was the best way to keep the suckers away. The tablets had stunk and made my breath smell like a chemist. Whilst the others debated whether anyone was home, I reached for the bottle of pills, an idea having sprung to mind.

mosquito

“What are you doing!?” Blonde asked, as three doors open and slammed shut around me. “Making a vitamin B paste” I announced whilst continuing to smear white lumpy streaks over my exposed skin. It wasn’t really working as I’d envisaged, the tablets failing to breakdown but I was determined the smell alone would be better than nothing at repelling the mosquitoes.

In the distance a cloud of dust zigzagged across the land, pulling all our attention. The vehicle was moving too fast for the terrain, it tore around corners so fast I felt sure it was in imminent danger of flipping. The dry land flew up in its wake, red dust hanging suspended in shock before disappearing back to the earth. “I think that’s our host” Blonde proposed with knitted brows. We watched in wonder as the tornado approached; with one final spin of the wheel, the truck flipped its back-end round the corner and screeched to a stop next to us, even the mosquitoes were startled!

rubbish.jpg

Fred Freddy leapt from the truck and took a long swig from his beer. Puffs of hair poked from the sides of his worn baseball cap, torn jeans and a ripped shirt covered in a coating of oil, sweat and a patchwork of stains. His face was battered in a way that implied a lack of care, weathered by the seasons. His eyes had a slight bulge to them, a little glassy, but wild with intensity, moving a fraction too fast giving away a lifetime of substance abuse. The ensemble pulled together with a smile full of tombstones. A sense of unpredictability washed off him in waves, we stepped closer together and smiled nervously. A friend, only slightly more refined, climbed out the other side of his vehicle.

“Welcome, welcome, you found it! How long are you here for? You can stay as long as you like, people never want to leave, hell, stay a month if you like!” where most would pause for air, he stopped only for another swig of beer.  He reached back into his truck and pulled out more bottles, cracking them open one by one with his remaining teeth and handing us each a bottle. Geo, a non-drinker, held his uncomfortably, Alaska and I wiped the mouth of the bottles on our t-shirts discreetly before raising the bottles to our lips, Blonde absent-mindedly lifted her own and took a small sip before seeing us wiping ours, I thought for a second she might spit the drink out but, instead, she swallowed it down with a grimace.

beer

The house was made of chicken wire, plywood, and clay; put together in a haphazard way, no real thought given to the layout or structural safety. The four of us squeezed together on the sofa whilst our host sat in an old armchair, his friend choosing a camping chair. Alaska and I took slow sips of our beer, all of us internally debating whether it was really such a good idea to spend the night, each coming to the same conclusion that we were miles from anywhere and didn’t really have a choice. “Drink up!” encouraged our host, throwing his second empty bottle over his shoulder, letting it smash on a pile of rubbish behind him. “Oh, we should start dinner” the friend stated, with Fred Freddy distracted, I reached over and grabbed Geo’s beer, swapping it for my own empty one, saving him from any further bullying. Blonde nudged hers towards me, trying not to bring any attention to the fact she too didn’t want to drink hers either. With Fred Freddy still looking at the other direction, I swapped Alaska’s empty bottle with Blonde’s.

“Drink up!” encouraged our host, throwing his second empty bottle over his shoulder, letting it smash on a pile of rubbish behind him. “Oh, we should start dinner” the friend stated, with Fred Freddy distracted, I reached over and grabbed Geo’s beer, swapping it for my own empty one, saving him from any further bullying. Blonde nudged hers towards me, trying not to bring any attention to the fact she too didn’t want to drink. With Fred Freddy still looking at the other direction, I swapped Alaska’s empty bottle with Blonde’s.

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“Sorry, could I please use your toilet?” I enquired, whilst the host attempted to light the outdoors camping stove inside the house. “Sure, sure thing, the bathrooms just behind here” I squeezed between two walls and found myself on a step in one of the bubbles of the house, a dirt floor, chicken wire walls stuffed with newspaper for insulation, the back of the groups heads visible through the holes. The floor was scattered with old toys, dead plants, broken furniture, toilet paper and various clutter. And then there, in the middle of the room, stood the toilet.

To be precise, it wasn’t exactly a toilet, more a toilet seat attached to four legs. A roll of toilet paper was perched nearby on an old dresser, which was sinking into the ground, held up by two legs. I laughed, believing this to be a joke. It wasn’t. “Don’t you? Don’t you have running water? Or an outhouse?” I despaired, wondering how many mosquito bites I’d suffer to the bum if the outhouse was the only option. “So I just pee on the floor? In the house? Right here? On the floor?”. I tried to cross my legs, to tell myself I didn’t need to go but several beers and a day of driving simply couldn’t be contained. With instructions for my friends not to turn their heads, I tiptoed out to the chair, wishing I had worn boots and not flip flops, and then, pee’d through the chair I did!

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The host and his friend were still tinkering with the outdoors stove when I returned, a strong smell of gas filling the living room when suddenly, ‘BOOM’, a ball of fire erupted off the stove into the face of the host and his friend, singed eyebrows, both.

The host moved to his computer and began to play music via youtube “how do you have internet here?”I questioned, privately wondering how wifi had become more of a necessity than running water. “Solar panels” came the reply. As the food cooked, our host explained how he came to live in such a unique place. “I was training to be a doctor in Germany but I was carried out the university in handcuffs. And I met a girl, from eastern Europe, we got married but she’s a bitch. I’ve got two kids in their teens. My two kids have just started school. They got taken away from me the other week because I don’t have running water. I was living in Mexico. I’m not allowed to go further than a five-mile radius of my house, the courts, because of the kids” none of it was making any sense to us. I turned to his friend, “so how about you?”.

His story was slightly clearer, he’d been working in technology in San Francisco and wanted out of the rat race, he moved over to Colorado when they legalised cannabis and had been building his own house nearby ever since.

weed shirtThe host interrupted “yeah, we’ve got some projects together”. I glanced at the small potted plants leading up the stairs, the seven-fingered leaf so familiar on t-shirts in certain areas of cities. “I’ve got 200 pot plants in the forest” Fred Freddy announced with a wink. “Cool, can we go and see them tomorrow?” Blonde sprung to life “that sounds so magical”. “Err it’s not those kind of pot plants!” I spoke out of the side of my mouth to Blonde. “What do you mean?” she asked loudly, ignoring any of my attempted subtlety.

“It’s not potted plants” I looked at her meaningfully “it’s pot plants” I tried to explain, she looked at me confused. “You know, Pot? Cannabis!”. “Ohhhhh!” realisation finally descending “oh, I thought you meant pot plants, like pots of daisies” she offered innocently, I silently facepalmed. “What?” she’d caught the roll of my eyes “in Australia, pot plants are, like houseplants, I didn’t know it was something different here”. “It’s not something different here, it’s just, it’s the term when it’s used in context, oh never mind!” I gave up.

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The food was ready, various unknown meats sizzled on the stove which continued to emit unpleasant gases. “I’m not really hungry, yeah me too, I ate in the car” chorused the other three, the hosts face fell slightly, I felt unappreciative, and English, damn those manners! Reluctantly I accepted a blackened sausage and nibbled at it tentatively, hoping I wouldn’t get food poisoning and be forced to throw up through the toilet seat hole.

The boys left Blonde and I alone with the host to go get some bags from the car, “watch out for the goat” called the friend “the big one’s mean!”.

Blonde and I sat nervously, not having moved away from each other despite the boys departure and the freed up space on the sofa. “Oh! Oh, I have a gift for you” announced the host, leaping from his chair and disappearing, his friend continuing to tinker with the cooking meat. “This is weird, what if they’re serial killers” I joked to Blonde out of earshot, before she could reply, the host had returned.

“Here you go” he said, handing us each a bearded doll we presumed to be Jesus and his disciple. The dolls were clearly old; filthy looking and with the exception of a pair of flip-flops, naked. “You can put them in the car with you, like mascots!” the host bubbled excitedly. “Oh, wow, yeah, wow, thank you” Blonde and I sputtered for want of anything better to say, holding the dolls at arm’s length.

jesus doll

Mean-while the boys were outside, laughing about the oddness of the situation. “Dude, I swear not all couch surfing is like this! This place is nuts!” Alaska tried to reassure Geo. “I like it, I think it’s cool here” Geo replied to Alaska’s surprise. At that moment, a large goat, who’d been watching from a pile of rubble in the corner, saw his chance.

“Watch out” yelled Geo just in time, Alaska spun around and caught the charging goat by one horn. With beer in one hand, horn in the other, Alaska and goat locked themselves into battle. “Piss off!” Alaska yelled as the goat wrestled and beer spilt. Geo grabbed the bags, the goat turned, pulled from the grip of Alaska and headed for Geo. “Oh no you don’t!” Alaska dropped his beer and stepped into the line of power between Geo and goat, grabbing the beast by both horns. Heads turned down, shots of war fired from both sets of eyes.

angry goat

“Fuck that goat, man!” Alaska’s voiced carried as the front door opened. “Look, we’ve got dolls!” I yelled maniacally, trying to hide how pleased I was at the boys return.

The more the host drank, the louder the music got and the more he sang; that was, until the power cut out. We sat in the dark a while as the host continued to sing along to the music in his head until Alaska announced it was time for bed. With the help of our phone lights, we prepared ourselves for bed “I’ve got plenty of spare sheets” offered the hosts pointing to piles of dusty fabric piled up in a corner. “Thanks but we’ve actually got our own sleeping bags so we’re all good” I responded, giving my Yellowstone sleeping bag a small, thankful hug. Alaska and I settled into a two seater sofa located in a bubble annex off the main living space. We folded our limbs over each other, head to tails and tried to shut out the host’s singing who remained seated next to Blonde and Geo, who had pulled out the sofa bed.

“What’s that banging?” I raised my head from the folded up jumper I was using as a pillow, through the chicken wire window stood the goat. His eyes locked on Alaska, slowly he lowed his head and knocked against the window “fuck that goat” muttered Alaska sleepily.

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In the living room, the host was talking about the local area “yeah, there’s this place nearby that has these crystals under the ground and they form a vortex and if you fall into the vortex then you never need to sleep again. I’ll take my mate there one day but not yet, I don’t trust his girlfriend, he needs to dump that bitch first, yeah. Yeah then I’ll take him  to the vortex” he paused and swigged the dregs of his beer before cracking another open “hey, we should light a fire, for some light”.

The friend and the host moved around in the dark to find the wood burner and set about trying to light it. “Errr are you sure everything is ok?” Blonde asked nervously, she coughed “there seems to be quite a lot of smoke”. A strange smell was filling the house when Fred Freddy realised something “hey, I think that dead bunny carcass is still in there, oh yeah, that’ll be what’s smoking!”. Blonde burst into a fit of coughs “a dead bunny?” she choked. “Yeah, didn’t I tell ya, I keep rabbits too? Yeah, Angora rabbits, furs worth a fortune but the fuckers die really easily from stress”. I was beginning to realise what the meat had been.

With the fire a lost cause, the host returned to his arm chair and started singing two lines of Bob Marley, then deciding, sharing a story would be more interesting. “Yeah, the fuckers took my kids off me the other week, said it was coz of the water but it’s the local’s down in the village, they don’t like me. I got accused of raping a fifteen-year-old five times, almost got put away for life but not enough evidence so I got off with community service” it wasn’t clear whether he was confessing to his crime or declaring his innocent, Blonde grasped at Geo’s arm in the dark, squeezing tightly.

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The friend eventually went home; with no one left to interact with, Fred Freddy admitted defeat and climbed the stairs to bed. I laid awake, the goat continued to butt the window, mosquitoes swarmed around my head and the scratching of mice rang along the walls. Every stretch of my limbs hit Alaska in the face, torso or groin; I tried to stay still but instantly cramped.

The floor creaked overhead and footsteps descended on the stairs, I clamped my eyes shut, convinced if he knew I was awake he’d want a conversation. My ears pricked as he approached the sofa bed, I followed his footsteps whilst he walked around the edge of the bed and leaned over Geo who was snoring softly. The steps started again, he traced the edge of the bed and paused over Blonde, leaning down, the goat butted, pulling the hosts attention. He approached the annex, stopping a foot from the two-seater, Alaska and I tangled in an uncomfortable tetris. The goat butted again and Fred Freddy’s footsteps fell away, returning upstairs. I opened my eyes, rolling over to see everyone else sound asleep, completely unaware of the surreal-ness of the night.

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The sun dazzled through the chicken wire at 5am, I lay twisted and uncomfortable for an hour or so until Fred Freddy felt it time we all awake and with the solar power restored, blasted his music so loud it blew the speakers and left us in silence again. He cracked a beer and loomed over us screaming “five dead baby bunnies, I’ve got five dead baby bunnies!” Blonde jumped awake. “Do you want one for the car? You can have a dead baby bunny for the car!” Fred Freddy announced excitedly. Alaska sat up and rubbed his eyes, the goat who had given up bashing the window around 3am was back, ramming with renewed enthusiasm. Alaska looked at the goat, blinked unamused and leaned into my ear “don’t get dressed, don’t use the toilet, just get your stuff and let’s get out of here!”.

Five minutes later the four of us were piled in the car, luggage on laps, pj’s still on and causing our own dust cloud as Fred Freddy waved us off with a swig of his beer.

get out of here

The Santa Fe fallout

“What do you want to be when you grow up?” this is a very big question to ask a four-year-old, and one I took entirely seriously. I considered the usual career choices; ballerina, vet, pop star and then my eyes fell on the pile of Disney videos, ‘ah yes, a princess!‘.  Thankfully I was an exceptionally wise child, my intelligence level having already peaked and it quickly dawned on me that princesses lacked any real power. Their existence appeared to comprise entirely of being rescued by some charming prince and then residing to a life spent living happily ever after, all of which, sounded horribly dull.

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No, being a princess simply wouldn’t do, there was only one career for me and that was to be Queen. As such, I swiftly wrapped myself in the bathroom towel and set about knighting my loyal teddy bear guards.

Sadly I grew out of my royal ways when I realised it wasn’t quite so easy to storm a castle and demand the crown these days. That comfortable sense of security remained with me however, letting me dare to jump, the knowledge that should I ever fall, there was always someone there to catch me… that was, until there wasn’t.

There are certain things that are easy to write in a Mother day card; the ways we express our love, things we are thankful for, but the security parents provide us with is not one of them. It’s kind of a given isn’t it? You just presume they will always be there for you and then they are not and that security is gone forever. One day that realisation rushes in and smacks you in the teeth and that’s when you have a panic attack in the middle of a car park in some lay-by in New Mexico!

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“Shit! Shitty, shitty shit, shit!” I stared at my phone, my bank balance screaming negative numbers. “What?” Alaska, who was munching an ice cream looked up in surprise. “They’ve taken half the car hire cost off my credit card! Fuckety fuck, fuck!” I was beginning to panic. “Well when did you think you’d have to pay for the car?!” Alaska asked confused.

“Blonde arranged it, we weren’t suppose to pay a cent until the end of the trip. I only have a $100 in my account right now, that won’t even be enough for the minimum fee, that’s not even including the interest!” I whined. “$100?!” Alaska questioned. “Yeah, no. Well yeah. At the moment. I’ve a saving account that expires in two weeks and then I’ll have enough money for the rest of the trip but right now, that’s all I’ve got, I was planning to live off my credit card until then” I explained “but I can’t pay for the car hire right now, shit, I’m going to get a fine, and it’ll ruin my credit rating and I won’t be able to get a mortgage and then I’ll have to live on the streets and be homeless and eat garbage out the bin!” I slightly over exaggerated.

eating out of the bin

It had never mattered how bad a situation I ended up in because I always had a safety net. If I broke my leg or lost a job or had an unexpected car hire cost, there was always someone who could come to the rescue and feed me chicken soup, or let me live on their sofa indefinitely or transfer a last minute emergency cash loan to rescue their bankrupt daughter. But then that person got cancer and died, taking my safety net with them. And the world suddenly felt a lot scarier, like I was constantly teetering on the edge of having my shit together or being a nut job who survived off half-eaten tuna sandwiches fished out of bins.

I didn’t have a backup plan any more, there wasn’t anyone to call to rescue me in times of need, it was just me, ‘where was my teddy bear army when I needed them?’. I wanted to burst into tears and sit on the kerb until someone sorted it all out for me ‘I don’t know what to do. I don’t know what to do‘ my mind rolled.

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Alaska stared at the worry in my face “didn’t you know they’d be taking a payment out?”. I rolled my eyes at him, trying not to yell “No! Obviously not! Otherwise I’d have made sure I had enough funds in my account to pay it!” I snapped. “Well you’ll be paying the same amount in the end won’t you? So what’s the problem with just paying it now instead of in LA?” Alaska reasoned.

I took a deep breath “My saving account would have cleared by then, but I can’t pay it now. I don’t have the cash!” I stamped a foot because I’m mature like that. “This is why I didn’t want to put the full cost of the car on my account in the first place! In case something like this happened! Damn it! Why hadn’t Blonde been organised from the start and sorted out a damn credit card! Why did I have to take the responsibility for her disorganisation!” I threw my frustration at Blonde’s direction who was busy buying snacks.

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“What’s up?” Blonde asked at the look on my face as her and Geo returned from the store, tearing wrappers off ice creams whilst Alaska explained. Blonde looked blank “oh right” she uttered, taking a bite. I wanted to fling myself the two feet across the car park and scream into her face, it was all her fault that I’d end up sleeping under a bridge somewhere and all she could utter was ‘oh right‘. Before I could say any of this, Alaska spoke up “No!” he snapped “This is a problem that needs to be fixed! It’s not fair on Becky! The cost should be spread across both your accounts, it shouldn’t be Becky taking all the responsibility”.

Blonde pondered for a moment “Well they weren’t supposed to take payment until the end of the of the trip. Are you sure they’ve actually taken the money out?”. “YES!” I waved my phone at her to make a point. “We’ll just call them and get them to reverse the cost then” Blonde decided. Geo, who had been silent until now spoke up “I don’t think they’d do that”. I launched in “No, of course they won’t! And it’s Friday evening, we won’t be able to talk to the car company until Monday! Which means I’ll be getting charged interest all that time! That’s like hundreds of pounds!” I wasn’t exactly sure how much interest credit cards charged or even how it was calculated but I was convinced the figure was rising by the second and I’d soon be selling hub-caps on the side of the road.

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After much back and forth, it was finally resolved, Blonde would transfer the full amount into my account, which would be her half of the total car hire cost and I’d pay my half at the end of the trip once my saving account had cleared. Any difference would be resolved and split evenly at that point. Neither of us was 100% happy with this plan; Blonde resenting that she had to pay her half now, and me worrying that I’d end up with more at the very end which she would refuse to split. I was keen to get it all resolved as soon as possible “well I’ll have to get my brother to transfer the money for me, I’ll just have to see when he can do it…” she stated unhelpfully.

We drove into Santa Fe as the sun set, bouncing gold off the sandstone buildings, that seemed to have grown out the ground just to feel the warmth of the day. We lost the evening, watching the night gain strength whilst eating pizza on a balcony over looking the main square “please make sure you sort out the money tomorrow” I pleaded. “Yes, I know, I promise, it’s fine” she huffed.

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We shared a lazy morning in the heat, I crawled back and forth in the small motel pool whilst the others soaked up the sun. “Can you call your brother soon to sort out the bank transfer?” I asked Blonde for the third time that day, “yeah, I’ll do it in a minute” came a disgruntled reply and yet the call was never made.

“Why won’t she just do it? She can see I’m really stressed” I moaned to Alaska once we were alone. “I don’t know, I’ve asked a few times as well, she keeps giving me excuses”.

We piled into the car, heading for the town centre and some lunch. As I crossed through the traffic I tried the question again “have you spoken to your brother yet? I really need to have that money sorted, it’s stressing me out and you said you’d do it first thing and it’s now 1pm!”. With her sunglasses hiding her eyes Blonde changed her mind “Well I don’t see why I have to pay the whole amount now?!”.

white knuckles

My fists grew tight around the steering wheel, nerves jumping to attention “because we discussed this all yesterday and you said you’d sort it out” my jaw clenched. “But I don’t see why I have to…” she began. My patience, already iced from months locked together “Well I can’t. And you can. And we spent forever discussing it. It works out the same in the end anyway…” I spoke slowly, trying to control my anger but it came out as though I were talking to a child. “But it’s not fair..” Blonde responded. “Oh for… well it’s not fair that you didn’t sort out a credit card and I had to put the whole car on my account! It’s not fair that you made me responsible for it! It’s not fair that you promised to sort it out and you’re now going back on your word!” I flashed back, my skin starting to flush.

“I don’t see why I have to sort it all out” Blonde continued. My nerves were shot, hormones and irritability pushed to the edge, trying desperately to hang on “fucking hell! This is such hard work! You said you’d sort it out, just do it!” I spoke through gritted teeth.

I've had enough

“I don’t see why I have to pay the whole thing now. It’s not fair…” Blonde demanded back. “Oh my god! Just stop! You’re really pushing me right now!” I begged, knowing I was on the edge of losing it. “I’m not pushing you, I haven’t touched you!” she stated. “Seriously! Stop!” it was all I had left.

“I didn’t push you. It’s not fair that I have to…”. “OH FOR FUCK SAKE! YOU SAID YOU’D SORT THE MONEY. WE ALL AGREED AND NOW YOU’VE CHANGED YOUR MIND. JUST FUCKING SORT YOUR SHIT OUT!” I screamed, unable to contain myself any longer.

“Why are you yelling at me. I haven’t done anything wrong. All I’m saying is I don’t see why I should pay for the car hire now. I don’t see why I have to….” Blonde yelled back. I was spent, my patience reserve empty. Alaska jumped in “we discussed this yesterday. It was your cock up in the first place, you promised to sort it out and now you’re going back on your word. That’s not good enough!”. Blonde started to complain again “No I didn’t. I said and I don’t and I…”. The tension weighed me down, I didn’t think I could last another moment with her as she began to protest her innocence, my words shot out “THAT IS IT! I AM DONE! I can’t. I don’t think I. I can’t do this! I’m done with this whole road-trip! It’s over!”.

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My words reverberated around the car, sinking in as everyone realised what I’d just said. I wasn’t sure I entirely meant them, I didn’t want to continue alone, to end our journey together in this way but the words hung in the air and refused to be swallowed back down.

Alaska and I sat drinking beer on a balcony overlooking the city centre plaza. Blonde had stormed away after I’d parked the car, Geo following her tails shooting Alaska a ‘what do we do now?’ face.

“I shouldn’t have lost it like that. She was driving me crazy, I’m so wound up and she wouldn’t stop” I made my excuses whilst Alaska’s phone buzzed to life. Blonde was texting him, too scared to contact me directly, filtering all her complaints through him. He handed me the phone, message after message appeared as Blonde stated the numerous reasons why I was in the wrong. Arguments that I was being petty, had an attitude problem, needed to see a doctor about my obvious hormone problems, how I was older and should know better, pointing out she was much more mature than I. Every message jarred another spike of annoyance in my gut. Despite her anger, she informed Alaska she would indeed sort the money but only if I acknowledged she was saving the day and she expected both my gratitude and an apology for doing so. I tossed the phone back across the table, took a swig from my beer and turned my face to squint at the sun.

sun shadow

The phone continued to dance with messages whilst Blonde and Alaska exchanged words, him trying to mediate, her continuing to antagonise . Alaska tried to explain that she had made a promise and wasn’t going to get anywhere by making demands. He was growing angry too, I saw it etch across his brows, he typed furiously swiping at her, telling her she should be ashamed of her behaviour.

Whilst Alaska punched the keys, I put my feet up on the stool between us and placed my head on my knees, the spiky hair I’d missed in the shower that morning pricking my forehead. A lump rose in my throat as the anger subsided and my old friends, guilt and sadness flooded in. As was always the way, they brought with them a longing for my mother. Her memory filled my body, bowling me over in despair. Even with Alaska next to me, I felt drained, the fight that morning having cost me the last of my energy, a loneliness crept under my skin whilst tears threatened to escape. Something in me hoped they might build a bridge across time and I’d be able to slip into my mother’s embrace, falling softly into that long-lost safety net, caught and safe in her protection. I couldn’t let Alaska see me cry, ‘I’m strong, I’ve faced worse than this, it’s ok’ I choked down.

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The Beetles sang ‘let it be’ as I recalled my mother’s strength, always there when mine faltered. I almost lost myself in the swell of the thought, coughing to cover the whimper.  The tears slipped from my eyes uncontrollably, falling silently behind my sunglasses, I buried my face in my knees. It all rose to the surface, skin flushing hot, an itch in the nose threatening to be sniffed and revealing my torment. I pulled my hair across my face trying to hide, disguising the tears as I wiped away. ‘Suck it up, be strong’.

The phone kept beeping. Alaska kept typing, unaware. I spied Blonde on a balcony across the square she hadn’t seen us, her face lost in her own phone whilst Geo read and re-read the menu opposite her. I finished the dregs of my beer and, when able to trust that my voice wasn’t going to crack, excused myself to the bathroom, seeking composure.

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“I’m driving first!” Blonde text Alaska the next morning. We’d managed to avoid each other the rest of the previous day, she’d insisted we stay another night in Sante Fe, two separate rooms booked to save any midnight spats. Her morning message annoyed me before I’d even opened my eyes for the day. “It’s fine, if she wants to drive first, let her” Alaska insisted, sensing my fragile mood.

“But she’s acting like a brat! Making all these demands!” I protested, reeling off the list to remind him “We’re staying in Santa Fe another day. We’re leaving at 10.30. She has to apologise to me. I’m driving first! I’m the most amazing person in the world and everyone should praise me” I added the latter in a sing-song voice. “And she’s doing this all through you, for want of a better word, you’re my boyfriend. You do not text your friend’s boyfriend and slag off their girlfriend! That’s basic logic! And she was the one who fucked up! Yeah, I snapped at her but I’d do it again! I will not apologise for her being a stupid fucking cow!” the bile rose out of me, throwing knives into the air, hormones adding venom to the words.

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I was so tightly wound, the slightest jolt might make me unravel, a brewing storm waiting for the first pinch of static. The boys, fully aware of my delicate mentality warned Blonde to stay well away, if she held any hope of this trip continuing then she needed to leave me be. A chore not so easy when you’re stuck in a metal box together for long hours at a time! ‘I bet the Queen never has to deal with this shit! Off with their heads!’

As we drove to the Great Sand dunes national park I pondered ‘is this really it? Another friendship, broken beyond repair? The end of our road-trip? I’ve gone all the way around the world and I’ve learnt nothing! Nothing has changed, I’m still a giant, rotten tuna sandwich eating mess!’.

And just when I thought all was lost, we were about to be brought back together with the help of a suspected serial killer…

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Cloud characters and dodgy cops

“License and registration” the uniformed torso asked through Blonde’s open window. “Do you know why I pulled you over?” he continued. “I was speeding” I answered honestly to the belly, stretching across Blonde trying to see his face. At the sound of my accent, the cop bent over and leaned into the window “where you’ll from?” he drawled. “I’m English, she’s Australian and the two in the back here are Alaskan” I pointed to each. “Can you step out the car please miss!”.

pulled over by cop

We’d left Alaska’s aunt and uncle a few days earlier, heading north for Austin. “You’ll come pick up Geo from the airport with me won’t you?” Blonde urged with wide, pleading eyes. I glanced at Alaska in the mirror,  with the back-seat now clear from clutter thanks to some tetras style packing on my part and a brutal cull of Blonde’s numerous grocery bags, he was stretched out and sleeping off a food coma from a rather large tex-mex lunch. ‘You can’t keep holding her hand, she has to do things on her own’ his words rang. “Errr, we’ll we won’t get to Alaska’s cousin’s till latish and I’m already tired, I don’t think I’ll want to go out again…presides, Geo isn’t flying all this way to see me!” I tried, Blonde’s face turning darker with every word out of my mouth.

“I feel kind of guilty, she obviously didn’t want to go alone” I confessed to Alaska later the evening after Blonde had left for the airport in a huff. “Why? Did you want to go? Did you need to go? No! Why feel bad about it?!” Alaska responded, his attention focused on some basketball game his cousin’s partner was watching on the TV. “Yeah, but now she’s mad at me. I mean, I could have gone, it’s not like I’m doing anything instead is it! And now she’ll be annoyed. We’re already on tenterhooks with each other!” I moaned.

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He turned to me, stretching an arm around my shoulder “why are you so bothered, she won’t even remember about being mad at you as soon as Geo gets here. And, he’ll balance things up in the car, it’ll be better from here on out, you’ll see…” he patted me reassuringly before returning his attention back to the screen, just in time to see a giant man make a basket, both the stadium and living room exploded in excitement, even the dogs at our feet joined in with a chorus of barks. I worked at my lip, twisting a finger unconsciously, hoping Alaska was right and Geo’s arrival would sweep away the tightness in the car.

I’d expected Geo and Alaska, childhood friends that they were, to demonstrate some sort of over the top embrace at their reunion. Instead, they disappointed and offered only the simplest “hey, how’s it going” as if one had just returned from the kitchen with a beer;  Blonde and I exchanged bemused looks.

joey and chandler hugging.gif

That night, with Geo and Blonde sharing one room, Alaska and I stretched out on our bed, lost in social media. Alaska waved his phone above my head to show me a picture of a bear in the high street near his house. “Hey, that reminds me, you didn’t mention the picture I sent you earlier?” I enquired, mocking hurt at being ignored. “What picture?” he asked, his eyes not leaving the phone. “The one of the two cartoon bears hugging”he didn’t respond “it’s us, in bear form!” I pushed.

“See, I’m this one here, hugging you, see?” I pulled the picture back up on my phone for him to review. “Oh, okkkk! I figured it was a father and a son bear” he answered. “Why would you think that?!” I questioned. “Well one was short and the other tall” he explained logically.”Well that’s heightist! What about Yogi bear and Boo Boo, they were short and tall, did you think they were father and son?!” I demanded smiling. “Well no, I just presumed they were the same age because of their professional attire” he said it as if it were the most obvious thing. I laughed.

yogi and booboo.jpg

“But these bears are naked! So you can’t know their age!” I went on, analysing the picture. “Well that just makes it even more awkward that they’re hugging then!” Alaska justified. His straight face made my own crack up, I fell into an uncontrollable fit of giggles, they rose from deep inside and bubbled out of me. It felt so good I wanted to hang on to that feeling and never let go. The more I laughed, the more Alaska laughed, until we were sitting in uncontrollable giggles staring at one another. Eventually Blonde and Geo flung open the door and bounced on to our bed “what’s so funny?” they demanded. “Bears” I burst “in professional attire!” I added wiping my eyes. They looked at each other “you two have lost it!”.

The boys had insisted on being driven to some barbecue place at 7am the next day “Wait, it doesn’t even open till 11?! Why am I driving you now when I could be asleep?!” I argued whilst changing lanes on the free-way. “You’ve got to get there early or they’ll sell out of meat” Alaska stated. I glanced at Geo “hey, don’t look at me. He just said it would be good meat”.

Franklins BBQ.jpg

“Is that the queue?!” I exclaimed pulling up at the curb, remarking at the line going around the block. “Wait! Are people actually barbecuing in the queue to get…barbecue? For a place that won’t open for another four hours?! What the hell!” I exclaimed. “Welcome to Texas” Alaska smiled as he climbed out and shut the car door.”Don’t forget to put sun cream on!” I yelled through the car window pulling the car away, like a mother dropping her kids off for camp.

With the boys kept busy getting sunburnt faces in their six hour queue for the perfect rib, Blonde and I knelt over the map, trying to work out the best route of action for the up coming weeks. The map planning wasn’t going well, we’d had yet another rocky morning together. After our laughing fit the night before, with the four of us still in the same room, Alaska had turned serious, taking the opportunity to request his barbecue lift. Blonde flat out refused to get up early and drive them, insisting she wanted a good nights sleep. Alaska turned to face me, I was at least four weeks behind on a proper nights sleep myself and so longed for a good rest.

Unable to resist his puppy dog face I gave in “Fine, I’ll drive you, but you’ll need to be super nice to me in the morning because I’m not good when I wake up” I martyred. “Oh, I know that!” Alaska shared a look with Blonde, both their eyebrows raising in agreement. “Hey!” I joked, shoving Alaska and then Blonde in an attempt to push them both off the bed, but succeeding only in toppling myself instead.

giggles

Come the morning however, as I and the boys were preparing to leave, Blonde decided she wanted to join us. “What! If you were going to get up, you could have driven them yourself and I could be asleep right now!” I grumbled, exasperated. “But I didn’t know I was going to wake up this early. I’ll just come for the drive” she protested. “Well you may as well drive them in that case and I’ll go back to bed!” I snapped.

“I don’t want to drive, I haven’t had my coffee yet” she complained.  I clenched my fists “this is infuriating!”I despaired walking out the room, leaving the boys to negotiate with Blonde. A compromise was reached with Blonde staying at the house so not to wind me up any further until I’d fully woken up but tasking me with picking up her coffee on my return journey. Unfortunately, after dropping the boys off, rather than calming down, I managed to work myself up further, anger building at my lack of sleep, blaming Blonde for every disturbed rest. These flashes of frustration swung like a pendulum between anger and guilt.

Conscience.jpg

The next morning, with bellies full of home-made waffles provided by Alaska’s cousin, we were back on the road, now a foursome.

We had all of Texas to cover and nobody was really in the mood for it. The sun glared through the window, throwing spot lights across our laps. We sipped water, munched our was through biscuits. Someone carved up an apple which we dunked into a pot of almond butter, passing smeared slices to the driver before eating our own. We played story games “tell me a story about a leaf”. “Ok your turn, I want Geo to tell me a story about a dog…”. We sang songs, looked up quiz questions on the internet whenever one of us had signal. The landscape flattened out for awhile to reveal thousands of wind-farms, like giant dandelion seeds planted to the ground as far as the eye could see.

Texas wind farm

We encouraged Geo to talk to us about comic books, literature and science, his specialist subjects; our own having been exhausted over the weeks of driving that had come before. We ate left over barbecue, crossed legged in the dirt next to a drained out lake just off the highway. We leaned across one another to get a photograph whenever the scenery looked appealing, the shots never really coming out or quite capturing the beauty of the scene.  But most of all we’d stared out the windows, distant in our own thoughts.

The day was long and the land lost its appeal, bulbous clouds formed shapes in the blue for our entertainment. “Another rat!” Alaska yelled, pointing at the suspended cotton. “Ooh there’s a…what is that? It’s like a cat but running like a dog! Hey there is a bear riding on the shoulders of a dog on the back of a lion riding a bumper car!” he decided, his imagination on overdrive.

cloud characters

“Can we swap soon?” Blonde asked, having driven only half the time I’d put in that day. “You’ve only been going an hour?” I responded, my eyes trying to spot the bumper car zoo in the sky. “Yeah but I’m tired, I didn’t sleep that well” Blonde answered. I let out a sigh, we’d spent too long together, all those tiny habits were beginning to get increasingly difficult. I hadn’t minded doing a couple hours more driving a day at first but after two months, I was starting to resent her for it.

It was always at the end of the day when Blonde would grow tired and I’d have to take over, pushing my own sleepiness aside to get us through those last few hours until we reached accommodation. I hadn’t minded, almost taking a sense of pride that I could force my body to a robotic state, just enough energy to get us where we needed to be and safely. But now I was tired and the assumption that I always had to do the last stint of the day and the extra hours burned at the back of my skull.

Rather than communicating this like a normal person, I huffed and answered with “fine” believing that one word would provide Blonde with all the information she needed to understand I didn’t feel she was pulling her driving weight. I couldn’t risk saying anything directly, what if she got defensive? Or worse, upset! I’d learnt the pattern early on, if I spoke up about a grievance, Blonde would argue her innocence no matter how damning the evidence. Once backed into a corner, then she’d become upset and cry, never actually taking any responsibility for the error. I was too tired for either of those outcomes, my energy as far from my grasp as those shape shifting clouds. I bite my tongue and swallowed it down ‘it’s not a big deal, it’s only a little bit more driving. We’re all tired, it’ll be better in the morning. Swallow it down. It’s ok’.  I chewed my tongue.

not saying it.jpg

“I see Stephen Hawkins” declared Geo pointing at a lumpy formation, I stared at the ceiling, seeing only clouds.
“Ooh there’s a rabbit looking at a UFO! Is that a tarantula or an ant?”.
“It’s an ant!” Blonde resolved.

The clouds refused to reveal their shapes to me. I was too drained to see anything other than marshmallows melting into a calm sea. The road was long, a gas station refused to appear and the balance between dehydration, water and toilet breaks hadn’t been established accurately.

“Oh cool, look a phoenix!”
“Is that Dumbledore with him?”
“No but I see a rock near it. Like a rock is being thrown at the phoenix and he’s trying to get somewhere fast”

clouds.jpg

Cars appeared on the horizon, blurring into focus as if emerging from a mirage. The road dipped, falling and rising with the ripples of the land.

“Is that a rat with a cigarette?” Alaska asked. “Dude! I see the same one!” Geo responded.
“Hey, look, there’s a gorilla on a telephone with a baby” Blonde added.

The evening sun scorched the sky, tinting the clouds pink until they burnt away completely, leaving only an empty expanse of blood. An ache spread from my shoulders down my arms, I sat hunched, hanging from the steering wheel ‘half an hour, half an hour more and you can sleep’. I was tempted to ask Blonde to swap over but tried to convince myself I could last, I widen my eyes and shock my head, ‘I’m strong, I’m strong. Only half an hour more, come on!’. I glanced at Blonde, longing for her to read my mind, insist we swap but her eyes were shut, her head resting on a jumper against the window. I looked at the boys in the mirror, they were quiet, not quite asleep but close.

speeding

My foot pushed down on the accelerator, I watched the speed climb, letting it hover in the early 80’s, worried I was too tired to concentrate enough if we went any faster. The road out of Texas was empty, we hadn’t seen another vehicle on our side of the free-way in what felt like hours, it was nothing but an empty straight line which refused to give up our destination.

My foot begged to press the peddle harder, to get us there faster, the call of a bed so strong. And then, out the corner of my eye, I saw a car spin off the opposite lane, cut across the grassy divide and, with swirling lights flashing, it came for us in hot pursuit. “I think that cops after us!” Geo spun in his seat to get a better look.

Blonde sprung awake “how fast are we going?” she leaned over me to get a look “just over 80, that’s not even fast!” I insisted, slowing the car to the speed limit, my cheeks flushing as I imagined passport control telling me I was never allowed back in America for being a law breaking vigilante.

“What do I do? Do I pull over?” I asked the others, I’d slowed down to 40, the cop on our tails but his lights no longer flashing. With driving instructor care, I indicated, checked my mirrors, and with gravel bouncing off the under carriage, pulled to a perfect stop on the hard shoulder.

pulled over.jpg

I was sitting in the front seat of the cop car, I could see the faces of Blonde, Alaska and Geo occasionally peering round from our car in front to try and see what was going on between me and the officer. “You were going 83, I’d love to be lenient with you but it’s difficult when when you’re going at such an extreme speed”. ‘Extreme speed? Everyone drives at, at least 80 in England! And this road is dead! What could I possibly hit?! There aren’t even any cows in the fields!‘. “Where are you all from again?” ‘oh come on! I’ve told you this three times now!‘. “I’m English, the girl in the front is Australian and the two boys are Alaskan” I repeated. “Ok, so you’re all from England”. “Ok, yeah, England, all from England” I nodded.

“You know, I’d really love to take it easy on you but it’s difficult…. You’re only three miles off the state border, you’d have been fine then” ‘why do you keep telling me how close we are to the state border? Was I suppose to floor it and try and race you? This is not Thelma and Louise! I am not driving us off a cliff!’.

thelma and louise

“So this is you’re license?”. ‘Err duh! You asked for my license, I gave you my license. You’re holding it. It says driving license‘ “yes” I answered politely. “If only I could be lenient with you…, so how old are you?” his smile lingering. ‘Well you’re holding my license, so you could just work it out…’ “31” I stated. “Oh you look much younger than that…”. “Err thanks” I replied. “I need to call you in…” he picked up his radio “yeah, I’ve got a female, brunette, 31, doing…” he paused to check his sheet “83…. Where are you from again?” he turned to me.”England!” I tried really hard to smile as I said it, not that it mattered as his eyes weren’t on my face any more.

“Well, I’d better ring this up” he decided “I’d so love to let you go with just a warning…if only I could…” he looked like he was about to reach across to reassure me or something, his eyes flicked to our car in front, something making him decide better of it and retracting his arm. “Yeah, I get it, you’re just doing your job and I was speeding, I understand officer” I sighed, tiredly.

bad cop good cop.jpg

“Oh, I’ve written the ticket wrong, I’d have saved you five dollars there, better re-do it…” he flashed me a grin which I couldn’t read.

“That took ages! Are we in trouble?” Blonde asked when I finally returned to the driving seat. A stab of announce flashed through me that she hadn’t swapped seats to do the last twenty minutes. “Well you’re not! I’ve got a 200 dollar fine though!”.

“200 dollars! That’s pretty steep! For going 13 miles over the speed limit on an empty road?!” Alaska yelled alarmed. “But he seemed really friendly when he pulled us over!”Blonde remarked “our lovely cop host in Oklahoma would never have fined someone that much for this!” she followed up. “Yeah well, I think our Oklahoma host was a very different kind of cop than this one!” I replied bitterly, pulling the car away from the curb. I drove the rest of the distance at a safe 65 miles an hour, exhaustion tearing at my bones and anger simmering on the edges of my vision.

night driving

 

 

 

Sharting and waxing in Texas (not at the same time!)

“You know…” I began, emerging from the bathroom rubbing my belly “Every time we change states I get a funny tummy. I think it’s the water?” I announced to Blonde, who was straddling her suitcase. “What do you mean?” she asked, not taking her eyes away from the rebellious zip. “Well…I get the runs!” I paused “Like every time! Every time we change states, I get the runs!”.

Blonde glanced up as I pulled the corners of my mouth down into a clown frown, she laughed “hang on, we’re going to, what? How many states?”. I let out a sigh “Yeah! 30! 30 states! 30 states where I run the serious risk of sharting!” I declared, throwing my arms into the air dramatically.

ugghhh stop talking.gif

“What’s sharting?” Blonde enquired. I stared at her bewildered as the zip finally moved an inch in her struggle “how can you not know what sharting is!” I gasped. “What? We don’t have that word in Australia!” she defended from behind a wall of hair that had escaped her ear during the zip war. “Sure you do! Australians probably invented the word! It’s where you go to fart but then shit yourself instead!” I explained.

“That doesn’t happen!” Blonde laughed again. “No it does! How has this never happened to you! My friend was on trip around New Zealand in a camper-van. She’d bought these new pants that had the word ‘party‘ written on them. Well the next day, she was wearing the pants and let out an innocent little fart. Only it wasn’t an innocent little fart at all! No! She sharted!  All over the party pants! I’m telling you, sharting is a serious thing! It happens!” I insisted, walking over and taking the zip from her hands.

party pants

“Nooooo. Come on! Have you ever sharted?” she followed, lying her body across the case as I tried to pull the zip closed. “Err….shhh now” I dismissed. “Have you?!” she glowed at me. “What are you two talking about?” Alaska entered. “Nothing!” I yelled a little too quickly “come and help us with this bag!”.

With the car loaded, we sought a late breakfast for our last morning in New Orleans. The mood had turned sour as the heat of the day rose, each of us still reeling from events of the night before and the growing tensions in the group. “This sandwich is dry” Blonde pushed her plate aside, lowered her sunglasses over her eyes despite us sitting inside and crossed her arms. “Mine’s awesome!” Alaska replied, dunking his own po-boy into a bowl of gravy and tilting his head to catch the drips. Lumps of sodden bread dropped into the bowl, splashing gloop over the table, Blonde groaned. “Mine’s fine and we got the same, what’s so wrong with yours?” I challenged.

grumpy cat

My patience was beginning to wear thin and it wasn’t even 11am, so far that morning the coffee hadn’t been fresh enough, her shoes were annoying her, the waitress wasn’t polite, she hated the restaurant, she didn’t want to sit under the air conditioner, forcing us to move tables, nothing was right with the world! “It’s fine! I’m not even hungry anyway!” she snapped, pushing the sandwich even further away from her.

We left New Orleans with Blonde’s dark cloud filling the car and billowing out the windows. Alaska asked if everything was ok? “I’m fine” snarled the response. I tried being cheery, playing our usual sing-along songs, Blonde put her headphones in.

We pulled up at a beautiful colonial house, a stunning driveway leading to the front door lined with trees. “Ohhhh I’ve always wanted to see a plantation” I bubbled excitedly. Blonde glanced at the grand house “Looks rubbish” she muttered. “Well you don’t have to go in!” I huffed annoyed. “Maybe I won’t!” she shook her head, sauntering off towards the ticket office. “Fine!” I sighed before adding “Fuck off then!” a little too loudly, fed up with the trying.

New-Orleans-Plantations

“Don’t tell me to fuck off!” Blonde spun around. “Well stop acting like a brat, you’ve been in a foul mood all day! You’ve done nothing but complain since the moment you woke up!” I thrust one hand into the air to make the seriousness of my point. “So I’m in a mood, you get in moods!” came the response. “Yeah, but my moods last for a couple of hours max! And then I realise I’m being a dick and make an effort! AND I don’t take it out on everyone else!” I yelled, not being entirely fair or truthful.

Blonde spun on her heels and stormed off; her head bouncing from side to side as through she were continuing the argument alone. I turned to Alaska “shall we go get tickets?”. He looked towards the house, twisting his mouth to the side “I’m not sure I want to. It’s not really my thing. I hate what it all represents”. I glared at him, I’d so been looking forward to seeing a proper southern, the real life ‘Gone with the wind‘.

gone with the wind

I’d read the book as my mum took her last breaths, the surreality of that morning, my lack of sleep, the story in my hands and the rattle of her chest; it was so interwoven. I’d trapped her dying in the pages of that novel where it could always be fiction but now the houses were real, the book just a story and her death a fact; it felt important to see that house but I didn’t want to do it alone.

Instead, I turned to Alaska and pouted in a way I was too old to look cute doing “Really? You don’t want to go in? But it’s not a slave plantation now, it’s, it’s history. And the house is really beautiful. Look how beautiful it is! See the beauty?! And and! We can walk up the lovely path. Oooh look how lovely the path is! Oooo! And it’ll be fun! Educational too! Educational and fun! Win win!” I chewed the corner of my lip and fluttered my eye lids in an attempt to look sexy. He laughed which wasn’t exactly the reaction I was going for but it  worked enough to get the result I craved.

flirting.gif

Blonde’s mood had not improved by the time we arrived at the couch-surfers house that evening “Well, there’s the spare bedroom and then there’s the sofas” the 25 year old chef informed us. “I’ll take the bedroom” Blonde announced to the host, walking straight to the room and shutting the door.

“What the hell?! Why does she get to decide who gets the bed!” I moaned, trying to get comfortable on the sofa. “Ah leave it, she’s obviously pissed about something, she probably feels left out. Geo will be joining us in a few days, that’ll balance things up” Alaska offered, trying to get settled on his own sofa.

We hadn’t seen Geo since leaving Alaska the state but Blonde had kept up messages throughout the trip, encouraging him to fly down and join us. Geo in the mean time, had spent the previous month at his Grandparents in Colorado fanning a spark for Blonde. He’d finally agreed to come and would be flying into Austin in a few days time.

more driving

The following day we left behind the bayou and marshes of  Louisiana and entered the dry earth of Texas. Tensions in the car continued to rise, Alaska was drowning in luggage on the back seat becoming increasingly annoyed every time a corner was taken and something toppled onto him. “Oh god damn it! This fucking ice box is leaking again! We’re don’t even use it, why do you even bother filling it with ice everyday!” he yelled as the box fell to it’s side and coated him in slush.

“Don’t hit it! It’s got my ice tea in it! And the apples!” Blonde yelled, looking over her shoulder as she drove, she’d been relatively quiet all morning, giving less than one word answers to any question asked. I’d been quiet myself, feeding of Blonde, annoyed at her for being so difficult the day before.

i'm not paying attention

“Well eat the apples then!” Alaska barked, it would have been aggressive had his voice not lacked venom “So” he paused “are you ready to talk about what was going on yesterday?” he tried. Blonde tensed up instantly, her shoulders square “Err, I don’t want to talk about it right now”. Alaska tried again “We’ll be at my aunt and uncles soon, so there won’t be any time to talk then, better to clear the air now…”.

Blonde stared ahead at the road, an endless highway of flat land and bored trucks “I don’t know, I woke up annoyed and couldn’t shake it. Then I felt bad because I knew I was being moody, but I didn’t know how to…, and you two were getting…, because I was…, and then I didn’t know what to say…”.

hard to talk.jpg

“But why were you upset to begin with?” Alaska pushed. “I don’t know, I called my mum last night because I was mad and she said I was being horrible and should go apologies to you both but when I came out the room, neither of you really wanted to talk to me and I didn’t know what to say so I just got annoyed again. And Becky won’t even talk to me today!” Blonde complained.

I’d risen early that morning and gone out to get her a Starbucks coffee. I’d also picked up breakfast, hoping a decent coffee and cinnamon roll might cheer her up.  Plus I was feeling a little guilty for swearing at her the day before. She hadn’t said thanks when I’d returned or even acknowledged me, instead taking the coffee and dumping her bags in the car, insisting on driving first. I hadn’t spoken much since.

a sign

“Well, I think Becky is probably a little upset too, you did snap at her quite a few times yesterday and the day before. You might owe her an apology” Alaska continued. It surprised me, I hadn’t realised he’d noticed when Blonde had snarled when I’d offered to drive first or how she’d snapped as I suggest we leave half an hour later than originally planned. “But you haven’t said why you were really upset…” Alaska continued to mediate.

I was about to answer for her, to suggest it was because she was feeling left out after all the drama from Atlanta between Alaska and myself and than in addition she might have noticed me pulling away slightly, increasingly wanting my own space. I was going to say that maybe Blonde was starting to feel a bit homesick and we were all suffering from the pressures of being in each others company for so long. Alaska raised his hand to stop me “No! Becky, you can’t keep giving her the answers, she has to work things out on her own, she won’t learn if you always tell her what she’s thinking”.

which way.jpg

He sounded patronising, I was about to tell him so when Blonde spoke “but I want Becky to tell me the answers, she explains things better than I do. I never know what words to use, to say what I’m thinking”. She glanced at me, hoping her compliment would encourage me to jump in. “Well Becky’s good at that, she’s not good at many things but she’s is good at that” he smiled. I ignored his compliment and slight dig too. I wasn’t so sure I was good at explaining any thing, I cringed at myself most of the time with what came out my mouth.

“So come on, what was it that got you so wound up?’ Alaska wasn’t letting go, I was beginning to feel uncomfortable. “Well I guess” she stopped, Alaska smiled in encouragement ” I don’t feel like I’m on a journey” she picked up speed “You and Becky are on a journey each! But I don’t have a purpose for this road-trip, I don’t have a journey!” she complained in a burst.

journey

“Yeah you do” Alaska exclaimed, he thought for a second “I’m not on a journey” he added. Blonde and I exchanged knowing looks, each of us convinced he was wrong. I rolled my eyes “yeah you are, we’re all on our own individual journeys, but so is everyone, I think that’s just life. Anyway, yes, I’m on my own, getting over grief thing journey. Which seems to be going on forever might I add!” I stopped, hoping the others would begin talking but they seemed to be waiting for more.

“I’m still on my grief journey. It takes two years to get over grief, I’m so close and I thought when I left Australia I was fine, done with it. But I’m not. And it never seems to get any easier! I’ve done the shock of her death. I’m done the whole losing my shit and getting drunk and sleeping with a man dressed as a reindeer thing. And now I have to learn to live in a world where my mother doesn’t exist and that’s the scariest bit of all, because I have no idea how you’re suppose to do that! I have to learn how to connect with people…. which, turns out, is really hard! I guess that’s what the road-trip is for me, it’s learning to deal with situations by myself and not going to one person who will hold my hand through it all. It sucks!” I stopped there, feeling myself becoming vulnerable.

my journey

“And that all makes sense” Blonde rescued “but I don’t have anything like that. You have the grief thing and Alaska. Alaska…” she looked at me. “Yeah, well Alaska is learning how to actually use his emotions and not just rely on his brain! His journey is all about getting self worth and connecting his head and his heart, not lashing out like a three year old every time he feels vulnerable!” I leaned over my shoulder to look at him, hoping he hadn’t taken offence.

“Shhhhh now” he smiled, running his hand down my face in a joking gesture to silence me. “You’re on a journey too though…you’re, you’re learning” Alaska started. I jumped in “you’re learning to grow up, to experience life, to start living!” afraid she’d feel insulted I went on “I mean you’ve been so well protected growing up, now you’re learning to be independent and meeting different people and having experiences and not having to know the outcome if you take the leap of faith. If anything you’ve got the hardest path of the lot of us! You’re doing what the rest of us took years to experience but you’re getting all these life lessons in a three month trip! It’s like a crash course on how to be an adult!” I pouted my lips for a second thinking “actually maybe we’re all doing that right now! We’re all trying to grow up!” I contemplated, not sure I wanted to grow up “Does anyone want some candy corn?” I pulled a packet from the glove box.

Candy-Corn.jpg

Traffic ground to a halt as as we entered down-town Houston, Alaska became angry, annoyed we’d miss our estimated arrival time. He kicked off, yelling at Blonde as I pulled the car away from the free-way “you might not care about being late for people but it looks bad on me!” he snapped. “We’re only half an hour late, just text them, I’m sure they’ll understand” Blonde tried. “Shut up! You don’t know what you’re talking about!” Alaska yelled.

“Hey, it’s not her fault! We can’t account for the traffic! Calm down” I demanded, knowing full well that no one had ever been calmed down by being told to do so. “Why are you going off the free-way!” he screamed. “Because the petrol light is on! What do you want me to do? Get stuck with no gas in a ten lane interception?!” I yelled back over the horns of the cars I was cutting off.

His aunt and uncle welcomed us with that same southern hospitality we’d found in Oklahoma, all smiles and hugs. “Have a beer, have some pizza, we were afraid you’d got lost but you’re here now, how are you, how was the drive, how has the trip been going?” they bombarded us.

welcome to texas.jpg

I entered the bedroom that night “All right?” Blonde asked as she climbed into the large double bed. Alaska was in the room down the hall, his aunt and uncle, a little more religious and strict about boys and girls sharing rooms than we were used to. “Yeah” I rubbed my stomach “it’s the water…” I complained climbing into the bed next to her. “Just keep your ass pointed away from me! I don’t want to be sharted on!” she instructed pulling her eye mask over her eyes.

After being nothing but a trio for the last month, it was really nice to be just Blonde and I alone again for awhile. As such, we stayed up until 4am chatting about all the things we couldn’t say around Alaska. Her worries about Geo’s arrival, whether he’d expect more than a friendship and how she wasn’t sure she wanted that. My growing insecurities about my figure based on all of Alaska’s comments and just how concerned I was about getting into the aunt and uncles pool the next day. We were like two school girls, chatting away until sleep pulled us under.

Sleepover.jpg

I was pretty content until 6am when I remembered all the reasons I hated sharing a bed with Blonde as she stole all the sheets, took multiple trips to the loo and then rose fresh as a daisy, banging about whilst I clung to the last few shreds of night.

One of the most difficult things about a road-trip is that you never quite have time for all those little maintenance things such as painting your toe nails, removing those stray facial hairs that seem to spring from nowhere or just keeping things in general order down under! It was the most I could do to stop my eyebrows turning into one giant caterpillar! With two full days of no driving ahead of us, it was time for some much needed personal grooming!

pamper.jpg

“Where are you off to today?” Alaska’s lovely uncle enquired, his moustache twitching as he spoke. “Oh errr, the salon” I answered hoping he wouldn’t ask any further questions. “Oh lovely, manicure or pedicure?” he followed, ignoring my silent plea. “Umm” I looked at my toes, if I said either he’d be sure to ask how it went afterwards and then glance at my nails. I really didn’t want to explain the details on my bikini line “errrr a leg wax” I said awkwardly, whilst standing in shorts, my legs bare of hair, having been shaved that morning.

Blonde wanted to take the car to visit the supermarket, she offered to come back and drive me to the salon but craving some alone time,  I resolved to walk. A decision I was soon to regret as I stomped along a busy road in sweltering heat, trying to avoid the frogs hidden in the mud which sucked down my flip-flops.

mordor

I arrived at the salon, a run down nail bar next door to a car dealership where an Asian lady showed me to a back room and, through broken English, finally understood what I was asking for.

It was about halfway through, as molten wax was applied to my nether regions that I realised the nail artist had probably never done a wax before. Dear reader, I’m sure you don’t want to hear the details of this but let’s just say, there was wax all up in places it had no business being! The unfortunate thing is, there really is only one, rather painful way out of that situation! ‘RIIIIIPPPPPP’. Ahhhh good times…

no no no no noooooo

I hobbled the three mile walk back to the house, parts of me still glued together.

“How was the salon?” the uncle asked as I sweated into the back door, just in time for dinner. “Yeah, good” I lied, sweaty, raw and chaffed.

Alaska had almost cleared his meal when the Aunt laid the last plate on the table “shall we say grace?” she asked, laying a subtle eye on Alaska’s empty dish. I wasn’t used to prayer but there was something rather lovely about taking a moment to be thankful before a meal. I did wonder how they might react if they caught me sneaking into Alaska’s room later that evening, no matter how much I insisted it was because I’d get a better night sleep next to him than I might next to Blonde.

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Just as soon as I could be excused, I shuffled to the bathroom, some serious attention to detail required! With one leg raised on the sink and demonstrating impressive yoga skills I’d never mastered in a class, I set to work.  With tweezers in hand and time ticking by, I straightened things out as best I could.

“Are you feeling ok?” Blonde poked her head round the bedroom door as I left the bathroom. Her voice alerted the aunt, who, closely followed by the uncle appeared on the landing “oh, are you sick?” they asked. “She gets a bad stomach from the water sometimes” Blonde explained. Concern spread across their faces, I tried to bury the tweezers in my hand.

I looked at each of their caring faces,unsure how to tell these lovely but quite religious people that I did not in fact have diarrhoea but had simply spent the best part of an hour in their master bathroom, bent over plucking wax and missed hairs from my vagina so I could sneak into their nephews room later than night, all in the hope he wouldn’t think I was part bear.

“Errrr yeah” ‘ok, we’ll go with that!‘ I clutched my stomach “Yeah, the water! Yeah. I’m fine now. Thanks” I replied, internally face palming. It’s really hard being a girl sometimes!

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