Letters and the weight of the issue

“Did you see the scale in the bathroom? Have you weighed yourself yet? I’ve lost weight!” Blonde stood beaming in the archway between the hall and living room. She was wearing my new shorts, her own spinning in the dryer. They rode high on her legs, almost hot pants. They looked good, they looked better on her than they had on me in the changing room.

shory shorts

With the door locked I stared at the weighing scales, my mind raced over the pizzas, diners and barbecue of the last few weeks. Slowly I removed every item of clothes, I pulled the band out of my hair and let a deep breath out, convinced the oxygen in my lungs might tip the balance. The numbers flashed bright and bold, my heart sank. I hadn’t just gained weight, I was the heaviest I’d been in over a decade, not having seen those digits since I ate my feelings as a teenager.

The puppy fat melted away in my early twenties, leaving behind an average girl who could tell you exactly how many calories were in every item of the supermarket ‘110 in a banana, 250 in a dry bagel, you need to burn 3500 calories to lose 1lb…‘ I’d recite endlessly to anyone inclined to listen. I knew the weight and height of every celebrity, all of which I’d compare myself to… ‘if I lost three stone I’d be the same weight as Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, and then I’d be happy’. Really, I was just the same as every other girl out there, ignoring any attributes I held, to instead agonise over all the bits mainstream media told me weren’t the ideal; all the reasons I didn’t fit the mould and was therefore failing at life. I was normal.

without socks

As I stared at that those flashing red numbers I felt a long way from the girl who made green smoothies and chose clothes from the middle of the rack. I could no longer feel my hip bones and little black dresses didn’t slip on any more. I sucked the air back into my lungs and clung to the edge of the sink. I felt fat. I felt fat, ashamed and embarrassed.

A psychiatrist might have summed up that moment to say it wasn’t the physical weight I was carrying, but what that weight represented that was really upsetting me. The loss of control from the environment, the pressures of the road trip, the competitiveness from Blonde and of course the continued symptoms of grief. But I’m not a psychiatrist so in that moment, I blamed pizza and my own lack of will power.

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I was trying so hard to keep everything afloat ‘don’t speak up, don’t press your point, stop getting frustrated, if you say what’s upsetting you, you’ll sound petty and like a loser and people won’t like you. No, best to keep your mouth shut, don’t say anything, swallow it down, that always works, try harder, be nicer, box it away!’. I’d been hoping the road trip would tie those last few strands of grief back together, ‘surely I should be all fixed and sparkly by now? Why wasn’t I sparkly?!’ 

happy and sparkly.jpg

I was suppose to be having the time of my life. I was suppose to be ‘wooing’ along to The Who with my head out the window and tongue flagging (I might be slightly confused with how a dog enjoys a road trip but you see where I’m going with this). Blonde and I were suppose to be braiding each others hair and doing cartwheels in bikini’s on the beach. Alaska and I were suppose to be snuggling under camp-fires and making promises we’d keep into our 90’s. The scales were suppose to be going down not weighing the gravity in my head. I was suppose to be… I was suppose to!

“I think I’ll go to the gym today” I announced having returned downstairs. Blonde, who had taken her dry laundry to our room but shown no interest in changing out of my clothes fired off a bunch of questions as to what she ought to do whilst I was at the gym.

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Alaska watched me confused, following upstairs as I went to find my trainers. “What’s the matter?” he blasted as soon as we were alone. After a mild internal battle, I confessed “the scales were really high and I feel fat and Blonde is wearing my shorts and I feel really insecure and uncomfortable and sort of just want to cry” internally adding ‘and I really want to call my mum and talk about it because I’m scared I’m losing control and don’t want to fall back into the pit of depression and, and, this lack of control is making me irritable and frustrated and I’m worried you’re all going to realise I’m a horrible person and leave me. And I don’t want to be left again’. “Ok, well how about I come to the gym with you?” Alaska responded to only what he heard.

human emotions

I didn’t feel any better for the workout, if anything my neon red face was only adding to the insecurities. Blonde knocked on the bathroom door “are you nearly ready?” we were due to spend the afternoon at an outdoor pool to cool off from the Mid-West suffocating summer heat.

My reflection stared back, the mirror’s eyes running up and down my body, catching on the swollen belly and places where the bikini cut into flesh at the hips. All I saw was a lump of lard with dental floss digging in, leaving folds of heavy skin. The reality was, it really wouldn’t have mattered what size I was, in that moment I could have looked like a Victoria Secret model for all it would have mattered; all the mirror was ever going to let me see was a lumpy, sad mess who couldn’t face being in public, so is the power of crippling insecurity.

“Actually, I’m pretty tired after the gym, think I’ll just have a shower and relax this afternoon, you guys go” I responded through the door in as cheerful a voice as I could muster.

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Following much reassurance that yes, I was sure and no of course I didn’t mind and yeah, I’ll see you when you get back; the front door finally clicked shut and my eyes spilled over. I clasped my hand over my mouth to stifle the sob in case my pain echoed through the walls and called my friends back to try and God forbid, actually comfort me!

The shower rained down, becoming confused with my tears as I heaved all the emotion out. A lump sealed off my throat and for the first time since stepping foot on American soil, I let it out. My nose and eyes caught, my legs lost all their strength until I found myself on hands and knees in the bathtub, water beating my back. I coughed and spluttered as the tears ran, retching and spitting with every wave of despair that washed over me. I wiped slimy snot away with the back of my hand until I no longer understood what I was crying for, only that I really needed to cry. Eventually I reached a slippery hand behind me and turned off the taps; curling into a ball, unable to do anything but.

sad times

I laid there until my skin grew cold, silent wells forming on the bridge of my nose causing tiny waterfalls to be blinked away. All I could think about was how much I wanted to hear my mothers voice. And then it came to me, the letters.

I unstuck myself and flopped out the bath, wrapping a towel around as I raced to the bedroom.

I opened the last two of her letters. It was the closest I’d get to her voice.

Not long after the doctor said those fatal cancer words with promises of “we caught it in time” and “you’re still young, fit and healthy”. Followed by the overly friendly nurse with her one woman prep rally “are you ready to kick cancer’s butt?!” it was announced the best way to beat cancer was by hacking parts of my mothers body apart and taking the sucker out.

cheerleader

So a Christmas date was set where her stomach and parts of both the gullet and oesophagus would be removed then sewed back together “basically we’re taking out your middle” the doctor had smiled, his hands gesturing on his own stomach where they’d remove the broken puzzle piece, he removed the slot and discarded it into an invisible bin. I sat with my mum, watching the show, seeing her body as a giant game of tetris, a hole appearing that would cause the bricks to stack up on themselves until ‘game over’.

She’d been scared, who wouldn’t be with the prospect of having half your organs removed. She wrote herself letters, she thought she’d need her own strength to pull her through on what she imagined to be a very long, tough slog uphill to recovery.

mountain climbing

The day she died I discovered these letter in a box next to her bed. They were numbered one to six and all sealed. She hadn’t needed the strength, the recovery from such an intense operation was remarkably quick; home within a week, walking the dog and swimming within two. She was a trooper!

I found the letters and squirrelled them away. My brother hadn’t wanted her diaries or various books she’d started to write and given up on, he hadn’t wanted anything; so I never told him about the letters. Over the year and a half since her death, when things felt desperately low or I was at a loss in the world, my fingers would reach for them.

i know nothing.jpg

Selfishly, when we found out she was terminal, after the cancer who’d felt the surgeons knife and sneaked into her liver, lying dormant whilst we all moved on with our lives, choosing that moment to rear it’s ugly head as we all stopped to let out our breath; I’d begged her for letters. I wanted a letter for my 30th, for my wedding day, for the birth of my first child, for Christmas, for Tuesday, for every single moment she wouldn’t be there.

What did I expect her to write? ‘Sorry I’m not there, have a great wedding, try not to get too drunk, you look beautiful, great choice on the dress! I hope you didn’t choose open shoes which reveal your weird monkey toes – you didn’t get them from me!‘ to which I would naturally cry and ruin all the expensive wedding make-up, then stare at my feet and declare that we had the exact same weird toes and I’d definitely got them from her!

No it was selfish of me to ask her to give me something of her for the moments she’d never live to see. In the end she wrote a short note for my birthday, shared her favourite poem and provided some plumbing advice; I’m sure she meant to put more down in the little notebook she left me but cancer waits for no pen.

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But the letters, the letters I stole. She wrote them to herself and never needed the strength within, but I did!

The early ones were an explanation of why she was writing them in the first place, to remember what it felt like to be physically strong, to keep positive, mind over matter and all that. The later ones however, well, she was smashed! I mean full on drunk as a skunk!

They were written at 3am after a bottle or two of red wine, she’d inevitably called her best friend first to drunkenly sob. Not me, she didn’t call me, I’d have called her but she was protecting me, shielding me from the fear. I’m thankful for this because I wouldn’t have been capable of giving a speck of the strength she so easily gave others.

wine party for one

I sat on that bed, in a stranger house, my hair dripping down my back and read the last of her words. She was crying in both of them, scared and alone in the dark. She wrote how she longed for her father, how she ached for a hug from him, for his strength.

She discussed how she recalls pulling away from her own mother, thinking there would always be more time for that relationship later and there never was. She said she felt my brother and I pull away from physical contact over the years. I read on ‘it’s Becky I really worry for, I can feel her pull away from me emotionally too, she’s closing herself off, I’m scared she’ll never be able to open up to people’ I put the page down, she always had a way to get right to the point with me, even from beyond the grave apparently!

same page.gif

I’d been pulling away then, I’d resented her being ill, burdening my life with her doctor appointments, selfishly getting cancer and then having the audacity to actually die from it! How dare she! Leaving me all alone in the big scary world that hadn’t felt quite so big when she’d been in it.

And here I was again, pulling away, hiding in a bathroom, not sharing what I was feeling. I was convinced neither Alaska nor Blonde would have been able to comprehend how I was feeling had I been able to articulate it, but I denied them the chance to try.

private thoights on the internet

“How was the pool?” I asked once they returned, now dressed, my face composed to hide any of the mess I’d crumbled into in the bathroom, feeling all the more alone for it. “Not great, it was closed so we just sat in the sun for a while. You ready for Shakespeare in the park with the host tonight?” Alaska enquired. “Oooh Shakespeare with an American accent, what’s not to like about that! I smiled, pretending all was right with the world.

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We’re not in Kansas any more!

“But it doesn’t make any sense!” I moaned, looking over my shoulder at Alaska “I don’t get why you even booked a separate couch surfer host in the first place?”. He glared at me”Because it’ll be harder to find hosts willing to take three people than it would be to get two separate places” Alaska defended. “But I’ve already messaged the guy for tonight and asked if it was ok for all three of us to stay, he said it was fine” Blonde interjected, readjusting the mirrors from my driving position back to her own.

road trip

“See! It’s fine, we can all stay together. Is it just that you’re bored of us already? You haven’t even been on the road a day yet! This isn’t going to bode well” I tried to joke. “I really don’t mind staying somewhere else…” he began again, I glanced at Blonde who rolled her eyes with a gesture of ‘you want to take this one?’ I shrugged my shoulders, pulling my mouth to the side of my face “ughh, no, you don’t get it, we have been driving all day. It will be so much more effort to drop you off somewhere then get back to our place. And in the morning, we’ll have to come pick you up, it’ll be constant text messages of ‘what time?’ ‘where abouts?’ blah blah blah. It makes it more complicated and difficult for everyone”.

“It’s good to have time apart, otherwise we’ll start pissing each other off” Alaska pointed out. “Well that might be true but it’s not so easy on a road-trip, you’re driving all day, sharing meals and then beds. You literally can’t get away” I responded, lifting my feet onto the dash. “Yeah, but when you get to the cities and stuff” Alaska continued. “But it sucks to walk around on your own all day and we both want to see the same things” Blonde added. “Exactly! What are we suppose to do, go to a touristy thing and just ignore each other?” I tried to conclude. “All I’m saying, is you two seriously need a zero day apart, you haven’t had more than a couple of hours alone since you were staying up at mine, how long ago was that? Three weeks? A month? Yeah, you need a break from each other!” Alaska decided, Blonde and I avoided eye contact.

let's ignore that shall we

Having convinced Alaska that the girls accommodation plans for the night made much more sense, as usual, and he was clearly an idiot for questioning us in the first place, together we arrived in St Louis. It was late as we stood on the small porch of the host’s home, he was passed out on the sofa, a football game playing on the TV. “What do we do?” Blonde asked after the third dose of knocking. “Just keep trying!” Alaska said dryly, knocking again a little louder “who’s idea was it to come to St Louis anyway, there is nothing in Missouri, we could have stayed in Chicago a few more days and skipped this completely!”.

“Hey! This could be the best place we go! You don’t know, anything could happen. Presides, everyone had a chance to review the map and make suggestions, none of you did! And, AND the next stops are Kansas and then Oklahoma!!” I put on a big smile and waved jazz hands excitedly, they both stared at me nonchalantly before turning back to face the house and started knocking on the windows.

locked out

The truth was, I hadn’t expected the Mid-West to be terribly exciting compared to the national parks or big cities we’d hit but I wanted to see these places. Every Christmas my mum and I would snuggle down together, the dog farting by our feet as we watched Judy Garland sing the Trolley song in ‘Meet me in St Louis’. I can still remember the first time I watched ‘The Wizard of Oz’ and wanting to switch it off because it was a black and white film, my mum encouraging me to stick with it from a stepladder in the hallway as she painted the ceiling.

These places, they were part of my childhood, far off lands trapped in fairy-tales and the silver screen; it was no accident I’d plotted their points on the road-trip map. I guess somewhere, a part of me felt, if I went to these places I’d be able to feel closer to her, like she was still with me. I was still searching for her ghost out in the world. As I stood on that doorstep, swatting mosquitoes from my legs, whilst my friends hammered the windows and the host continued to snore; I realised, I wasn’t being a ‘traveller’, I was on a pilgrimage, this was my mother’s and I’s road-trip, everyone else was just along for the ride.

meet me in st louis

Eventually the host rolled himself off the couch and let us in. He was a tallish guy of solid build in his early 30’s, I found out the next morning he worked in finance but had been made redundant several months before, not long after that his girlfriend left. There was a loneliness to him that came off as bitterness; he looked Blonde and I up and down upon arrival, assessing our attributes, I’m not sure we passed whatever the test was but it was Alaska who fared worse. The host took an instant dislike to him, cold and gruff in every interaction.

Alaska was one of those guys that most people instantly warmed to, quick to laugh, fun and who put other people’s comfort above his own; he wasn’t used to people responding to him negatively, so naturally, he overcompensated. I stood in the living room whilst Blonde brushed her teeth in the bathroom, watching these two men sizing each other up. “Thanks so much for letting me stay as well, this is a great place, Oh you’re a Rams fan? How are they doing in the league man? Thanks again for letting us stay, sorry we woke you, hey, what are you doing tomorrow? We’ll take you out for breakfast to say thanks” he tried. The host puffed out his chest, pulled his shoulders back and gave one word answers, glancing between me and towards the bathroom for Blonde; I could almost see the cogs clicking as he tried to work out who was having a relationship with Alaska, his face hard and unfriendly in the mechanics.

sizing each other up

The three of us slept in the small living room, bodies draped across sofas, limbs in faces. I emerged from the bathroom the next day to find Alaska still trying to win the host around. Blonde was leaning up against the doorway to the kitchen, casually chewing a nail “so what’s there to do in St Louis?” she interrupted the boy’s conversation.

The host began to respond but Blonde had already lost interest, retreating into the kitchen before the answer had been delivered. Alaska and I caught each others eyes, the host had no choice but to finish his comments to us. Blonde returned with a cup of the host’s coffee at her lips “ughhh, coffee in America is so bad” she complained, interrupting again. My mouth dropped, I knew she wasn’t being intentionally rude, she just had no sense of self awareness but I felt uncomfortable, it was too much for my British manners to take. I laughed nervously “cool, yeah, that sounds great” I responded to the host, not a clue to what he’d actually said but keen to make him feel we were indeed listening and not unmannered swine’s.

British

Whilst Blonde and Alaska took the host to breakfast, to my great delight I got to have the car all to myself for the first time ever and go get my phone fixed at the mall. I was free, I turned the radio all the way up, adjusted the mirrors and relished in my morning alone. With the phone fixed, I raced around the shops before heading to the Zoo to meet the others.

“Where’s the host?” I asked finding Alaska and Blonde sitting outside one of the Zoo cafés. “I don’t really like him” Blonde began. “Why? What happened? Where is he?” I repeated my question. “He had a phone interview so dropped us off here” Alaska explained. “He’s really sexist, he was driving us to breakfast when this car cut us off. We didn’t even see the driver but he started screaming at it saying all this sexist stuff about women drivers” Blonde revealed.

road rage

That evening we headed to dinner with the host, “how did the job interview go?” Alaska consulted. “They’re assholes” came the reply “they don’t know what they’re talking about. There’s nothing going here, looks like I might need to sell up and move on, don’t want to but don’t see any other choice, we can’t all just go off travelling can we!”. I flinched at the dig, no one responded. “Ohh turn this song up, I love Taylor Swift” I called from the back seat as Blonde drove, the host was giving directions. “I hate that stupid bitch, she’s a fucking cu…WATCH THE CORNER! Fucking women drivers, shouldn’t be allowed behind the wheel” he yelled. Blonde flashed me a look in the mirror, her lips pressed tight, I offered a solidarity smile, a silent agreement that the driving was fine, he was an ass!

“This is the best barbecue in America” the host told us proudly. Pictures of various celebrities lined the walls, stars shaking hands with who I presumed were the owners. Pot bellied men in checked shirts sat side by side on long benches, greasy mouths lent over plastic trays, fat dripping through their fingers. “Do you think we ought to pay for the hosts meal?” I whispered to Blonde, “do we have to?” she replied in kind. “Well probably, he has let us all stay for two nights”.

smoke house

As we sat down with a mountain of barbecue in front of us, Blonde and I learnt a big lesson…boys don’t share food. They delved in at lightning speed, dripping sauce down their chins, hands full with brisket and wings. Blonde and I hadn’t even finished the pulled chicken sandwich we were sharing when we looked up to find them sucking their fingers, not a single rib left spare.

Somewhat disappointment St Louis had moved on from the Victorian style houses and quaintness shown in the film, we headed to the famous arch to at least tick some touristy boxes. “Wow, it really is high isn’t it!” I exclaimed whilst lying on the floor, trying and failing to capture the full curve in my camera lens.

“Where are you guys from?” asked a couple standing nearby, hearing our mix of accents. “St Louis, Alaska, Australia and Isle of Man” I answered having regained my feet and pointing at each person as I said their home location. “Wow, that’s an odd combination, how did you?… Sorry, Isle of where?” the couple asked. They were from Chicago and had popped down for the weekend. Blonde and Alaska explained our trip whilst I continued in vain to snap pictures. “Well good for you, live your dreams, ours are shattered” they shared with a smile before adding “say no to breeding!”.

st louis arch

 Alaska sat in the car the next morning, refusing to say goodbye, finally given up trying to win over the host. Blonde and I perched on the edge of the sofa’s and waited patiently for the host to finish his phone call to his mum. He ignored us “yeah, dunno, not much today, might go to the store, yeah, so what are you up to this weekend”.

Blonde and I exchanged a silent conversation ‘shall we just go?’ Blonde looked at me. ‘We can’t can we, I mean we should at least say bye’ I bobbed my head to the side in the direction of the host and glared. ‘But he’s taking forever, he doesn’t even care!’ she raised one eyebrow. ‘I know but it’s rude to just go without saying thank you’ I presented my palms and raised my shoulders. ‘HE’S being rude!’ she retorted with a frustrated jerk of the head.  ‘Yeah but it’s his house, presides, we need the reviews on the website for our future stays’. ‘I want to get on the road as soon as possible’. ‘Yeah, me too, ok, 5 more minutes’ we swapped back and forth looking like two people suffering from ticks.

I hate everyone

 Twenty minutes later, “I HATE him!” I exclaimed as soon as Blonde and I got in the car and slammed our doors shut “he didn’t even get up to say goodbye, not even eye contact! Ooh he hated you especially!” I leaned round to look at Alaska “well yeah, he thought he’d get to hit on one of you and then I turned up and cock blocked him”. “I don’t think he wanted to get with either of us” Blonde interjected. “Well not when he met us, but on paper, a blonde Australian and brunette English probably sounds very appealing! Obviously in reality, we’re a right couple of weirdos but on paper, on paper we are hot shit!” I smiled.

diva

The driving that day dragged, the world was fields and sky and not much else. We sang, we talked, we tried to play eye spy but eye spy sucks. Eventually we pulled over in some tiny town, a population of 341, finding a spot by the river to eat the subway sandwiches we’d picked up earlier that morning. “So what happened with that girl?? The one your mate set you up with and then slept with behind your back?” I asked.

“She still wants to be friends, I don’t see the point” Alaska tried to bat aside. “Yeah, but what about your mate? Did you forgive him?” Blonde added. “We’re still friends, we had a beer. What time do you think we’ll get to Kansas City tonight? There is the BBQ place…”. “We had BBQ last night…”I stated. “Yeah but this place is world famous, it’s on the Kansas side of the city” he continued. “What do you mean Kansas side?” I asked. “Kansas City, it’s half in Missouri and half in Kansas” Alaska explained. “What? I thought Kansas City was, well, in Kansas!” my face pulled into a frown. “We have to go to the Kansas side, I want to see a tornado and you know, maybe find me some ruby slippers or something. Any way, back to you and your mate!” I demanded with a smile.

ruby slippers

Alaska reluctantly explained that despite the girls best efforts, he didn’t want to be friends with her. “Well you don’t have to be friends with her I guess, but you guys work together, wouldn’t it be easier to forgive her and move on” I asked. “No! Why should I forgive her! She fucked up, that’s her punishment for her choices!” he argued. “You do know there doesn’t always have to be a punishment if you mess up and the same goes for reward if you do something good” I tried. Alaska looked confused “yes you do, you fuck up, you get punished, you do good, you get rewarded. It’s what our court system is founded on”.

I smiled, it seemed so black and white in his view of the world “do you get rewarded each time you do a good deed? Is that why you do nice things? That’s not why you help your friends out or are there for someone, is it? You don’t expect something back each time…” I explained. “Well no but…” he began. “We’re not saying you should punish your friend for basically shagging your girlfriend behind your back…” I started, “she wasn’t my girlfriend, we’d only been dating a few…” he pointed out.

lunch

“Whatever, anyway, I’m not saying that you should punish your friend for shagging the girl you were dating behind your back or that you have to be best mates with the girl, but you need your friend to recognise that he let you down, which is not ok. As for the girl, well, I don’t get why you’re ‘punishing‘ her”.

“But that’s so dumb!” Alaska exclaimed, confusion growing “if someone does something wrong, they should be punished for it”. “Well yeah, if you murder someone, then there should probably be consequences but if we all went about everything we do, expecting a reward or punishment for every action, we’d never get anywhere and the intention behind those actions would become very selfish very quickly!” I went on. “But it doesn’t make sense, it’s stupid!” Alaska slammed his fist down, the crease between his eyes deepening. “It doesn’t have to make sense, it’s human, we make mistake and we also do nice things for each other. We don’t operate in one set way or all by the same agendas, you can’t put people in boxes and expect them to play by your rules, that’s not how the world works” I sympathised.

ignoring you

His logical mind couldn’t compute what I was saying, Blonde tried to explain “it’s your friend you should be mad at…”. “Fuck off, you don’t know what you’re talking about!” he yelled, aggression flooding his features. Blonde was taken aback “woah, calm down!” I snapped, rising from my seat and walking around the table to Alaska’s side. We’d touched a nerve, a memory filled my brain, something he’d said when we were staying with him. His mum used to give him Christmas presents but then make constant threats ‘if you don’t behave I’ll take your present back‘ the gifts were never truly given; I realised that every gift had come at a price for him. After his mother left, he’d taught himself that’s how things were and no one had ever shown him otherwise. Now here we were, poking an inherent belief with a sharp stick. It’s hard to see things from a different perspective, to change a mindset you’ve followed all your life. Blonde hadn’t picked up on Alaska’s growing frustration as he weighed up this new idea, she’d poked at the wrong time.

I grabbed him into a hug, he tried to resist. I thought that if I held on tight enough his anger would flood out,  if I really tried, his broken bits would stick back together, maybe I could fix all that pain residing from the abandonment of his mother, make him realise he is safe and it’s ok, it’s all ok, and then maybe, maybe we could all fix each other. “Don’t take it out on Blonde” I spoke in what I hoped was a soothing voice “she hasn’t done anything wrong, you’re just lashing out but you can’t do that to her, it’s not fair”.

angry child

We gave him a few minutes to calm down as Blonde and I made our way back to the car “you know he’s not really attacking you right?” I asked, sensing her upset, wondering if any of us were going to be strong enough to survive this trip. “He gets so angry, it freaks me out” she spoke low as though trying not to let the emotion escape. “It’s not you, honestly, it’s just…well we get close to issues he hasn’t had to focus on for a really long time, I push him because I think he needs to examine this stuff but he’s too scared to attack me after last time, so you’re the only outlet for it” I explained. “But that’s not fair…” she started. “I know, and I’ve told him that, I won’t let him lash out at you again, honestly, you haven’t done anything wrong, I’ll fix it” I hoped, something in me wanting to save both of them, and if that worked, maybe I’d save myself in the process.

We drove through Kansas City and straight out the other side. “This can not be it, it’s a gas station!” I exclaimed. “That’s where it is, it’s a gas station barbecue restaurant! Google says it’s the best” Alaska insisted. What a way to cheer up the mood, with no seating in the gas station, we retreated to the running car, the cold air conditioning providing a relief to the 100 degree day outside. Together, we shared ribs, burnt end and pulled chicken baps. Sauce ran down or arms and smeared across our cheeks, we swapped excited smiles and grins full of food, rejoicing in the deliciousness of the moment.

Joe's Kansas CityAs you might expect, I took great delight declaring “I don’t think we’re in Kansas any more” as we slipped back into the city, across the state border. With a few hours to go until we could meet our next host, we found an old cinema that served thick alcoholic ice cream shakes and freshly baked cookies, so warm they were more dough than cookie. A Pixar movie brought both tears and smiles, making us each question what was really going on inside our heads! We approached our hosts house a few hours later “Wait!” Alaska stopped as we started up the path “look!” he pointed.

Tiny electric lights zapped into life, floating idly above the flowers. “What is it?” Blonde asked. “Fireflies” Alaska responded as though it were a stupid question. “FIREFLIES!” Blonde and I repeated in unison, our mouths wide in delight. In that moment, with the warm Mid-West evening air circling around us, our bellies full of comfort food and the sleepy feeling of endless summer days; we were children, each of us, staring in wonder at these tiny dancing light bulbs.

And then I got bitten by a mosquito.

Fire flies