The Nashville drunks

“Ooooh a porch swing!” I started in its direction. “Err do you want to knock first?!” Alaska pointed out, “oh yeah, good point”. I wore my brightest smile as a disgruntled teen opened the door. “Hi, we’re…” was all I managed before the teen snapped “wrong house” and slammed the door in our faces. “Well that was rude!” Alaska exclaimed, “he could have at least been nice about it” Blonde added as we dragged our bags back to the car.

“Hi…..we’re the couch surfers” I tried hesitantly for the second time that evening. “Cool, yeah, come in, don’t mind the dogs” the bearded Canadian greeted us into his home, welcoming us to Nashville.

nashville

The mood from the day before had been blown off with the rhythm and blues filling the streets of Memphis overnight. “Tell me again why we’re going to Elvis’ house?” Blonde enquired. “Graceland. Because it’s what you do when in Memphis. It’s up there with the Civil Rights museum, the ‘I have a dream’ balcony and Beale Street” I smiled enthusiastically, Blonde’s face was blank “‘Dream balcony?”. “Martin Luther King, come onnnnn, don’t make me relay the entire history of America again, you know I will!” I joked.

Alaska laughed remembering many a long drive where I’d regale them both with patchy history lessons. “Oh gosh no! No more history!” Blonde raised her palms in protest as we walked past the Heartbreak Hotel, before adding “What did Elvis sing again?”. “What! How do you not know this! He did loads of stuff!” I remarked, bemused.

“Go on then, name some!” Blonde challenged. “Well, there was” I paused, my Elvis catalogue suddenly blank “oh, err, oh! He sang ‘love me tender’ and….errr oh what was that one, you know, the famous one, with that tune, you know?” I looked at Alaska for help as Blonde laughed at my failure. Alaska rolled his eyes before reeling off “Suspicious Minds, Blue suede shoes, A little less conversation, Heartbreak hotel, Jailhouse rock…”. Blonde and I shared a glance with raised eyebrows “all right, super fan much?!”. “Hey, you’re the one who wanted to come here, I’d of been happy spending the day on Beale street!” he argued back with smiling eyes.

Elvis

Unfortunately Elvis proved to be much more popular than we’d anticipated “I don’t really want to queue for two hours just to get on a bus up to the house and then have queue again” Blonde moaned. “Yeah, I agree, let’s just look in the…” I paused to count “7 Elvis gift shops! Wow, does he really need that much merchandise?!” I exclaimed. “What shall we do the rest of the morning, you said you wanted to be on the road by 1 so we’ve only got a few hours” Alaska asked. “Up to you two, think it’s a choice between Civil rights or Beale street?” I proposed clutching my Elvis t-shirt, bottle opener, magnet, iron on patch… “ooh look! They’ve got Elvis Christmas decorations in that one, I’ll be right back!”.

Beale street was asleep, waiting for the shops to close and the neon lights to wake up for the evening. We were about to leave when the soft notes of a saxophone carried us through the air into a small lot. Drums joined the sax, keeping pace for the bass before the electric guitar broke the humidity. “Y’all ready?” A voice thick with Southern charm called over the microphone to the small crowd, as the rhythm sank into our skin through the sun’s kiss; our afternoon was lost to Motown.

Motown

We pulled into Nashville much later than planned, “hi, we’re the couch surfers” I said hesitantly for the second time that evening….

Our host was in his early 30th, Canadian but well travelled having lived in London, California and Alaska. He talked of the various properties he owned, about the celebrity friends he’d acquired through his job consulting on on television and film sets. About the failed marriage to an Alaska lady. He spoke of the uniqueness of Nashville, how you could go out for a quiet Tuesday beer and end up in a roof top swimming pool of some mega stars house. He showed us the spreadsheet he’d created to keep track of the numerous couch suffers he had staying. Unusually he didn’t ask about us, people normally asked, they wanted to know how an Australian, English and Alaskan came to be on the road together, where we’d been, where we were going, who we were. Our host didn’t seem interested in us; not that I’m bias, but I thought we were pretty interesting.

We each chose a bunk in the room he’d converted especially for couch surfers “I’m not sure about him” Blonde confessed “yeah, me too, he seems a bit, well a bit show off, you’ know what I mean?” I added. “what are you two on about? He seems nice. You two are so judgemental, geeze give the man a chance!” Alaska argued, frowning at us.

bunk beds.jpg

I laid awake pondering first impressions,  I always felt awkward and uncomfortable when first meeting someone, that under lying insecurity to be like and the fear they might see straight through you, realising what a nutbag you really are. I thought about our host, about his confidence, it was more than that though, he came across as incredibly open, laying all his cards on the table. In my experience, anyone who behaves so open upon first introduction does so for one of two reasons. The first reason being that they hope by sharing everything, people might understand them, it’s an insecurity, it’s to say ‘look I’m honest, this is who I am, you understand right? I make sense now? I’ve told you all I have so we can be on the same team now? Like me, please like me’.

The second reason is more dangerous, it’s the first reason but to 90%, it’s where you share almost everything but keep a very large wall around that last 10%. People like this become arrogant, they forget they’re hiding that last 10% and become almost vain over the 90% developing a ‘love me or hate me‘ attitude, where they are so comfortable in who they believe they are they forget to tread carefully with others, to curve their mannerism or adapt to others sensitivities, because why should they ‘if you don’t get me, someone else will, why would I waste my time on you?’. It’s self protection, no point risking any more pain because that 10% was definitely caused by something big!

They flit, they’re never comfortable in one spot, needing constant excitement or praise or adrenaline; however, their long suffering friends see through all this, they ignore and forgive the vanity and ego, for they still see that remaining 10% that the owner believes so well hidden. The truth is, the 90% of openness is actually one giant wall of fake vulnerability built to protect that incredibly fragile 10%. Those who seem the most confident or downright up their own asses (looking at you Kanye West!) are the most insecure, desperate to be loved people in the world. I saw this in our host as he sat there celebrity name dropping. I saw all this because I use the exact same tools only I hadn’t quite realised it until I laid there in the top bunk pondering it all. The question I wanted to know, was what was he hiding in that 10%?

all alone in a world of trash

We drove around various celebrity houses the next day, ate yet more barbecue and finally, finally we got ready for a night out. The excitement was somewhat dampened when it came to choosing what to wear, Blonde had settled for one of my dresses, a dress that rose extremely short on her additional height over me and yet she pulled the look off. Everything felt tight and uncomfortable on me, I was left feeling self-conscious, tugging at my appearance in the mirror wondering if perhaps I should have worn the dress I’d lent Blonde before deciding it probably wouldn’t have zipped up on me any more anyway. Hair straighteners, make-up and copious amounts of alcohol would have to be enough to boost my confidence for the evening instead.

“I’m only going to have one drink…” Blonde began sitting on the toilet seat as I leaned into the mirror, mouth open, mascara wand raised. “Nope!” I responded, eyes still on my reflection. “Absolutely not! We are having a night out! We’ve been waiting for this all trip!” I insisted, standing back to check I was mascara lump free. “But I don’t want to be hungover tomorrow” Blonde tried. “You’ve never been drunk in your life! Besides, you’re young, you only get proper hangovers when you hit 30, you’ll be fine” I tried to reassure. “But what if you all leave me…” Blonde twisted one of her fingers in the other hand. “We’re not going to leave you” I straightened my dress and sighed in disappointment at the completed look. “But what if I lose you and don’t know how to get home, what if…”. I turned to face her “listen, we are not going to lose you, you’ll be fine! I promise, no man gets left behind ok! Come on, it’s going to be fun!”.

It'll be fun.gif

“I’m not doing shots!” Blonde yelled over the live band, “yes you are, we all are!” Alaska yelled back as the host lined them up. “Ughhhhhhhhh!” I sputtered, as the liquid tore fire down my throat, setting my belly alight “I hate shots!” I yelled, bouncing on my toes to the music.

“Another round?” Alaska asked as Blonde left for the toilet, “not for me, I can’t hack em! Give me a vodka and coke any day!”. “Shall we get Blonde one?” the host gestured towards the bathroom “she won’t do one if Becky isn’t” Alaska pointed out. “Get me a shot of cola then” I advised. “Oooh” an idea had come over him, he leant into the bar, ordering three shots of coke and one of black Sambuca. With Blonde’s return, we each took our shot, each producing Oscar worthy performances of grimaced faces. “Same again?” the host winked, “yeah, go then” Alaska smiled wickedly back. “Not another shot?! I’m going to get drunk!” Blonde looked concerned “it’s only three, you won’t get drunk on that” I stated. I was wrong, oh so, so wrong! We each sank our second shot of cola, Blonde swallowed her third Sambuca. We played a mean trick that would prove to be our own undoing.

shots

“I want food! Becky I WANT FOOD” Blonde yelled into my ear, she was beginning to sway on her feet “umm, yeah, maybe that’s a good idea. Let’s get you a glass of water first shall we?”. “No I want food now!” she fired back. “Errr guys, I think we should get her some food” I called to the boys at the bar who were polishing off another drink, shaking my head in the direction of Blonde who’s own head was starting to droop.

Blonde hooked the hosts arm for support as we headed to a pizza bar, Alaska and I followed behind “You didn’t give her any more when I was in the bathroom did you?” I accused, confused how she was drunk so quickly. “No, she’s only had the three shots” he responded amused. “How can she be that drunk on three! I’ve seen her drink more than that before and she wasn’t even pissed those times!” I declared. “WHY IS IT STILL DAYLIGHT OUT!” Blonde yelled ahead of us “BECKY! DON’T LOSE ME!”. “I won’t, it’s fine” I called.

“Seriously, how is she that drunk?!” I turned to Alaska. “Well she didn’t have much barbecue and that was quite a while ago” Alaska summarised, “she had the same as me” I protested, he gave me a quick look up and down unaware that I’d notice, swallowed an opinion down and answered “yeah but she’s had two shots more…”.”Oh come on, she’s acting like she had a bottle of it!” I insisted. “You think she’s putting it on?” Alaska looked at me, at that moment Blonde stumbled on her ankle, saved from grace by the hosts arm keeping her upright “no, she’s not faking, I’m just never seen someone get so wasted so quickly, she better sober up though or we’re not getting in anywhere tonight!”.

one drink

“I want that pizza! Becky I want that pizza right there! Why isn’t he serving me?! I want that slice right there! I can get it myself” Blonde rose from her stool, ready to go behind the bar to rescue her slice. “Stay there! He’s getting it for you, he’s just serving those people their drinks” I caught the bartenders eye, offering an apologetic smile. “I want water! Get me some water” Blonde placed her head onto the bar “don’t…” I didn’t catch her in time as her forehead made contact with some spilt liquid, she rose her head, hair stuck to her skin, water dripping down her brow, a toothy smile planted across her face “where’s my pizza! Whys it taking soooo long!”. “You are such a demanding drunk!” I shook my head bemused.

“Let’s get her more drunk!” Alaska called from further down the bar, I leaned in to see past Blonde “shut it! This is all your fault!” I yelled. “You started it!” he laughed. “I don’t want to drink any more, Becky I don’t feel very well” tears slipped from her eyes. “Ok, let’s go to the bathroom!”. I rose from my seat, grabbing Blonde by the arm to steady her, she bounced off the tables like a pinball.

Yanking paper from the dispenser, I lifted her chin to wipe the tears away, just as soon as I raised her head to face me, she let out an almighty burp. “Ughhh” I grimaced “thanks for that!”. “I want cherries! Can I have some cherries, can you get me some cherries?” Blonde demanded, blowing her nose into the papers, keeping eye contact as she did so; I found it oddly unsettling. “I thought you wanted pizza” I asked, passing her more paper. “After the pizza. I want cherries and pizza!”. “Stay here, I’m just going to use the toilet”. I locked the door behind me and sat down “BECKY” Blonde’s face appeared over the top of the door “oh my god!” I jumped, she laughed “don’t watch me pee!”. She stayed put “I’m drunk” she smiled. “Yeah, I know”.

oh my god.gif

“Right ready to go back out there for now?” I asked, drying my hands. “Yep” she smiled, followed by a wobbling lip. She burst into tears and collapsed into a heap on top of me, I fell into the door, not prepared to hold her weight “what if you all leaveeee me” she sniffed into my collarbone.

Alaska and Host were deep in conversation as we returned “alright?” Host remarked at our reappearance. “Yeah!” I answered deadpan. “I want cherries!” Blonde yelled “and water! Where’s my pizza!”. The waiter placed a glass of water in front of her, she instantly knocked it over. “Oh shit!” I leapt into action, grabbing handfuls of napkins to mop up the spill, Blonde laughed, whipping her hand through the liquid, flicking it into my face. After two more spilt glasses, the annoyed bar tender placed a plastic take-away cup of water in front of her, complete with a lid and straw. “I want more pizza!” Blonde yelled after her third large slice. “We’ve eaten it all, we need to pay” I responded. “Fine!” Blonde answered, making no effort to reach for her purse. “That means you have to put money down” I tried again. “Fine!” she snapped.

I placed my own money on the counter, she lifted a hand, sliding my notes across the bar to in front of her. “Err, no! That’s my money!” I stated, sliding my money back again. “FINE!” she shook her head at me as if I was being difficult, she turned to her other side, host had his wallet open, settling his share of the bill. Blonde attempted to pull out a note “no, and that’s my money!” Host laughed. “You have to pay your own bill!” I sighed. “FINNNNEEEEEE” Blonde yelled, pulling out her purse and laying a single dollar on the counter “keep going” I watched, Blonde burped in response, laying another dollar down “try again” I kept at her, 10 dollar’s later we were finally there “that’s a lot for a single slice of pizza!” Blonde complained, “you had three slices!” I clarified. “No I didn’t!” Blonde narrowed her eyes. “Yeah you did, and you ate some of mine!” Host answered, “mine too” I added. “I want cherries!”.

get it together

“Maybe we should take her home and put her to bed?” I proposed to the boys, “nah, she’ll be al’right, just let the food settle in and get her some fresh air” Host answered. “Yeah, she just needs to walk it off a little” Alaska added. “Fine, take her outside and I’ll get her some more water” I still thought bed was the best option.

“Where are they?” I exclaimed, panicked as Host and I emerged with the water to find no sign of Blonde or Alaska. “Oh shit!” Host looked up and down the street wildly for a sign of them. “I promised her I wouldn’t lose her and now I have! Shitttt!!!” I yelled. We dashed up and down the street “is that them down there?” I pointed at the end of the busy boulevard. They stood transfixed watching a street magician who looked delighted at his captured audience, albeit a drunk one. “What the hell! Where did you guys go, we were worried!” I looked at Alaska “what? we were walking it off” he stated innocently. I passed Blonde her water, she dropped it instantly, barely noticing as it exploded over the floor at her feet, instead she leant forward, lifting the top hat off the magicians head and placing it on her own. She looped an arm around Alaska and the hosts neck, letting her weight hang. I picked up the dropped drink, moving it to the trash can. Impatiently I waited for the trio to finish watching the magic tricks “I’m bored now!” Blonde announced, releasing the host, and spinning round, propelling Alaska to start walking again. Apologising, I lifted the hat off Blonde’s head, giving it back to the slightly disappointed magician, providing him with the tip the other three had forgotten.

street magician

“Where are my cherries?” Blonde yelled as I passed yet another glass of water across the table. We’d found a bar that was just crowded enough it was possible to hide anyone too drunk without being kicked out by the bouncers. “Here!” the host thrust a glass full of cherries in Blonde’s direction. Her face lit up but failed in delivering a thank you. “Where’d you get those? I asked at the bar and they didn’t have any!” I enquired. “I ran down the street to a cocktail bar, bumped into an ex-girlfriend who works there so thanks for that!” he answered. “Hey, don’t blame me, I don’t want cherries, but actually, since they’re here!” I leant forward, pulling one out of the glass by its steam “they’re my cherries!” Blonde snapped.

I need to go to the toilet! Blonde demanded, I held her hand, guiding her swaying ways through the crowded bar “act sober” I hissed for fear of getting thrown out “she looks sunburnt!” Blonde blurted out, poking a finger into a red faced girl. “I’m so sorry, it’s her first time being drunk” I apologised. “That’s ok, I am sunburnt” the girl replied bemused “see!” Blonde turned to me.

As I washed my hands, Blonde surveyed the toilet attendants collection “do you have peppermint?”. The attendant offered her a mint “is it good peppermint? Is it good?” Blonde questioned whilst popping the sweet into her mouth. She reached over and pulled a stick of chewing gum from the selection, sticking that in her mouth along with the sweet. With that she wondered out of the toilets, leaving me behind to once again tip.

drunk blonde.png

“Do you want a drink?” the host asked as I escorted Blonde back to her seat, “yes please! I need one! Vodka coke, and more water for her!”. Blonde was leaning on Alaska chatting “here’s your water” the host stated, returning with the drinks. “Careful!” I yelled a moment too late as the water soaked into Alaska’s lap. Blonde found it hysterical, turning the glass upside down and emptying the rest “look Alaska’s wet himself!” she yelled, reaching across for my drink to empty that too “no!” I raised a finger like you would to a toddler.

The evening drove on, Blonde leaning into Alaska, her alcohol slowly wore off whilst the rest of ours wore in. I got lost in conversation with the host, unaware Alaska and Blonde had been kicked out. Blonde appeared at the table, looking much closer to sober “I think you two need to come outside, the door guys won’t let Alaska back in and he’s just asked some guys to come rough you up” she pointed to the host. “What? What are you talking about?” I asked alarmed “I don’t know, he’s just gone weird”.

We came outside to find Alaska banging his head against the wall “what are you doing?!” I demanded. With his forehead still on the wall, he turned to face me, giggled and sprinted off in the opposite direction. I yelled after him. “I’ll get him” the Host signalled, marching off. I was seriously beginning to question what kind of review this host would be leaving us. Alaska managed to get into another bar but the doormen wouldn’t let the host in, mistakenly believing him to be the drunk one.

drinking

With the poshest English accent I could muster I approached the door “excuse me, I’m terribly sorry but our friend has just entered, do you mind if I just pop in and retrieve him as we’re about to depart for the night. Would that be ok please? Sorry. Thank you. Please” I was tempted to pop a ‘Gov’nor’ in there too but felt I might be over doing things. I found Alaska at the bar, throwing back yet another drink “What the hell are you doing?!” I snapped, all patience for the evening completely dried up. “Oh, done talking to the host are we? I don’t like him, he’s a swine!” he tried to catch the bartenders eye for another round. “What the hell are you on about! You’re drunk and paranoid! Come on, we’re going home” I pulled at his arm.

“I’m staying” he signalled to the bartender again. “No you’re not, come on! I’ll make the door guys kick you out!” I argued. After much persuasion I managed to get Alaska outside to find host waiting, Alaska took one look at us and began running up and down the road “you can’t catch me, you can’t catch me” he canted like a school boy. “Where’s Blonde?!” I worried, afraid I’d lost her once again, “just there” he pointed to Blonde slumped against the wall, a worried look was spreading across her tired face “you two get in the taxi, I’ll get him” Host insisted.

We clambered into the back seat, Blonde rested her head on my shoulder “can we go to bed now?”. “Soon” I patted her head, waiting for the boys. Host had managed to convince a few locals to help cajole Alaska into the car, Alaska to his credit proved to be very light on his feet, twisting and turning from their grasps faster than a pro footballer. “Can we go now” Blonde moaned sleepily, “hang on”. I made to move “where are you going? Don’t leave me” Blonde looked up in alarm. “I’ll be right back” I answered, climbing out the door. Alaska was still giggling as he ran up and down, I was less than amused. “ALASKA, GET YOUR ASS IN THIS CAR RIGHT THIS SECOND!” I yelled, stamping my foot in a way my five year old self would have recognised. Somehow it worked.

drunk people

With host in the front and Blonde and Alaska slumped either side of me, I stared through the windscreen from the middle seat, my teeth clenched in frustration, I’d wanted a wild night out but not like this, not like this at all. I caught my eyes in the mirror, rage burnt behind them ‘swallow it down, just let it go, it’s not like you’ve never been a nightmare drunk before, let them have this, don’t say anything, be nice’ I told myself.

“What’s wrong with Alaska? I don’t like him like this” Blonde stated as we prepared for bed , “listen I don’t want to two sharing a room with him tonight, I’m not sure he’s safe” the host stated. “Oh, he’s fine. He’s just drunk and got a bit jealous, he’s harmless” I insisted. “Still, I’m not letting you two share a room with him, I don’t like how he was acting tonight. You can both have my bed, I’ll sleep on the couch”. He wasn’t going to take no for an answer, so I set Blonde up in the room, not ready to sleep yet myself “you are going to sleep in here with me aren’t you?” she muttered already half asleep “yes” I answered closing the bedroom door.

sleep time

Alaska was cooling off on the porch so host and I set up shop on the sofas. “What is going on?!” the host asked, clearly confused by the developments of the night. I tried to explain what had happened on the last night Blonde and I had stayed in Alaska the state, how Alaska the man and I had formed a close bond over recognising this inner pain in each other but how by making Alaska aware of some of the issues he’d been holding onto, he’d had this strong reaction and lashed out, attacking my confidence. I went on to share how Alaska had flown to Chicago to join the road trip because he’d felt he’d found someone who loved him for who he was inside, not the version of himself he shows the world. That he wanted to explore this ‘love thing’ further, mistakenly believing that if someone loved him it would fix all the issues he’d been building since childhood.

I went on to stay that Alaska now wanted a relationship but I wasn’t so sure I agreed, “the thing is, he told me I wasn’t physically attractive in anyway. I know that’s not what really matters in the long run but, well I’m still a girl, I still want to feel attractive. I’m not confident enough in myself for it not to matter that other people don’t find me attractive. I want someone to love me inside and out. He thinks I’m asking for too much, saying I’ll never find that which just makes me feel even more ugly, like he’s saying that I’m so hideous, no one will ever find me physically attractive.

But he’s wrong, I’ve had past relationships where the guy loved me for how I looked and my personality. I’ve definitely dated guys in the past who weren’t necessarily the blue eyed, tall, chiselled guy I’d consider my type but as I got to know them and fell for who they were, their physical side became more and more attractive. That’s how it works isn’t it? You love someone for who they are, and they become even more physically attractive as a result. You don’t even notice their bald spot or those annoying habits…well until it starts going wrong and then that knuckle popping becomes REALLYYYY annoying!

Anyway, my point is, he wants a relationship but I just feel like he looks at me like I’m some obese troll and yet I should be ok with that, even grateful because he likes my personality and that’s meant to be enough!” I paused, looking up at the host who smiled sympathetically. “Ughhh sorry, life story there! Ha! Where is he anyway? Is he still on the porch?” I rose from my seat, heading towards the front door.

Surreal Photography Inspiration

I surprised Alaska who was leaning against the door, clearly straining to listen to our conversation “go to bed!” I begged. “Ughhh” he huffed, pushing past me to the bathroom before heading to the bunk-bed room. “Let him go to sleep” Hosts insisted as I was about to go check on him.

We sat on the porch until the mosquitoes smelt my blood and began their nightly feed on my skin, we retired back inside for safety. Alaska stumbled out the bedroom, falling over on the kitchen floor. Host sighed, lifting him up and helping him back to bed, I stood in the doorway watching helplessly, suddenly spying something next to the bed “what is this!” I yelled, holding the nearly empty bottle of vodka, Alaska only smiled naughtily at being caught “that’s mine! And why has he got a lemon and a pineapple in here too!”. I groaned “clearly he was trying to make a cocktail!”.

We sat at the kitchen table “right, enough about me! Tell me about you!” I declared. “I’ve told you everything there is to know” he began. “Nope, there’s something in there, you’re hiding it. Come on, spill!” I was looking for that 10% of vulnerability to explain the rest of him. “All these houses? Celebrities? You got quite a few dogs, you fill your house with couch surfers, you’re really out going? If you don’t mind me saying, I sort of get the impression you don’t like to be alone for too long?” I was trying to tread carefully, I wasn’t exactly know for my tact.

doc

Thankfully, he laughed, “Well maybe. Alaska’s lucky, I’d give it all up to have someone who truly cares about me”. I waited “I had it once” he paused. “What happened?” I presumed he was talking about his ex-wife, “she died” he answered. “Oh, I’m sorry. I thought you’d got divorced from your ex-wife, sorry, I didn’t realise…”.

He chuckled “oh not that bitch! No she cheated on me and then the guy she did it with ended up getting arrested, she’s back in Alaska now” he smiled. “Then who…” I started. “We were high school sweethearts, I thought she was the one. She was the one. She died in a car crash when we were 17. I guess I never really got over it. Got married young, the next girl who came along, and well, you know how that ended…” he smiled sadly.

The confidence, how we’d mistaken it for boastfulness, it saddened me that Blonde and Alaska would never see the real side. “Wow! That’s so tough. And you’re stuck with the memory of your first love, never getting to see it through or see how it might have played out. I mean you will always compare things to that, and nothing will live up to the memory” I resolved. “Yeah, exactly. So Alaska’s lucky, I just don’t get why you’re putting up with it if he makes you feel the way he does” his face contorted in confusion.

“Well, I love him, I mean, I know he’s a good guy and so what if he’s a little fucked up, we all are. I’m just not sure I can be ‘in love’ with him y’know? He really hurt me when he said all those things. I don’t know if I can get past that, I’m not sure if I want to get into something where it won’t ever matter how much effort I make, the person I’m with will never find me attractive. Do I sound shallow? I dunno, I know we all get old and fat and grow hairs from our chin but at the start, well you want to be physically and mentally attracted to each other right?!” I finished as Alaska stumbled out the bedroom once again having been listening.

lisening at the door

“I do think you’re attractive” he slurred “but not in the way you want me to, what am I suppose to say, you have a small ass or good body? I’d be lying and you’d see through it! Do you want me to lie, is that it?” he slumped onto the sofa. I took a deep breath “no of course not, but everything you say makes me feel awful about myself. I don’t want to be with someone who makes me feel bad about myself” I yawned.

“I can’t win! If I give you a compliment you think I’m full of shit but if I don’t say anything, that’s not right either” he complained. Host interrupted “you obviously really knocked her confident with everything you said up in Alaska, now it’s your job to try and repair the damage you’ve done. You’re going to have to work really hard and give lots of compliments!”. “It won’t work, she’ll think I’m being insincere” Alaska dismissed.

“You could at least try and say something nice, rather than all the things that are wrong with me!” I shot back. The host lifted an arm around my shoulder in support “well maybe, it’s going to take a really long time until she’s going to believe you find her attractive or trusts that you mean it, she might never get there but it’s down to you to try, to try and repair some of the damage you caused” as the Host spoke, I wondered if he had more belief in my forgiveness skills than I actually possessed.

gone fishing

Blonde cooked an apology breakfast for everyone the next morning as we poked fun “no cherries on mine thanks”. Alaska replaced the vodka as I stripped the bed sheets. We awkwardly waved goodbye to the host “please don’t give us a bad review”. The mood in the car was sombre as I pulled away, rain smashing against the windows. “Yeah, least favourite host so far” Alaska muttered grouchily, “I’m not sure he was such a fan of yours either!” I spoke into the mirror, watching Alaska readjust his backpack as a pillow. As Alaska and Blonde slept, I worried at my lip, all those swallowed frustrations beginning to turn my stomach. It was probably just the hangover.

 

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The mood

The water glistened, winking sunlight at me smugly, I dipped a toe into the creek, rings rippled away, even the water didn’t want to be near me. Unseen children’s laughter floated through the trees; I pictured families packing away picnic lunches as the traffic hummed from the nearby free-way. Lazily I retracted my foot, pulled up my leg and rested my head on the knee, hugging it tightly. I was in a mood, a right royal, screw you, I hate everything kind of mood. I sighed, letting the air escape my lungs as a warm gust of wind lifted the hair from my face, laying it gently down on my shoulders with a comforting pat.

by the lake

We’d returned from the cowboy bar the night before, late and tired “Are you going to sleep in Alaska’s room?” Blonde asked, an edge to her voice. “I can do” I responded, weighing up who was better to share with and determining Alaska was less likely to get up three times to pee or bang about first thing. “Good, cos I’m really tired, I want a good night sleep” Blonde persisted. “Yeah, me too” I began to gather my things for bed. “Don’t disturb me in the morning, I really want to sleep” Blonde went on “What time are we leaving?”. With my back to her, I rolled my eyes “11” I told her for the third time that night.

“Ok, well if I’m not up by 10.50 then you can wake me, but not before that!” Blonde insisted. “Okayyyy” I sighed, tiredness creeping at the edges of my voice. “I really want a good night sleep” she didn’t stop. “Yes! I get it, don’t disturb you, sleep, I know” I was almost laughing, the memory of all the times I’d wanted to sleep on the trip which she’d kindly ignored holding me back. “Actually can you take your suitcase out of the room now, then you won’t need to come in at all in the morning”. “Ok” I yawned. “Yeah so don’t disturb m…” she repeated herself before I interrupted “Good night!” I walked out the room exasperated.

i will punch you

As it happened, I chose badly. Alaska, uncomfortable from his sunburnt back, tossed and turned all night. Arms and legs trying to entangle me into a hug, his heat radiated off until I broke out in sweat. I shifted away until my nose met the wall. With morning’s arrival, he crept from the bed and began to pack his bag. I’m convinced he was sitting on the floor zipping it back and forth on purpose to annoy me and yet, desperate to hang on to as much slumber as I could, my eyes remained tightly closed in stubbornness.

I was dreaming, staring at the mirror, my body covered in tattoos, words of insecurity etched into my skin, they burnt, appearing from under the skin and rising to the surface.

loud.jpg

A moment later the bedroom door swung open “Bec what time are we leaving? 11? Shall I text the host? Tell him we’ll be leaving soon? Actually can you text him? My phone’s out of credit again. I need to pick up coffee on the way, we need to stop somewhere” Blonde fired questions like a machine gun. I groaned, I’d had ten minutes of a bed to myself, I could have had half an hour more sleep, I wanted to fall back into the dream, I wanted to read the words, to see the scars hoping they’d disappear.

My mind hung foggy, confused between trying to read and struggling to understand the meaning of Blonde’s questions. I wanted sleep, I wanted to remain still until the last possible second and then turn into a whirlwind. All rushing, drama and destruction, and then I’d be done, bags packed, good to go. Ok fine, I’d be five minutes late but I’d make it up on the road, I always made up the time, ‘just let me sleep!’

sleep.jpg

Blonde ignored my silent plea, my rest of no concern to her. She continued with her questions, I groaned some sort of response “I know, yes, whatever, oh my gawdddd leave me alonneeee”. She didn’t “well are you going to be ready to leave at 11? I want to go on time…”. “Aghhhhhhhhhhhhhh yes! I know” I yelled, the cover now over my head despite the risk of suffocation. “Ok well make sure you’re ready then!” Blonde commanded.

“I fucking know! Just let me sleep, you made such a fuss about me not disturbing you, so let me fucking sleep!” I really wasn’t very nice first thing in the morning. “Becky!” Alaska snapped at my swearing. The rage began to fire, killing the remainder of any sleep, I kept my eyes shut resiliently “ughhh fuck off both of you! Leave me aloneeeeee”.

morning

I could feel Blonde and Alaska exchange looks, Blonde pouting her mouth in sass, Alaska shacking his shoulders ‘what can you do?!‘, Blonde’s voice came through the sheet “well there’s no need to be such a bitch about it, I’m only saying”. I yelled something, lost in muffles as I spun my back to them both and faced the wall. The door closed loudly with their departure. I relayed all the reason’s why Blonde and Alaska sucked in my head, all the times things were unjust and I’d lost out, how unfair everything was. Then I pulled out my phone to see what the rest of the people in the world who I hated were doing.

Blonde and Alaska exchanged another look when I finally emerged from the room, their faces smug in the satisfaction that they’d managed to rouse me from the bed. Come 11, my bags were packed and in the car….the other two rushed around trying to gather their things. I sat in the vehicle, the air conditioner running as my mood began to set in. Every day they’d moan it was me making us leave late and yet I hadn’t been late in weeks but somehow still got the blame.

hate everything

Half an hour into the drive, with my mood leaving a smoke trail out the window, Alaska proposed playing a story game. I wasn’t interested, I wanted to wallow into myself, pulling my headphones out instead, laptop balanced across my lap, relaxing as my fingers tap-danced across the keyboard.

Blonde grew bored of driving a short while after that, wanting to swap. I was angry, I hated being interrupted mid passage, I was angry she wanted to change after such a short time, I was angry we’d wasted time getting her coffee, I was angry at everything.

Anger is a funny thing, I like it, it’s hot and passionate. By far the easiest emotion to grasp and hold on to. Plus if you hold on long enough, the white heat stops burning and then you begin to feel powerful. It drowns out all the other emotions, it’s only later when the electricity runs out that guilt, retribution and sadness flood in to fill the void. It felt physical and real; it was easy to obtain and you didn’t have to work for it, I liked it. I didn’t realise at the time but as mum had grown sicker and then after the rest of it, my go to reaction was to channel everything into this anger.

rage.gif

I thought I was handling everything so well because I was in control; I’d clamped my mouth shut and push it down to fire my belly. I’d squeezed my fists and let it flow through my veins, only the darkness in my eyes showing any sign and no one really takes the time to look at your eyes in London. But sometimes, sometimes I bubbled over and let that delicious fire lick the air. I’d rage and swear, scream and stomp my feet, let the energy rush out in a loud, dangerous storm of desire and despair.

Screw your and your positive energy, meditating, yoga workshop bullshit where you bury any anger for a crappy Facebook status about putting out good karma and pretending your life is perfect! Angers the best, it’s real and wild and awesome…that is until it’s not of course. Yes, anger was my favourite, it made me feel alive when everything else was killing me.

meditation.jpg

We swapped seats, I readjusted the mirrors she’d had the nerve to change so she could see the road safely. I settled in, I liked driving, I liked the safety of my bubble, the protection and control of my little environment. The lightning surged through me, I wanted to drive fast, to break all the speed limits. I wanted the music blaring loud, to scream along to songs full of teen angst. Expelling the energy of anger was the only way I knew to relieve it, hot dangerous tears, loud singing or some sort of physical exertion were the only way.

As the Arkansas farmland whipped by, I turned the music, needing the bass. It wasn’t as loud as I’d have liked, some manners in the back of my mind managing to re-frame from destroying Blonde and Alaska’s eardrums. I wanted the beat, needing my heart to race along with the drums, transferring anger into happiness. We could all sing together, our voices mashing into a terrible choir, laughter saving us all. Then maybe we’d all be ok again.

existence is hard.gif

I needed to get to that place where we were all happy with each other, only I didn’t know how to do that alone, I needed someone to give me an ‘in’. When you’ve been in a mood for too long and you’re not even that angry any more, you start to feel a little embarrassed. It’s not like you can turn and say “I’m fine now, let’s get on” or “I’m in a mood today and I don’t know why, so can we pretend it’s not happening and you all try to not piss me off?” people would think you’re nuts! I certainly wasn’t a strong enough person to admit I was sorry or wrong or was acting like an ass.

So sometimes you need a little help, you need an ‘in’. Sometimes people will see this and help you out, they’ll make a joke, or hug you until you have no choice but to smile, sometimes they won’t give up on you, sometimes people are the best and sometimes you’re in a car with people who have no idea how much of an internal battle you’re holding. So I turned the music up, put our usual sing-along songs on and hoped it would suffice.

singing in car

Blonde leaned over and turned the radio down, ‘WHAT ARE YOU DOING!!!!’ the anger screamed within, returning to it’s acid ways. ‘You’re not doing it right! You need to be funny, you need to help me out of this, please help me out of it because I’m trapped in here’ I wanted to say. Instead I became territorial, the volume control belonged to the driver and right now, I was the driver! I reached across and turned the volume back up.

“I didn’t turn it up when you were writing! You’re being immature!” Blonde snapped. “Oh please! Whatever! You’re the one being immature!” I spat back because I’m the mature one and more adult and she sucks and…she was right and that was more annoying than anything!

sit here angry

I drove in silence, I drove too fast, I put my middle finger up at the woman in the truck who dared to cut in front of me – then I felt embarrassed and rude for swearing at a stranger. I tried to sing, I could only mumble the words. Alaska dozed in the back, Blonde watched a TV show on her phone, headphones in, obstinately ignoring me.

I fought with every voice in my head. I heard my mum say I was ruining everyone’s day ‘you have a choice, either sit here mad or make an effort to be nice’ only I was too stubborn to do that and presides, I didn’t know how.

“Do you want to stop soon?” Blonde braved the silence to ask. I was so stubborn, I’d have held on to my pee and hunger for the rest of the day. “I’ve only been driving an hour, I’m fine!” I said through gritted teeth. “Well I want to walk” she ordered. “Fine!”.

roadtrip

I drove on for ten minutes, trying to find a service station or somewhere we could pull over. “Are you hungry” Blonde questioned. “No” I was. “Do you want to stop soon” she followed. “Yes, fine” I was irritated. “Shall we stop soon?” she immediately asked again. “Yes! I heard the first time, I’m trying to find somewhere!” I snapped unreasonably.

I pulled off by a cluster of small creeks, parking the car in the shade and stepped out the to spray my skin in cheap,sticky sun cream, shining from the grease of it. “I’m going to the toilet”.

I didn’t want to talk to the other two, I wanted space to figure out what was wrong. “Gone to the water” I text Alaska so I didn’t have to return. “Blonde’s coming to look for you, said she hasn’t seen you this upset before” his messaged beeped through.

out of the car

They were wrong, I wasn’t angry any more, I just wanted space to work out why I had been. I walked to the end of a pontoon and dipped one foot into the lake. I battled with my conscious, guilt flooding me, ‘why must I be so difficult, swallow it down, be better, be nice, make an effort, what’s wrong with you’ the same old words, the same failures.

I was always so irritable, I blamed it on hormones but that felt like an excuse. I felt guilty all the time, it all seemed so confusing, holding onto this anger and not understanding where it was coming from. I’d held on to these feelings for so long, it made me feel terribly sad which naturally led me to think of my mother, which in turn made me even sadder. Stupid spiral of crappiness, uggh!

in a box

Children’s laughter floated through the air. As ever, I wanted to call my mum as I would have in the years gone by “Muuuummm, I’m in a mood. And I don’t know why. And I’m being a cow and everyone is going to hate me but it’s all their stupid fault. Yes it is! Ok fine, maybe it’s not entirely their fault but, but…” and then she’d say “yeah, you’re right, you a terrible person and everyone hates you”.

I’d groan “Mumm!” and she’d follow “No of course you’re not a terrible person. You’re had a big shock and it’s going to take a long time until things settle down, you isolated yourself from people and now you are learning how to handle these situations without coming to me for help, it’s not going to be easy but you’ll learn and it WILL get better. You’ll be ok”.  I wanted to cry at this internal conversation, picturing us drinking Pimms on her decking before watching a Christmas movie in July like we always did because, why not?

memories

I heard a creak on the decking behind me, Blonde sat down. Not too close as though for fear of spooking me. I kept my back turned, I didn’t want a conversation, I wanted to live in past summer days with my mum. “Do you want some cashew nuts?” Blonde asked. “No thanks” I did. “I’m sorry for snapping in the car and for this morning” she tried, showing her maturity far above my own. “It’s fine” I said because I didn’t want to be an adult and deal with things properly.

“Come on Bec, don’t be in a mood all day. Memphis is going to be great.”. “I’m just tired” I said, too locked in my own body to move. “Did you not sleep well?” she tried again. I knew she was making an effort, really trying but at that moment, I just wanted to be left alone to have an imaginary conversation with my dead mother.

I wanted to fall into the water and let it swallow me up like it had a year before but you can’t explain that to someone so instead I said “Alaska tossed and turned all night, his sunburn made it like being hugged by a radiator”. “Ok, well I’m going to go sit in the shade because I’m melting, but just let me know when you’re ready to head off” not getting anywhere with me. I felt a rush of warmth towards her at that moment, knowing not to push me, not demanding a response I wasn’t ready to give.

submerged

A few minutes later another creak came, I thought Blonde had returned. I wanted to say thanks for trying but also to bark I wanted a few moments alone, when I felt a strong pair of arms around my shoulders as Alaska settled behind me and embraced. I struggled free, shaking him off “I don’t want to be hugged” I said, he wouldn’t let go. He tried to massage out the knot from my shoulders “you’re so tense”. “Leave me alone!” I demanded. He wouldn’t. “You need to be hugged” he insisted.

I tried a different tactic “I want to go in the water but I’m scared there might be alligators” I said splashing the surface gently with my toe, too frightened to dip my full foot in. “It’s the leaches you want to worry about” he advised, I retracted my foot to the safety of the pontoon instantly, he laughed at my reaction. “I’m going to go for a walk with Blonde, we’ll meet you at the car when you’re ready” he departed.

let me be.jpg

As soon as they were out of sight I retreated back to the shade, sweat blotting on the back of my dress. ‘Why were they both being so nice to me when I was acting like such a dick?’ I didn’t understand. I was hungry, I could feel my blood sugar dropping making my head start to swoon as it always did when I skipped meals. They would think I was in an even bigger mood if I fell quiet from the lack of sugar. Being an adult was hard, I got off the bench and started for the car.

I didn’t want to be a grown up, ‘when did everyone else get so good at it?!’

not an adult

Southern hospitality and the Eden of Oklahoma

“Shhhhh!” Alaska whispered, his index finger raised to his lips. “What?” Blonde inquired loudly, ignoring the international symbol for silence. “Shut up!” Alaska snapped in a raised whisper “look!” he crouched down, pointing to something under the truck parked behind our car. I sighed, lifting my case into the boot, we didn’t have time for this “what is it?” leaning down to see what Alaska and Blonde were now gaping at. There sat a tiny baby raccoon “arrrrr” I squealed, “shhhh!!” Alaska muttered again, giving me a gentle shove causing me to lose balance and topple over onto my ass. “I’m going to catch it, he can come with us in the car, I’ll name him Franklin!” Alaska decided.

baby raccoon.jpg

Our host for Kansas City had been a lawyer in his early thirties; smart, fun and generous. He’d left us glaze covered pastries the size of dinner plates for breakfast, took us to a performance of King Lear in the park with his friends (I’d failed to follow the plot, leaning back on the blanket and drifting away with the sunset reflecting clouds). We’d rounded the evening off with far too many drinks in a local bar and then witnessed a Mid-West thunderstorm. It had been sudden and violent, breaking the humidity and tearing the world apart. Had I still been hanging onto the theory that my moods affected the weather, I’d have said the rain was just my tears from the day, heavy and sad.

rain storm

The host ran the three block to his house, retrieved his car and came back to rescue us as we remained sheltered under the bar decking talking to an old drunk Vet who wasn’t quite there and who kept yelling at the sky to “give it you damnedest”. The night ended with a few rounds of Cards Against Humanity. If you’ve never played this game, it’s a card game where those with the most twisted personality reigns supreme, as you can imagine, I’m a natural!

With the raccoon hiding inside the rim of a tyre, we pulled Alaska away and headed south, leaving the grey remains of the storm and driving straight into summer.

driving into summer

“I really liked our host last night! He was so lovely” I declared as I pulled the car away from the curb. “I didn’t know people could be so nice, I mean not to strangers, I feel like you meet the best of humanity by couch surfing, you know?” I looked at the host’s old Victorian house one last time in the wing mirror and turned the corner. “On to Oklahoma then! I hope we find some cowboys! Oklahoma is where the cowboys are from, right?” I tried to sound upbeat.

“Can’t we skip Oklahoma? It’s way out the way” Alaska moaned, punching one of the toppling bags away from him on the back-seat. “Yeah, there’s nothing there, we could have an extra day Memphis” Blonde jumped on the bandwagon.

“Oh come onnnn, this’ll be the only state we’ll miss in the middle if we don’t go, and the host for tonight sounds lovely, he’s been texting me details and he’s really funny. And I’ve already confirmed what time we’ll arrive. He’s asked what we each drink and stocked the fridge for us! We can’t cancel now, we just can’t!” I begged trying and failing to convince the other. Occasionally it’s a good thing when you’re the one who’s done all the organising; as Alaska wasn’t doing any of the driving and Blonde still had no idea where the route actually led despite staring at the map everyday, it was left to me, and I decided we were bloody well going to Oklahoma!

Oklahoma_Cowboy.jpg

“Err why does the sat-nav say we’ll be there in two hours and my phone say four?” I pondered, confused. “You’re phone must be wrong” Blonde stated indifferently. “Hmmm I don’t think so, they were both the same time left before we stopped for lunch. I think the sat-nav might be wrong?” I raised an eyebrow. Blonde didn’t respond, instead reaching over to the sat-nav and tapping the screen “no, see, Yukon, I put it on right!” Blonde insisted. “That says Yukon, Missouri, not Yukon, Oklahoma. You didn’t change the state?” I answered. “Oh” Blonde uttered.

Several long hours later we pulled into a traditional American housing estate, to my delight it looked exactly like the houses on every American sitcom I’d watched growing up; suburbia in England just didn’t feel the same!

“I think it’s this one” I pointed across Blonde who was driving. “The one with the cop car in it?” Alaska leaned between the front seats “no, no no no! I do not like cops!”. “What do you mean?” Blonde asked, glancing over her shoulder as she pulled up to reverse in. “I don’t like cops, I don’t trust them, I don’t like them!” Alaska repeated laughing. “What’s wrong with cops? Are you wanted in the state of Oklahoma? Something you want to tell us?” I teased, pushing his face back between the seats.

suburbia.jpg

We clambered out and were greeted by a roar of welcomes from across the road. A group of people sat in camping chairs outside an open garage. “Becky, Alaska, Blonde, come on over, y’all wan’ a beer? Fix em a beer Jo! We been wai’in for y’all to arrive, star’in ta wonder wha’ happ’n to y’all”.

I wish I could write the accent properly, they spoke with a soft drawl, it was comforting,  naturally slow as thought they took the time to taste each word. Calming and reassuring all at once, it felt like being wrapped in a warm blanket. Not quite as pronounced as the drawl of the deep south but suthern and sweet to the ear none the less. It was the end of a warm day, dream like, one of those moments that can slot into history, timeless. We were engulfed by these neighbours, beers placed in hands and faces beaming from ear to ear.

the south

We requested to stay one night but the warmth and welcome sewed a seed to stay longer “I love it here” Blonde whispered into my ear “me too” I agreed. I worked out the dates quickly in my head, “if we only do one night in Nashville, we could stay two here? Can we stay an extra night?” I looked between Blonde and Alaska. “Definitely!” Alaska replied, bemused at being asked. I turned to the host “could we, would you mind, can we please stay longer, an extra day? Please? I know we’ve just arrived but we’re already having the best time” he could only laugh at our eagerness.

“What’s this?” I pointed to a metal plate on the garage floor as the host helped Blonde and I with the bags from the car. He followed my eyes “the storm shelter?”. “A storm shelter? Really?” I found this terribly exciting for some reason. “Yeah for tornado’s” the host fed-back bemused. “Tornado’s?” I was beginning to sound like a parrot, “You really get tornado’s here? Can I get in it?”imagining I was in the Wizard of Oz once again.

wizard of oz tornado.jpg

As the host slid the hatch open, I climbed down the steps to a small bunker, a slim bench on either side. “Can I get in too!” Blonde’s voice floated down from the garage overhead. “What are you two doing?” Alaska, back from the bathroom “hanging out in the storm shelter, what are you doing?!” I yelled up.

We made our way to the kitchen, “whenever I go away I bring something back for the team at work, I was n Washington DC the other day so I got them all some shot glasses, I got extra for you three – but you have to do a shot first!” the host informed. With the shots consumed, followed by grimacing faces as is the practice of shot partaking, the host then continued to spoil us. “I was at a football game earlier , got you all a t-shirt each, they only had two mediums and an xxL” he held them out. “Can I have the xxl??” I jumped up, pulling on the shirt which came down to my knees “this is awesome! I’m never taking it off!”.

oversized shirt.jpg

Blonde and I set about making dinner whilst Alaska and the host chatted at the kitchen table. Alaska asked why the host opened his home up to couch surfers, it was a question we often asked host’s, inquisitive for their reasons. The host responded saying it was a way to have grace, to see the goodness in people. This picked Alaska’s curiosity, he pushed for more.

The host went on to explain that when he first became a cop he would perform his job by the book; pull people over, give them their ticket, make his numbers etc. If you broke the law, there’s your ticket, your recourse, your arrest, whatever it was, you broke the law, you paid the consequences. That was until this one day…

pulled-over-by-police

He pulled a woman over, she was driving a beaten up, old station wagon and had a bunch of phone books in the back which she was obviously taking somewhere to sell. But this woman, she had everything, a busted tail light, her tags were expired, headlights weren’t good, indicators weren’t working. He was able to write a whole stack of tickets for the various offences, summing up to over fifteen hundred dollars or something. It meant he got his quota, he could have got his quota for the whole month on this one woman!

And so he did it, he ran the numbers and came back to her with her license. With every ticket he explained to her the reason and with every ticket he just saw how the life left her. She just kept getting more and more, gloomy, she was broken, he was breaking her.

broken.jpg

He gave her the tickets and, it bothered him. I’d look up between chopping garlic, there was emotion in the cops voice, in his face, it was fair to say, this encounter really affected him. Oblivious to my watching, he continued with his story.

He couldn’t shake this feeling that it wasn’t right about this woman, it bugged him, it bugged him the rest of the day because he literally saw this woman become nothing in front of him. He knew she wasn’t a hardened criminal, it was obvious, she was just trying to work, trying to make ends meet, trying to deliver those phone books which wasn’t going to pay much but was clearly the only means she had on getting income.

So, after he got off that shift, he went to the clerks office and told the clerk that he’d made a mistake, he’d messed up, he should have given a warning. He asked the clerk to the woman the cop had made a mistake and the tickets were cancelled.  A week or so later, the cop had gone back to the clerks office, the clerk told him that when this woman had come into pay and found out no payment was required, she’d taken herself to the bathroom and been in uncontrollable tears for half an hour, so overcome with emotion was she.

relief

From that day forward, the cop realised that he comes into contact with people everyday and it’s rarely a positive contact. He realised that he has the power to either break someone, like he had with that woman, or he could try to make a positive contact. To make people be more welcoming and understanding of police officers, and that’s what he does. He doesn’t necessarily meet his quota any more because he’s trying to pass this grace, to pay it forward. Because he knows, he has the capability to take it away.

He’s still a policeman who does the best job he can, he still gets a gun pulled on him every single week, he’s still out there catching the bad guys and trying to prevent people from breaking the law; but he has respect for his profession and perhaps most importantly, for mankind.

police hugs.jpg

Post dinner, we followed our host, the group of neighbours – the couple across the road and the family next door (comprising of the a son and daughter around our ages and their parents) across the field at the back of the houses to another friends house. Opening the tall wooden gate we were greeted with a large pool, lit up with colour changing Led lights, turning the night’s waster indigo to red, green to purple.

Still in my oversized football t-shirt, I jumped in, the sticky day day washing off in the multicoloured aqua. The daughter set about making everyone cocktails, the younger generation leaned on the edge of the pool, legs dancing in the water, the older generation relaxed into patio furniture as we all swapped stories late into the night.

“Y’all better come over for breakfast tomorrow” the mum called before heading to bed.

Breakfast

The following morning we crossed through the gap in the fence into next doors garden and slipped in the sliding back door. A southern breakfast was waiting “help yourselves, y’all better eat it all up. Don’t wait, grab a plate and tuck in”. Platters of hash browns, eggs, sausages, piles of toasts and beakers of OJ, we ate our fill with the family and I longed for them to adopt me.

Blonde went for a drive-along with the police, Alaska and I stayed by the pool with the neighbours son. As I stretched out in my oversized t-shirt to dry off thanking my lucky stars for a day without driving, the mum came by “dinner’s at 6 k”.

“No, no you’ve already made us breakfast, you can’t make us dinner as well! Honestly we can sort ourselves out” I began “nonsense, we wouldn’t have it any other way” the mum insisted before departing.

“Why is everyone being so nice to us?” I turned to Alaska confused, he laughed “it’s southern hospitality, people are nice in the south”. “But people have been really nice everywhere we’ve been, but this is different, it’s more, it’s as though we’re old friends” I tried to explain.

pool.JPG

“That’s what southern hospitality is” the son answered. I’m not sure why, but it made me want to cry, this being made to feel so welcome. Perhaps I’d lived in London too long, grown a little hardened and wary around the edges but it was blowing my mind that people were willing to open their homes to strangers, to share their lives and break bread together. I wish I’d known this existed when everything had felt so desperately alone and isolating after mum. I wish I’d realised there was so much warmth and love in the world, I’m sure it was always there, I just couldn’t see it until I was ready to.

“We’ve got Cards Against Humanity to play after dinner” the dad announced. ‘Excellent, we are all sick enough to be experts at this game!” I beamed.

cards against humanity

The mother read the options “A blank is really just a blank with a blank on it’s head”. She picked up the cards we’d each selected “k, a unicorn is really just a horse with a flesh-light on it’s head” we laughed. I looked at Blonde smiling, knowing it was her selection that had been read out, she responded with a knowing look.

“What’s a flesh-light?” the mother looked between Blonde and I having clocked the exchange of looks. I giggled, Blonde answered “Becky’l tell ya”. Back whilst we’d been up in Alaska the state, we’d spent time with a group of Alaska the man’s friends, comparing the difference between the English and American language. “Sidewalk and pavement” I said. “Torch and flash-light” Alaska added. “Flesh-light? What’s that?” Blonde had misheard, the boys found the mistake very amusing. “What? What is it?” Blonde repeated, missing the joke.

flashlight.jpg

The mum was looking at me, the whole table was staring, waiting for my explanation. I squirmed in my seat “it’s, errr, well it’s. You see, it’s a… Well it’s a toy I guess. That’s shaped like a flash-light, only instead of a bulb in the end, it…” I paused not quite sure how to put it politely “it’s shaped like a ladies, errr you know, bits. And a man, well you see, a man” they were all smiling, waiting for for to finish. “What does a man do?” Alaska promoted, his mouth twisted in amusement, I smirked back at him.

“Well a man pokes his… a man pokes it ok!” I finished, slightly mortified I’d had to explain this. Then an idea came to me “well you know” I pointed to Alaska “remember, we found yours when we stayed up at your house”.

torch.jpg

“What?!” Alaska’s eyes widened, Blonde was quick, jumping in “yeah, remember I found it under your bed and didn’t know what it was”. Alaska’s eyes continued to widened “What?! no, that didn’t happen!”. “Yeah it did! We were in your room and my phone slipped off your bed and Blonde bent down to pick it up…” I replied. “And then I saw it under the bed and pulled it out because I’d never seen one before…” Blonde added. “You were so embarrassed and pretended it was just a normal flash-light…”I continued.

“Yeah, but it clearly wasn’t, then you tried to hide it but it we wouldn’t let it drop until you explained….”. “No! No this didn’t happen, it was after the cinema, we were discussing it when…” the more Alaska protested, the more it convinced everyone around the table that the nice sweet Australian and sensible English accents were telling the truth.

like butter wouldn't melt

“Can we? can we really? I so want to go to a cowboy bar!! Will there be real life cowboys? In cowboy hats and line dancing and wearing shirts and jeans and boots and saying ye-ha??” I bounced on the spot in excitement. “Well sure, I don’t think they’ll be saying ye-ha but they’ll have shirts and hats on. I normally avoid those bars, the guys are douches but if that’s what you girls want to do” the son answered, following a suggestion from the father post card-game to show us the local Oklahoma night life.

“Are you going to come?” I turned to Alaska excitedly, picturing us line dancing together, a few shots being swallowed, a chance for all to let their hair down, any tension blown away in the fever of the night.

I’d forgotten who I was with; nether Blonde nor Alaska were the girls I’d jumped around with on Saturday nights back in London. Irish pubs, tribute bands and sticky floors. Poor covers of The Killers and King’s of Leon. Music so loud we’d scream across the pile of handbags being danced around like a tribal fire. Our feet would burn numb from the cheap heels we’d insisted on wearing but it wouldn’t matter because the music was pumping through our veins, we were young, full of energy, booze and life.

dancing to the band

I missed those days, I wanted to go to a bar and dance until my toes blistered and we stumbled out into the waking morning, craving salt and fat only to find the sun peaking over the horizon. “Nah, think I’ll get an early night” Alaska responded, glowing red from the sunburn he’d picked up from the pool.

“Oh my god! People really are line dancing and they have hats on!” I yelled over the country music, simgers I didn’t recognise. The son and I grabbed a drink, Blonde sipped at her water, we perched on a couple of stalls on the edge of the dance floor. I was transfixed “how do they all know the routine?” I questioned the son “it’s easy, watch their feet” he gestured to the tap and step being demonstrated. I turned to point it out to Blonde, she was gone, I saw her in the distance, walking the perimeter of the dance floor, flashing coy looks at various guys. ‘Are you kidding me!‘ I groaned internally.

line dancing

Fifteen minutes later she returned “what the hell?!” I lightly snapped, “what?” Blonde played innocent, infuriating me even more. “You don’t just walk off on your friend in a bar! Especially without saying anything! How am I suppose to know where you’d gone! You have the car keys, for all I know you could have headed home and left me here. You just don’t do that, it’s, well it’s girl code, you don’t leave your friend alone in the club!” I tried to make her understand.

“What, you were with the son, I don’t like standing still, I wanted to have a walk” she defended. ‘Bullshit, you wanted to see if someone would hit on you!‘I wanted to call her out “you left me alone with a guy we only met yesterday, and you didn’t even say where you were going. Friends don’t walk off on each other in clubs! It’s not cool!” her face was blank, not taking in a word I was saying.

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“I want to dance, I’m going to go ask someone to dance with me” Blonde marched up to a man, their words lost in the noise of the room, she led him onto the dance floor. I watched as they awkwardly swayed side to side, he yelped in pain as she caught his foot. “Do you want to dance?” the son asked, “err, umm no thanks, I, I can’t dance, no co-ordination, I’m all limbs, no, I’m happy watching” the truth was, I felt too fat, too uncomfortable in my own skin to let go for a second.

I lost Blonde in the crowd as the dancers circled around the floor, my attention got snagged on an old gentleman in a Hawaiian shirt and white Stetson instead. He approached young women in denim hot pants and cowboy boots, they’d accept his offer amused and squawk in delight as he spun them around the floor effortlessly. He had such grace and flair, their was nothing sleazy about this man, he was just an ageing gent who loved to dance.

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Blonde returned breathless “I want to dance with the old guy in the Hawaiian shirt, he’s an amazing dancer”. “I spotted him too, he is great” I agreed. We stood at the edge of the dance-floor, searching him out but failing in our pursuit.

A young man approached, a foot shorted than both of us, the Son sat on the stall laughing “would either of you ladies like to dance?” asked the short local. “Errr ok” Blonde answered. Just as soon as she stepped onto the floor a voice came at my side “may I have this next dance?” the old Hawaiian was next to me. “Oh, it’s you, no, oh but she will….” I gestured to Blonde realising it was too late.

swing dance

“Oh, no, thank you but no, I can’t, I don’t know how” I uttered, a little lost. “That’s ok, I can show you” he wasn’t taking no for an answer. I stepped on his toes, spun in the wrong direction but as the guitars jangled and under the supervision of the seasoned professional, I found my feet. Laughing at every spin, still awkward and gangly but not caring for the joy of it.

At the precise moment I was considering a change in career and wondering how much  one could earn as a professional swing dancer, the music ceased mid-spin. A voice boomed over the tannoy “Y’all all ready for tonight’s show, weeeeee’ve got Bronco, weeeee’ve got crazy eyes and weeeee’ve got the one, the only, Devvvvvvil horned Jack!”. “What’s going on?” Blonde was back by my side, her eyes surprised to find me dancing with Hawaiian. “It’s the bulls” the son appeared at the other side of Blonde.

bull riding

The dance-floor was closed off, a crowd gathered at the edges. Blonde and I squeezed into the front. Bulls huffed and butted in their pens “why are they so angry?” I shouted to Blonde. A girl next to us leaned over having picked up our accents “they tie string around the bull’s balls, cuts off the circulation, makes the bulls real mad”.”Well yeah, that would do it” I smiled. “Where y’all from?” she asked but before we could respond the cage was opened.

The bull bucked and jumped, desperately trying to throw the rider from it’s back, the rider, tried his damnedest to hang on but lasted only seconds before being flown into the air and landing in a heap. At risk of being trampled or pieced by the bulls horn, men dressed as clowns ran into the ring, trying to get the bulls attention whilst others dragged the fallen man away.

fallen rider

“That was crazy! I feel sorry for the bulls” Blonde announced as we pulled out the parking lot. “Yeah me too, also I don’t understand why they’re doing bull riding in the middle of a club” I added. “It’s a cowboy bar, that’s what they do” the son informed. “Alaska is going to so regret not coming now!” I laughed. “Poor Alaska, he was so mortified when you told the family about his flesh-light” the son stated.

“What? You know we were only joking right? He doesn’t really have a flesh-light – or not one we’ve ever seen at least!” I laughed again. “We were just winding him up” Blonde smiled into the mirror whilst driving. “Seriously? My entire family thought you were both being for real, we were laughing about it whilst you two went to get changed” he responded. “Well don’t correct them tomorrow!” I closed.