“Do you have a question?” the Voodoo man asked, shuffling his tarot cards. I had too many questions “No” I answered absolutely.
I’d stormed away from Alaska the previous day; unable to continue our fight for fear my emotions might get the better of me. Historically this would have been exactly the moment I’d of called my mother for reassurance. Those kind of calls always comprised of me waffling for around 99% of the conversation whilst she cooed ‘yes’s’ and ‘mmm’s’. We’d tie up the call with her bestowing some words of wisdom before I said goodbye, lighter for the therapy. I couldn’t call my mum, so I went to seek Blonde instead.
Unfortunately, Blonde was not my mother. To make things even more unfair, I was only telling her half the story, leaving out all the parts where Alaska and I debated a relationship with each other. I hadn’t wanted to share that, presuming she’d ask more questions; questions I didn’t have the answers to.
The truth was, I wasn’t entirely sure how I felt about Alaska. I’d liked him immediately, his natural ease, the way his smile met his eyes, the hint of vulnerability masked behind a quick laugh. He’d seemed happy, light, I was attracted to that, who isn’t? But then I did what I always do, I dug. I dug until I uncovered problems he wasn’t even aware of himself for they’d been so long buried. He’d tried to make me feel the same level of vulnerability but he’d attacked my insecurities which had done the opposite of what he’d wanted to achieve, forming a rift between us.
It wasn’t the fact he didn’t find me attractive that was the issue. If we lived in a world where you picked up partners from the local store, I’d of walked away with a blue eyed rugby player, he’d have picked up a small, blonde cheerleader, we were the exact opposite of what each thought was their ‘type’. That didn’t concern me, he had plenty of physical attribute for me to find him attractive just as he was, the problem was, he didn’t seem to share the same view point. Valuing me only for my personality and that simply wasn’t enough for me. It was one thing to not find me attractive, it was an entirely other to find me unattractive; every word out of his mouth made me feel more insecure.
Perhaps I’d had it wrong all these years, maybe physical attraction or how you felt about yourself really weren’t important, I mean Beauty fell in love with Beast (although personally I always found Beast more attractive before he changed into the man, but then, I was an odd child).
Maybe looks really didn’t play a part in attraction and I was simply too vain to see past it? I liked the way he knew when to leave me alone and when to try and pull me out of myself. I liked that he was happy to listen to me moan (which seemed to be an awful lot). I liked that he wanted to love me when I wasn’t sure anybody ever would again. But I didn’t like when he felt vulnerable and attacked whoever was closest, I didn’t like how dark and bitter he was under the sunny disposition. And I really didn’t like how he made me feel about myself. All his comments stacking up until my confidence had been chipped away from what was once a strong statue of self assurance to nothing but a pile of rubble.
I wanted to save him from his own demons, and maybe by doing so, I’d be able to fall in love with whatever love really was. It was yet to be determined however, whether I could do that at the expense of my own self worth.
Unable to communicate any of this to Blonde, I moaned about Alaska calling me fat instead, which wasn’t really the argument at all. We’d regrouped on the way to the car, Alaska had tried talking “all I’m saying, is you’re never going to look the way you want, but I value you for your personality, so what if you’ll always have a fat ass…”.
I’d lost my cool, anger blinding me I turned to him and let rip “Fuck you! My ass isn’t even that fat! Do you know what, don’t ever say anything about my physical appearance ever again! I mean it! Don’t tell me if I look nice or if you think I’ve gained weight, nothing, don’t say anything about how I look ever, ever again! You make me feel awful about myself and I only want to be around people where I come away feeling good! If you can’t do that, then you can get off this road-trip right now!” I screamed, he looked taken aback, almost scared. Blonde was silent, staring between Alaska and me.
“Seriously I will leave you right here and you can sort yourself out! I don’t care!” I drilled my point. “Ok, ok” he raised his hands in surrender.
I was quiet all evening, avoiding conversations, reluctant to engage, I pretended to fetch a jumper from the car just so I could sit and be on my own for half an hour. As mad as I was at Alaska, the edge of my grievance melted by the time we camped down on the hosts floor for bed, a fear settling in that if I pushed Alaska and Blonde away then I’d have to face being alone again and I wanted to avoid that feeling at all costs! I stretched a hand towards him in the dark, our fingers entwining and squeezing tight ‘you might be bad for me but you’re here so please don’t let go’ my fingers pulsed, hoping he would hear.
We didn’t sleep well, Blonde had stepped on me in her nightly quest to reach the loo, Alaska tossed and turned, reaching out to hug me in his sleep.
I’d stared over my shoulder in the bathroom mirror the next morning, trying to access if my body proportions were particularly grotesque. I beat myself up for feeling so negatively, it bothered me and that in turn made me sad. The depression cycle spun until I was convinced I was the saddest, loneliness person that ever lived.
“Aren’t you going to come say bye?” Blonde asked after I’d piled my bags into the car boot and was climbing into the front seat. “I’ve already said bye to the host” I retorted, “well I think he wants a picture of us all” Blonde continued. I couldn’t think of anything worse than being caught on film at that moment, I turned to face her, my eyes dead “I am NOT having a picture taken right now!” insecurity sweating off me.
“Fine!” she slammed the car door and stalked back to the apartment. My hands were shaking as we pulled away from Atlanta, Blonde and Alaska asked questions “Where are we staying tonight? What time will we get there? Where shall we stop for lunch?”. “I DON’T KNOW! Maybe you two could work this stuff out for once!” I yelled, squeezing my hands into fists once again in an attempt to contain myself.
I reached into my bag, retrieving a large black blanket scarf and pulled it over my head. It was a rather pathetic gesture but so desperately did I want some space. After about twenty minutes I was starting to suffocate and the reality of the situation that I was a thirty one year old woman, hiding under a blanket in a car, was making me feel a little embarrassed. I slowly created an opening for my face and sat shrouded like a small old lady, gradually I let the blanket fall to my shoulders and finally discarded it entirely.
Alaska and I were barely speaking, continuing our fight via text message. We bashed messages back and forth until I became confused by a line in his message and needed it explaining. I glanced at Blonde who was in her own world, wearing headphones and watching an episode of Greys Anatomy, the phone balanced on her knee as she drove. I twisted over my right shoulder to speak to Alaska directly.
“I think you’re just scared of letting anyone be close to you again” he started. “No, I’m not. I have loads of people close to me” I replied. “Yeah, old people, friends you’ve had for a long time, since before you mum and that. But what about new friends, you haven’t let anyone new get close to you since…” his head was cocked in compassion.
I thought for a second, racing over all the people I’d met “well no, that’s not true..” I tried to think “I guess after Bridezilla, I, well, I don’t want to be close to anyone, what if they leave me too…” it was hard being so honest “fuck, do I have abandonment issues! I’m like orphan Annie but without the cool dog or Daddy Warbucks!”. He smiled at this, I did too “You need to let people in” he continued “I don’t know how…”I was going to continue but his eyes darted to the side, I twisted in my seat to see Blonde had removed her headphones “oh don’t stop” she protested at the halt in our conversation “What?!” Alaska snapped, annoyed at having been listened into.
My morning agitation had infected Blonde who swelled in her own annoyance by the time we reached New Orleans that evening. “I’ll stay with the bags, you two go and park the car” I instructed Alaska who had just bought in the last of the cases whilst Blonde remained with the car outside the hotel. “Ok” he replied, shooting out the door.
I piled what bags I could onto trolley, carrying the rest and pulled it up the corridor towards the lift with all my strength. Alaska appeared a moment later “why aren’t you parking the car with Blonde?” I enquired. “What? You said to tell her to go park” he looked at me confused. “Noooooo I meant for you guys to go park together, shit, now she has to find somewhere to park on her own. At night. Then walk back here alone! I’d be so pissed if that was me!! She’s already in a mood!!” I chewed at my lip. “Ah she’ll be fine” he replied, lifting his bag off my back “I’m not sure she will” I protested before adding “thanks, that’s like a weight off my shoulders!” I smirked referencing the bag, he rolled his eyes at my poor joke.
“It’s Independence Day!!!!” I bounced about the room the next day. “Happy Independence Day!” I yelled at Alaska as his emerged from the bathroom, his usual curls fluffy and frizzy. We’d decided to wash and straighten his hair the night before in an attempt to cheer Blonde up. Alaska, although being a good sport had refused to keep his new groomed appearance, washing out all our hard work just as soon as he could get away.
“Independence Day, that’s the one about the south and north fighting about civil rights correct?” Blonde asked, mid way through applying fake red, white and blue star tattoos to her face. “No, Independence Day is when American’s celebrate their independence from Britain” Alaska explained.
“Yeah! When you assholes threw all our tea in the harbour! I want my tea back!” I declared smiling (my jokes really were getting worse!) “Actually I want my colonises back! We made you what you are!”.
“Oh here we go!” Blonde exclaimed, dramatically sighing for comedic effect “don’t you start, I want Australia back too! That’s another one of my colonies! I own you all! Yeahhhh long live Britainnnnnn” I bounced on the spot. “Actually I’m Polish, no one owns us” Blonde insisted. “Yeah but you were born in Australia, presides, didn’t Germany or Russia own chunks of Poland at some point? I’m just saying…” I continued. Alaska stood in the doorway becoming impatient “Come onnnnn, we’ve got to go celebrate how everyone kicked Becky and the Brits ass!”.”You suck, don’t think I’ve forgotten about the tea!” I declared grabbing my bag and shuffling past him.
New Orleans is a special town, there simply isn’t anywhere quite like it. Music vibrates off the power lines, colonial houses hide the secrets of history and people smile. There is a sense that the town is always building up for the next party. It holds a magic in the air, like anything could happen but you’d walk away unsure whether it had all been just a dream.
Having filled our boots with jazz, street art, oysters and beignets, we each decided we couldn’t leave New Orleans without tapping into some of the famous magic. Alaska made an appointment for an African witch doctor who would ask him to throw monkey bones in the air and explain what it meant when they landed. Meanwhile Blonde and I made our way to the back of a store to meet a tarot reader.
Sandy coloured hair hung limp around the youthful face of the reader, he looked as though he’d wander in off the street one day on his way to some Californian beach; it was only his accent which revealed his routes as entirely southern. He made no eye contact as Blonde took the seat opposite him, I perched on the bench next to them “are you sure you don’t want me to wait outside?” I checked again, “no it’s fine”.
The teenager shuffled his cards, the curve in his shoulders hinting at a body not fully grown comfortable, his hair cast a shadow across his face as he asked Blonde “do you have a specific question you want an answer to? No, hold it in your head, focus on that question and then shuffle these cards” he handed her the pack. “Ok” she said ready.
“You’ve been fighting against something” he began “you’ve done all you can, it’s not your fault but you can’t keep continuing this battle, you’re never going to win, it will just cause more stress for you. You’ve made every effort but they’re not your issues to deal with” the man spoke to the table, Blonde hung on his words. I didn’t believe in all this stuff but I was intrigued regardless, was he talking about me? The road-trip? What was he saying? Had he picked up the tension between us?.
“You’ve done everything you can but it’s not your problem and if you keep fighting you’re just going to make yourself more upset. You need to let go and either leave this situation or accept it as it is” he went on. ‘No, wait, don’t tell her to leave! We’re suppose to be doing this together!’ I mentally screamed at him, flashing eyes of warning in his direction.
“This wasn’t a path you’d have chosen alone but you’re on it now, it’s your decision to continue or to get off it but you’re going to exhaust yourself if you keep fighting it” he closed. Blonde was glowing by the time the last card had been revealed.
It was my turn; I’d grown slightly anxious whilst waiting, I didn’t like this sort of thing, I didn’t believe it, feeling it was just clever people who were good at tricking the vulnerable or naive by using basic body language and psychology skills. I sat in front of this odd man who hadn’t raised his neck once “do you have a question you’d like to ask?”. I pondered “no” I had too many questions.
I turned the first card over, The hangman. The reader pulled back slightly “You’re at a crossroads, this card, it attracts but also disturbs. It’s one of the most mysterious cards in the pack”. I continued turning the cards, revealing cups and swords and finally, a goddess.
He sucked in a deep breath “you’re at a crossroads, these swords, you’ve been let down, hurt but it’s in the past, you need to let go of that. You have a big body of work that is waiting for you, you have no choice but to create that but you’re being held back. Those around you are making it for difficult for you to focus, dragging you down. I see two paths ahead for you, the easiest route is to leave these people behind, to cut away from them.
That’s the path I recommend, it will be much easier for you in the long run. I don’t think you’ll do that though, the second path is carrying these people with you, they will slow you down, it will drain you, it will take much longer but you will get there. It will be hard for you though. There is success, this is the Goddess card, there is an end, success is waiting for you, and you will get there, you just need to choose which path, the easy way or the hard way”.
Blonde and I emerged onto Bourbon street, the evenings festivities just starting to bubble. “Did you hear what he said to me?” Blonde bounced alongside as we headed south towards the store where Alaska had entered. I took a deep breath, feeling a little off centre from my own reading “errr yeah, what was your question?” I asked, afraid of what she might say.
“I asked if I should try and apply for medical school again considering I failed the entrance exam twice, I wanted to know if trying a third time was worth it or not”. Her answer surprised me, I looked at her as we walked “really?”. “Yeah, I think what he was saying is that I’ve been fighting with myself and holding myself back when I don’t need to and it will be fine” she danced. It surprised me, what she’d heard and what I’d heard had warranted very different interpretations.
Alaska emerged from a door, he looked up and down the street and stumbled in our direction, he face was crossed, he seemed disjointed. “Hey, how was yours? Ours was really good? What did yours say?” Blonde sang excitedly. “Don’t want to talk about it” Alaska snapped gruffly. Something about his face concerned me “umm let’s go get a drink” I advised, turning towards the closest bar.
Blonde and I ordered whilst Alaska sat like a broken man, silent and brooding. “What happened?” I asked softly, placing a rum and coke in front of him. He shook his head, trying to shake the words out. “Are we going to go out tonight? What’s a matter with him?” Blonde yelled over Alaska’s head, bouncing up and down on his toes, I shook my own head at her, trying to convey a message not to push him.
She huffed, sipping the frozen cocktail from her straw. “What do you need right now? How can we help?” I leaned into Alaska, wanting to wash the look of pain from his face. “Oooh I love this song” Blonde yelled. Alaska raised his head, his eyes dark empty pools “I need her to get away from me right now!” he spoke through angry, gritted teeth. Blonde, who had heard the exchange was about to rebel, Alaska squared his shoulders ready to launch a verbal attack.
“Ok, Blonde, sorry but he’s really upset, it’s not you but could you just give him five minutes” I begged. “Why do I have to go, he’s the one in a mood” she complained. Alaska was braced to snarl, I grabbed him into a hug, more to prevent him flying at her than to comfort him “pleaseeeee, just give him five minutes, I’ll explain in a second, please” I begged with my eyes. “Oh fine!” she grabbed her drink and and walked away into the street.
A short whike later, Blonde returned, tears trickling down her face from the rejection. I hugged her too then and looked up at the ceiling wondering if the Voodoo man had been right and I’d be better off leaving them both to it.
I watched from the other side of the bar, sipping my own frozen cocktail as Alaska and Blonde hugged, each apologising for not recognising the others needs.
The African witch doctor has seen straight through Alaska, highlighting how he took on other peoples problems to avoid needing to share his own. How those problems built up on his shoulders, all these people leaning on him, leaving him nowhere to lean himself. Alaska prided himself on keeping any inner turmoil hidden, it had terrified him that this little old man had seen straight through to the very core, shaking the ground upon which he’d based his hold in the world.
We headed further down the street, Alaska drank flaming tequilas in a corner bar whilst Blonde and I watched the fireworks explode through the gap in a side street. None of us were really in the party mood any more. The night air hung low, a fog of firework smoke, booze and what I’m sure I detected as the slightest hint of tea.