Should I stay or should I go?

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

Leaving colorado

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

 

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

grubby

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

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

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

vortex

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

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

dirty feet

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

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

water-bed

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

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

driving alone

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

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

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

looking

 

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

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

road trip

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

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

fire road

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

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

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

hugging mum

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

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

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

mosquito that bit me

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

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

mountain goats

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

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

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

colorado directions

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

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

aspen

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

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

crystal rocks

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

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

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

cookie survival