“….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.
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.
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.
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.
“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.
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!”.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
“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.
“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”.