“BECAUSE I’M BLEEDING FROM THE VAGINA!!!!” I yelled from the end of my tether, silently wondering where exactly I left my dignity.
With its copper ground and cumbersome pillars, Monument Valley was a world dedicated to Cowboys and Indians. A landscaped captured on the silver-screen that played across my childhood. Whilst my mother repainted the hallway walls and my father read the newspaper; I lost many a rain-drenched Sunday afternoon to the fire of guns and arrows respectively, all tangled up with racing horses and hell-bent bikers disappearing into dust clouds on lonely roads. The world in that box, so far removed from the battered rock in the Irish Sea I’d called home, provided a delightful escapism, a hint of freedom and adventure.
That rocky image lay dormant for years, sleeping in forgotten memory. Quietly burning like an ember waiting to catch light again. And then mum got sick.
Gradually the red sands began to blaze, the clouds cleared and that single path called. Through the twisted roads of cancer, the image burnt brighter and brighter. I clung to the escapism through the cluttered responsibility that comes with tidying up after other people’s death, from daydreaming out of office windows and empty bank balances. As the emotions rained down and smashed into office windows, I stared on longingly from my desk. Over the year, when I’d held myself together so tightly that I cracked apart, I mentally built layer upon layer on those rocks of Monument Valley. Hair whipping in the wind of my daydream, Baba O’Riley blasting from the stereo in my head. Only then, as I drove towards the gates of the mountains blurring on the horizon, would I finally be free of it all.
Or at least that was the idea…
In reality, I’d combined Monument Valley with the road from Death Valley, two entirely different places. I wasn’t in a Cadillac or on a Harley Davidson or even a horse for that matter. I also happened to have three other people coming along for the ride, all of which were never going to quite appreciate how monumental, Monument Valley really was to me. However, worst of all, my life still wasn’t a heart warming film with a kick ass indie soundtrack! Plus, as we drove towards the valley of rocks, I really, really needed to pee!
“That was pretty cool” Geo declared as we left the reservation. “Hmmm” I responded, the rocks slipping from view in the rear mirror. “Didn’t you like it?” Alaska asked leaning forward to make his voice heard over the radio. “No. Yeah. I did. I just, dunno. It just wasn’t quite how I pictured it. It’s beautiful, just, well, I always thought they were part of the backdrop of America, that you kind of stumble across, not an actual reservation were you pay to enter and then drive around following each car like on a safari, stopping to take pictures of the rocks like you would an elephant!”really, I’d been expecting some big life changing moment, a realisation of something or shift in perspective. The only change of perspective we’d gained was checking the bottom of the car to make sure we hadn’t caused any damage as Blonde bumped us around the rocky track.
“Me and Geo thought we would camp tonight. So we can drop you guys off at a motel if you like and then pick you up in the morning” Blonde declared nonchalantly as we headed towards Lake Powell. ‘Why do you presume you’d get to have the car and drop us off, why can’t we drop you off! Also, there is only one tent so if you’re camping it means we have to get a motel, and it also means we have to pay twice as much than if we were all sharing!’ the thoughts flooded through, building on a bitterness that kept growing ‘ughhhh you’re so selfish! Why don’t you think of anyone but yourself!‘ I took a deep sigh ‘calm down, she’s not trying to annoy you on purpose, you’re being overly sensitive again‘ I swallowed the bitter pill back down, it landed on top of all the others as I silently wondered how long it would be until there was no room left.
“Ummm, no I don’t want to be without the car tonight. If you two are camping we can drop you off and then pick you up in the morning” I responded trying and failing to sound friendly. “What? No, I don’t want to be camping without having the car nearby, what if something happens!” Blonde replied alarmed. “If something happens you can call us and we’ll come and get you” I stared at the road, refusing to compromise. I felt the boys fall back deeper into their seats, an icy tension frosting the windows once again.
“But that doesn’t make sense, I don’t see why we can’t have the car…”Blonde started before I snapped an interruption “I am not being without the car tonight! I don’t care. If you want to camp fine! But I’m having the car!” I was fed up with her always taking it without saying anything in the evenings, making decisions that affected everyone else without any consideration, if it meant I had to act like a stubborn cow then fine, I hadn’t got to feel the wind in my hair or a life changing moment that morning but I could at least hold on to a tiny slither of freedom that the car represented should I suddenly need to create my own dust cloud in the distance!
“But you’re being unreasonable! You can’t just decide like that!” Blonde started again. “You just said the exact same thing! You decided! I don’t care, I’m not being without the car tonight!” even in my stubbornness I had to admit to myself it did make more sense for them to take it than Alaska and I but there was no was I was going to admit it. “The car is both of ours, you can’t just decide who takes it” Blonde tried. “Well, you have for the last two months! Presides, the car is in my name, on my credit card so actually, I can decide and I’m taking it tonight!” I declared once again, feeling rather uncomfortable on the rocky ground I’d placed my feet.
“Why don’t we camp as well?” Alaska interjected, I flashed him a warning look in the mirror. “We don’t have a tent!”. “Well we could pick up a cheap one from a Walmart or something” he suggested. “You can camp if you want to but I’m not!” I responded, flashbacks of freezing to death in Alaska and hiking through the dark to find a loo in the middle of the night.
“The stars will be really clear tonight and we can camp near the water, it’ll be really good” Geo offered. “I’m not camping!” the truth was, lying beneath the stars on a warm evening followed by a morning swim as the mirrored lake reflected the sunrise was something I desperately wanted to do but it appeared I’d rather cut my nose to spite my face. The prospect of a night without Blonde waking me every time she went to the bathroom or sleep going uninterrupted from the removal of Geo’s snoring was too good an opportunity to pass up, presides, I couldn’t possibly admit they were right or let them win!
“Yeah! Let’s camp” Alaska joined in. I felt bullied “You do what you want, we don’t even know if we can find a tent to buy! Presides, I’ll get eaten to death my mosquitoes!” I moaned. “Well we’ll sleep in the car, it’ll be fun” Alaska added. “You can all sleep where you like, but I’m not!” I was getting angry, the pills in my stomach begin to rattle. “Well I don’t think it’s fair that you get to have the car, what if Geo and I need to get something or go somewhere” Blonde started up again.
“You won’t and you can call us if you do” I said as finally as I could. “But it’s not fairrrrr” she began as my knuckles turned white around the steering wheel. “We could all share the tent, it says two-man but I can sleep outside…” Geo was trying to be appease the situation but it was too late. “I AM NOT CAMPING!” I snapped “but why…” he stated before I cut in, spitting over my shoulder, trying not to pull the car along with me “BECAUSE I’M BLEEDING FROM THE VAGINAAAAAAA!!!!!” I yelled, only the tiniest spark of embarrassment burning and dying in my conscience.
What is it about periods that freaks boys out so much? The mere mention of blood and vagina in the same sentence and the boys were silenced. Blonde, having lost the battle also retreated back into her seat, silently fuming out the window.
I sat on the grass whilst Blonde, Geo and Alaska emptied the boot trying to locate the various sleeping bags and every possible item Blonde might need for an impending apocalypse or preparing for a months stay. The sun dyed the clouds pink and basked the world in gold, I rested my head on my arms, my knees pulled up close and tried to find some level of peace whilst the voices of the others floated towards me.
“Do you think I can take Becky’s blanket” I could hear Blonde ask Alaska ‘No! And I’ve told you, it’s a scarf, not a blanket! It’s like 100 degrees anyway, you don’t need my blanket!‘ I muttered. “I wouldn’t” Alaska responded reading my mind. “I don’t understand why she’s being so difficult…” Blonde complained. “Don’t…” Alaska answered. “It’s not fair though, maybe you can talk to her? Why does she get to have the car tonight?” Blonde dug up. “Oh shut uppppp!” Alaska fired.
“Hey, don’t talk to me like that” Blonde really never knew when to back off. “Shut the fuck up! Don’t even start with me! You started this when you made demands…” Alaska was yelling now. “Hey, calm down! Don’t yell at her” Geo jumped in. I zoned out as the three of them screamed back and forth at each other, Alaska warning Geo to back down before turning back to Blonde who to her credit gave as good as she got.
The sun sunk lower, I probably should have pulled Alaska away but I stayed rooted to the sandy grass, feeling the warmth of the day subdue.
It was dark by the time the boys had the tent up, Blonde walked back and forth carrying blankets and her luggage. With promises to answer the phone at any time should the bogeyman come out to get them, Alaska and I departed.
I quickly realised camping might not have been such a bad idea as we drove around for hours, stopping at every hotel and motel in the small town, finally finding the last bedroom available that came complete with a flooding roof and inch of water across the floor.
Whilst Alaska and I moaned about the frustrations of the day, Blonde was facing her own trials. At some point early on in the evening she discovered a pile of condoms in Geo’s bag, her initial surprise was quickly replaced by anger. “I can’t believe he thought I was going to sleep with him just like that!” she bequeathed to me the next day in whispers across bathroom stalls. Appalled by his audacity and presumption, she quickly closed the bag shut before he saw and kept her legs firmly crossed. “It was a really awkward” she whispered as soon as we were alone the next morning “we took the top cover off the tent so we were just under the netting and could see the stars”.
“Arrr that sounds romantic!” I remarked, a pang of jealousy at having missed out. “Yeah but, we were lying there and he turned his head to face me. I didn’t want him to go in for a kiss so I sort of kept talking. I was constantly blabbing and pointing at the stars and talking and talking without a break so he couldn’t lean in. But he just kept staring at me with this look on his face!” she stopped talking when I started to giggle.
“No, go on, sorry, it’s just, I’ve been there, I’ve done the exact same thing! Just waffled on about nonsense so they don’t have a chance to try and kiss you” I offered my experience in the hope it might make her feel better. “Right, ok” she dismissed “but I don’t think I like him like that. He’s a really nice guy but I don’t fancy him. And how dare he think I was going to sleep with him as soon as we were alone and camping!” she finished. “Oh yeah, beautiful back drop, amazing sky, all the other tents far from earshot, a tall blond Australian in the bed next to him! God, what was he thinking!” my sarcasm was lost on her. “Well I said night in the end and rolled over and pretended to go to sleep”.
We headed north that afternoon, in search of another national park for the next day. Geo had awoken in a mood that next morning. We were staying with a group of college boys, Alaska had taken it in his stride, presuming I was too old to be of any interest to them. Geo, however looked much less comfortable as Blonde chatted over dinner with one of the locals.
The entrance queue for the park was long and slow, Geo, fed up with the lack of movement stepped out the car and proceeded to climb a tree, resting on the branches and pulling his hat low to cover his face. When we finally reached the car park (having first coached him back into the vehicles once the traffic started moving again) he marked off to the information centre. “What’s up with him today?” I glanced at Blonde. “Well, I think I know” she answered cryptically, I raised an eyebrow for more information.
“I sort of told him I wasn’t interested” she replied. “What do you mean sort of told him?” I enquired. “Well, I kind of made a point that I don’t want to date anyone on this trip and that I just want to have fun and go out and flirt with people in bars and that we’re really good as friends and that he’s really nice”. I looked at her a little bewildered “errrr, so you told him you don’t want to get with anyone but you want to go out and flirt. And then you said he’s a really nice guy? I think you’ve just confused him even more!” I smiled. “What? No, he knows it’s not like that” Blonde defended. “Well I think you might need to spell it out a little more clearly…” I pulled at visitors door handle to follow the boys inside.
We walked the famous Narrows path in Zion national park, with only a few days drive
from Las Vegas, there was something about the daunting cliffs that rose either side of the river, our feet slipping off the wet rocks, their outlines lost in the current. It felt like we were sinking further into Dante’s Inferno as we crossed through the river of skulls.
“Here, can you stick this in your pocket” Alaska fished out a sticky looking wrapper from the water. “Ewww, I’m not putting that in my pocket, put it in your own!” I retorted back. “Why won’t you put it in yours! I’m trying to save the environment and you want to destroy it!” he argued. “What?! That’s not true, I just don’t want to put a dirty wrapper in my pocket, you picked it up, why do I have to carry it! Why are you making such a fuss!” I snapped back, confused as to why every outing was descending into bickering. “You’re so stuck up! It’s because you’re from a city, you don’t care about the environment, it’s shallow and vain!” he stated, stopping ahead of me whilst the river pooled around his legs.
“What the hell! What are you talking about!” I growled back, his swipes denting my perception of myself ‘I’m not shallow! Or vain. Ok maybe a little vain but I’m not that bad! But just because I lived in London doesn’t mean I don’t care about the world‘ I debated internally. It was only later I realised the litter was another one of Alaska’s tests to see my standing on certain things, tests I always failed without ever knowing the question.
Rather than discuss whatever was really annoying him, we blew up at each other in the middle of the river. Following, Blonde and Geo, who had already turned back, I stomped through the water after them, trying to get far away from Alaska and as quickly as possible. He took his time, whilst Geo, Blonde and I sat at the path entrance. Blonde lost her patience in the wait, resulting in her own fight with him.
With Geo annoyed at Blonde for not responding to his feelings, Blonde annoyed at Alaska, Alaska annoyed at me, and finally me annoyed at everything; we were a ‘happy’ little group, as we headed off to the cinema that evening. ‘Why is it so hard to get on with people, what’s wrong with me?’ I mentally examined not for the first time that trip.
A couple of days later our journey found us once again on route 66, we’d snaked on and off it since Chicago, those double 6’s providing a hint of both familiarity and a sense that our trip was nearing its end.
“Tell them” a smile twitched at the corners of Blonde’s mouth “I mean, only if you want to of course” she added, glancing at Geo in the mirror. “Oohh come on, now you have to tell us!” I spun in my seat. “Yeah, come on” Alaska cheered on.
An embarrassed smile crept across Geo’s face “Ok, well…” he started. “He bought condoms…” Blonde interrupted excitedly, her initial annoyance at the discovery having clearly passed, “wait! Let him tell it!” I jumped in. Geo picked up the thread “well, yeah. So it was just before I flew out of Colorado to come meet you all in Texas. My uncle took me to the store, and I was trying to get them as quickly as possible whilst he was shopping” he paused for breath. “What was wrong with him seeing?” I asked.
“Well he was staying at my grandparents the same time I was, they’re quite religious and I wasn’t sure if he’d mention it to them. And it’s embarrassing having your family see you buy condoms!” he explained. “Good point! On with the story!” I responded.
“I kept looking to see if my uncle was coming, the person in front of me was taking ages. When I finally got to the checkout the cashier looks at me and goes, really loudly, ‘I’m so proud of you’ and then added ‘I wish my son had bought protection’ I didn’t know what to say, so just said ‘oh’ and she went on ‘now he’s knocked some girls up and he’s not father material. Well good for you! I’m so proud of you!‘ it was a very surreal moment, all I could think of was my uncle is going to appear any second!” Geo laughed. “Ha! That’s brilliant!!” I joined. “There’s more!” Blonde added.
“Well I was trying to hide the packet the entire ride home, I went straight to my room and thought I’d got away with it…” Geo answered. “And then his gran walked in!” Blonde bounced in, unable to contain herself. “And then my Gran came in holding this piece of paper ‘you left your receipt in the car‘ she said handing me the receipt, I couldn’t meet her eyes!”.