I lay watching the ceiling fan, silently trying not to rupture the storm that was Alaska. We’d reunited at the airport in Mexico; Alaska flying in from LA and Geo from San Francisco. Blonde and I, who’d arrived a day earlier, spent the night in separate hotels, keen to avoid each other. It was the first time I’d been alone in over three months; I awoke rested and dare I say…almost optimistic! A good nights sleep really does do wonders!
I’d arrived at the airport excited; Blonde and I chatted incessantly, almost clinging to one another whilst relaying every detail from the few days spent apart. Our conversation was manic in the speed of exchanges, our smiles frozen, both of us in fear of mentioning the fight in LA. We were all jubilant at the prospect of reaching Cuba and being together once again, well, all except Alaska who snapped from tiredness at every turn.
Alaska paced back and forth that night, complaining about anything he could grasp, exhausted from not having slept for 30 hours due to an overnight flight, he tore up the world in frustration. We were staying with his extended family, the grown children of his aunts husband; Alaska felt responsible for organising the group, showing gratitude and entertaining, all of which he was too tired to manage but carried the burden regardless.
After an oddly satisfying breakfast of boiled eggs, hard bread, mayonnaise and tinned spam the next morning; Alaska and I laid on the bed, his irritation not having improved from a nights rest. “What can I do to help?” I asked. “Just tell me you love me” he returned blindly.
We stayed talking awhile, I thought he was perking up, I was wrong. “You don’t get stressed like I do” he stated out of the blue. “What? You know nothing of my stress” I jarred.
With it drawing close to the end of the trip and approaching the two year mark of my mothers death, I’d been thinking a lot about how things had turned out and how they might have if she hadn’t died, or had I made different choices.
Somewhere in an alternative reality, if I’d have kept the baby, my toddler daughter would be running up to Granny right now asking for white chocolate buttons, there would be a home with pictures on the wall, a partner, a family. I’d have a job, security and with that, a sense of belonging. I’d have known nothing of how deep and dark emotions could run, of how quickly things could be stripped away and the awful loneliness that consumes. I silently longed for that other world.
I didn’t regret the journey or how my life seemed to be working out; embarrassed and ashamed from my behaviour at times, yes, but generally, I thought I’d held up kinda well, in that, car crash, what the hell am I doing kind of way. But it had also been the hardest, most challenging period I’d ever know and probably ever would. I’d felt raw and exposed, so stripped back a gust of wind might have broken my fragility. There were times, when I wanted to sleep and never wake up again. When every breath was hard to swallow. And the utter desperation of loneliness sunk so deep into my bones, I ached from it. So when Alaska told me I didn’t really ‘get stressed’, I could only stare at him.
“You know why I have grey hairs coming through at 26?!” he shot at me in that aggressive, direct way he had when something was bothering him and he wanted to lash out at whoever was nearest. “Genetics?” I smiled. “Because a childhood of heartbreak. Grey hairs come from stress caused by love” he answered as if it were scientific fact. ‘Does this mean I didn’t really love my mum, or Bridezilla or anyone else because my hair remains a satisfactory shade of mahogany?’ I pondered.
“Then why am I not grey?” I couldn’t resist. “A childhood does not compare to a year” he explained and I wanted to smack him for it. “Ummm” I was trying not to rise to it, keen to avoid another explosion like LA “you know nothing of how I’ve felt, you can’t compare it” I couldn’t help the anger rising. “I have a reservoir of sorrow” he explained “you only have a well”.
Alaska’s tiredness darkened his mood for the rest of the day, short with everyone except me, I suspect he knew I’d pull away if he had a go at me again. Blonde got the worst of it, she couldn’t help herself, asking perfectly innocent questions that if she only thought for a second, would have been able to answer herself. It wasn’t her fault but she wasn’t reading Alaska’s temperance “do you think your cousin will drive us to Havana tomorrow? Are they cooking us dinner? We were thinking of going to find a beach, will you cousin give us a lift?”. I was avoiding her, partly embarrassed of my own behaviour in LA, partly sore from the exchanged words of that argument but mostly I’d had enough, the initial reconnection at Mexico airport was short lived. Alaska vented about everyone else’s idiocy and then got agitated by anything I said. He fell asleep with the fans whirling. I was cold, he stole my sheets and refused to be disturbed, yelling in his sleep when I tried to pull them back.
“I’m going to have to babysit the other two all afternoon” he moaned the next day when I expressed my preference to avoid them. The cousin took us into Havana that morning. We walked the rubble streets, still being cleaned after a recent earthquake. Old Spanish buildings, statues with faces worn away from years of sun, eye sockets glazed over with dust, bicycle taxis, eyes of the locals on us “where you from, where you from” they called hoping to engage in conversation for spare change.
Alaska disappeared down an alley, he’d moaned about being stuck with the other two but he left us all. I felt abandoned, he’d been complaining that everyone would get lost but he left me. As though seizing the opportunity Blonde and Geo took swipes as we walked on “Why’s Alaska so grumpy today?” she asked without looking for an answer. “You never get frustrated” she smiled at Geo. “No, neither do you” he smiled back, they both looked at me so I played along, hating it “yep, me neither” I gave them the tools. “Oh yeah, you’re such an angel aren’t you Becky” Geo looked at me pointedly, him and Blonde exchanged a smug look, the sides of their mouths curled up. ‘Oh you’re both so wonderful aren’t you’ I swallowed.
“Chica Chica” a man called as we passed. “What’s he saying?” Blonde asked Geo, even my lack of Spanish knew Chica meant chick. “He’s talking about you” Geo gave her a doe-eyed look. I literally saw her ego grow, she baited him “oh he’s talking about Becky” she said with a sly smile waiting for Geo’s reply “no, he’s talking about you” he corrected “everyone’s looking at you” he added to her beaming face. My eyes rolled “we should really be getting back to the car, can you check the map?”. “Oh, we’ve been walking in the wrong direction” Blonde realised, tilting her phone.
We sat by the river drinking mojitos, Blonde and Geo finally finding a drink they liked despite not being fans of alcohol. Alaska laughed as Blonde and Geo slurred their words, playing up to the attention. The coolness of the evening blew in on the breeze. Alaska didn’t catch my annoyance whilst Blonde and Geo made drunken hints about how they never fight in comparison to Alaska and I.
My period arrived in the outhouse with the crooked door hanging off one hinge so you could look out to sea from the toilet seat. I felt low and weepy returning to the group, watching them laugh as the alcohol warmed their spirits, I felt left out and cold. I sat back down, watching the scene through a pane of glass, not really part of it.
Blonde and Geo continued to drink “Tango! We should go tango dancing” Blonde announced, her elbow slipping from the table to everyone’s amusement. “Geo, you can dance because you can dance with me” she lent in, smiling at me as she said it as though it were a challenge. “I don’t have any rhythm” Geo answered but looking like the cat that got the cream at the prospect of Blonde dancing with him. “Oh you will when you have a few more drinks” Alaska laughed. “We will find it, the rhythm, in the mojitos” the cousin stated in broken English.
A few drinks down, Alaska and I concluded the other two were too drunk to do anything other than trip over each their own feet. Blonde leaned out the side of the car window, resting her spinning head on her arms “he’s got a machete” she called as we passed a man on the street. “Nothing wrong with that, a man with a machete is an awesome thing” Geo deemed. “Why am I talking like an idiot” Geo uttered a while later when his words weren’t falling into order. “Why isn’t the dog waving back at me!” Blonde yelled. “Hey dogs are people too” Geo insisted. Alaska leaned over from the front seat laughing at the exchange of conversation. I sat in the back, sandwiched between the two drunks, never feeling more sober in my life. Geo was sick in the toilet bowl as soon as we got home “go rub his back” Alaska instructed to Blonde.
We were sitting with the family the next morning when Blonde walked in wearing a strappy vest top, her hair unusually piled up top of her head, displaying a map of love bites all over her neck. “We’re going to the mountains today” she declared, making a show of walking around the table, twisting her head back and forth as though looking for something. “Do we have to stay with them? They took swipes at me all day yesterday, I thought we were suppose to be having space” I leant into Alaska as Blonde continued to walk about like a peacock.
We laid around on the bed again, no hurry to get up and nowhere to get to. Conversation turned to Alaska’s ex girlfriend and with that, sex. “Well how often did you and your ex have sex then?!” I enquired, he’d been excited that Geo might finally have seen some action, expressing how hard it was to meet girls back home and even if you did manage to get a girlfriend, the girls were always bitches who used sex like a weapon. “Three times a year” came the reply. I was shocked “what do you mean? Three different people or actually just three separate times?” I tried to clarify.
“Just three times” he looked away. “How can that be? You were dating your ex-girlfriend for what? Three months? Don’t tell me you only had sex three times in three months! She lived around the corner from you!” I was confused.
He clammed up “well yeah, we did it once, then I went away for a few weeks, then we did it again but she said it wasn’t comfortable so we waited awhile, tried again, then we ended”.
I thought for a moment “but, but that barely sounds like a relationship” I wasn’t being terribly tactful. He closed his eyes and refused to look at me. “Why is this so hard for you to talk about?” I pushed. “I put it in a box and left it behind” he deflected. “Why do you find relationships so hard to talk about? I find it hard to admit when I was wrong or apologise or when I’m embarrassed or insecure. But I still talk about that stuff, I don’t always want to but I try ” I explained, wondering if we had it in us to be really open with each other.
“I know you find it hard to apologise” he stated “speaking of which, you never apologised for taking your stress out on me at Yosemite”. I pushed my head into the pillow and let out a sigh “I don’t feel I need to apologise”. “Yes you do!” he sat up, ready to explain his standing on that fight once again. “But I don’t feel I do! We’ve been through this already, why are you dragging it up again?!” I stared at the fan, tired of fighting but he continued to push until I found myself revisiting the memory once again and listing all the points where I felt I was right in it “….we’ve already discussed all this, we moved on” I concluded.
“I need you to apologise to me” he laid back down and closed his eyes whilst he waited. I stared at his face, tracing his features with my eyes, the shape of his lips, the constant angry crease between his eyes, always giving him a slight look of annoyance. It would have been so easy to kiss him, instead I let the silence draw out, finally speaking one word “no”.
His eyes snapped opened but I spoke before he could argue “I’m not apologising when I feel it would be a lie.. It’s not genuine, I won’t be forced into saying something I don’t mean! Stop trying to control me!” he’d got my back up, I’d switched from wanting to lie on the bed and hug him to fighting the urge to march out the room. “I’m not controlling you!” his voice began to rise. “Yes you are, why do you always orchestrate a fight between us? We were having a nice time and now look where it’s heading?” I was so tired of fighting but the old buttons were being pushed.
“Me?” he laughed meanly “You’re the one always in a mood! Why do you think Geo said that yesterday? About you being such an angel!”. My fists clenched “because he’s got Blonde in his ear moaning about me losing my shit and taking the car, he’s so puppy dog in love with her, anything she says he’d go with!” I spat back. Alaska stared at me, any light in his eyes extracted, leaving only dead pools “yes but he’s also been on the trip half the time, he’s seen you be in a mood for most of it. You’re always moaning” for someone who wanted to move to England to be with me, who had started naming our children and insisted he loved me, he sure had a way to make me feel shit about myself.
“Right that’s it” I was done, I got up and headed to the bathroom door, keen to escape the environment before I said something I might regret. “Don’t walk away!” he glared, more or a warning than a request.
“No fuck you, fuck all three of you! None of you know me, you don’t know what I’ve been through the last two years, you don’t know the person I was before all this, the fun happy me who was, generally, very positive and go lucky. All you know if the grief version and you judge me for it! The version stuck in a fucking car with Blonde asking a million stupid questions, copying every thing I do and then trying to compete at every turn. And you! You putting all your issues on to me, always asking for help like I’d be able to save you. And Geo, who’s 27 and never done anything, never lived away from home, had a relationship, lost anyone close to him, fuck, he hadn’t even kissed a girl since he was 15 before Blonde came along! No! None of you get to fucking judge me! Fuck you all!” I shut the bathroom door, stared at my reflection in the mirror and took a deep breath, steadying myself on the sink for support.
“You know why, I like you the most when you’re like this” Alaska called through the door, I closed my eyes, wishing I could shut out the next manipulation that was sure to follow. “Because you think I’m being real” I replied, not wanting to hear him say it. “Yeah” he called back, I turned the shower on, letting the water drown out the rest of his words as I submerged my head in the stream.
His words, Blonde’s words, even Geo’s at times, they cut through like knives as the water tried to wash the wounds away, despair trickling down my back. ‘Was I nasty? I certainly had it in me but was that how people saw me? Was I always in a mood?’. It felt like it recently, I couldn’t remember the last time I was happy, I feared it had been years. I still felt like I was simply existing, not really living. Trapped in the now but nowhere left to run to, I couldn’t go back and yet I’d gone around the world and still hadn’t found the answers. I didn’t want to be the person they described me as ‘this isn’t who I am! I’m a happy person, I’m fun, I am, or at least I used to be. I think’.
Alaska tried to grab my wrists when I finally emerged from the bathroom, appearing with a cloud of steam. “Why is it ok for you to expect an apology from me but I can’t get one from you?!” he was angry. I told him to fuck off, retrieved my hairbrush and returned to the sanctuary of the bathroom. He did, I heard the main door close with his exit, leaving me alone to fight my demons.
I found him on the beach a short while later, we talked over our difference, my feet digging a hole into the sand under the shade of a single palm tree, our words trying to balm the wounds. We spent the evening with the family sharing a meal of rice, pork, potatoes and plantain fritters, it was a simple meal but full of flavour and free from the corn syrup of America.
Keen to avoid Blonde and Geo again the next day, this time Alaska and I headed to the mountains. We rode in the 1952 Chrysler, battered cream leather seats, no seatbelts, cigarette trays, wooden handles and chrome details. It was spacious and solid, six decades old and a credit to both the manufacture and the mechanic who kept it’s wheels turning after all those years. The old car rattled whilst warm breeze streamed in through the windows and caught my hair. Alaska closed his eyes, his curls flying around his face and a smile travelling across his lips, one arm hung limp out the window.
We sat by a waterfall that only the locals knew, kids jumped into the pools, swimming in and out of the caves. We snacked on the sweetest mangoes I’d ever eaten, I didn’t even like mangoes but I liked them, sucking the flesh from the skins, juice dripping down our chins, we smiled at each other.
We played dominoes that night with whoever dropped by the house, rum and cokes poured over ice, hot air and sticky backs, a ceiling fan offering the only respite from the heat whilst the sky turned pink behind the palm trees.
Blonde was in a mood the next day, I didn’t care to ask why, happy to stay as far away as possible. She took swipes at Alaska over breakfast but left me be, too scared to say anything I might bite back for. After a morning round of tears to Geo, curiosity got the better of me and I asked the problem, concerned it had to do with me. I hadn’t said a word to the girl since we’d arrived in Cuba, actively avoiding her where possible, what had I done now?!
Perhaps my avoidance was upsetting her? But after LA, I couldn’t be around her, I didn’t want to explode again but enough time hadn’t passed. Geo informed me she was crying about old text message arguments sent six week earlier in Vegas, I couldn’t care, I didn’t want to be part of it any more. ‘Friendships die sometimes, that’s what happens. Bridezilla taught be that’ and then I felt guilt and bitterness for thinking that lesson.
“The food is really bland here” she complained, my eyes shot up from my plate, fork suspended in mid air, searching Alaska’s face, that blazed. I glanced at Geo who was watching us both, even he seemed embarrassed by the statement.
We were sat eating a meal of rice, potatoes, onion and breaded fish, simple yet delicious. A meal lovingly prepared for us. I’d felt humbled by the generosity of the host, sharing what little they had, every bite warmed my belly that someone had taken the time to make it for me. I looked at Blonde, probably for the first time properly since America. Had it been my family we were staying with, I’d have taken her aside ‘you want to be in a mood, fine! But don’t you dare act so rudely or insult this lovely family who have welcomed us into their home!’. Alaska was fuming, containing his patience only for the sake of his cousin but ready to pounce the next time she crossed the line.
He didn’t have to wait long, the next day Alaska was sitting talking to Geo over lunch, asking for details of how to get the bus to Havana, Blonde walked into the room and interjected herself into the conversation “it’s perfectly simple, if I can work it out and I’m was suppose to be the naive one of the group, then you should be able to manage the bus too” she flashed me a quick look to see if I’d caught it. I glanced over my spaghetti at Alaska to see if he recognised the slight, he nodded back.
“Excuse me! I wasn’t talking to you! I was talking to Geo, if I wanted your opinion or advice I’d ask for it” he snarled. She stepped back as if bitten, looking at each of us for support, even Geo seemed fed up, finding no solace, she retreated to her bedroom.
Alaska and I spent the afternoon at the beach after returning from Havana, reading to each other from the book I was digesting. We looked like one of those awful couples, locked in their own world reading sonnets or some shit. Geo sat alone further down the beach, reluctant to join us, keen for the space as Blonde refused to leave her room.
That night Blonde discovered Alaska alone in the kitchen “I want a copy of those pictures tonight!” she demanded he instruct me. “What?” I questioned at the relayed message “I told her I’d give her a copy of MY pictures when we get to Mexico, we’ve got three weeks! Why is she in such a hurry now?! I said I’d copy them, why does it have to be done this second! She had a camera, we took the exact same shots!” she’d been trying to demonstrate some power over me all week, she’d pushed me to the wall but I was never going to let her win!
Alaska only shook his shoulders and tried to hug me. “No! You think I’m being petty! I told her I was done with the road-trip and with her! I don’t want to make any effort any more, she infuriates me! The snide comments, subtle digs, the way she’s bossing every one around! Did you hear her earlier ‘I’m going for a walk! Geo, you’re coming with me!’ ‘We’re leaving early tomorrow to go to the town aren’t we!’. She’s not the boss of Geo but she’s horrid to him and he doesn’t even notice” I complained. “Oh he does, but what choice does he have. He’s desperate for her to fall for him” Alaska added. “She treats him appallingly! She’s been in a mood the last two days. I’ve not said one word to her, made no comments, not risen to any of her remarks or attacks and actively stayed out of her way” I stated.
“Oh I know!” Alaska offered looking at me kindly. “What’s that mean?” I enquired at the tone of his remark. “It’s been noticed, my family are starting to ask if you’re ill or something. You only leave this room for meals or if we’re going out! You need to be the bigger person, you need to make more effort”.
“Why do you keep saying that? I thought I was being the bigger person, I’m staying out her way and not rising to anything. I’ve taken all her comments on the shoulder and not even rolled my eyes! I thought I was doing really well” I seemed to be failing again without knowing how.
You need to make more effort. Your absence is missed, people notice when you’re not around” Alaska pointed out, I started to smile thinking it was a compliment but then he added “and then it seems like you’re the one in a mood” and my smile faded again.
“But I’m removing myself from the situation. I don’t want the drama, the comments etc. I’m not acting like that, why do I have to put up with it? Why do you call me out but no one calls her out?” I asked, everything feeling unjust.
Heading his advice I set about trying to copy the pictures onto her USB sticks, for five hours I sat trying to transfer the images “are you going to come downstairs, you’re being antisocial” Alaska stood in the doorway as I was half way through the transfer process “I’m trying to copy the pictures, I thought that’s what you advised!” I couldn’t win.
The disks were too small to fit the files, by midnight I gave up and fell asleep. We all headed to one of the famous beaches the next day, long white stretches of sand. I hid under a t-shirt, ashamed of my swollen body from all the American candy I’d consumed.
Blonde continued to make demands about the pictures right up until I’d gone to bed despite Alaska’s best efforts at explaining the USB’s simply weren’t large enough and it would be a much slower process of copying, uploading, deleting and repeating, all of which we didn’t have time for in Cuba. Blonde was having none of it and insisted she had the pictures the next day.
Geo and Blonde forgot to bring money to the beach and as such, had on funds to cover the taxi home. We arranged a time to leave however when it came to it, Blonde decided she wanted another dip in the sea and stayed out in the water determinedly.
We waited until Alaska lost his patience and swam out after her, telling her we were leaving. She started to moan about the pictures again, I could see their discussion getting heated by the frequency of arm movements and splashing of water. Geo swam out to break up the fight whilst I remained with the bags, determined to stay out of it. All three of them treaded water, rising and falling with the waves yelling at one another, wild arms and sulking faces.
Alaska returned “come on” he nodded his head angrily. We walked together to the taxi rank, no longer concerned if they followed. They did. Alaska turned to Geo, asking him to translate to find out the cost of the trip with the taxi driver in Spanish. Blonde turned to me “for future reference we wanted to stay the whole day!”. I glanced at Geo, recalling his preference to leave an hour earlier, it appeared she now spoke for both of them. Alaska stared at her blankly “don’t give a fuck!”. Blonde looked around for backup but with Geo busy, found none.
“The taxi said he’d take us” Geo returned. Alaska and I turned to leave but Blonde fought back “I want those pictures tonight! You have to give them to me today!”. I was fed up with the demands, spinning on my heels “they are MY pictures, taken on MY camera, by ME! I do not owe you anything! I tried to copy them for you yesterday, for hours! But your memory sticks are too small. I’ll copy them when I can but if you keep acting like a spoilt brat and making demands in such a rude way, I’m not going to do anything!” I stated, hoping that would be the end of it.
“But you kept telling me to take pictures on your camera!” Blonde complained. “Yeah, when I was driving and couldn’t. You had two cameras and a mobile phone of your own. It’s not like I was stopping you taking your own pictures!” I pointed out. “I want the pictures today. And the edited versions too!” she insisted, climbing into the car. “I’m really sorry Becky, I know, she’s, she’s a bit wound up at the moment” Geo tried to explain “noooo! It’s not your fault. Sorry. Sorry you’re in the middle of this. Sorry, it’s not you, sorry” I tired to explain to Geo how guilty I felt that he was caught up in it all.
I sat in the taxi watching palm trees fly by, my irritation once again threatening the happiness of everyone else’s day. I’d drawn my line so clearly in the sand, but it was almost salvageable at the airport in Mexico, however, after a few days in Cuba, even Blonde could see any patience was at an end. I desperately wanted to be as far away from them all as I could possibly get, we might not have been in car any more but that tin can of claustrophobia still seemed to be over our heads.