Day Unknown- Faded

I’m supposed to be sad but all I can do is rage. My kids have often remarked that my first response to being hurt or startled is to get angry. This is so much greater than a simple unexpected pain it’s gone beyond a measurable response. Even rage is too gentle a word but I can’t think of any other descriptions.

This is huge, it’s so big, I can’t grasp it, can’t comprehend it, can’t encompass it. My mind is spinning from the fruitless efforts I’m making to grab hold of something solid. But everything is liquid.

I’m so physically worn out I can’t function. Upon getting into our cabin tonight, I collapsed. My legs simply refused to bear any more weight of any kind. I had the kids bring my computer to me and now I’m writing, my fingers pounding the keyboard, striving to make sense of the senseless.

I’m not supposed to deal with this much death at my age. Or for all the years previous when the phrase “so young” first began it’s poisonous insertion into my life.

How many? How many more? Why do I stay closed off Dr. Shrink? Well let me tell you…

Today someone I love died.

And…

Today I was visiting the hometown of the last bright one who died on me.

It was to be a pilgrimage to try to make sense of what happened all those years ago to the two teens who loved, lost, tried to regain and eventually lost again.

Then the final loss.

Taking my children though the tribal lands today every drop of red sand felt like memory turned to blood, blinding my eyes and piercing my soul. I made myself vulnerable today and therefore I was already in a precarious place. Then the word came that on this day, of all days, another beloved one is gone.

There are no words for this, none.

I can’t rage, I can’t scream, I can’t let go because I’m the mom and I’m stuck in the cabin with my kids and the boy whose birthday is tomorrow. I have a cupcake for him. I bought it at the Diné market this afternoon, showing him around the land I didn’t realize I remembered so well.

(The stray dogs that wander all around and in and out, somewhat indulged yet ignored. One, with her teats heavy with milk followed us around the parking lot today and I wanted to grab her and say, “Take me to your pups and I will somehow save you all.”  Instead I got into my rental after griping after my kids for something-or-another and drove away.)

(The people whose eyes speak of both despair and wisdom but also great humor, they seem to see you from the side and not straight on as if to look too closely would be rude. The ones who approach you at the gas station with jewelry and the ones with fry-bread at the roadside stands and the tourist trap that we were at earlier today.)

(The land. Oh my dear God the land. The vistas that flow into pure light, colors not to be found at any other place I’ve ever been, the drab and dreary desert exploding into pinks and corals that aren’t quite those hues but again, there aren’t enough words.)

I have nothing but my words, I’m trying to ground but I’m not sure I’m able to. Tomorrow I promised a trip to the Grand Canyon and I’ve half killed myself getting us here and I have no idea what dawn will bring.

My kids are both scared of me right now. I have a snarl on my face that is so large and raw that I think they are reading it as a “Business Closed” sign. “Mommy isn’t home right now, leave a message and she might get back with you later.”

I know the rage is a cocoon, a safety-shield and a way of sheltering me from the tsunami of grief that I can see but refuse to face. I can’t. I just can’t.

I won’t candy-coat this, and put a shiny bow on it, talking about “better places” and other sanctimonious bullshit. My friend is dead and though I’m thrilled there is no more suffering for him, I am a gaping wound of pain. So I will feel my way through this.

I’m so tired.

I’m so pissed.

I’m so… Sad.

How can I be back here again and how do I get to tomorrow?

Day 65- The Storm

Everything is damp. Towels and bathing suits that were put out to dry yesterday are still sopping. And by sopping I mean able to be wrung out, with visible rivulets of water.  The floor under our bare feet has a gritty wet feel and even my bedding seems to have a strangely moist affect. The place smells like wet dog (Princess really needs a bath,) fish and yogurt. Don’t ask me why about the last one, I have no idea.  

I’m having fantasies of spraying everything within reach with anti-fungal spray and calling it a day.

We were supposed to go out and have fun at the beach this morning. I was promised white sandy beaches and seas of turquoise with 85 degree water. Instead we are trapped inside our cabin- which the management kindly didn’t kick us out of in spite of certain reservation complications – watching sheets of rain pour down. The storm took its sweet time to get here and now is shaking us with every loud roar of thunder. It feels like it’s coming from up under the floorboards. Ducky is cowering under his blankets and CJ and I are trying to respect his feelings while mouthing “Oh Wow!” at each other with silent grins.

We have seen quite a few southern thunderstorms but this was different having come of the sea. It slowly and majestically rolled across the gulf last night delighting storm watchers with a fantastic light show. It was way off in the distance but I didn’t really understand how far away it was or how long it was going to take to arrive.

Last night was heavenly. After accepting an invitation from a lovely couple from New Orleans to come over for dinner, we enjoyed good food and excellent company from folk who don’t hold much for standing on ceremony; our kind of people.

We joked and laughed all evening (Ducky holding forth with his most “on-stage” personality,) after which I put the boys to bed and then succumbed to the siren call of the storm.

I crossed the dock which was a grey slash across a rippled mass of obsidian.  I thought to myself, “So that’s what they mean when they say, ‘jet black waters.’” I felt a moment of primordial fear and shoved it to the back of my awareness. Still, crossing seemed to take far longer than usual. There was a pair of young boys fishing their profiles eerily lit with the flashes from across the bay. The edge of the dock had two benches which no one sat in, the five of us simply sat out and stared. Cell phones were taken out, and after several minutes of earnest tries to obtain ‘decent’ photos or video, devices were gently shoved back in purses or pockets with semi-relieved sighs.

It was an experience to have, not record. At least not with anything but memory.

I returned to the cabin around 1am, the boys soundly sleeping and my mind swirling. After reading until 2, I found myself rudely awoken at 5 by the sound of crashing thunder.

So now we sit, surrounded by our wet things and try to endure. I don’t know what the day will bring.

I wanted to go to the beach.

Day 64

We are driving down the road which has become shockingly flat; gone are the rolling hills of green, replaced by miles upon miles of farmland, also verdant but with a different, somehow lusher scent.

Small towns dot the landscape like little beacons of humanity and their storefronts look like Norman Rockwell postcards with hints of Banksy.

I’m white-knuckled while stopped at yet another red light.  Pauses are becoming increasingly anxiety producing because the engine is starting to make her faint, Gruvph-grr-gruvph, noise indicating she’s had enough, (and will pull this whole damn thing over if she has to.)

I’ve been grumpy and out of sorts all day, the kids have run out of any steam and are unable to do much more than to play 20 questions ad nauseum.

Are we there yet?

Looking out the window I see a palm-sized flying insect. Distinctive glistening wings in a wonderful shade of ochre decorate what is easily the largest dragonfly I’ve seen on our trip so far. The light turns green and I move past it, loathe to relinquish it’s beauty.

I need something pretty right now.

We make a left over the bridge, and start to wind through a country lane taking note of roadside fruit stands. Next we are enveloped in a parade of shimmering, darting, creatures. Dozens of dragonflies surround us making it appear that we are driving through some kind of prism.

Oh Joy! Now, where is that left turn?

We arrive at the site somewhat breathless and tired, making inquiries to the attendant as to just when we can check into our (Air Conditioned) cabin. Having missed lunch, and suffering through a heat index that “feels like 104 with 70% humidity” we eye the pool sadly knowing that until Princess is safely ensconced somewhere, we won’t be able to cool off.

“Well,” the attendant says after clarifying that we weren’t looking for a dog-friendly restaurant, but rather a simple place to plan out our picnic, “You are welcome to use the grounds. Tell you what; drive around the building and take the one lane driveway down to the dock. There’s a picnic area right there.”

Dragging our sweaty, whiny and miserable selves back into the van we head down the way and find ourselves bouncing down a rather steep incline. I’m focused on getting down without any distractions. Then I look up.

The dragonflies are here. Hundreds if not thousands of them dance in the air in the open field to our left.

The bridge which we crossed earlier is in the distance. Beyond that is the Gulf of Mexico, resplendent in a rich cerulean blue that I thought only existed in pictures. By contrast the bay is nearly grey and is also quite soothing. The soft splash of an occasional fish is all that mars the stillness.

We Ooh & Ah, and then set about to making our lunches. We slap together PB&J’s, eat unwashed grapes out of a bag, sip on Dr. Brown’s sodas, and wave flies away; at first lazily, them more vigorously until we look like a pack of lunatics waving our arms about madly.

Lunch finished and goods packed up, we walk down to explore the fishing dock. There are a couple of boys fishing here, kayaks for rent and only about five other people.

Looking back at the beach there is a smattering of cabins are as varied as can be; some the basest of shacks, others actual “mini-homes” with full kitchens and bathrooms. “Which one will we get, Mom?” The boys ask.“I have no idea, I asked for ‘no-frills’ though.”

Heading back to the van we realize: The dragonflies have left.  The sky is darkening. Storm clouds are rolling in.

Time to go.

We walk back to the office. I go and collect the keys to our place for the night… Or perhaps the next two.

There is a beach after all.

And dragonflies.

 

Day 63- Clean Up Your Mess!

So now that we have added a gargantuan, clumsy and randomly smelly teenager into the mix, ( I love you CJ!) it has become even more imperative to have a strong set of rules in place. This is necessary to see that Asterix doesn’t go from feeling like a cozy little home and conveyance into a cell on wheels trapping and dragging all on board into the depths of hell.

In other words I’d rather not drive a moldy, sandy, sticky mess of random leftovers from wandering all over hill and dale and apparent chewing gum factories.

This sign is now taped to one of the cabinet shelves:

SECURING THE RIG:

  1. Is EVERYTHING in its place?
  2. All cabinets locked and closed?
  3. All loose articles of paper, clothing, maps & random junk stowed away? (I will start throwing shit out.)
  4. Are there any items that need special attention? (Eg. wet items, messy drawers that items were shoved into instead of neatly folded, filthy shoes, anything stinky, sticky or otherwise.…)
  5. Does it smell nice? We own two HUGE bottles of Febreeze for a reason!
  6. Pick that thing up!
  7. That one too!
  8. I mean it!!

A day after sharing these rules yesterday, I came out after the boys “secured the rig” to find approximately 3 reams worth of paper scattered, 15 maps left all over the front, wrappers from forbidden foods, enough sand to repopulate a whole beach and a certain odor of indeterminate origin that smelled like a cross between peanut butter, mildew and beer.

I took one look, (and whiff,) slammed the doors shut, came back into the motel room and in varying levels of pissed off vocals let them know about my mild disappointment. I then went and locked myself in the bathroom after hissing at them that “this shit had better get fixed.”

It was either that or to simply drive off and leave them in the room for an hour or two which also seemed like a totally reasonable response at the time.

I haven’t had a full night’s sleep in four days at this point and am Beyond Cranky. I had already warned the boys the night before that the list was up, needed to be followed and I really, truly, desperately needed them to be at the top of their game.

I’m not sure why I’m so rarely able to accept shortcomings from my children without feeling like the Wrath of Mom MMXVI but damn, I go from reasonable human being to rabid lunatic within seconds when they mess up lately.

I know that things are not aided by the fact that one of our most recent adventures had us camping in a spot where the mosquito tribe had declared war on us and our delicate netting didn’t stand a chance. The A/C was also broken and without a generator we tried to sleep with the doors all flung open which did jack shit for the temp. It was soon 100 in the van and 95% humidity. There were tears. Finally we decided to make the tent. It was thundering. CJ took one look at the size of the thing and offered to go back into the rig.

The rest of the night was punctuated with random screaming and yelling while the war in the van intensified. Ducky crashed out while I nervously watched the lighting turn our tent varying shades of orange and wondered if the rain flap was going to hold up. Or the tent itself for that matter. I was angrily thinking to the future me that was going to find this a “great memory” to go jump off a cliff.

The next morning CJ’s war results were found in the form of dozens of tiny, bloody, squashed bodies all over the ceiling. But judging by the bites all over his feet and legs I’d say it was a draw.

He also said that he was telling his future self to go die in a fire. Yup, definitely my kid.

The three of us resembled national geographic pox victims, our legs and arms (and in Ducky’s case, tummy, back and face) covered to the point that there were more bites than skin. Top this off with the fact that we nearly all had terrible sunburns…

Yeah, not such a great night.

But the day before had been magical. We had reached the Atlantic and were playing in the waves, accompanied by millions of tiny fish and one intrepid little sting ray.

There were dolphins, crabs, and new birds along with blisteringly hot white sand to run across. We had nummy snacks and the dog stole some meat and cheese and didn’t look the least bit repentant. We laughed and played and feasted and rejoiced.

We clung to the memory of that day when dealing with the aftereffects of the night. I asked the boys the next day while coating everyone in calamine lotion if they were able to balance out the memories. “I think so.” Said one. “Yes!” said the other.

“What about you, Mom?”

Oh. That’s right. Me.

“I can still hear the waves crashing on the shore. I can remember the feeling of the swells lifting up my body and taste the sea-salt on my lips. I remember how you two laughed and played together as if all alone on the busy (but not quite crowded shore.) I told someone recently that our trip seems to be 85% trials and tribulations, 10% good days and 5% moments of earth-shattering glory. I think it was one of those 5% days. What about you?”

This time they both said Yes.

 

Day 60- The South

“So, how do you feel about the way things are going these days?”

I usually say when asked, (and believe me with a California plate, I am getting asked,) that I am tired of politics, tired of watching my country flounder and flail while people who have been taught to stay on their side of a fictitious fence sit and throw barbs at one another. Or if I’m pressed for time, “I don’t trust any of ‘em. Politicians are rarely out for the people and are usually out for themselves.”

This approach seems to be working thus far. But I still am aware of many a steely eye looking at me with an unpleasant glint reflecting a thought; “You know I could push you on this further, right?”  It’s only gone past the glance once, I stood my ground and walked away bored and unsettled. A waste of my time especially since I don’t believe in an afterlife; every moment of my life is all the more precious.

So many folk are out there yelling at each other and I’m over here wondering, “Hey, what’s this state like? Anybody got room for us? Want to talk about food? Going to Mars? Read any good books lately? What did you think about this one? Where have you travelled to? Did you like it?

‘Round here it’s all about God and guns. The radio stations consist of at least five varieties of folk singing their hearts out to or about Jesus. Not to mention the billboards selling God. And Guns.  And confederate flags.  I shit you not I have seen shops selling “starts & bars” right next to crosses and bullets. (I’m waiting for the Confederate flag cross-shaped ammo carrier because that would be like winning some sort of “Souther Trifecta” or something.)

I am decidedly ambivalent about guns though I was taken a little aback when the mechanic who was giving us a lift mentioned in conversation, “my gun goes with me everywhere,”  and I realized he was carrying. The very prosaic side I no doubt owe most of my survival to took this in stride. I shrugged in reply to this along with a non-answer along the lines of, “Well, if you feel the need, then that’s what’s going to happen” or some such. Honestly I wasn’t really that bothered. I suppose I should have been, but at that point all I cared about was getting the van moving again, getting a cold drink (it was 111 out) and finding a place to stay that wouldn’t break the bank.

The fuck-it factor was high that day. Has been ever since, really. Because it just keeps happening.

There was a  family we were hanging out in a random motel, kids in the pool, the adults sharing their beers and tips on sustainable living. We were getting along well and then they were very politely asking me if the gun on the nightstand (on top of the BIBLE, no less,) was offensive in any way. Thinking quickly of Ducky playing with their three children outside, I honestly replied, “It doesn’t bother me in the slightest, but it might scare my boy a little.”

Nothing but the truth.

I have been around gun-culture before, back when one could walk into a bar in Arizona and throw one’s gun down on the table to talk about it’s fine points with others present. I have fired weapons, both at backwood fence posts, and at long distance targets on a rifle range.

The only thing Ducky knows about guns is what he sees in the movies and on TV. Not watching the news he only has the vaguest sort of clue that he lives in the only country in the world that regularly has mass shootings. I’m not sure he fully understands why he has grown up with “lock-down” drills. Earthquake drills are what I remember. But then again my mother grew up with a decidedly different “duck & cover” program.

If we move here, I will take him out to a range and show him what we live with. Not because I’m pro or con but because like the overly abundant mosquitoes, they seem to be something we are going to have to learn to live with. I’d rather he not freeze up in terror at his first sighting of one. He will learn the rules and if a family doesn’t seem to know them he will get his ass home.

Alive, hopefully.

There is also truth to the statement I just made to my friend this week, “The people we have met have nearly all been gun-toting, God-fearing, conservative rednecks who would drop everything to help us in an emergency.” But then again I took certain bumper stickers off and don’t say a lot to make waves. I fear what might happen if I did.

On the other hand, it sure is nice to walk around in an area where everyone says Hello with a wave and a smile. From the smallest backwood town, to campground to small gas station stop, I haven’t had anyone glance over or past me. There are friendly waves and smiles from porches and rusted out trucks. And they are genuine. It baffles me how people with hearts so filled with kindness and grace can turn so quickly into angry, desperate folk.

These people confound me.

But I sure do like ‘em.

Hopefully I won’t get shot.

Forever and ever, Amen.

(Says the non-theist, queer, ½ mexican, charity accepting, single mother from California. Heh.)

 

Day 55

I woke up this morning feeling refreshed and surprisingly not stressed out, considering it was well after when I’d hoped to leave. I was realizing that my body’s demand for sleep clearly outweighed any need to get on the road quickly. This calm moment of zen lasted approximately three minutes, when I discovered that my phone was dead. Completely and utterly non-responsive. I had plugged it in all night but it was gone. I tried two other outlets and had no luck in getting a “okay, I’ll charge now” symbol. Going out to the van I tried one last time to no avail and then started quietly catastrophizing. Walking around flapping from these experiences, I was unpleasantly shocked to learn that the huge bag of “dry” clothes the kids had brought back from the laundry room last night were still wet.  

My moment of serenity was rapidly changing to borderline psychosis.

There was one goal for today. One. “We are going to see the Atlantic to make our ‘cross-country’ tagline official!’ I had said cheerily when picking CJ up. Oh yes; CJ. Those of you who are following our Twitter and Facebook have no doubt noticed a sudden addition to our little team, my 16 year old has joined us and will be along for the return leg to California. Say hello CJ!

“Are we there yet?”

Well, isn’t this going to be fun.

Anywho, after getting on the road about five hours later than expected we ended up fielding gas stations without power, misdirections, (twice,) and at some point my phone started charging again very very very slooooowwly. Ick.

We finally found Virgina Beach on the map and I realized that I wasn’t quite all that safe to drive. Like shaking and blurry-eyed and exhausted. The perfect time to go through a several mile long tunnel and across several bridges over bays we couldn’t name. There were two accidents and during the stop-and-go Asterix* (We finally named the damn van,) let us know that she was PISSED.

We ended up running the heater for the last six miles.

*********

I didn’t know Virginia Beach was on an island.

Where I grew up and island was something seen off the coast in the distance that one only got to see if a boat was acquired and loins girded. Santa Barbara’s channel has been called one of the roughest in the world and though there are many lovely pleasant days out on the water, there are more of the, “Hey, do you get seasick?” variety.

So we’re now on the island in a KOA the size of Disneyland with humidity so strong I feel like I’m taking a spit shower from God. Gross.

I have read the riot act to the boys about getting to bed early, and am teaching them Seven Dragons.

The dog just walked through the game.

Time for bed.

 

Day ???

I have decided I am quite possibly the worst travel blogger ever. I set out with the fantasy that I would be able to present wonderful word pictures of our travels replete with pithy observations and deep moments of wisdom.

In lieu of this, the ugly truth has revealed itself; I am simply not able to write anything after a long day on the road. I don’t even so much as glance at my laptop. Instead I hurl myself upon the bench seat in the van. I don’t even bother to convert it into a bed anymore. Or change. Or brush my teeth. I bathe with wet wipes. (And yet again I fortify my position of being single forever.)

Our days look something like this: Get up early. Or rather, plan to get up early. Then wake up and, depending on the position of the sun, either flap a bit or go into full blown panic mode. Continue freaking out while shovelling food at offspring while grabbing a plain, usually bitter cup of coffee for myself. (As this is usually from a campsite or truck stop, it’s often got undertones of bark, rubber, diesel and asphalt in varied combinations.)

We then drive for 2 hours with a reminder set warning us that the van will die at some point soon. Sometimes we time it right. More often than not, we sit at the side of the road snarling at one another in the hot sun until I either give in and call AAA, or we try our luck and start the process again.

After 12:30 we begin our routine of running the A/C for precious moments at a time, turning it off at the merest hint of a grade. By 2pm we have to cut it off completely. We can have A/C or drive. You have no doubt worked out our choice.

We keep mini spray bottles filled with chilled water, (well at least they were chilled back when our fridge was still working,) by our seats. At some point one of us will yell, “Mist!” as a plea for some small measure of relief. We spray, feel better for approximately 45 seconds and then chug from lukewarm bottles.  At one point we bought a small thermometer, curious to see exactly what our condition was. We have since hidden it away by unspoken mutual agreement. Apparently knowing that we were literally driving in 100 degree heat was too depressing to bear.

Our lunches depend on what stage of overheating we are at. If the van has us stranded we often end up with beef jerky, granola bars, apples and crackers . (There used to be cheese. I miss cheese. Oh My God. CHEESE.)  If we are at an unexpected but not completely dead stop, it’s PB&J. We have had a LOT of PB&J. I’m not sure if after this summer I will be able to even smell peanut butter again.

I don’t want to admit how often lunch has been Dairy Queen. This is most often funded by the copious amounts of spare change we keep discovering in the van. Not to mention on the ground at campsites and in motel rooms. I owe a huge thanks to all of you with loose pockets. I cannot for the life of me fathom how Ducky and I have both lost 15lbs while on a diet that has repeatedly consisted of sugar sticks, ice cream and light snacks. I guess that guy was right.

I know you’ve read that we also get to stay with friends. And I always think when pulling into a new driveway, “Oh, isn’t this wonderful? I’ll finally get to mail those postcards, check in with family, find out about my mail, post to the damn blog…”

But when I’m staying with my friends I don’t want to write I want to do.

I am aware that I sound like a recalcitrant child when I say this, but my older and sulkier inner teenager makes it all better by not giving a shit.

I have discovered a true way to reverse the aging process. Somewhere after all the driving the adult gets burned away and I am left with a brain committee of no one over 22.

If only my body would come along for the ride.

On that note, I have to say I like the muscle tone I’m developing on my arms. Due to a combination of driving, along with the hefting of bags, boxes and dog, I am rediscovering my strength. My skin is also a quiet joy. I have burned, peeled, tanned and repeated enough that my skin has taken on a soft, “god-dammit I forgot to use sunscreen AGAIN” glow. It looks good, though I have to put ideas of skin cancer out of my head.

The aforementioned weight loss is of course welcome, however since Ducky and I were the same size upon setting out, this means that our shared shorts are now WAY too big. Declan had a pair fall down on him while he was darting up some stairs and the perfect “Oh” of surprise on his face will be engraved in my memory until the day I die.

It’s a good thing I brought belts.