We are back in the city of pavement and sunglasses, and the congestion, smog and snobbery is just barely balanced by the fact that there are people and food we love here. Not to mention REAL FREAKING music stations.
Traveling across the south was awesome, (really!,) but the incessant Christian programing got to be a bit much. Such as the time when we scanned through all local stations and found two talking about Jesus, four singing to him, a lone country station and a station in Spanish that also turned out to be exhorting us to “canta a Jesus.”
Ducky and I missed our music from the get-go. In spite of getting adapters for my phone to the cassette player, various factors made using the thing impossible. Bumps, battery issues, overheating and mysterious dead air moments all played their part in our losing access to my carefully curated selection.
Our radio display burned out sometime in 2006 so when we hit search we never know what we’re going to get. Since we can’t look for any suggested stations directly, we tend to hit the “program” button whenever we find something decent. This means that we have to redo each one about every 600 miles or so. Fun times, especially if one gets lost that was actually good. “Noooooo!!!” We both shouted once after losing a particularly good one coming out of Shreveport. We spent the next 100 miles riding in grumpy silence each blaming the other for messing up.
There was practically weeping if we came across a “Classic rock” station. Especially if certain songs came on: “I’m a Coowwwboy, on this steel horse I ride, I’m wanted (WANTED) Dead Or Aliiiiive!!” (Ducky and I have a rule that this song is blasted and sung along with whenever possible. This rule also applies to “Life is a Highway” “Sweet Home Alabama” and most popular Queen songs.) For the most part though, we had religion, country, and dead air to accompany us.
It is truly a wonderful thing to hit scan and have the thing stop every 2 seconds or so. The sun is shining down, there are honest to goodness palm trees, and the sky is that perfect shade of So-Cal blue.
Of course there is a soundtrack for the city. There must be, it’s like a natural law.
Thanks for the tunes, City of Angels, we missed this about you.
We bonded over Books, Booze, and Corn Snakes.
We got to know each other in the library at LASFS. We would hide in the back, sample various drinks and flirt outrageously. We would argue over which alternate history authors got it right and the difference between urban fantasy and romance novels masquerading as such.
We would talk late, make excuses as to why we had to go, and then talk for another two hours or so. When we met he had a girlfriend, and then when they broke up I had a boyfriend, and so on. We kept our boundaries in place declaring it more fun that way.
One day he was leaving for Austria and he needed a snake sitter, right away, right now, help! So we had another long evening talking, saying goodnight, and talking some more. We had figured it out by then. We were both single! We liked each other! This was great!
The sunrise was beautiful.
Then he went away for six months.
When he came back, I was no longer available.
Our timing always was terrible.
This pattern continued for a bit. I was free, he wasn’t, he was free, I wasn’t. I got a new snake, we bought a bigger tank, we said “hello” and “goodbye” a lot. (The snakes kept going back and forth for care of course.)
Upon his most recent return I was overwhelmed with depression. My illness kept me away from everything and everyone. I was melting down within my chrysalis hoping to emerge a butterfly. (Or at least have my PTSD, anxiety, depression and Bi-polar under control.) I was in and out of the hospital and he would send me PM’s. Heart emojis and bad jokes abounded. He kept the lines of communication open and I carefully responded as best I could from under the heap of cushions around my head.
Then I had the depression managed! I was ready to talk, and to be social and to… Move.
The eviction, the job-loss, the maddening swirl of my upcoming adventure took over and suddenly there was so much to do. Panic, plan, pack, deploy!
I needed care for my snakes of course.
Our last goodbye was bittersweet. I gave my girls, Brownie and Candy, to the man named Whiskey with a snake named Bourbon. (Which sounds like the opening to some sort of joke, I know.) We quipped about how often we had passed them back and forth, “like a pair of divorced parents.” When we hugged it felt horribly final; I chalked it up to nerves and stress. We agreed to talk when I got back.
Our timing always was terrible.
I am grateful that we were able to grab some stolen hours during the periods when our calendars magically aligned.
I always thought there would be more.
I’m sure he did too.
I feel so terribly alone. My friends who are also grieving his loss are hundreds of miles away and I am stuck here on my way to Albuquerque. I suppose if there is a memorial I will miss it, not due back to California for another 10 days or so.
Even now, it appears our timing is still terrible.
At least I am left with a pilgrimage to make. He wanted to take me to Austria someday. So someday I will go on the road again only this time on a plane. I will find the place he told me about.
And I will cry myself dry.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.