AROUND THE SUN

 

One year ago today, I was kissing my ex-boyfriend goodbye, wishing I could cry a little more. I was running out of gas as I pulled into Miles City, MT with my body leaned forward over the steering wheel in hopes that my wimpy weight could propel it forward just far enough. I made it to the Walmart parking lot, made sure the doors were locked as I glanced around suspiciously at the idling cars at the edge of the pad of tar, and went inside to brush my teeth because this was one of those new habits I was determined to create in my "new life." Brushing twice a day, drinking more water, writing more, eating less sugar, and staying away from boys. My cold nose boogers seeped into the pillow smothering the knife my friend John had given me two days before, and the stun gun wedged between my mattress and the wall. The steam of my body heat clung to the windows, frosting instantly. This is what I wanted, I reminded myself. This is what I needed. 

I don't have much to show for a year, except longer hair, a faded tan, a car with a couple thousand more miles on it than before, a camper with a leak in the hatch frustrating my dad as it sits in his Minnesotan garage, a digital map that hurt my eyes to make, and a backpack obnoxiously full of patches. 

My experiences may not be measured by my resume lines, money gained, or sponsorship successes, but I have fallen in love with friends and places, developed a much deeper understanding of myself and the options available for a life, learned how to pole dance and grease up my bearings, have watched a few sunsets, and gained a few stories to tell. 

A friend recently said I seem "free spirited" lately, but I think I have just started learning how to take one moment at a time. 

Today, I'm sitting on the deck looking out over my Chevy Tracker, the trusted steed that took me around the US of A as it sits at the base of the Berkshire Mountains. Writing in a fresh notebook, because the other had so many notes and momentoes stuffed in it that it lost its spine. I rub my tongue along the front of my teeth and slosh some tea around my mouth to clean the chocolate chip cookie buildup off before my boyfriend kisses my mouth. As he leans in, I hope my breath smells like cookies because I can't remember if I brushed my teeth this morning. When he shuts the door to go inside our home, I turn back towards my page, pulling the blankets tight around my face, and look for the sun to let its rays warm the tears welling in the corners of my eyes. Just as it has this past year, so many times.

I cry over everything I gained. I cry over the things I didn't know I needed. 

I cry over how much has changed. And I cry over the things that never will. 

 

CAN'T HELP BUT WONDER

 

My family had just left. We had spent the past week traveling alongside eachother towards Idaho where we stayed with my grandma for a few days. They packed up their car with the belongings I had left in my grandma's basement all summer and hugged their goodbyes. Mom didn't cry this time though. They were heading east and I was headed west, but I was only going to be gone another three weeks or so before heading back to their place in Minnesota. 

After waving them off, I wandered back to my guest room. My dad prefers the cooler temperature of the downstairs guest room, even if the mattress feels like sleeping on a rocky riverbed. I'm thankful for this because I much prefer the upstairs room myself. Large windows covering two walls, the room is bathed in warmth and energy. I pull the blinds down to sling them up, maximizing the rays that rest on my bare legs after slipping off my pajama bottoms and sitting cross legged on the bed. Trying to write again, always chasing my tail, balancing living life and writing about it when the only downtime is exhausted and there's a lot of Law and Order to catch up on. 

A paragraph into a post about Sam's Florida family, my abdomen starts to ache. Lady problems. Cramps are just what I need when I am about to hike and camp and swim in hot springs. Uuuugh. I continue to write, the warmth of a heating pad I found in the closet next to a stack of VHS tapes, adding to heat of the sun on my sad belly. But suddenly I couldn't even pretend to write. I was sitting on the toilet, head down on my knees, as if praying to all things possibly holy to take away this pain. A cold sweat covered my face and I fell to the floor, opening the door a crack, I yell to my gram for help. 

"I don't feel so good," I said pitifully, hoping that even in her age and haziness she would see through my pale blue skin enough to know that I needed her. "Can you run to the store and get me some feminine products and maybe a thermometer?" 

"Ok, whatever." She was definitely confused. Gram had been a nurse in her younger days, but the potato soil on her farm wife hands hardened her heart a bit allowing tough love to take over. Although, any time there was a splinter in a foot, she was there with her scalpel ready to get serious. 

Once she had left, I called my mom for advice. 

"Do we need to turn around?! We can come back!" 

"No, no. Just tell me if I should go to the ER? This doesn't feel like normal cramps.. Will that be expensive? I can't afford this." 

"Call Anne and see if she can take you. Don't worry about the rest. If it makes you feel better, you can go to the walk in and see what they say." 

I hang up the phone and immediately pull up WebMD. I mean, I need to know about potential problems to understand where I should go, right? I sent my mom a screenshot of the "Ectopic Pregnancy" page. I am sure my parents know that I am not exactly "pure", but never have we acknowledged this. Not that we don't talk about sex. My dad will crack jokes about "the big nasty" to make me uncomfortable and my mom once talked to me about circumcised vs. uncircumcised penises while waiting for my sister to finish soccer practice, but never has it been about me

"Is this a possibility?" I squeeze my eyes shut as the pain pulses through at the rate of popcorn on high heat while I lay curled on the floor. Soon after Gram comes in with a grocery bag. No thermometer. She must have forgotten. But she did have a rather large pink package of what turned out to be more like a version of adult diapers than anything I was familiar with.

At least she tried.  

Anne was helping my cousin build a garage. Or taking care of his dog while he built it. Or something of the sort. My mom called my cousin to finally get ahold of her before she came rushing over. I bundled up my down purple blanket inscribed with the sharpie text "I love you, Gram. Xmas 1999." despite the 85 degree weather and Rocky Mountain sun beating down on Anne's Mercedes as it drove me to the walk-in clinic. 

Hunched over and on the verge of tears, I bring my swaddled up stomach to a room where I explain my pain. I have an IUD. Maybe it shifted and I'm internally bleeding? All I know is, SOMETHING IS WRONG.

"Any chance you could be pregnant?" I reply with an immediate NO. They briefly scribble down notes before passing me a pee cup and waving towards the bathroom. Urine tests remind me of being 4 years old in the Florida Key. I had refused to take the test so my mom made me bring the cup with me to a pool party where I cried in the tiki style toilet room over the dilemma of having to pee before swimming but not wanting my mom to hold a cup under me while doing so. In the years since, peeing in a cup hasn't gotten any easier. 

10 minutes later the perky nurse with a 90's Faith Hill "This Kiss" haircut pops back in the door. 

"Well, we got the lab results back and it looks like you're pregnant. I'm sure there's nothing to worry about, but we are going to send you over to the Emergency Room to see what may be going on with your pain. Good luck!"

Ummm...

NOTHING TO WORRY ABOUT?! Maybe in Idaho where religious girls 5 years younger than me are praying to procreate, sure. But where I come from, where I am at in life, this is definitely something to worry about.

I scurry out to the waiting room, puffy purple blanket still wrapped at my waist and tell Anne that we need to get in the car and go.

"Did they do any tests?"

"NO." I instantly felt bad about lying, but I couldn't bare to tell her what they'd told me. If nobody but me knew, maybe it wouldn't stay true. 

Three hours of emergency room waiting time went by. And not once did I tell anyone what the walk-in had told me. 

"Any chance you may be pregnant?"

"Nope." It wasn't true until they told me, and I didn't want to plant the seed in their heads. 

I was rolled into a cozy room with the remote control speaker wound up on the rail by my side. A middle aged man named Jim piled warm blanket after warm blanket on top of me and feeding me painkillers 10 times stronger than morphine while I talked to Anne about hospitals, her story of falling in love with my uncle, and my insecurities about pregnancy. I told her I was worried about being pregnant. She didn't know to what extent I was worried, I couldn't get that far. But to admit this to a member of a strong Catholic family that sex is a thing, this was terrifying. But she told me everything would be ok, rubbed my hand, and pulled jokes with Jim that were almost more painful than my uterus. Even if just a little, it helped. 

Between the pain and its killers, I zoned out of my surroundings here and there. Contemplating the dilemma of potentially having a child growing inside me. My perception of everything seemed to change. My body, my surroundings, home, and relationships. I was no longer thinking about purely what was right for my future, but what was right for someone else's. If this were true, and if I were to carry through with it. This is something I want. I want very little more than to be a mother some day. I've known this for some time, not just in the medically induced high. I would flourish in the selfless requirement of devoting a huge part of myself mentally and physically to the betterment of another. 

But not now. Please, not now. 

I have been on the road for about five months at this time. I don't have a job lined up, my car is about to break down, and I'll be lucky if I have enough money to fix it. How could I possibly manage a child. And the father? Either he's not talking to me, or I'm not talking to him, of all people that I've loved and cared about, of course a baby would be developed through a silent treatment. 

After months of risk taking, months of independent, confidence boosting adventures, months of developing new relationships, and growing old, I was struggling but had never felt stronger. Until now. I couldn't tell anyone my struggle, for fear of making it real. Nobody in this with me, cuddled up in the blanket I've had since I was seven years old, just wishing for my mom. 

I waited. 

And waited. 

"We have gotten the blood results and ultrasound back. Everything looks normal." 

Normal? Like everyday average? Like not growing a human being in my body normal?!

"It was probably just an ovarian cyst. These things happen all the time."

Maybe cysts happen all the time, but these things, being told that you're pregnant when you're not, they don't.  

I texted Ryan. He's the only person that knew who the father would be, could laugh at the situation, let me cry a bit, but also stick it to me seriously. 

"So the doctors said they think I'm pregnant." my first text read. "Which doesn't make any sense. The chances are so slim. But either way, I feel so pathetic and embarrassed because I don't know whose...."

Anne cracked a joke to Jim and distracted me from sending the next text. Smirking awkwardly at my surroundings, my heart sank when I looked back on my phone. "Alex" it read. The bassist from The Tallest Man on Earth. I had been texting him every day since we met in Fargo. And now I had mistakingly texted him about my pregnancy. This isn't the kind of thing you would send someone who hasn't texted you back for a while so you fake "accidentally text" them to try to get their attention again. This attention was not good attention. 

"What?! Are you serious?! I'm so sorry!" I closed my eyes tightly with the cringing pain of my belly and the disgustingly thankful feeling that his response was as gentle and sweet as it could possibly be and the gratitude that I was on a lot of pain meds to drown my sorrows and embarrassment. My eyes stayed closed for a while.  

When I really woke again, Gram's blonde poodle Spice Cake was licking my wrinkly, pale face. The light of the two walls of windows projecting an evening hue, making my bare legs spread atop the bed's quilt match my dim blue mood. 

The next day, I left on my solo camping trip. Carrying ice packs and a heating pad to plug into my car's power adapter, I said my goodbyes. I didn't cry this time though. At least not until I pulled off of 26, just past Craters of the Moon, headed towards my camp spot for the night at Fish Creek Reservoir. The twilight illuminated the dust swirling off of the dirt road in front of me as the Nanci Griffith version of the Tom Paxton song that my dad would sing to me in the car while I sat in the back seat as a child flowed through my head. The tears soon followed. 

It's a long and a dusty road, a hot and a heavy load
The folks I meet ain't always kind
Some are bad, some are good
Some have done the best they could
Some have tried to ease my troublin' mind

I've been wanderin' through this land, doin' the best I can
Tryin' to find what I was meant to do
And the people that I see look as worried as can be
And it looks like they are wonderin' too

And I can't help but wonder where I'm bound, where I'm bound
Can't help but wonder where I'm bound

A GIRL LIKE YOU

 

"To paraphrase Britney Spears, 'A girl like you should wear a warning," Jesse told me over a crunch munch roll at Wasabi. We had just driven to Grandin, ND to dream drive a box truck that I was oogling over for a project idea and I was treating Jesse to sushi as a 'thanks for being my car expert' treat. I don't really like miso soup. I only eat it because I've heard that miso has a huge amount of probiotics and according to Radiolab, a hefty chunk of our endorphins are stored in our stomach and probiotics will transfer them from the gut to the brain in order to make us happy. They didn't work fast enough for me though because I slurped my soup with a face of slight disgust and a surprising scoff followed. 

"You always fill my head with dangerous ideas," Jesse explained. I think back to hours spent in the computer lab during our printmaking class together where we would google image types of vans he should buy and the Instagram messages sent back and forth about camper designs we should try. 

"Whaaaat! I just know how to dream! It's not like you wouldn't have those desires in you somewhere. You may as well be honest with yourself and embrace them so you can either make yourself happy or just get through it to get over it. Right?" Jesse won't be reading this blog. He says that, like me, it's dangerous. Ideas of traveling or packing up all the necessary belongings and living in a van for a while would enter his head and disrupt his current 3 year plan. He doesn't want to be tempted.

My ex-boyfriend won't read this either. As we drove away from town, headed to a lake to wade in the July waters, he told me that he can't look at my social media. Jealousy gets him down. It's not just me. He won't look at most of social media, at least for large chunks at a time. When looking at others' lives he finds himself more and more discontent with his own. So he doesn't. 

These two people are some of those that are closest to me, and they don't follow my life? At first I was a little personally offended. A little moody like "I worked hard for this, why can't you get over those things and just be happy for me." But when I think about my own personal relationship with social media, I do completely empathize.

When I look at Our Open Road, my ovaries start shaking with giddyness as I convince myself that I really am ready to have two kids and live in a van and travel South America with the love of my life. Or when I look at Our Wild Abandon I dream about having a best friend and think that maybe I should have just converted a trailer instead of building one because theirs is so much cuter than mine and they are far more successful at this blog thing so I should definitely do what they're doing. And when the guilty pleasure that is TAZA comes up on my Instagram feed, all bets are off on the road life because I am moving to the city ASAP please. 

I am happy for these people. So much so that I am envious as they talk about the places they go, what they see, and who they meet. But it may be a little bit okay to be jealous. After all, social media is largely responsible for how I got here in the first place. Without these outside influences, maybe I wouldn't have understood the source of my discontent as well. Without taunting my desire for travel, relationships, and the great outdoors, I wouldn't have known its true potential. I wouldn't have built a camper or sold my belongings in search of satisfying this craving. So when I look at my Instagram feed and admire the photos that are liked more than mine or read the captions about someone waking up under the stars or about how grateful they are to be with the friends that they are hiking through the slot canyons with, I let myself feel desire. I don't ignore it, because it too does have value. I don't need to pretend that I don't want to be doing other things in my future or would rather be soaking up the sun or working some secret dream job that everyone who lives and works from the road seems to have instead of sitting in my living room rewatching the entire Law & Order franchise over again while making advertisements for a liquor store. Instead, I just harness that deep, dark, heavy energy into an act of change. A change that fuels late nights in the woodshop, early mornings putting together frames for a show, or the determination it requires to simply sit down here and slow down enough to give myself and those feelings attention enough to understand and try to articulate them. If I want change, I can have it. Many people are lucky enough to have that opportunity, it's just a matter of allowing oneself to see any practical discontent within the self and turning it into a powerful positive force than something to drown in. 

I say this, but I've been drowning lately. Don't get me wrong, I am very fortunate. Very content. Very lucky. I am in love like I've never been before, live in a beautiful cozy home, have a job where I am learning great amounts and have been meeting wonderful people in a place that has so much to explore. But the winter blues and my empty wallet have left me feeling anxious, irritable, and in desperate need of a driver's arm sun tan, just tinging my soul with enough dissatisfaction to make me feel off kilter. . 

I decided in order to get out of this funk, I needed to get back to telling the stories of my recent travels. To write about the larger thoughts, feelings that have the strength to overpower these blues. As I sort through images, scroll down the list of topics I am meaning to write about or looking through old images of adventures past, I am filled with so much happiness. But I'm also left wanting all of that right now. I'm jealous of myself. That better self that I was back then, in that more beautiful, more warm place with those people that knew me so well and received the greatest love I could give because I was so happy and so genuine.  

But just like it's easy to envy those that have the lives that look so dreamy, I have to remember that my life was lucky, but still really is. Photographs didn't document the times that were hard. The times that I wished for nothing more than the situation that I am in now. Reading my past writing helps put my own life into perspective. 

I hope that although the images of my travels show beautiful places, or adventuresome endeavors, the content of my writing is less about where I am going or what I am doing or seeing, and more about the feelings associated with the experiences, the relationships built, and the realizations I so often came to. It's common to read about people traveling the country, eating at funky restaurants, or climbing a mountain and talking about what things look or taste like or the best place to find a hidden beach. Those are great sources for planning vacations, plotting itineraries, or daydreaming. But none of that actually matters to me. 

Instead, I hope that when I am writing about crying in the desert naked, living out of a camper, or floating in the sea my friends and my self can understand that the writing is actually about much deeper things like seeking self actualization, the struggle to live simply, or the sudden understanding of how necessary gratitude or taking risks, or loving deeply may be. These are the journeys that need no envy, because anyone, including those two friends of mine, can go through them from their cubicle chair at work, drive to the grocery store to pick soup up for their sick child, dog walk around the block, or laying on the edge of the bed early on a winter night. I write and share to remind my friends and myself that these are the journeys of the spirit rather than the body. These are most powerful travels. These are the real adventures. 

 

 

CHASING WATERFALLS

 

On a drive through South Dakota, my family and I pull off at a stop on the side of the winding canyon road. My car tailing behind my parents, I'm carrying my sister in my passenger seat; apologizing for each mountain curve shifting the weight of my life's belongings against the back of her seat. When we reach the visitor's center we climb out of the position we've been situated in for the past two hours, brushing the Flaming Hot crumbs off of our legs I find Cheeto dust in the ditch of my arm, sweat from the drivers' side sun had melted the pigment into my skin. We walk ahead of my parents, to do our typical rounds of looking for a bathroom and scoping out the gift shop for patches. By this time, my backpack is nearly covered in patches. It looks a little stiff and over the top, but like a good pair of boots, I hope it will only look better with age. 

At the counter of the air conditioned information booth, a middle aged woman sits with her tan ranger button up and eyes smiling behind a subtle wave of gray hair falling in front of her face. I hope when I gray it will go all at once. And I really hope that when I gray I will look young in the face. A little irony to confuse people even more about how they may perceive my age. I give her my quick smile of endearment that I am always worried looks more pained than I hope and strain my eyes to try to make out the map inlayed in the counter between us so I don't have to get too close. As my eyes scan the surface, they hit a familiar face. Smokey the Bear. With that, my half smile doubles in size and my eyes light up. A basket of free Smokey tattoos lay just in front of me. Luckily my twelve year old sister came up behind me and started looking through the various designs we had to choose from. Kids are good excuses to not be embarrassed to feel like a kid yourself. I hold a profile of the bear, visualizing its placement just below my rule of thirds tattoo on the ditch of my arm, turning it to the perfect angle for covering up my Cheeto stain and grab a small stack before the ranger can see me. 

They've told me not to chase waterfalls, but I don't particularly love it when I let them come to me either. These waterfalls are a set of falls just off of Mt. Rushmore Road. A sequence of fences and walls directs you how to follow the ridge of the cliff to find an overlook, perfectly laid out in concrete or wooden planks for you to grab that Kodak moment. I can hear cars over the top of the ridge from which we traveled down to get to this overlook. A couple is selfie sticking while a mother is fumbling with the case of her iPad getting in the way of her image, looking at her hands as though she imagines the problem to be her fingers, and a cowboy poses with his arms stretched out along the rail. My dad is teasing my sister about her "martian" legs covered from the hives she's had for the last two weeks as she simultaneously laughs and cries through frustration towards the company of both the hives and our dad alike and tries to run away as to not give him the satisfaction of either response. The majestic 400 ft waterfalls surrounding the land we are perched on are only a backdrop to the happenings of the people around me. The fences distance us from the water's edge, physically, and maybe emotionally as well.

I can't help but wonder how all of our interactions would be different if we had hiked here. If we had wandered through the scorching sun and cool wind with sweat and goosebumps until we came over this ridge of rock to find ourselves on this narrow cliff so overwhelmed with awe. But instead, I only use my cell phone to take terribly awful photos, watch the people more than the water, think about the types of material built into these fences, and humor myself with the thought of putting Smokey tattoos all over my sister's hivey legs while convincing her that our dad's jokes are just jokes. If we had walked here rather than the road conveniently placing us right next to the beauty, maybe I would remember this unfortunate falls's name. Maybe chasing the falls would make us appreciate them more after it all.