Photo by Cindi Primm
Paul was already gone when we pulled out in a borrowed truck. He left for work at 4am. There was a note.
I’ll be gone when you guys leave. Probably better that way, because I’m going to cry when I get back and the house is empty.
I argued for Colorado, which means we were bound for Reno. Will’s boss and buddy, Craig, had work waiting for him there. Leslie and Markus would be headed west in another month, by the northern route, back to her hometown in Rochester, Minnesota. Their journey would involve more stops and happy adventures, Paul Bunyan statues and crooked houses and such.
At dusk, the empty fields blurred into dark shadows of trees and fencelines outside the window. Will was quiet and intent on the road, so I stared out the passenger window and thought of Josey Wales and Missouri boat rides. The Show-Me State. We hit St. Louis by nightfall. My Siamese, Hagar, was fed up and crying in her carrier. Our drag queen neighbor called her Ha-gre when he came over. He also made suggestive comments about Will’s long fingers. I didn’t know if I would miss any of it except Paul and my family at the French Quarter Food Shop. Will didn’t want to stop for the night in the city, so he pulled off at a shady motel on the outskirts. We had to smuggle Hagar into the room.
The following day we crossed part of Kansas, which was a whole lot of nothing. We spent the night in another roadside motel, but this one had a swimming pool. It was moving towards Fall, and the water was cold. Will popped his head out of the room to check on me. It felt good. I can count on one hand the times this happened. Maybe things would be different out west.
It was a little nothing town. We went out to explore and, I thought, to eat. The strip club was right on Main Street. They didn’t have food, just some girls behind glass and some salty old men.
It was a quiet trip the next day. Will didn’t talk much sober. We filled up the tank and switched places at a gas station. I grabbed snacks, a cup of coffee, and drove.
“Hey, did you pay for gas inside?” he asked.
“No. I thought you did.”
We were relieved to cross the border. We were spending the night where Will’s sister was living with a military guy and her two kids in Colorado Springs. I didn’t know Danae well, then. I didn’t know she was the devil. All I knew was what Will told me, how she used to play “Hell is For Children” for him when he was little. How he lived with her when she was a dancer in Jacksonville and the kids were so hungry the boy was eating a stick of butter. Danae and Will picked up beer and proceeded to get drunk immediately, joked about the altitude and alcohol content. They were awfully chummy for hating each other so much. And Danae was chock full of stories about Will’s past conquests.
“Remember that one girl you picked up?” she said, and told the story about the dumb girl.
“Oh, yeah. She gave me a decent hand job in the car.”
I wished I was drunk as fuck and on a bus anywhere.
“Oh, baby, you aren’t crying are you?” Danae asked. “Will, you better take care of your girl.”
The next day she took us to see rock formations, kissing camels. The military guy and the kids were silent shadows of people.
We headed north through Denver and into Wyoming the next morning. The soundtrack of our entire journey was Ray Charles and Johnny Cash.
“Barrooms and bedrooms are just faces and faces and names,
One’s for the pleasure and, lord knows, one’s for the pain…” .
Wyoming went up and down through open plains and rock cliffs. I didn’t know there was so much empty space in the US. It was like another planet.
I had been begging Will to stop somewhere, anywhere. Finally, he pulled off at a roadside attraction. We gave six dollars to a small, wrinkled woman with a perm. The ground out back was pickled with prairie dog holes, and it was funny to see them pop their heads. They were the only free things there.
I got sicker and sicker. There was a coyote, a fox, a mountain lion, all in barren steel cages with no toys, pacing manically to and fro as they smelled the air and looked out on the hills.
“Oh, God. Let’s leave,” I said.
I shook with fury for 50 miles.
“I think you should turn back. I think we should go back tonight and let them out, then burn it down.”
“You wanted to stop there.”
We switched off and he fell asleep. There was a detour that wound me through the streets of Salt Lake City, in a complete circle, it seemed. The afternoon sun glinted on the lake.
The sky turned pink and orange on the western horizon far across the salt flats, which were tinged blue, the sky overhead beginning to show a star or two, rock hills black across the flats. There was something amazing there — miles and miles of words along the road, spelled out in pitch pebbles. Love. Peace. Names linked together with plus signs, as temporary as the lovers who put them there.
He hit the first casino across the Nevada border. I couldn’t get him out until it was too late, and he was slurring and shouting. I drove him to the motel. He went inside with the cat and locked the door. I knocked. Tried to sleep in the truck, knocked again. After an hour he answered.
“What are you doing?” he said.
“Let me in.”
Next morning, he drove the rest of the way to our new home. The valley opened up before us, a dust bowl, with dark tangles of sagebrush scattered here and there on the hills.