Tag Archives: Diaries

The Fall. Part 11.

James describes the 48 or so hours that followed as some of the most painful, frustrating, and surreal of his life. Nevertheless, almost two years later the events themselves are still fresh in his mind, in intricate detail, tattooed onto his memory by the force of emotion. So, while this part of the story is written by me, it has been spoken to me by James, they are his words.

Pen and I lay on the bed. We were both in tears. Pen’s hysterical screaming had lasted some time, I don’t know, maybe 5 minutes, but it might have been much less, such a noise, perhaps it seemed like it was going on for longer than it really was. We didn’t say much to each other at first; what is there that can be said in such a moment, all is platitude. Pen’s predominantly pragmatic sense must have taken hold at some point because she quite abruptly sat up and asked what I thought we should do now. Almost as soon as she had asked it, she dismissed it again and said that she needed a drink. We had some beer in the RV but she needed something stronger. So I suggested walking up to the main road where I had seen a liquor store – I offered to go, but she didn’t want to be left on her own so we both went. It was the first time out into the world, post-…what – what should I call this event? Post-Anna. Post-normality. Post-happiness. At the time it was post everything, nothing looked or felt the same, and we didn’t think it ever would. 

So, out into the post-Anna world. I have never been so struck by the gulf that could exist between the internal and external states of this world. How resistant that thin veneer of normality has to be to maintain an external appearance of order, when inside there are so many different things going on, so many indescribable things, things you can’t make sense of, let alone put into words. The simplest interaction with a liquor store owner becomes a matter of total rote, automated being. There is no thought process, your thoughts are buried, they’re down there somewhere, drowning in that mess. Something carries you through, some tacit sociability enables you to smile, be polite, make small talk. As we walked back to the campsite we held hands tightly and did not speak. There could be no pretence with each other. To speak would have been to lose that sense of order, which was keeping us from breaking down in the street. Just had to hold tight to each other. I could feel Penny’s breathing tensed against this emotional threat, I could feel mine doing the same thing. Defending, protecting our outward appearance.

1am local time. Sitting on the picnic tables beside the RV, drinking gin, smoking our first cigarettes in years. The next RV was about 20 yards away, one light still on inside. Looking around the campsite, with the exception of the occasional light on, we felt fairly alone, and this was how we wanted it. This was how we would try and begin to make sense of what had happened and how we were to respond to it. 

Penny poured herself another drink, the first one having disappeared at some speed, and lit a second cigarette. I was struggling a bit with smoking again, the nicotine was turning my stomach, but I persevered, I wanted Penny to do what she needed to and not stop to think about whether or not she should be doing it. Should and should not had gone, they had no place here.

We talked through our options. Though I hadn’t checked I was pretty sure that there was no international airport in Santa Fe, nor did I imagine we would be able to drop the RV there. So, any return journey we made would need to deal with both of these things first. It was now the small hours of Wednesday morning. As I would be in no fit state to drive until about midday the following day, we were at that point looking at probably getting home by Thursday lunch time at the earliest. I guess we had both just gone initially on the assumption that we would try and get back home as quickly as possible. At some point Pen stopped and said that perhaps this wasn’t the best idea. What if we continued – not to complete the whole trip, but to complete what we came here to do; get married. We were booked in to a chapel on Saturday. What difference was another 2 days going to make? We felt like maybe this was what Anna would have wanted us to do.

Getting the laptop from the RV I started trying to work out our options in more detail. Las Vegas was about a 12 hour drive away. We didn’t want to stop anywhere else now, the holiday was over, we just wanted to do what we came here to do and then go home. There was an international airport in Las Vegas, and there was a depot where we could drop the RV. As we could probably make the journey in a day, I suggested seeing if we could move our bookings forwards by a day or two. It seemed possible that we could be flying home by friday – only a day or so later than if we upped and left now. I also checked what it would require for us to leave as soon as possible. The nearest RV depot was Albuquerque, where there was also a domestic airport. The nearest international airports were Denver, Phoenix, and Las Vegas. All this seemed to be pointing towards the Las Vegas plan. However, we were both worried about still having that amount of driving to do. At that point I was so exhausted I couldn’t really think about the idea of driving 12 hours. Given everything else that was going through my head I didn’t know whether I would be able to focus on the task of driving. 

At this point, Penny decided that I should go to bed. She said that she wouldn’t be able to sleep, but that whatever we were going to do would require me to drive somewhere and so I needed to rest. So, we packed up for the night. Penny gave me a sleeping pill, then sat next to me. My last memory of that day is Penny sitting next to me with here legs tucked up, hugging her knees, headphones on, eyes bright and looking ahead of her at the wall of the RV, and beyond, to tomorrow. It felt good, in as much as ‘good’ was at that point possible. It felt like maybe we could do something to honour Anna, by continuing, we still felt like we had a purpose.

I slept. 


The Fall. Part 10.

That evening, James and Penny went back into Santa Fe as planned. They ate a meal in a charming little contemporary Mexican cafe and enjoyed a couple of local beers. Making their way back to the RV by about 10pm, they opened another beer, put a little music on and settled in for another relaxing night, reading and route planning. James was leaning more towards the latter of his journey decisions to take in the surrounding villages between Santa Fe and Grand Canyon. Penny, who observed this growing obsession with affectionate amusement, was happy to be taken wherever and however; a self-confessed control freak, this was an unusual experience for her and she was loving it.

Midnight approached and it seemed like bed time – however, James had discovered that his phone had no charge on it and as tomorrow was a travelling day they would need something for an alarm clock. So Pen turned on her phone, which had been switched off up till that point. She had just turned it on and put it on the table when it rang. Confused, Pen looked at her phone to see her Dad’s number calling. Ordinarily she might not have bothered answering, but this seemed odd. He knew they were abroad, and what’s more, midnight in Santa Fe meant it was about 6am back home. She answered, putting the phone on speaker:

“Hello”

“Penny? It’s Dad…

He paused. He sounded odd, his voice wavered.

…Is James with you?”

“Yeah he’s right here…”

“You’re sure, he’s right there with you?”

“Yeah, Dad what is it?”

“Mum’s died”

“What? Your mum??”

Richard’s mother was 92 and had been in poor health for some time

“The diabetes caught up with her”

“Wait, Dad, who? Joan or Anna??”

“Anna”

Penny dropped the phone and screamed. It was a horrible noise. Pure, hysterical, uncontrollable shock.

They were falling.


The Fall. Part 9.

28th June

We rose early yesterday morning, as has become our habit on driving days, and pulled away from our charming Alpine retreat at about 5am.  Coming down off the side of the hill where our camp had been we found ourselves completely alone on the wide road at the base of the valley which would take us out of town and back to Route 10. Alone, quiet, and quite beautiful, as the sun started to rise and the valley floor and surrounding hills slowly morphed from brown to beige to tan to yellow to orange. By the time we reached the interstate the sky was cobalt blue and the earth returned to its familiar burnt red. Before we reached the interstate, though, came a nice Texas moment. A UFO, or what appeared to be one, floated up ahead of us. With no one else around and a completely empty skyline, this white roundish oval object just seemed to be suspended, not moving, not apparently attached to anything, it looked like a giant balloon that had escaped a child’s grasp. Pen took several photos and was for all the world convinced that we were in the company of extra terrestrials. My best guess was some kind of weather balloon. Time to get out of hill country!

As the day warmed up the scenery became duller – on the interstate with only lorries for company, thundering towards El Paso, which we were to skirt diagonally right of, taking the road north about 20 miles short of the border town, which would lead us up into New Mexico. Nothing particularly eventful. The nearer we got to El Paso the busier the road. An ill advised breakfast stop at a truly horrible retail park and then we were heading north, crossing the state border at about 9am. Seemed to have taken a very long time and still only about half way through. Still, a new state and a new horizon. The earth seemed to change colour almost immediately – which I realise now might have reflected nothing more than our changing position relative to the sun – now losing the angry red and brown replaced by an almost mustard yellow earth and pastel pink rock. The road too was considerably more interesting; what seemed like an endless series of quite large rolling peaks and troughs, on the way down I would have to break to keep the RV below 80 on momentum alone, then crawl up the opposite side, sometimes doing as little as 40 by the next summit. It was surprisingly extreme, and when the wind started to gust, a little unnerving.

We stopped for lunch in the car park of a Millies or Mollies or some such, and Pen cooked Mexican, which she is becoming pretty bloody good at, armed with an array of spices we’ve been buying en route. Although there had been a down to go with every up of the road we definitely felt like we were gaining elevation and this would continue after lunch. We stopped again briefly for gas, while I was filling the car Pen was inspecting one of numerous chilli stands and came back to the RV with a huge hanging bunch of dried chilli. They were quite sweet, almost chocolatey, with a slightly burnt, tobacco-like aftertaste. Really good.

An hour or so later and we found ourselves up on a kind of ridge with desert valleys on either side and almost no settlement at all, apart from the ubiquitous roadside service trade of diners, motels, and Dunkin Donuts. Then the sprawl of Albuquerque, looked pretty unpleasant from the road, all flashing neon and the road became a sea of lane-changing impatient drivers – so stark the contrast between rural and urban traffic moods. We continued climbing past Albuquerque and with quite strong wind gusting was actually pretty alarming at times, the RV lurching from side to side with each gust, and what felt like a higher, narrower ridge to stay on.

Not long after though we came over what felt like the ‘top’, and there were the suburbs of Santa Fe. Having read so much about the old fashioned beauty of the place I was a bit miffed to find the ‘burbs like any other – big roads, smelly, noisy, characterless. We soon found our new campsite to be all these things as well – though perfectly friendly and functional for it. Now past 3pm and I was pretty knackered, but, there we were in a new city and pretty restless with it, so we jumped on a bus to town and set about exploring.

Santa Fe – once you get into the city proper – is as everyone describes; an arty little piece of the past preserved through strict building regulations requiring everything to be built in the traditional adobe style. Although the newer stuff is not actually made out of mud and leftovers, but it still looks the part, and the untrained eye will not be able tell palace from car park. Perhaps it was our tiredness, but we couldn’t quite make sense of it at first, it felt a little contrived, though fascinating at the same time and with endless little boutiques and crafty places to explore the next day. In the end we plumped for a very nice early evening meal, contemporary Tex-Mex, and a couple of beers, and then headed back to the RV for well earned sleep.

Woke pretty early next morning and headed straight for town – spotted Wholefoods on the way and did a stock up on way back out, lots of new local beer to try – yummy. We had brunch in town – Huevos Rancheros – eggs in spicy tomato sauce with various kinds of beans, really really good, then we went on the tourist trail – cathedral, Native American Art Gallery, and the Palace of the Ambassadors, where we learnt a little of the area’s turbulent history – though, in all honesty, the guide was pretty crap. Still, I discovered that the version of the Lincoln cattle war that I had got via the first Young Guns film was surprisingly accurate – or at least it matched the version given in the museum. Unfortunately the Native American Art gallery was closed, real shame, had been looking forward to it. However, outside the Ambassadors were a troupe of street sellers with handmade Native American jewellery, wraps, charms and rugs. According to all the guidebooks this was the place to buy in Santa Fe, and on the spur of the moment we decided to buy our wedding rings here, after much deliberation, choosing matching silver rings with inscriptions which symbolised life, truth, and eternity – seemed pretty appropriate – and we were much happier with them than the ones we had chosen in rather a hurry before leaving England.

So, I’m now sitting back in the RV, enjoying a refreshing local pale ale, writing my journal and planning tomorrow’s route. I keep changing my mind over it. The destination is Grand Canyon (very exciting!) and it is only about 5 hours away, so I figure a little detour is in order, but can’t decide between Sedona, Arizona, which was recommended by our scootering friends in New Orleans, or, a country route through some of the villages around Santa Fe, taking a quieter route through more unknown territory than the interstate. There’s a cheesy bonus with the latter, which is the four state monument, where you can simultaneously stand in Colorado, Arizona, Utah, and New Mexico. Corny but might just swing it! The utter beauty of this trip is that we can just pick and choose as we feel and be pretty sure of something magical around the corner.

Whenever I’ve not been exploring or map consulting I’ve been flying through ‘On the Road’, it’s fantastic, the ultimate narrative for this kind of journey, and seems to be reinforcing the sense that we can just do as we please and go entirely on impulse.

So, back into town tonight for a much talked about restaurant – the food here is fab – then back to the RV for a relatively early night before back on the road tomorrow.

Life is pretty damn beautiful.