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.