|Emily Snow Hackbarth
I have what looks like some kind of horrible tropical skin disease running about three inches up my left arm; it consists of ten to twelve cigarette burns in various stages of healing. Occasionally, during my nightly twelve-pack-and-a-book ritual, part of the cherry will fall off my cigarette on to the back of my wrist and burn me.
It doesn't hurt that much but it looks like shit. I thought about changing the way I hold my cigarette but then I had a better idea. I found an old Ace bandage in the medicine cabinet that covered the burnt parts perfectly. It will keep me from picking at the scabs too, which is part of the reason it looks so bad. The cool thing is, now I can relax and not worry about it. Trying to watch how I hold my cigarette all the time would kind of defeat my whole purpose.
My goal is to spend eight or so hours a day in a state of complete calm. I crave stillness. My whole life is centered around achieving this. People are the chief irritant. I've had to become completely nocturnal just to avoid them. To have some time alone. I work part time in the evenings, spend an hour or two with my boyfriend before he goes to bed and then I'm free. I can relax. For some reason, I just can't do that if anyone else is around. I feel depressed or angry or annoyed. Even when I'm enjoying myself with someone I can't wait for it to be over so I can go home and be alone. I know that's weird but it's true. That kind of enjoyment never lasts. People always have to go to sleep or work or they have errands to run or something. Then I'm left with too little time left to do what I want to do.
I'm always the last one left awake at a party. I had a friend once who would stay up and drink with me, she was the only person I ever knew who liked to drink as much as I do who wasn't ashamed to say so. Most people like to pretend they never get a little panicky around 2 A.M. and fail to prepare for it. Stupid. They end up having to drive to the store drunk at 1:55. I say "Know thyself." Get a twelve-pack each, ahead of time. That's the only sensible way to behave. They gotta know I'm not sharin'.
Nancy understood. She would never ask for a beer at four in the morning when you've only got three left. I miss her. We worked together at a movie theater and when it closed down I never saw her again. I was afraid that would happen. To come see me now she would have to admit she cared. That would be beyond her. She's on this tough chick kick that won't let her be soft. Ha! She doesn't fool me, whenever she got a little too drunk she'd cry on my shoulder like a baby. That's not just a cliché, she'd actually have to drink enough to lower her mental age to about two before she could do that. I hope she gets over it someday.
Now that Nancy's gone I mostly just hang out with Mike, my boyfriend. I have a few other friends but nobody I hang out with on a regular basis. I should get out more I guess.
Mike and I are going on a trip to the Grand Canyon next week. We haven't had a vacation in a really long time so I want to enjoy this one. I'm worried I won’t be able to sleep and I'll get super tired and miserable and ruin everything. I can be a real bitch when I'm miserable. I don't know how Mike puts up with me since I'm miserable a lot. He's a nice guy.
We're on our way! We just have to stop at the store and the gas station and we're outta here! I love trips.
We stop at the store and get some crackers and spray-on cheese and peanut butter and a twelver for me. I want to make sure I can sleep when we get there. We've got a big black trash bag full of clothes and the comforter from off our bed in the back seat. That's about as prepared as we get.
Mike's driving 'cause I have a couple of warrants and my license has been suspended for the last six months. Pretty ridiculous since I haven't driven a car for at least a year longer than that. I could have gotten it back if I had done my community service but they lied to me and said I could work at Fairview at night so I agreed to do it but then they said I had to go at 7 A.M.. I was pissed. I had to see a nurse first and she gave me a TB test with a huge needle which they don't normally use. Usually they use those little patch things with the spikes on them and you watch for bumps. Anyway, she used this big needle and left a black bruise on my arm. Then she made a crack about my breath smelling like alcohol! What a bitch. I didn't feel like explaining to her that I only had two hours of sleep due to their ridiculous rules about showing up at 7 A.M.. I was so mad I never went back. So I'm not going to drive until we get out of California. I figure they won't pull us over for an expired registration if we're from out of state.
We are beginning to cross the mountains before it really seems like we are going somewhere. Mike is nervous because we've had some carburetor problems and the guy said it might stall in high altitudes. I'm not worried about it though. The only other vehicles on the road are huge tractor-trailers that make our little Bug shake when they pass by.
Once over the mountains we start to notice how cold it is. We can't figure out how to close the air vents. They only have those little slotted covers you can push up or down. I never needed to close them before. We try to block them with some duct tape I found on the floor in the back seat which helps a little, but mostly it just redirects the air towards our already cold feet. The air pushes the tape right off the dash and since there is less to stick to it always comes off at the bottom. I have socks on, I thought of that much, but I didn't bring a coat so I drag the comforter out of the back seat and wrap myself up in it. I had no idea it would be this cold. It hurts. I cover my head and try to sleep to escape it but I'm not sleepy so I whine to Mike about it instead. He ignores me. He is a kind man.
It's night and I can't see a damned thing out the window. The desert is not so beautiful in the dark. I can't even look at the stars since I would have to stick my head out the window and that window's not coming down under any circumstances.
We are halfway between Barstow and Needles when I decide I can't take it anymore. We will sleep in Needles and drive in the daytime from now on. Mike doesn't argue, he is cold too. Luckily, lots of people stop in Needles so there are a couple of motels there even though there isn't much else. I make sure we stay in the most sterile, generic looking motel we can find. Motels are no place to go looking for character.
I take a hot bath to warm up and start in on the beers. Nothing better than a hot bath and a little alcohol to make you sleepy. Of course, for me, it's never quite so simple. Six beers and half a book later I finally fall asleep.
We spend the whole next day driving between Needles and Winslow - Gateway to the Grand Canyon. Poor Mike has been driving for five hours straight before I get up the courage to try driving. I have to wait for a long empty stretch before I feel comfortable, after all I haven't driven a car in almost two years. It's as though my original fear of cops has metastasized to include the act of driving itself. I can't seem to stop myself from thinking about all the horrible things that could happen so easily. It just seems so much easier to let Mike take care of it. A lot of things scare me nowadays. I think about rapists and muggers a lot. I had a nasty dream the other day. I was in a very elegant department store on a huge curving escalator, going up. Suddenly, for no reason at all, I pitched backward and fell. I was waiting, imagining the sharp metal step biting into the back of my head when I woke up. I haven't been on an escalator since.
I have to keep reminding myself to unhunch my shoulders as I drive. I feel like one of those little old ladies you see perched at the edge of their seats peering desperately out the windshield, all at a speed of about 30 miles an hour. It's exhausting. I only last about an hour before I ask Mike to drive again. I feel guilty but I just can't take the stress.
We pull into Winslow at about eight. Another day gone. There are no vacancies in any of the normal motels. We have to take a room in some funky no-name place. I am not pleased. Weirdly, there is snow everywhere. I never thought about there being snow in Arizona before. I used to visit my grandma in Mesa and it was always hellishly hot. Swamp-cooler hot. Everything seems strange and uncomfortable. There is no bathtub in the bathroom. The shower has rust stains in it.
I insist we eat at the Denny's we saw on the way into town. At least there I'll know what to expect. I need something to remind me of home. We pick up some beer and a cheap paperback for me on the way back. We watch a bad movie and Mike goes to bed. I try not to drink too much so I will feel good in the morning.
Once we get past the Flintstones travel park and all the live Indian displays everything starts getting really beautiful. Pine trees crowd the road on both sides. There are deer!
I catch glimpses of the abyss through the trees. I can't help thinking how easy it would be to lose control on a turn and plunge over the edge. I try to put this image from my mind, but it's so close! At the first look out we stop at there is a long tongue of rock jutting out over the canyon. Mike wants me to go out there with him but it looks very dangerous to me. I try to tell myself that the park service wouldn't let any harm come to the public but the fences are only about a foot high and don't afford me a whole lot of security. I know I will feel terrible if I don't try so I attempt to join him. I only get a few feet down the rocky trail before I have to turn back. The path is covered with ice and is far too treacherous to use safely. I wonder how many people have fallen. Some, surely. People are always getting hurt in national parks. Just look at those rescue shows, they are constantly sending helicopters to air-lift people out with broken backs. My fate would be far worse if I fell from here. Still, I feel stupid for being so scared. There are a ton of people out there and they're not scared. A woman passes me complaining about her fear of heights but even she is braver than me. Mike goes way out on the tip of the rock to look over. He looks so vulnerable there, he seems crazy to me. I scream at him to come away from there. He can't hear me and waves in my direction. I am too agitated to take a picture, I have to look away until he comes back. He is disappointed in me.
At the next turn-in I can only stay in the car and cry. Even in the car I'm afraid. The parking lot slopes down to a tiny miniature fence, and then, nothing. The canyon is right there. What if the brakes fail? Mike is starting to get pissed off and goes out to look without me. After a few minutes alone I force myself to get out of the car. I wouldn't be able to live with myself if I didn't. I make myself walk up to the fence and I stand there, shaking and crying for about sixty seconds before I back away. I can't really see what I'm looking at but I look. Some other part of my brain notices that it's rather hazy down there. The car doesn't seem so bad after.
At the museum I buy a beautiful geological map of the canyon. Each layer is a different color making the canyon look like a giant multi-hued dragon. The museum has a huge viewing window which makes looking into the abyss slightly less panic inducing. I can't afford any more souvenirs but I want to go to the gift shop anyway. I'm hoping they have some Santa Clara pottery to look at. I've read all about how they fire it in piles of dung but I haven't got to see any in person yet so the prospect provides a good incentive when I find out the gift shop is at the other end of a skinny, icy, none-too-smooth trail that runs along the edge of one of the tallest cliffs in the world.
I'm doing OK by watching my feet and avoiding eye contact with the canyon when I hear a shout. I turn and look up. There is a blot on the sun, growing steadily larger as the snowball whistles towards its target. Apparently, Mike thought it would be fun to huck a ball of ice at my head. I don't know what to do. It's moving so slowly. I panic and hurl myself to the ground to avoid it. I slam into the ground directly on top of some rocks and an agave whose sharp spine manages to insert itself under my fingernail. My clothes are covered in snow and wet dirt. This should be funny but it's not. Fear and humiliation induce rage. I'm screaming hysterically at Mike who unfortunately can't stop laughing. I know he's just playing but it doesn't matter, I'm furious. I'm sure there are people nearby who can hear me and will probably think I'm insane and that just makes me madder. Mike gets himself under control and comforts me until I can stop crying. It's time to go.
I refuse to go back to that dingy motel in Winslow so we take the Flagstaff route instead. We find a good Mexican restaurant and I introduce Mike to the wonders of hot sopapillas with honey and butter. We talk during dinner and he tells me that I was not nearly as close to the edge of the canyon as I think I was. It seemed to me that if I had dived in the other direction I could have died, god knows I wasn't thinking and could easily have done just that. If Mike is right, and he seems very sure, then what I perceived was not reality. This is very disturbing. This whole trip has been very disturbing. Where did all this overwhelming fear come from? Now that I think about it I've become afraid of a lot of things recently. I know I said that before but I didn't think it was a big deal. After all, I didn't really want to do most of the things I was afraid of. But now, I can't even drive a car for god's sake.
We spend the night in a nice motel. In the morning Mike drives. We stop at a gas station on the way and the attendant tries to convince us that we need a new tire. Mike doesn't agree; I don't even look. We leave and Mike tells me that he thinks the guy poked a hole in the tire so we'd have to buy a tire from him. I tell Mike I think he's insane. He tells me how his dad would never let a gas station attendant out of his sight. I wonder how he managed to get across country without ever going to the bathroom. We stop every hour to see if the tire is losing air.
When we get home, my mom has been there. The house is sparkling. She has shoveled out all the trash and beer cans and reorganized the piles of books and junk that were everywhere. The bathroom is blue, the bedroom is green and I have a new bed. It usually bothers me when my mom interferes with my life but this is beautiful. Fresh.
I want to try to keep it this way. I don't know if I can. I vow to ride on an escalator next time the situation presents itself. Maybe even cut down on my drinking a little bit. We'll see.