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Wednesday, May 22, 2013

On The Road Again...

I'm generally a private person. There are few people on the planet that know my secrets and I don't have an overwhelming desire to get online and discuss them in detail. I don't keep a diary that someone might stumble upon. I don't have files filled with my pouring out my heart. 

Part of that is because I grew up in a time before it was possible to shout from the mountain top while sitting in your pajamas and listening to Spongebob Squarepants. Part of it is something I feel compelled to explain.

From an early age, I was constantly reminded that whatever I wrote was for public display, could be read by anyone, and was a permanent marker that, no matter how your mind might change about the situation later, left the reader with a definite and static impression of who you were. I correct that. It made them believe that you continued to be exactly like what you had written. Whatever opinion you expressed, you held it continuously in their minds because why else would you commit it to paper?

In particular, an incident occurred when I was about 7 or 8 that sits in the back of my being and reminds me constantly of the consequences.

It began in the summer. Our family would often travel together once every two or three years by car and camper to the panhandle of Florida, where we would vacation on an RV beach in Destin for two weeks. Generally, the whole family would go - my parents, my sisters, my grandparents, and my uncle and my soon-to-be aunt. 

Trips of these lengths were difficult. Though not talked about, it was pretty well known amongst our family members that any jaunt over one week was inviting trouble. My stepfather was quite maniacal, but could manage to keep up appearances for 6-7 days, tops. Past that, and you were inviting fates and furies.

My mother always began these trips with great hope and optimism. She always started out very generously with everyone and would give each of us girls a running account of about $5 at the beginning of our trip to spend on what we liked. I had learned early on that it was best to use up that account at the beginning of the trip for several reasons, the first two being 1) my parents were horrible with budgets and always ran at a deficit, particularly at the end of a trip, so it was best to get your souvenirs in early or you risk getting nothing (as my frugal sister often learned), and 2) my mother was forgetful and had a hard time remembering which child spent how much, so it was likely you'd get more than your $5 share if you spent early and quickly. 

On the particular trip, I had followed my own learned advice and bought a colored and scented notepad, one that the first 25 sheets were lemon yellow, followed by 25 sheets of grape purple, then 25 sheets of orangey orange, and then my favorite, a bright cherry red. I had taken to writing tidbits in my notepad, hoping to use up the sheets and eventually get to my cherry red ones. Why I didn't go directly to the ones I loved, I don't know. I felt compelled to use what I had in the order it was given to me and denied myself until I had used all the pages I deemed less than worthy. To this day, this baffles me since quite obviously I had become at least acquainted with manipulating my mother for extra souvenir money, yet I could not make myself go beyond the confines of a pre-arranged notepad.

Anyway, as the furies had it, the second week of our trip we all went into without notice, mainly because my stepfather had not even the slightest inkling of an explosion. Usually, it was like a storm brewing in his mind and we had all become weather forecasters. My mother had become quite deft at predicting when funnel clouds might descend upon us and could usually redirect his seething rage before it damaged everyone. I had already in my two to three years around him learned to feel the shift of the ground below me, the slight tilt when everything was about to slide and crash into each other. However, this particular summer we were lulled into a hazy happiness, brought on by sea wind and salty water.

I don't remember the actual incident that caused all the ruckus. It might have been me not washing my feet in the plastic bin my grandmother left outside the camper for everyone to use to prevent sand being tracked into her camper (which resulted in each of us getting the life shocked out of us when we touched the camper's steel door knob), or it could have been I didn't lay out my bathing suit to dry, or any number of things that had been forgotten as necessary that previous, glorious week where we all believed it was possible to be normal.

I don't even remember the yelling because that happened so often and the act(s) simply merges with other similar memories, marinating with each other and flavoring them all the same. I do remember being furious, myself. I remember laying on the bottom bunk in the camper after he was done, writing so hard and furiously that I was tearing through my precious pages. I wrote everything I felt in that moment and every line and word was dipped in deep red hatred.

The rest of the trip is a blur of coconut dark tanning oil, flips flops that made blisters between my toes, and a strange, undulating tree that grew in the center of the campground. Nothing unusual, yet nothing to reestablish the sense of normalcy we had tricked ourselves into believing was accessible.

Weeks later, I came home from school. The house was gray quiet; the heat holding the temperatures in a head lock, emerging from the wood work as you'd move past. I thought I was alone in the house until I heard my mother calling for me from upstairs in my sisters' and my shared bedroom. Another lecture on room cleaning, no doubt, is what I thought. Instead my mother was sitting on the floor next to my bed, a white garbage bag beside her, her eyes buried in the pages of my colored and scented notepad. As I learned later, the bag contained all our leftover things from the camper that my mother had quickly gathered up upon our arrival home. My notepad was one of those items.

Honestly, since I had lost the notepad somewhere during the trip, I had forgotten about it and wasn't particularly disturbed when I saw her reading it. Then she looked up and me and I remembered.

She asked me to sit down beside her on the floor. She took a long time to talk to me, but when she finally did, she asked me, "Is this the way you feel about him?" In the moment, I wanted to be wholly truthful with her and say, "Yes," but even at that point, I knew the truth was useless. It wouldn't change anything if I had said, "Yes." It would only make things harder. We wouldn't leave. She wouldn't let go. And I would have to live in a house where my truth would make it easier for him to have an excuse to correct me, because if I had bothered to write it down, then it was indelibly written in my soul.

So, I said, "No," with little conviction. Curiously, my mother asked me the question again. I looked straight at her. There was a reason for the second question. Even then, it was a warning. I knew this, and suddenly the world blossomed in front of me, the disgustingly vivid and horridly colorful world that would await me had he read it first, or even at all. She was not asking me to understand my truth. She was standing in front of me and warning me.

As if to confirm my thoughts, she said, "You're lucky I found it."

And I was.

Now, since that day, I've had people stumble across things I wrote believing they were private, and it has only reminded me to keep my personal, personal and my private, private.

With that understanding, I will continue writing here, not as some public diary, but rather as an account or interpretation of what I've seen and experienced. The rest wouldn't be nearly as interesting as you'd like to think it would be, so don't feel as if you'd missed out on something juicy or spectacular. 

For the next few days, I'l be chronicling my journey from Las Vegas, NV, to Nashville, TN. I hope you enjoy.

copyright - All rights to the work posted on this site are retained by Cass Van Gelder. If you'd like to use some of my work, please ask. To do so, the permissions must be spelled out in writing...from me...I mean it. I have horribly mean cats; don't make me use them.

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