Tuesday, January 31, 2006

The Cold Light of Day

We were peacefully finishing breakfast, when the explosion happened. F1 was talking on the phone, organising accommodation with Californian-based New Zealand friends. I was slugging back my last few mouthfuls of tea. TH was washing his breakfast plates in the kitchen sink.

Suddenly, F2 leapt towards TH, screeching and swearing. It was like a dormant volcano unexpectedly erupting. I had my back to the sink and I jumped to my feet, spinning around as I did so. I thought the place was on fire or the wall was about to fall in. TH was staring in surprise at F2. Washing the dishes at home never had this reaction. F2 was yelling at him about the way he was f**king doing things and it wasn’t the right f**king time. It should all be f**king done later, he was just f**king getting in the way and how f**king useless he was.

An angry flush had flared into her cheeks, she stamped her foot at every swear word, and stabbed her finger at him with every time she spat out the word "you". All that rage over how the dishes were being done. It was like a scene from Monty Python. Except this was serious. She really was angry and was totally out of control.

It was unbelievable. Talk about waste energy over things that don’t matter. If I had a bucket of cold water I would have thrown it over her. A certain sort of man might have hit her. Even I was sorely tempted. TH flung the tea towel on the bench , "Do them your bloody self, then!" and he stormed out.

I rounded on her, resorting to language she would understand, "what the f**k is wrong with you?"

She turned to me, her face ugly with anger, "I hadn’t finished breakfast. I was getting more. He put his dishes there. He shouldn’t have known there wasn’t enough room."

"You lost your temper over that?. Why don’t you learn to f**king chill out!"

"He should have given me the space. I need…"

"You have enough space. You don’t need f**king more."

"But, I…:"

"But, nothing. You listen to me. I’m sick to death of the time and space you have taken on this trip. Tears and bloody sniffles one minute because you can’t cope. F**king off your head the next because you can’t get what you want."

I was out of control now. Swearing, shouting, stabbing my finger at her. Everything came out, starting with her pathetic defiance over the gloves two days ago and going right back to what little she had done to get the expedition on the road in the first place. All the resentment I had felt in the last two weeks roared inside me - how she didn’t pull her weight with the on-going work, how she couldn’t be bothered to talk to people we met, how she put down TH in front of other people. I started on about how I was no longer going to tolerate her temper tantrums and especially not over anything so pathetic as how the dishes were done. I saw tears sprung into her eyes and noticed how she shrunk before my verbal blows. But, she had "cried wolf" too often. I wasn’t going to ease up on her.

But, I stopped shouting. Rage was not longer racing hotly around my body. I felt strangely cold and calm, but also powerful. Invincible. An android with its empathy circuits deprogrammed. One over-riding thought dominated everything. I simply wanted to hurt, to wound her deeply. I wanted to punish her for all the hateful comments she made to TH.

I didn’t know I could feel like this. I knew it was dangerous, but it was so exhilarating. Seductive. Another jolt of ruthless power leapt its icy way through my veins. Although F2 was far taller than me, I felt I was looming over her, like an iceberg. I was calm on the outside, but huge and menacing underneath.

It was the terror in her face that stopped me. I had never had someone look at me like that before, as if they feared for their life. We stared at each other, not moving.

A little while later, F1 put the receiver down. He had just finished his call with his New Zealand friends. Despite all of the shouting, had hadn’t paused in his telephone conversation. Now, he turned to us, beaming, "It’s OK for us to stay with them tonight".

The frozen tableau before him didn’t seem to register. He just went on, "you remember Marcus? I’ve told you about him."

I wasn’t sure if he was talking to F2 or me. I turned slowly towards him, it felt like I was grinding around on my android axis, "Didn’t you hear that?"

"Hear what?"

"F2 shouting at TH."

"No, I didn’t notice."

"What about me shouting?"

"No, did you?"

"God," I thought wearily, "was there no end to surprises today." Then, I added out loud, "Well, its about time you did notice something. We need to talk. Just the three of us."

They sat down on the side of one of the beds. I sat on the side of another bed, facing them. Our knees were almost touching. I looked at both their faces. F1’s was a total blank - no curiosity, no concern. I don’t mean poker faced, either. It just had no expression at all. F2 looked white and tense, tears were brimming again in her china blue eyes. She huddled against F1. I couldn’t understand why he didn’t respond to her, or at least notice that she was upset.

I was shaky from my earlier outburst, and still shocked at how strongly I had reacted. But, I was determined to have this out now. I started explaining what had happened. I kept my voice quiet, but firm.

I told it how it was, flat and without emotion. I stuck to the facts but described how F2’s behaviour made me feel and made TH feel. All the while, the tears continued to slide down F2 round and freckled face. I think she genuinely regretted what had happened and what she had done in the past. The problem was that she clearly didn’t like TH and she also didn’t seem to be able to cope with the rigours of the expedition. Her own fears and feelings seemed to swing wildly between timidity and bluster, with little in between.

In the past, I had already contemplated whether we could continue without her. That’s the trouble when you open a door like that in your mind. It might only be a crack, but the thoughts gnaw away at the edge and then the crack widens. More thoughts wriggle through and then a whole pathway opens up. An option then moves from if you are going to do something, to when. I knew now that we could go it alone. But, it could also mean that F1 might not continue with his Series One Land Rover, something we needed for sponsorship. So, was there a way we could move forward? I thought I could work on helping F2 to cope, but she would need to change her attitudes. Could she do that?

I remembered something.. While F2 didn’t like TH, she had demonstrated only the night before, that he and she enjoyed the same books. I had been amazed to hear them chatting amicably about authors and favourite stories, which they both liked. It was one little nugget to cling on to. If she could accept she had some common ground with TH, could she build from there?

Stuff it, we couldn't go on as we were. I gave them an ultimatum. Either F2 permanently changed her behaviour, or TH and I would leave them behind. I then talked about how she and TH liked the same books, and how that could assist her to build a more positive relationship. I said that I would encourage and help her with navigating and other expedition chores. But, she must do the rest herself. Only she could make the changes inside her happen.

I also made it clear that I would not ever tolerate any destructive behaviour or the tantrums of the past. I gave her a meaningful look at that point. I saw her lip quiver and I felt I slight flutter of power respond inside me. Then it was gone.

It was time we moved on and I slowly got to my feet. I said that I’d give them some time alone to talk about things. That, I’d wait in the car park. But, I’d need a decision this morning on whether they would continue on the terms I had stated.

I went outside and looked for TH. He was tidying up the inside of our Land Rover. I could see by his tight movements that he was still angry and upset. I put my arms around him and we hugged together. I told him I loved him, and he gave me a little squeeze of thanks. Standing there together I gave him a quick summary of what had happened. Then, my head sagged against his shoulder. I felt so tired and such a huge sense of loss.

All my hopes and dreams of a great adventure around the world were dashed. Maybe I was na├»ve to think that four people could take on the world and have a jolly time of it. All I knew now was that it was going to be a bloody great slog. A big tear slid past my nose and splashed onto TH’s shirt. Followed by another. He stroked my hair and rocked me gently. It was warm and comforting in his arms and my energy levels slowly recovered.

In a short while F1 appeared. He said that they’d like to continue the expedition with us and F2 would do her best. If he noted my red eyes, he said nothing.

We packed up together. F2 had red rimmed eyes, too, but she gave me a pale little smile as we finished the dishes together.

With F1 & F2 navigating that day, I was free to turn over something else that was hanging heavy in my mind. I was disturbed by the strange cold sensation I had felt during the shouting episode with F2. At the time, it had made me feel powerful, but ruthless. I was extremely uncomfortable thinking about this now. I was horrified by the thought of physical or mental violence. And, yet, I had found it strangely seductive. Is this why Dr Jekyll kept turning himself into Mr Hyde? But then, one day, he became totally corrupted and he couldn’t switch back. I shivered in my seat. TH put out a hand on my arm, "Everything alright?" His warm brown eyes looked into mine. What would he think about being married to a potential Ms Hyde. Would he still love me then?

I pushed the experience out of my mind and hoped that it would never come back.

© Eventful Woman, 2006
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Monday, January 16, 2006

The Gloves are Off

In the afternoon, we decided on a drive around the back roads of Klamath Falls. Mark & Anne led the way in their practical Chevvy Isusu ute (pick up). With snow on the roads it was a fun adventure, although very cold on exposed hands and faces.

I had packed two pairs of gloves for the trip. A driving pair which had pinprick air holes to allow hands to breathe in the milder New Zealand winter, plus a smart, dressy leather pair, without air holes, which had belonged to my mother. I was wearing the dressy pair and was thinking about slipping the driving gloves on, over the top. A cold numbness was creeping up my legs.

Knowing we would be travelling in old, primitive Land Rovers (without air conditioning or insulation), TH had carefully researched our expedition route and likely temperatures. As our official route master and, following consultation on what we all wanted to see and do, he changed the planned route several times to achieve the optimum compromise between sights/experiences desired, weather conditions, obligations to sponsors and most efficient use of our limited time and money.

Prudent route planing would help us avoid the most extreme temperatures (hot or cold). But we knew we would definitely touch on the sharp edges of early spring in the States, especially for F1 & F2 in their open, canvas topped Series 1 Land Rover on the scenic, more mountainous paths. I had written gloves and long thermal underwear on the list of essential items for everyone. TH had fitted a Land Rover heater to our Series 2A. It turned out to be not very effective, when compared with modern car heaters, but it did help.

We had been lucky so far to encounter mainly sunny days, which had provided more tolerable conditions in the cold. However, Mark and Anne had warned us to "rug up warm" when we had left the house earlier. Early on in the run, we stopped to admire a view. I noticed F1 & F2 hunkered down in their Land Rover. I peered in through the driver’s window. They were shivering, hunched into their jackets. F1 was blowing on his blue hands.
"Forgot your gloves?", I asked.
F1 nodded. I could see his lips were also blue.
"I’ve got a spare pair with me, if you’d like. They slightly too big for me, so they might fit you."
As I handed them over I could feel he was very cold.
"Maybe we should head back, so you can get on your gloves and thermals."
They hesitated.
"It’s not far", I suggested, "we’ve only just got started. I could ask Anne & Mark."
The silence continued. I thought maybe the cold was having a more severe effect and I had a closer look at them. They both had an odd expression. Apprehension, maybe?
"What’s wrong?", I asked.
F1 finally opened up, "We didn’t bring them with us."
"Yes, I know, but we can go back for them."
"No, we didn’t bring them at all. From New Zealand."
"But, they were on the essential list."
"Yes, but….", F1’s voice faded away.

I stared from one to the other.

F1 finally blurted it out - they hadn’t forgotten to pack them. F2 had decided that they weren’t necessary.
I was amazed, "What about TH’s research? The weather patterns… the high altitude roads…? We discussed it."

There didn’t seem to be any logical reason for this calculated omission of warm essentials. I stopped and thought. Although not stated, it probably got back to F2’s dislike of TH. Dislike can manifest into distrust. Distrust will always erode shared decision-making. I could read their expression now. It was guilt, and I instantly felt betrayed. I stood there for what seemed forever, while the enormity of this conclusion sunk in.

If F1 & F2 distrusted basic advice like this, for no other reason than one of them disliked the source of the information, then we were in deep trouble. What else had they decided weren’t going to do? I had to "get my head around this". What to do? What to do? I needed to think. Trouble was, I was dumbfounded.

In the end, I just said, "we can ask Anne and Mark where to buy cold weather gear."
Then I added, "we may need to have a longer chat about other things, later."

I was very worried. I did not know whom to turn to, to discuss this. For the first time I considered going it alone, just TH and myself. We knew the route, were competent navigators, we could get by in other languages, we had our own tent and cooking gear, and best of all we knew our own stress levels and how to cope with each other. And, I knew all of the sponsors. But, that was the rub. I had negotiated the sponsorship deals, and I knew we had huge obligations to complete the expedition in the way the sponsors wanted. To do that, we needed a Series 1 Land Rover, and the owner of that Land Rover seemed to governed solely by what his girlfriend (F2) wanted.

We all drove down out of the high country, so F1 and F2 could warm up. We stopped a few times, once because the Series I was having minor engine trouble, and then at various places of interest. I spied my first tumbleweed. My troubles were temporarily forgotten, when I imagined Wild West ghost towns, where these round, windswept plants bumped across a desolate and empty landscape. I picked up the loose plant and examined its interlacing twigs. Then, I gave it an experimental roll along the ground, much to Mark and Anne’s amusement. But, to a stranger, the ordinary becomes extraordinary.

Towards sunset we stood on the edge of the huge Klamath Falls lake. It was man made, or as Mark pointed out, woman-made. Local folklore suggests that, years ago, the town’s brothels paid for the development of a lake, for the good people of Klamath Falls. Mark told us that the history books record the investment came from rich men’s estates. But, as he pointed out, that’s where the brothel’s money probably came from anyway.

It would be our last night together, and Mark cooked his special family chilli for dinner. He showed us how to wrap the fajitas around the chilli to make easy to hold packages. It was hot, tangy and delicious. Tasting different foods was high on my personal agenda for the expedition and this was really yummy.

It should have been a happy meal, but tensions were high. F2 let off a few sarcastic barbs at TH whenever he tried to talk. I spoke sharply to her each time, until she dropped into a sulky silence. I’m sure Anne and Mark noticed, but they were too polite to say anything.

That night, I had another dream about the company that I used to work for, which was a records management/document storage company. I dreamed that I was searching for something, and I had to look in millions of boxes. The dream went on and on, much like those dreams people have about trying to run and not being able to. I was opening boxes, looking and searching, never stopping, but never finding what I wanted, either.

In the morning, we hugged Anne and Mark goodbye and headed south across the Klamath Basin, which is ringed by hazy blue mountain ranges in the distance. The canopy of sky was huge and billowing. Everything looked so far away, like peering through the wrong end of a telescope. I felt small and insignificant. Even the Land Rover seemed like a little ant, scurrying across the wide-open plains.

We crossed over the California State line and the highway signs changed from Oregon’s shield shape to California’s half circle. Just over this line was Tule Lake and the Lava Beds National Monument. Not a statue as the name indicates but an area of natural interest, which has Federal protection (rather like a National Park). Check out: http://www.nps.gov/labe/

Lava Beds NM was just like I imagined "Mordor" would look like in the book, Lord of the Rings. (This was still only 1998, and we had no idea that the movie would later be filmed in New Zealand, using one of our own volcanic National Parks.) There were acres of rugged, uneven block lava, almost impossible to walk over. The lava was dark and brooding and I could imagine Frodo and Sam limping and struggling over it on their quest. I discovered a new word on one of the interpretation panels. Written as "aa" and pronounced "AH-ah" it is the scientific word for block lava.

Unlike the day before, the morning was getting hot. The sun beat down on the lava, beaming more heat straight onto us. I was still angry about the gloves incident and, all morning, things had been tense between F1 & F2 and myself. Matters were still unresolved in my head, and the unexpected heat added to the strain between us. We found the Merrill Ice Cave, which had been created by bubbles in the molten lava, centuries ago. We rested in its cool interior, sucking in the fresh air, and admiring the icy stalactites and stalagmites. We wondered about ‘tites and ‘mites and which was which. F2 offered a saying her brother used: "Tights must come down". This funny little absurd phrase lifted our spirits. The tension broke and we all laughed together.

Crawling out of the cave, I looked up into the wide blue sky and saw my first bald eagle soaring above. From the name, I had always thought this bird really did have a baldhead and I had wondered why Americans would choose a national emblem that looked like a vulture. Silly me. As it swooped down I could see that it had white feathers on its head and neck. These contrasted with its black feathered body, giving an illusion of a baldhead. That is, the learned, balding head of a judge, rather than the skinhead, "bovver boy" look of a vulture.

We drove on until we reached the little town of Susanville. The sun was setting as we arrived, glowing softly behind the distant ranges and lighting up their snowy ridges. We found a motel and settled in together, chatting happily about the day.

While preparing dinner F2 and TH talked about Lord of the Rings and discovered that they liked many books in common. I sat on the floor at the foot of one of the beds, propped up on cushions, and tapped my diary notes into my laptop. F1 was on the phone to friends further south in California. He was organising accommodation for us all for the next night. Everything was going well at last. Everyone was happy and there were lots of laughs over the meal. It was like a bad spell had been broken.

I could not have been more wrong.

© Eventful Woman, 2006
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