I desperately needed a night of deep relaxation and reflection. A friend and I went to the dispensary to help relieve the tension. On the walk home, I was saying how lucky we are to walk into a store and walk out with bags full of marijuana, even with his fake looking North Carolina ID.
Just a minute after saying “I love LA,” I screamed in panic. My PTSD sent an army of electrical impulses through my body with the message, “SOMETHING IS TRYING TO FUCKING KILL YOU.” This time, it was this tiny little dog that came out of nowhere and started barking at us. Still shaking a few houses down I almost jumped again at the sight of this old woman wearing a nightcap and gown, staring at us while she smoked her cigarette. I fought myself from screaming because I didn’t want to offend her. Then my friend jumped and said “OH MY GOD!…WHY?!” We started cracking up. “We aren’t even high yet and already we’re in the Twilight Zone,” I said.
We took some edibles and started searching for something to watch. I told him I wanted to watch some science fiction that makes you rethink your purpose in life. Finally, we stumbled upon this show, called Electric Dreams, based upon Philip K. Dick’s stories. Other film adaptations of his writing include Total Recall and Blade Runner. We knew we made the right choice after the opening, which shows trippy images such as a flying robot stingray and a pregnant man. The high commenced and we started to sink into the couch. Feeling detached from our bodies, our consciousness stared at the screen, our minds wide open to the universe’s messages.
The first episode, “Real Life”, is broadly based on Dick’s short story Exhibit Piece, which begs the question what is reality? “Real Life” imparts a lesson much deeper and more personal than I was mentally prepared for.
The episode has you trying to figure out which character is real and who is a subconscious creation stemmed from a new virtual reality device, which allows you to “vacation” from your troubles. In one reality, Sarah, played by Anna Paquin, is a lesbian supercop suffering from PTSD ever since her colleague was killed. In the other reality, George, brilliantly portrayed by Terrence Howard, is also tormented by trauma and sorrow after the brutal murder of his wife.
The show was only 50 minutes but it felt like hours we were consumed by attempts to differentiate reality from delusion. George and Sarah both doubt their realities and start to wonder if the “vacation” is real life. When Sarah’s girlfriend starts talking about guilt and what she thinks she deserves, I said “Oh God, are they really going there. Is this going to be about self-abuse and victim mentality? I just can’t handle that right now.” Then Sarah lays down and slowly puts on the virtual reality device. I start to cry somewhere deep inside.
“Is she gonna off herself?” my friend says in an overdramatic voice, “What the hell is going on?!”
I pretend to scream, “I don’t know what’s real anymore!”
We then find out George was having an affair on his wife when she was murdered, and therefore decides to destroy the headset that would allow him to go into his virtual reality. He says he deserves to be punished. After he crushes the headset, the screen shows Sarah flatlining in a hospital. In the alternate reality, she justified her guilt by making up the affair. Her girlfriend says,
“We all want to be punished, even if our sins don’t exist.”
Suddenly I felt overcome with guilt for my guilt. We all do this to some extent, some more than others. This message has been coming to me in many forms lately, STOP PUNISHING YOURSELF. I have suffered countless traumas in my life, but THEY ARE OVER. No one is hurting me now, no one but myself. I survived those voices telling me I’m not worth the air I breathe, and I escaped them, but they follow me, and now those voices have become my own.
I have this overwhelming fear that things will never get better, that others will always sore above me and leave me rotting in ashes.
The only one who wants me to fail is me. I am getting what I think I deserve.
I do deserve happiness. I deserve success, I deserve to reach my highest potential. I deserve to be recognized for my attributes. I deserve love, true love. I deserve to be loved the way I love others, with my entire being. I deserve a family, a family who deserves me. I deserve wealth and I deserve my health.
We always make things so complicated. We make excuses for our failure, “It’s because I have no money, it’s because I have no support. I can’t do that until this happens.”
All you need to get what you deserve is truly believe you deserve it. The virtual reality system in “Real Life” is a symbol for the power of the mind.
So push every negative thought out, let go of every lie you’ve been told about yourself and continue to tell:
And replace it with the truth:
Because they are the things holding you back, more than society, inequality, your health, or your finances. They and they alone are what divides you from your destiny. They are what will destroy you if you give them that power.
You are your worst enemy, you are the only one holding you captive from your dreams, from living a life you a proud of. The life you deserve.
We didn’t make it to our campsite in Yellowstone National Park, since we were in South Dakota at dusk. Nothing was going quite as I had planned, but Ari and I were enjoying the views. The enchanting mountains, the endless green, the eerie isolation. We had made it to the majestic west. People travel thousands of miles here, just to take a deeper look inside themselves.
The charcoal sky and the monstrous mountains were battling for the title of most terrifyingly beautiful. The roads kept winding and climbing, chasing those mountains. My fingers were clenched tight around the wheel for the first few hours, but slowly loosened as I got comfortable driving on the edge of obliteration.
We stopped at an overlook in Big Horn National Forest. I stood right on the edge of oblivion. I’ve never stood so high, one step away from falling so far. Gazing into the abyss of what could have been if I never left New York.
When we arrived in Yellowstone, they handed us pamphlets on what to do in bear encounters. Bison and elk roamed the meadows on either side of the road. We had traveled back in time, to the age before humans had conquered, where nature ruled. I’d never been so immersed in the wild, so close to peace. The silence was healing, hypnotizing.
“I thought hot springs were supposed to be hot?” I said when we got out of the car. It was freezing, and of course I had thrown out all of my winter coats since I wouldn’t need them in California. I definitely didn’t think I’d need them in July, but I guess I had forgotten that lesson in elementary school about colder temperatures in higher elevations. Neither of us had ever been above 4,000 feet, we were now above 7,000.
Little did I know, the hot springs were incredibly hot, so hot they could melt through your boots, your skin, and your bones. The first place we stopped, Norris Geyser Basin, was home to the hottest temperatures ever recorded in Yellowstone, 459°F. We trekked along the boardwalk, over electric blue springs, completely ignorant of their deathly properties. The sulfur reeking air hissed out a warning, but we did not listen.
There were signs everywhere warning you to stay on the trail. The hydrothermal features make the earth very thin. Many people have broken through the ground and fallen into the boiling springs below. I had no idea the earth you walk on, the foundation that everything lies on, could be so fragile. Its dangers where what made it so alluring. Surrender all your power, your need for control, you have no authority here.
The more I learned, the more I realized I knew nothing.
Due to the rain, and possible snow, we could not camp the second night I had booked either. Finding a hotel proved rather difficult since the whole park was a dead zone for cell signal. We stopped at a lodge to grab lunch and ask the staff for help. The woman at the front desk gave us a map, and highlighted directions to towns in Idaho and Montana that might have hotels.
At the lodge, there was one bar of signal that would come and go but it was enough for Ari to receive crazy messages from her boyfriend. He did not believe that we had no service and accused her of cheating on him and hanging out with guys, when I was the only person Ari had spoken to in days.
The sky won the war for most terrifying beauty and overcame the mountains. Blackness covered everything. Every now and then you’d see the silhouette of a giant off in the distance. Besides that, all you could see was the road as far as your headlights could stretch, bending and twisting around darkness. You had no idea what the darkness held, but you assumed it was eternal voids. One mistake, and you’d fall forever.
I thought to myself, how could such a wondrous place, feel, look, and smell so much like hell?
My body had been pooling with anxiety since Minnesota, which was now starting to overflow. We made it to Montana and parked outside a tavern, which looked straight out of the wild west, to try to find a hotel. We called several which were booked, but finally we found one. In the morning we drove on the same road as the night before, mocking it for failing to defeat us. The snow-capped mountains mocked us back, for our utter ignorance.
We drove through Yellowstone one last time. We stopped just in time to see Old Faithful erupt. It was incredible, but we were too overwhelmed with stimulation to fully appreciate it. Then we left this mystical place and continued our journey, through the Tetons, over the continental divide, to Colorado. Rising and falling, rising and falling.My car started to shake whenever I hit the brakes. I called my mechanic back in New York, and he taught me about low gear, so I didn’t have to be so heavy on the brakes.The mountains humbled me.
I had booked a campsite in Rocky Mountain National Park for the next two nights, but because of my brakes, we were afraid to make that trip. Instead, we stayed with my good friend from college and his girlfriend. Ari had been fighting with her boyfriend since Wyoming, so she didn’t mention we were staying at a guy’s house.
We had finally caught up with my original itinerary when we made it to our appointment to go white water rafting. I was excited for the level five rapids, but since it was summer they were only level three. Ari loved it, but I longed for a greater risk.
Next, we headed to Utah, my car trembled with every tap of the brakes. I was felt disoriented from being so high for so many days, and not just on the recreational Colorado weed, but on the mountain roads which kinked and curled in an attempt to kiss the sky, who kept turning her face away.
The blue and green mountains faded into the red and brown desert. We had left earth and traveled to another planet, certain that aliens hid behind the sandstone asteroids. We took a short detour to see Arches National Park, but couldn’t get close to the sandstone formations because we were short on time. We had to rush to Las Vegas to meet another one of my friends from college who was driving from LA to meet us.
We finally made it to Vegas at about 10 pm and met up with my friend, Fluffy. I got a nice suite for the three of us at the Venetian; I thought it would be a relief after four nights of camping. As soon as we got into the room, I popped open a bottle of wine and announced, “I’m getting shitfaced! It’s the last night of my road trip, and I don’t care what anybody thinks. I’m getting wasted!”
Ari was not allowed to drink. On her birthday, a guy spoke to her and she laughed. Her “friend” pointed this out to her incredibly insecure boyfriend, so he forbade her from drinking. I told her if she wanted to stay in the room she could, since Fluffy and I would be heavily drinking all night, but she decided to come.
When we walked out of the hotel, we saw a gondola in the canal. I started singing in Italian to the driver, and he yelled back at me “You’ve got a job here!” My anxiety had escaped me. I was free at last.
We took a cab to Fremont street and walked around, the neon lights danced around us, casting their spells. Everywhere we looked we saw dazzling busts of picturesque women. Everyone had a role in the show, we played our parts as well. Fluffy and I both chugged drinks which were half our size in sync, then went to the bathroom and puked, also in sync.
We met a bunch of really cool people at this one bar. Among them an Amy Winehouse look-alike and her gay best friend who were high on cocaine, and a couple of wild Australian boys. One of them was trying so hard to get with me. He was not cute at all, he was scrawny and short, with big bushy eyebrows and bucked teeth. He called himself the “Plumbdog Millionaire” because he was a plumber but said he made really good money. I kept laughing at him but resisting his advances. Fluffy said, “You can fuck him if you want to.”
I said, “I don’t!” Then I thought, do I? After all, this is Vegas.
The six of us were sitting on the floor playing Giant Jenga, and Ari was sitting at a table by herself, text-fighting her boyfriend. Plumdog wanted to buy me a drink so we went inside and got a drink, then took a pic in the photo booth. He looked at it and said, “It looks like we’re in love.” When we went back outside, Ari was gone. I asked Fluffy where she went but he said he didn’t know. I called her several times but she didn’t answer.
We stayed at that bar until they kicked us out at dawn, then went back to Caesar’s where the Aussies were staying. In the cab, Plumbdog was confessing his love for me. He goes, “Who has a ring?” My best friend had left her engagement ring in my car the day before I left for my trip. I had been taking pictures of it everywhere I went, so I had it in my purse. I gave it to him and he proposed and put it on my finger.
Fluffy and Plumbdog’s friend were having a blast together. They were running around the hotel in their underwear. One of the employees stopped them, “You can’t do that here.”
Fluffy told her, “WE JUST WANNA HAVE FUN!” and she just walked away and let them continue.
Plumbdog and I were making out all the way to the room. He started to whip his dick out right there in the casino and I tried to put it back in his pants, but it looked like I was jacking him off, but no one seemed to notice or care. I love Vegas.
When we got to the elevator he lifted me up and pressed me against the wall. His cock was already out, I lifted up my skirt and slipped him inside me. A few seconds later the elevator bell dinged, and we scurried to act normal before the door opened. No one came in, so he lifted me up fucked me, until the bell rang, and again no one was there. “Maybe we should just wait until we get to the room, but I think we can both check elevator sex off our bucket lists,” I say.
When we got to the hotel, his mate was sleeping in there. So we filled up the jacuzzi tub and fucked in there. From what I remember, the jacuzzi sex was just as bad as the elevator sex.
I slept for maybe an hour and woke up from my Vegas dream in a panic. My phone was dead so I charged it. As soon as it turned on, it blew up with angry messages from Ari asking where I was, and from her friends saying I left her alone in Vegas. As I remember it, she left me, but she said she thought I had left when I went inside to get a drink, although Fluffy was right there. If she had told me she had to go or answered my calls, I would have given her a hotel key and called her a cab, but she didn’t. She walked back to the Venetian by herself and slept outside the room. We did not sleep in any of the hotels or campsites I booked for the entire trip. If I couldn’t even plan a road trip, how the hell was I going to pull off uprooting my life from one side of the country to the other? I felt like a failure.
I asked Plumbdog’s friend where Fluffy was and he said he was down by the pool. I found him asleep halfway in the pool, the other half incredibly sunburnt. I warned him that Ari was pissed and he was about to face some awkwardness. He tried to comfort me, saying “She shouldn’t be pissed, she left us. Don’t feel guilty because you wanted to have a good time.”
We got back to the room and found Ari waiting outside. She didn’t even want to talk to me. She told me she booked a flight from Vegas and was going home today. I would have to do the rest of the trip alone.I felt sick to my stomach, not just because of the liquor, but because I was boiling over with anxiety.
I felt like everyone hated me, most of all I hated myself. Not only was my best friend pissed at me, but her family and friends thought I left her alone in Vegas to go fuck some stranger. I know I’m not perfect, but I thought I was better than this. I’ll admit, I have gotten blackout drunk before and left my friends to go fuck a guy, but that wasn’t me anymore.
What was I supposed to do? Walk around looking for her? Go back to the hotel, wait for her, and let some man I hardly know dictate my life? I still felt like a piece of shit, like a whore, like a no good friend. I started to regret everything. “I should have never left New York. I can’t do this.” I told myself.
I had come so far to escape my problems, but I couldn’t escape myself.
Ari and I stood in silence, waiting for the valet to bring my car around.I stared at the mural on the ceiling because I could not look at her. Every now and then a mist would come down on me, providing absolutely no relief from the hundred and something degree heat. She said she didn’t want a ride to the airport, so I hugged her goodbye, got in my car, and drove away, never looking back.
The last four hour stretch of the road trip felt the longest. Either vomit or a panic attack was seeping up my esophagus, about to erupt like a geyser. I pushed it down, along with a billion doubts that kept popping up. What was I going to do? How was I going to pull this off? I’m jobless. I’m homeless. I’m worthless. Should I just turn around now?
I saw the “Welcome to California” sign and momentarily forgot my misery. I cheered, “I made it! I’m here! Home at last!” I was mesmerized by the Mojave desert. My first California sunset was over these magnificent trees I later found out were all named Joshua. At last, I had made it to Los Angeles. My road trip was completed, but my journey had just begun.
“It should not be denied… that being footloose has always exhilarated us. It is associated in our minds with escape from history and oppression and law and irksome obligations, with absolute freedom, and the road has always led West.”-Wallace Stegner
Ari wrote me when she got home and apologized. She said she knew she made a mistake as soon as she boarded her plane. I apologized to her as well and we are best friends to this day. I guess her boyfriend told her if she didn’t leave the bar that night, and if she didn’t fly back home the next day he’d break up with her. I’ve dated guys like that, so I understood she was being manipulated. Even the strongest, smartest women can fall prey to animals like him. They broke up a few months later after she found out he was cheating on her.
As far as Plumbdog goes, we met up again in Venice Beach. We had regular bed sex this time, and it was also horrible.