Going Out West II: What Happened in Vegas

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.

Norris Basin Geyser, July 2015

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.

Art by Kim Kyne

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

Afterward:

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.

Going Out West: World Class White Trash

“You’re gonna die!” Grandma yells. “It’s too dangerous! Two girls, alone on the road?!” She gets upset often these days. “Why?! Why do you have to go?!”

“We’re going to see so many incredible things.” I try to reassure her. “A cross-country road trip, it’s a once in a lifetime opportunity!”

“Yeah, I took a road trip to California. I came back with five kids! Why can’t you just watch TV like everyone else?…Ariana! Why?! Ariana! Ariana! Please.” She pleads.

I planned this trip for months. I booked every hotel and campsite along the way months in advance, but I waited until the last minute to pack everything I owned into my car. Eventually, the car filled up, and I had to decide what I had to leave behind, which it turns out is quite mental breakdown provoking at two in the morning when you have to leave at five in the morning to keep your itinerary.

We left as dawn broke and drove all day through western New York and Ohio. Our first stop was Chicago, an enchanting city, filled with artists and creatives. We stopped for Chicago style pizza. While we were waiting, this good-looking gentleman said hi to me. I looked around to see who he was talking to, and after I realized it was me, I pretended I didn’t hear him. I didn’t know what else to do, I was not used to strangers small talking with me. We’re not in New York anymore, I thought.

It was late when we left Chicago, the trains were sneakily trying to hum us to sleep. We still had a couple hundred miles before we got to our hotel. I guess I figured we would make better time. I forgot that we both drink a gallon of water a day, and didn’t account for neither of us sleeping the night before. We took caffeine pills, but they didn’t help.

I have serious trust issues and a paranoia of people falling asleep while driving. My ex would literally be snoring while driving my car, perfectly in the lines I might add! I’d yell “Wake up!” He’d open his eyes and say “I wasn’t sleeping!” I was hanging over the edge of my seat, staring at Ari. She goes, “What are you doing? Stop looking at me like that! You’re freaking me out! I’m fine!”

Eventually, we gave up and got a hotel still about two hours from the hotel I had already booked. We did get a nice suite for cheap since it was the only thing available. We awoke to the smell of hay somewhere in Wisconsin. We were behind schedule so we were now in rush mode, which we were already in being New Yorkers.

Somewhere in Minnesota, 2015

We drove what felt like a week itself through nothing but corn, cows, windmills, and more corn. The panic kicked in somehwere around Minesota. My mind raced around in circles, like a tornado it picked up every negative thought and bounced it around my head. What the fuck did I just do? I quit my jobs. I left my home, my family, my friends. I’m homeless. I’m unemployed. I’m fucked. Miles and miles of nothing. All that unused space made me nervous. The road kept going on forever and nothing ever changed! The road never turned, it just kept on going, straight into forever. I could see a storm forming hundreds of miles ahead, it gave us hours to anticipate it. What would it be like when we got there? Would we make it out the other end of that storm? …Or get lost in the tornado of our minds?

Ari loved it, said it was her favorite state. Ari and I have always been opposites in a lot of ways, but we also have a lot in common. A mutual friend, Nikki, introduced us when she was 10 and I was 12. All three of us had tragic childhoods in different ways. Ari and I never met our dads, and Nikki’s dad sexually abused her. We all shared stories of CPS and police at our houses every other week.

All three of us lacked supervision. We would always sneak out, and get high and drunk. Ari never drank or got high, but never judged us. She promised her mother, who passed away when Ari was only 13, that she would never do drugs, and she kept her promise. I’m sure it was especially hard since so it seemed everyone she looked up to was an addict. Even as a teenager she upheld a strong moral code, and displayed extreme discipline. I always admired her for that.

After her mother passed away, she lived with her stepdad, who didn’t know how to be an authority figure, her older brother, who never left his room, her older sister, who was never home, and her two younger sisters, who argued constantly. A few years later, when Ari and her two younger sisters moved in with their grandmother, Ari was left to move a five-bedroom house alone. In her brother’s room, she found mounds of clothes, dishes, and when she opened a perfume box, she found over a dozen used heroin needles.

Living with Grandma had its own set of challenges, but Ari appreciated the little comforts Grandma did provide, like food on the table every night. Her stepfather spent his money supporting Ari’s Godmother’s heroin addiction.

Ari and I had weird things in common like our mothers had the same first and middle name, Sarah Elizabeth, and they were both nurses. Whenever I called Ari, Grandma became upset.

“Who is this?”

“Grandma, it’s Vera, is Ari home?”

“Who is this?! This is not funny! Why does it say Sarah Elizabeth? You’re not my daughter! My daughter’s dead! This is a nasty trick! Who is this!?”

Sometimes she wouldn’t answer and when Grandma called back, my mom would answer. The first time, my mom had no idea who it was and was very confused why a strange woman had called her just to yell at her. My mom was so sad when I told her it was Grandma, because the two of them had worked together for many years.

Once I came to pick Ari up, to get out of the house for a bit. Ari came outside and ran into my car, like she had just finished a heist and I was the getaway driver. I thought maybe she was running to escape the cold weather, but then Grandma came out after her, naked, screaming, “Ariana! Ariana! Get back here! You can’t leave me!” Her little sister came outside and tried to cover their grandma up with a towel.

By the age of 15, Ari was not only raising her two younger sisters but taking care of her grandmother as well. She cooked, cleaned, and tried to keep the girls in line and Grandma happy. She took care of everyone who was supposed to care for her, and she never complained.

Grandma had a decent amount of money, but they still struggled financially because her alcoholic son was stealing her checks. He was would pop in every now and then for food and beer, after hiding from the cops in the woods for days, and then disappear again. Ari’s uncle, aunt, and cousin lived with them for a while. One night, her uncle got so drunk he fell down. Ari and her aunt tried to sit him up, but he kept falling limp, so they left him there snoring away and went to bed. Ari woke up to her little sister and aunt panicking and crying, “He’s not breathing!” They tried to keep Grandma in her room and not tell her what was going on, but she barged past them and found her youngest son lying dead on the kitchen floor.

I watched as that little girl, selflessly surrendered her youth. We both grew up too fast. Even though she was younger than me, she became a woman before me. That girl was tough as nails, let me tell you. She put on a cold front, she didn’t let a lot of people in, but should she find you worthy, she shall be constant and faithful until you both fucking die. When no one, not even my own family, was there for me, she was. When I fucked up, she let me know, but she never left my side. That is one loyal bitch. She always seemed more confident than me. She was never afraid to speak her mind or be herself. As you may know, people don’t always like it when you are honest and true to yourself.

My ex never liked her. He’d say she was loud, obnoxious, and liked to gossip. He’d talk shit about all of her friends, how they were all dirtbags who lived in trailers. He’d call her trashy because of her tattoos and the “bitch” bumper sticker that was on her car when she was 17. One time she came over and there were some crumbs left where she was eating, so he started calling her a slob. I’d get so offended when he’d talk about her like that.

“You don’t even know her! She’s one of the best people I know! How can you judge someone based on such superficial, exterior shit?”

He’d say, “Why are you so mad, it’s not like I’m talking about you?”

“One, because she’s my best friend. One of my only friends. Two, you kind of are talking about me! I have tattoos, I’m a messy eater! I lived in a trailer! And I had a similar upbringing to her, when you call her trash, you’re calling me trash too, just like your mother.” His mother screamed at me, “Get out of my house! You’re fucking trash! White trash!” when we told her we were moving in together. She’s a real classy woman.

Everyone was getting under my skin with these labels. White trash. Trailer trash. Was I branded these labels at birth, and must wear them until death?

I stopped talking to Ari for a year because I wanted to dissociate from everyone who reminded me of who I was and where I came from.  I told myself I was ashamed of her when really I was ashamed of myself but too cowardly to face it. I convinced myself it didn’t happen, I was cured, that I wasn’t me, that I cleared the browsing history of my body, that I’d been born again as someone else, someone luckier. I thought if I just show up and play the part, pretend I’m poised and elegant. If I just douse myself with education and culture, they won’t notice the imposter in the room. But they always notice. The damage has been done, it’s hanging off my shoulders, busting through the seams of my dress. My trauma shines like a diamond at a crowded dinner party. You can hear it when I open my mouth, the way my voice trembles with doubt. Like hounds, they smell my fear. I don’t belong here, and everyone knows it.

I’ll never be like them, but I’m not total trash either. I am something entirely different, I am me. Ari is who she is. Take us or leave us, make no difference to us. At least for the time being, we get to decide who we want to be, no matter how much society tries to predetermine our destinies.

I felt bad instantly, my self-loathing had hurt someone else besides myself, someone who’s never done me wrong. It took me several months to swallow my pride and apologize. When I finally did, she acted like she wasn’t even phased and we took up right where we left off, as best friends do.

Ari was still taking care of the girls and Grandma, only now she was in another demanding relationship with a man, working, and studying criminal justice on top of it. Imagine you have a friend over your house, and when she walks in your grandmother is sitting there and suddenly starts screaming at you, or just calls your friend a whore.

Grandma only got worse over the years. She was able to do less and less for herself as her pain got worse. She relied on Ari for everything but treated her like the devil. If you’ve ever taken care of the elderly or worked with someone who has Alzheimer’s, you know this dynamic is common. It’s also not unusual that she would be screaming in agony for Ari to come help her because she can’t move one minute, and chasing her around the house with a broom the next.

Once she got in one of her moods, nothing could stop her. She would scream at the girls for hours. She would say horrible things to them, especially Ari. She would get in their faces, antagonizing them, “Come on, you piece of shit, hit me! I’ll call the cops on you!” She would tell Ari that no one liked her, and blame her for the death of her uncle.

They would hide from her in their rooms and Grandma would bang and kick the door until it opened. Another thing Ari and I had in common, there were always broken doors in our homes. If you’ve ever lived with an abuser, you can probably remember the custom doors in your homes too. You can imagine having to force them open because of the custom broken hinges. They’re decorated with personalized kicking holes. Sometimes they’re missing entirely because someone decided to rip it off and set it on fire.  

Ari was not allowed to have a life independent of Grandma, Grandma needed her all of the time. The rare times I did see her, I would go over and talk to Grandma too. She’d be super pleasant with me, until I’d say “We’ll be back soon.” Then she’d start screaming how Ari never does anything for her, how she hasn’t eaten for days (right after lunch), and list all of the things she needs right now. Before I knew it, I’d be hiding from a screaming Grandma trying to break the door down too! I’ve seen a lot of scary shit in my life, and I gotta say, Grandma on a bad day is easily in the top 10.

I watched that woman sacrifice her entire youth to take care of Grandma. Grandma gave up the freedom she had just attained after raising six kids for the rest of her life to care of her grandchildren without a second thought. Ari never doubted that she would take care of grandma as long as she possibly could. She never treated her task as a burden, though it certainly was. She just knew it was something she had to do, and she did it. Ari was 25 when it became too dangerous to keep Grandma home.

Everyone told her to do it sooner, to leave, to take care of herself.  I can’t imagine what living like that for all those years does to a person, being told you’re worthless so many times that you start to believe it. I don’t know a lot of people who would do half of what she did for those girls and for Grandma.

If that selfless woman, is what you consider trashy, then I’d be honored for you to call me that. But I can think of a lot of other things to call a woman of her caliber, besides white trash.

We finally caught up with the storm, it was all the way in the hills South Dakota. All that anxiety for nothing, the storm had already passed. The remnants of this particular storm were so unique. The road was just wet enough to reflect the sun’s last rays of the day, to savor the day’s warmth a little longer. We drove up into the hills and into the sunset. This road would take us to our futures, the road to liberation.  

We drove through a small mountain town, similar to the one in New York that we had left the day before. I was pumped full of caffeine and being goofy. I announced in a professional voice, “Welcome to Mount Rushmore, you’re about to have a patriotic experience which will change your life.” A few minutes later we saw a sign that said something to the same extent, and we couldn’t stop laughing.

Mount Rushmore, 2015

I don’t think it was the men’s faces carved onto the mountain. It was the mountain itself and the energy it holds. It was “Grand Old Flag” pulsing through the stereo. It was the people from all over the world, from all walks of life, all together, all equal. At that moment I fell in love with America. Yes her crown has been corrupted, but her foundation stands strong. Her foundation is people like us. Two girls like us, from a small town in New York, who escaped their poor, toxic families and made it all the way to the Mount Rushmore, by ourselves. We have many obstacles ahead of us, as lower class women, but if we have a chance of reaching our potential anywhere, it is here.

“Show me a hero, and I’ll write you a tragedy”-F. Scott Fitzgerald