Hickey. Chunky Monkey Ice Cream. Thelma & Louise.

“Say hickey!”

“Hickeyyyyyy,” we all chimed as the photographer clicked her camera.

My brother, in his early twenties at the time, showed up to our family photo shoot with a hickey from hell.  With five sisters around, we didn’t let his love mark go easily dismissed. We didn’t get to see our only brother often, as he was in and out of jail or falling of the face of the Earth for months at a time.

This moment, was the last time I can recall all six of us being in the same room together. We had secretly taken the photo as a Mother’s Day gift over fourteen years ago. You would think Mom would have it displayed on a wall somewhere or in her wallet to show off to her friends.  Doing so, would be a daily reminder of the extent of our family dysfunction

Every family is fucked up and we all come from a long line of crazies. If one follows the Bible, then you would believe we are all a product of incest. I was destined to be nuts, having mental health problems from both sides. As long as I acknowledge my nuttiness, I feel like maybe I’m not so nutty.

We resided at a dead end street in a two bedroom apartment shared by seven people. My two younger sisters and I, my “whole” ones, shared one bedroom, while my older, half-sisters shared the other. My parents resorted to sleeping in the front room on a pull out couch. My half-brother, lived in the apartment below with his father.

My mother is the constant and the men in her life, are the variables. My older sisters come from a different father, but call my brother’s father, “Dad”. I myself, consider him a father figure as the two men co-parented all of us.  Dad would take us on nature adventures and help us with homework while Carter would spoil us with treats and amusement parks.

Looking back, I now realize how abnormal this was.  It gets a bit deeper with my grandmother living just a block away with an almost identical scenario and children who were less than five years older than me. But you know what, it worked as we grew up being loved by many.

The only one who I question showing their love, was my own mother. I recall one time her banging my o sister’s head against the wall and making her stay home from school so the teachers wouldn’t see the marks. She would drag us across the floor by our hair or arms, her nails sinking in to our skin causing blood to draw. I’ll never get the image of her yelling at us so hard she was foaming at the mouth like a rabid animal.  One time after punishing me for god knows what, I back handed her as hard as I could. She looked at me in shock and I’m sure I was mirroring her reaction. She simply walked out of the room and that door in hell was forever closed.

When I was ten, we moved out of our tiny flat, into a three bedroom house in a better school district. My oldest sister had upped and left as soon as she turned seventeen. She promised to come back for us and save us from our mother. She never did, I don’t blame her. My brother stayed behind with his father as my dad and he never got along very well. It was just us four girls, although my other older sister was away at college most of the time. So in the end, it was my younger sisters, Mom, and Dad.

As you get older, you begin to shed light on events in your childhood and look at them in a completely different way. More often, suppressed memories unravel and the life you thought you knew, was simply conjured up to protect your fragile, little brain from the reality.

I was thirteen when I was first admitted into the second floor of the psychiatric unit of Palos Community Hospital. A devious plan my older sister hatched, luring me to hang out with her with a pint of Chunky Monkey ice cream, with the intent of dragging me up to that hell hole. During a visit from my parents, they dropped a bomb: they were separating. They never fought nor argued so this was a complete shock to me. Mom and Dad just simply quit talking.

I was sent to see a therapist and put on antidepressants. I lied to her and pretended to swallow those nasty pills. She even brought my family in, an attempt to glue back together our once “perfect” life. It had been months since all of us had been in the same room together and was extremely awkward and embarrassing.

One day I came home and my mother was gone. There was no goodbye, no new address, nor a note. Having been pregnant at sixteen, married by seventeen, and after popping out six children like potatoes in a thirteen year span, I guess she had just about had it.

Later down the road, when my youngest sister and I went to go live with Mom, she filed for child support. My father, obviously pissed, questioned his paternity to the three of us. So….which one was it? No, couldn’t be me, I’m the spitting image of Dad. The youngest? No, she has those Vaci fingers and olive skin. The middle one? Now that was a possibility. She didn’t resemble us and we have completely different personalities. In the end, my father never pursued the questionable paternity, yet we all still have an ongoing (semi-sarcastic joke) if she, my middle sister, was fathered by someone else.

My youngest sister and I were like Thelma and Louise. We have been arrested together, did cocaine in our bedrooms while Mom was in living room watching TV, threw massive house parties, and always stuck together. She was my best friend, my confidant, and my other half. I dragged her up a hill once after a highly intoxicated man attempted to run us over in his SUV. As we sat in the car waiting to leave the party, he came barreling down the road straight for us. I pushed her out of the front seat, but I was thrown out of the car and somehow under it. She dragged me out and we ran up a hill together with the headlights following us. He was just a few feet away from killing us, when I spotted a tree and grabbed her, throwing both of us behind it. We screamed just as the car wrapped itself around the tree.

Up until recently, I thought my baby sister and I would grow old and die together, laughing how we cheated life so many times. Up until recently, I forgave my mother for being physically and mentally , giving us her body dysmorphia, and abandonment. Up until recently, I lied to my grandmother by telling her I had no way to make it home for the holidays.

The past is a funny thing as it will come and bite you in the ass when you least expect it. In two years, I made peace with all the people in my life who made it hell. I forgave those who should not have ever been forgiven. Yet, my beloved younger sister has betrayed me in such a way, without any sign of remorse, I can never forgive her for. A girl who once was only a phone call away for a good laugh and someone to bitch to about Mom.

As for my mother, I just can’t handle having her in my life for one more day. Her recent behavior has sent me over the ledge of my sanity for the last time. Maybe I was wrong for forgiving her without never receiving a sorry and condoning her performance as a mother. Maybe the best thing to do is just to let go.

This past week has put me back in the dark place in my mind I once thought was forever no more. The hurt and the pain I once felt, has washed over me in one massive wave. As I begin a new life here in Colorado, I have to remember the one I left behind and let the past be the past. I have the world in front of me and a great man by my side. I won’t let this be tarnished by the choices and voices of others. I’ve put in too much time into my spirit to let it be broken all over again.

On Sunday, I will depart on a once in a lifetime opportunity to join my father as he kayaks down the Mississippi River. I have been counting down the days where I will be able to eat canned octopus and enjoy a crackling fire as I freeze my ass off. If there is anything I have learned from the road, it is those breathtaking moments which happen that make you regain your faith in humanity.

So here’s to the past, you can kiss my ass.

Bath 2. Joe. PO Box 266.

“Hi, I’m looking for Bath 2.”

“He’s down the hall, take the stairs, and the third door on the left.”

I wasn’t entirely sure of the scene I was about to walk into. With each step, my mind was racing with all the things I was going to say. “I’m sorry.”…. “I will always think of you.”…“ I don’t deserve you.” The hallway was humid, making my perspiration only that much more unbearable. First door…second door…there. On a white door, barely readable, was a big fat 2. I knocked.

“Who is it?”

“It’s me, Stass.”

I watched as the door knob circle and held my breath. Between the humidity and the lack of oxygen, the look on Joe’s face almost sent me to the floor. His face had the telltale signs of a broken heart; distraught, red eyes, stern face. I wasn’t prepared for this part nor was I prepared for those three words every women aches to hear.

Let me tell you how we had found ourselves broken hearted in Indian Hot Springs.  At the beginning of July, I pulled up to Joe’s farm in a quaint town an hour southwest of Denver. I was merely looking for a place to relax till I decided on my next move.

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Love was the last thing on my mind. But ahh, doesn’t it come when you least expect it?

When I first laid eyes on Joe , he was actually with another woman. In my eyes, they were perfect for each other, which is why I kept my feelings at bay. I honestly thought he was out of my league. The woman left not too long after my arrival, having a bit of wanderlust herself, and told Joe to not wait for her.

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Weeks went by before either of us made a move. I didn’t want to involve myself with Joe, knowing what a mess being in love on the road can be. He would walk into a room and I would make any excuse to leave. Just being in his presence scared the living shit out of me. We would pass by one another frequently on the 10 acre property during my infamous farm missions. I tried my best to make the conversation general and quick. I didn’t want to know anything about him nor let him in on me.

One day, during a rain storm, there was a knock on The Van door. It was Joe. He climbed in and I immediately wanted to hop out. The Van was my soul exposed and this was the last place I wanted him to be. We played a few games of Mancala and I didn’t hold back beating his ass. I knew right then and there, I was fucked. I could barely look into his eyes without smiling and giggling like a school girl.

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He took me to Taos, New Mexico for my birthday, me pretending we were going as friends. We had our other roommate in tow, so I figured I would be safe from any advances. We went down to the hot springs along the river, tripped fucking balls beneath the summer stars, and soaked in the magical properties of the water. Over the next few days, we got drunk, whispered jokes to one another, all the while not making a move on one another.

That is, till we got back on The Farm and found ourselves alone in the cabin with a bottle of wine. He got me half naked and in his bed, but it wasn’t until days later, as the sun came up, that we made love for the first time.

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He kissed me in a way I’ve only dreamt about and eagerly let him in. He not only made me come, but we did it together. I didn’t even know this was possible. My legs were shaking and my heart just completely fucking melting.  I remember staring at the ceiling, recalling all the other ones I have stared at after romps with strangers. I turned my head, smiled at this man I barely know, and kissed him as if I’ve known him forever.

Over the next few months, our love for each other grew stronger as the winds grew colder. I always leave, no matter what, I simply can’t help myself. I yearn for that new adventure around the corner, the whiskey with a stranger, and the unknown. As the last leaves fell from the aspen trees, I packed up and left.

I’ve never regretted anything I have done, except slightly questioning the hand grenade on Bourbon Street pulled out of a garbage can. Every time I leave a place, it has always felt like the right thing to do. Not this time. It was downright pissing me off. Why the hell was I crying as I inched closer to New Mexico? I kept thinking…I’m headed back to The Keys, sunshine, and sparkling blue water…screw those fucking mountains.

My heart, which once belonged to the road, was now 400 miles behind me. A heart I once thought was scattered across America, never to be whole again. The pieces lay in the Atlantic somewhere in the Outer Banks, on a conch riddled island in The Lower Keys, a van camp deep within The High Rockies, a mosquito infested swamp in Louisiana, on the back of a Shovelhead in the Midwest, and all the roads in between. Somehow, unbeknownst to me, they had united once again. in Bailey, Colorado.

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It took a stranger in Taos to convince me to turn back around. There really wasn’t much persuasion needed, as the heart will do what the heart wants. We had coffee beneath the same rocking willows as Joe and I had only a few months earlier. I desired him more than the road. I got a coffee to go and headed back to Colorful Colorado.

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Going back to The Farm was not an option for me as I knew this would involve spending an excessive amount of time together. I manifested an idea of getting my own place. Before I even crossed the border, I had landed my own cabin. You heard that right. I have a fucking house.

I moved in October 3rd, just twenty days shy of my two year van anniversary. At the moment, the interior looks like The Van puked all over the walls.

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There are hippy trinkets on any flat surface and reminders of friends I met on the road. My clothes aren’t crammed in a small closet above my furnace, I no longer have to pee in a cup, I can take a shit when I please, and there are no projectile objects when making a hard right turn. It’s quaint, it’s perfect, and it’s me.

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I’ve almost felt like a traitor, not quite sure how to tell the world The Van is sitting in a field along Highway 285. I’ve been so worn down, my traveling began years before The Van. These past two years have been me going full throttle. I need a rest, a place to hang my hat at the end of the day.

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I cried every day for two weeks when I moved in, regretting the decision I had made. The $1,500 I had spent getting this place, could have filled my gas tank 20 times. I deserve this though. I worked hard to get where I am mentally and spiritually, it’s time to reap those benefits.

Fortunately, Joe has the same wanderlust as I. Every week, we pick a new destination and a new adventure. Later this month, I will be taking off for a few weeks and head back on the road. To be able to come back to him and this cabin, is pretty much everything I have ever wanted. Deep down, I know I will not stay here forever as I’m just not wired to be stagnant. I now have a road dog though, one to share the laughs and adventure with.

Saying goodbye to The Van was the hardest thing I have ever done. She had become a part of me, but as a friend once said, she should not define me. And to be honest, she has “Girl” written all over her and it’s quite embarrassing. I no longer feel like a child as I have grown into a woman. The Van was my cocoon and now I am a butterfly.

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This isn’t the end my friends, regardless of what Jim Morrison says, this is just the beginning. For all those who were as once weary as I from the road, who yearn for a home cooked meal and warm shower, or who simply need to get away, I invite you here, all of you. And if you can’t make it to swap stories, write them down. One of the best things about being semi-stagnant, is I can now receive mail: Anastassia S. P.O. Box 266 Shawnee, Colorado 80475.

“Live, travel, adventure, bless, and don’t be sorry.” J.K.