My husband and I are planning our long, quick trip to South Dakota for my niece’s wedding. My husband is excited. “I love road trips! Especially with you,” he smiles at me.
I smile back but don’t really understand how anyone can love road trips. All that time trapped in a car, I think. But I don’t say that. I know he loves this. I plot our our trip, northeast Washington, through Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, into Montana. Stop overnight in Missoula at the end of Day 1. Continue across Montana, to arrive in Spearfish, South Dakota bythe evening of Day 2. It’s fast, nearly 1300 miles in two days. We can’t leave earlier because I’ve already missed so much work recovering from my surgery this spring.
I am 23 years old and have been married to Miguel, my first husband, for about six months. We’ve been living in northern California, but I am about to start graduate school in the Midwest. We don’t have a car (no money) but a family member has a car she wants driven east, so we’ll be driving.. We are excited. We don’t have a lot of time, but enough to camp along the Snake River and in Yellowstone for a day or two. I’ve never seen that part of the country before and look forward to it.
My friend Sabine is visiting from Germany. When I tell her about our plans, she asks if she can go along. She has to get to Tennessee anyway, and the idea of stopping to see nature instead of spending days on a bus on the highway appeals to her. When we get to Chicago, she’ll catch a southbound bus. We have a tent that theoretically holds three people (if they are friendly with each other and no one wants to stand up). I think it’s a great idea. Miguel is not thrilled but agrees to take her along.
As the trip approaches, I feel a combination of anticipation and gloom. I’m happy that I will be seeing my three siblings and their families. I’m happy that my (second and last) husband will get to see states he hasn’t visited before.But Self-Loathing makes a stormy appearance, and I don’t know exactly why.
We leave on a Wednesday, with splendid June weather. Though I brought music and an audio book, for the first day we leave it quiet and observe the changing landscape as we drive east. Sometimes we talk; sometimes we are quiet. We stop periodically to stretch. We eat snacks I packed: apples, cheese, cherry tomatoes, raspberries from our garden.
We arrive in Missoula around 7pm and locate the apartment I rented through AirBnB. It’s in a residential neighborhood up on a hill with a view out over the city. The host has welcomed us with flowers and chocolate and–best of all–has heated up the outdoor hot tub so it’s ready for us. It feels heavenly after a long day in the car.
Tired and contented, we crawl in the big bed with the oh-so-soft sheets and fall asleep. I dream I am being raped.
Miguel, Sabine and I set off from Sacramento and drive over the Sierras into Nevada and then north to Idaho. Miguel is the driver, and I am the navigator. I soon find out that I am not a good navigator, at least according to Miguel. I don’t always find things fast enough on the (paper) map. Miguel gets tired and wants to camp and I can’t find a place that has an opening for us. He criticizes me, sharply. Sabine grows very quiet.
I think, Isn’t he embarrassed to talk to me that way in front of her? But it seems not. This is probably because he is sure I’m doing a poor job and therefore deserve the scolding. He always seems so sure of what he thinks, while I still feel unsure about what I think, about what it means to be married.
We leave Missoula in the morning and drive on, bewitched by the beauty of southern Montana. We sigh, repeatedly, over our lack of time to investigate the beautiful places we drive by. I begin to think I might like road trips after all, and I fantasize about renting a cabin by a lake.
We stop for an hour at Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument. As it lies on the reservation and there has been little development, it is easy to imagine what it might have been like on the day of the battle. The 1998 addition of the Native American perspective on the memorial makes it a deeply moving reminder that all people want to protect and honor their way of life, their own culture. I wonder when we will learn to protect and honor not only our own culture, but all cultures.
We drive across the reservation, hoping to find food in Lame Deer, but no luck. We continue and find the restaurant in Ashland is closed. Only when we get to Broadus do we find a place to feed our grumbling bellies. It’s a steakhouse, bar and casino. When we enter, we find that everyone is in the casino. We are the only customers in the restaurant.
The menu offers only different cuts of steak–oh, and fried shrimp. Where do they get shrimp in eastern Montana? We opt for steak. I ask the waitress, “Which do you recommend, the New York steak or the whisky-marinated steak?”
She looks confused. Then she answers, “I don’t know. Actually, I try to avoid eating steak here. I eat steaks from my own ranch.”
I consider whether we have time to buy a ranch, raise some cattle, slaughter them, and cure the meat so we can also eat steaks from our own ranch. Probably not. And she doens’t look like she’s about to invite us over for a barbeque at her house either. So we decide to share a whiskey-marinated steak, medium. It comes to us well-done, but we are too hungry and tired to protest.
“Is the pie good enough to blow my carbohydrate count?” I ask the waitress.
“Oh yes,” she assures us. “I can warm it up for you.” So we order a slice of peach pie to share. It arrives slightly warm, but–and I’m not exaggerating–unbaked. The crust is literally raw.
Ah well, I think they earn their money from the casino, and everyone eats steaks from their own ranches. We move on and arrive in Spearfish after 9:30. I greet my sisters happily. My brother (father of the bride) is already asleep.
We soon crawl in bed ourselves. I dream that I have been injured. I am looking for someone to help me, but I can’t find anyone.
Despite my lousy navigation skills, we manage to enjoy ourselves. The late evening sun against the rock at the campgrounds on the Snake River is something that will stay in my memory for years. At Yellowstone, we see elk and bison and far away, a grizzly bear. We visit Old Faithful. Miguel can’t believe that water could be boiling in the ground, so he sticks his fingers in to see if it’s really that hot. It is, of course. Later this seems indicative to me of Miguel’s tendency not to believe things that seem obvious to other people.
We spend Friday celebrating my niece’s wedding. Since she’s only 22, and my own marriage at a young age didn’t turn out well, I worry a little for her, but cross my fingers. Maybe she’s chosen better than I did. She certainly seems more self-assured and self-aware than I was at that age.
On Saturday we do some sightseeing in the Black Hills with my siblings–Mt. Rushmore and Crazy Horse. We drive out to the Badlands and camp for the night, setting up a tent in the warm evening wind. Despite the peaceful, beautiful location, I feel a sense of dread. I wish we weren’t camping.
After Yellowstone, we head east and then south toward Cheyenne. We camp at a state campground somewhere, the three of us squished together again in the small tent. Miguel runs his hands over my breasts and down my body. I push his hands away and give him a discrete kiss. He pushes against me, with an urgency; I can feel he’s aroused. I am hyper conscious of Sabine behind me, sleeping, I hope.
He doesn’t stop pushing, rubbing himself agains me. He unzips his pants and places my hand on him. I try again to pull away, but he doesn’t allow it. Instead, he pushes my head down, firmly. And then I find myself giving him oral sex in the sleeping bag, right next to Sabine. I am terribly embarrassed. Humiliated, really. I try to be quiet. Please let her be asleep. Please.
Afterwards, he turns away and falls asleep. I stay awake for a long time.
In the morning, Sabine says over breakfast that she would like us to take her to the bus station so she can catch a bus to Tennessee. I feel small and disgusting. I ask her to please stay, but she won’t consider it. We drive to the next town with a Greyhound station, and she buys a ticket. She gives me a hug before she boards the bus. Later I receive a thank you note from her and, then, never hear from her again.
I never talk about this with Miguel. I never talk about it with anyone. I tuck it away and forget about it for many years.
As we drive homeward through Wyoming, we continue to enjoy the evolving landscape. When we reach the Tetons, I tell my husband that I have been here before, once for my job, and before that, on a road trip with Miguel. That’s when I remember the trip and Sabine and the tent.
The feelings come, intense and powerful in a way I did not allow them to be all those years ago. They come through my body, as physical sensations. I feel nauseous. My throat hurts. My skin tingles. My breath is fast and shallow. I feel feverish, hot, humiliated. I want to curl up in a ball and suck my thumb. I’m home today, but I can’t go to work.
I have more resources now, however, more than I did a year ago or ten years ago or back when this first happened. I play a guided meditation focused on the affirmation “I am safe.” I pause after that, then play another one focused on my breathing and on the space between each breath. This leaves me not calm, but calmer than before.
I tell myself, I know this pain from old wounds. I know it is not happening now (though it feels like it is). I have been here before. It will not kill me. It will pass, just as all emotions pass in time. It is painful, but I can bear. I will bear it. I won’t push it away, deny it, distract myself. I’ll let myself feel it. I didn’t really allow myself to feel it then, so it has just remained in my subconscious. Maybe if I feel it, I can let it go.
Everything hurts, but I know my mindfulness practice, imperfect as it is, makes it possible to feel the sensations and let them be what they are.
I reach out to E, sending her a text. I worry that I am bothering her, but the urge to know I am not alone with this is strong. The story is too long to tell by text, so I only describe how I am feeling. She responds with warmth and concern, as always. I’m thankful we have an appointment tomorrow, a replacement for the session I missed on Monday. I’m thankful to be in a marriage now that couldn’t be more different from my marriage to Miguel. I breathe and am thankful, though I still have far to go, for how far I’ve come.