Disneyland and the Ride Home
Disneyland was everything we expected it to be, only hotter and more expensive. To get a cup of water, you had to wait in line for 20 minutes, broiling in the heat and staring ruefully at the old-timey wooden signs swinging above your head, advertising overpriced, whole turkey legs and chicken and french fry meals while you slowly died of thirst. Your reward was a six ounce Dixie cup full of crushed ice and a splash of metallic-tasting city water. You could down most of the cup in one mouthful, but when you handed it back to the harried, sweaty server to ask for another, she pointed you back to the end of the line.
Despite the heat (and rapid-onset dehydration), we had a great time. We found the cart that sold parasols, and, although they felt slightly cheaper than last time, they were largely the same. The tiny flowers, the scrawling, handwritten names, and the impatient wait for them to dry was still just as it was. For more than twenty years, there has always been someone at that parasol stand, writing names in white fabric paint against taut sections of nylon, slowly baking as the heat reflected off the asphalt. The person working the stand might change, but it was always the same parasol, always the same heat, always the same nameless, smiling vendor. The perpetuality of it was humbling and depressing.
Our parasols safely resting in matching white plastic bags with the Disneyland castle stamped on the sides, we began to tour the park. We picked our attractions based on whether or not they had air conditioning, but made a special exception for the safari boat ride, since it was on the water, and that was almost just as good.
Halfway through the It’s a Small World ride, Kelsey leaned towards me, miserably eying the singing, animatronic children surrounding us.
“This wasn’t worth the air conditioning,” Kelsey whispered, and I nodded, watching the strings of boats behind us full of starry-eyed children and dead-eyed adults.
At the end of the day, we stumbled back to the park entrance, feet blistered from wearing flip flops, and shoulders burned from not using enough sunscreen on our porcelain skin.
Anthony and Walsh were waiting for us in the car, both smelling like salt and seawater and old sweat.
The ride back to Palm Springs was rougher than I expected, and—as the fatigue and sun sickness began to set in—I started to get cranky.
“Do you have to have the a/c up so high?” I wiggled down so I was laying on the back seat, my feet resting on the center console.
“It’s not that cold in here.” Anthony grumbled—he was still mad that we hadn’t accompanied them to the beach. “It’s barely on.” I shot a scandalized look at Kelsey, who just nodded.
“It’s really not, Tiff.” She frowned sympathetically at me, and I looked out the window as we sped through the desert, shivering violently and pouting.
I don’t remember what we were talking about during the conversation that led to the fight that evening. The years have blurred some conversations into concepts and emotions, bereft of words. Others have sharpened and become hyper-realistic representations of what they originally were. I remember my fatigue, my inexplicable anger I couldn’t really blame on anyone but myself, my deep, desperate need to just be back at the hotel, curled up in bed with the heat cranked up as high as it would go. But I do remember the catalyst, and I remember—embarrassingly—my reaction.
“Man, fuck Jesus!” Anthony laughed, slapping the dashboard.
“Hey, would you mind not saying that? I am actually a Christian, believe it or not. You don’t hear me saying ‘Fuck the Marine Corps.’”
“Yeah,” Anthony smirked, “But that’s because you don’t mean it. I mean it, so fuck Jesus!” I didn’t see red, I saw black. Nothing but the black, gaping spanse of the floorboards below my feet, and the desert sky outside. The black of the back of Anthony’s seat, the black of his eyes as he laughed at me through the rearview mirror.
“You think I wouldn’t mean it?” I pushed myself upright, and—although we weren’t touching—I could feel Kelsey tense up next to me. “You think I would never honestly say ‘fuck the Marine Corps?’ Fuck you, you piece of shit. My husband is out there in Iraq, getting shot at and not knowing if he’s ever gonna come home. He’s fighting in some of the shittiest places in Iraq every fucking day so P.O.G.s like you can sit in an air conditioned room all day and play X-Box. Fuck the Marine Corps.”
The rest of the ride home was a blur of rage. Anthony and I knew each other’s buttons better than our own, and, that night, we pushed every single one as hard as we could.
We pulled up to the hotel with the car spilling over with silence: half hateful, half uncomfortable. Kelsey and Walsh looked at each other as we got out of the car, both wanting to say something, both smart enough not to. Without looking at him, I stalked back to the hotel, my mind still a storm of anger and exhaustion, my skin burning even as I shook in the warm night.
“Well…good night. Thanks for the ride home…” Kelsey took a few quick steps to catch up to me—at five nine, it was never hard for her.
I shouldered my way in through the hotel door, wincing as I realized I had slammed the most sunburned part of my body against a very solid object in what basically amounted to an adult temper tantrum. I peeled off my clothes, changed into my pajamas—the first clean clothes I’d worn in nearly two sweat-and-salt-filled days—climbed into bed, and tried to fall asleep.
Since I had knocked out my contact, I had been stumbling around only able to see out of one eye. As we checked out of the hotel the next morning, I handed my keys to her.
“You’re gonna have to drive,” I grumbled.
“That’s fine,” she said, tilting her head at an angle. “Also, I think I got an ear infection from the hotel’s pool…”
The next 16 hours were fun for no one. I reclined my seat as far as it would go, put on my darkest sunglasses, and ground my teeth whenever we hit a bump in the road, feeling the blood pulse through the blisters that had started to form on my shoulders. If I wore a hoodie, I was constantly rubbing against the damaged, bubbling skin, but if I took it off, I would shiver with cold, nearly crying when the sun would fall on my shoulders.
Throughout the drive, I was constantly texting Walsh about the fight, who tried to stand up for his friend by saying he had been deployed to Egypt and never told me and broke his leg—an injury Anthony told me was from skateboarding. I was skeptical, at best, but still a little ashamed. I compensated by upping my impertinence.
Kelsey, meanwhile, was driving the straightest line from southern California to Portland, Oregon, trying not to snap at my complaining and only stopping to get gas. She got a speeding ticket just before the border, and patiently assured me that it would not show up on my insurance, despite it being my car. Someday, Kelsey will have a child, and—after dealing with me at times like this—she will, I think, find the patience an easy thing to come by.
By the time we pulled into our grandma’s driveway, I just wanted the trip to be over. I mumbled an apology to Kelsey as she unloaded her luggage, dragged myself into the driver’s seat, and—slowly, with one eye closed—drove home. I had to put my hands on the bottom of the steering wheel, because I couldn’t lift my arms without crying.
When I walked in the door, Stanley and Azreal immediately started winding their way between my legs, purring and crying and begging for kibble. Cooing to them in an attempt to calm both of us down, I walked into the bathroom and took off my hoodie. My face, arms, and chest were cherry red. The spots that weren’t burned were sickly pale—perfect outlines of my sunglasses and tank top. Worse, though, were my shoulders. Six inch blisters covered both of my shoulders—wide, shallow blobs of sickly yellow liquid that shifted as I moved back and forth in the bathroom mirror, watching myself in horrified fascination. I knew they would be bad, but I’d never even seen blisters this size before.
I grabbed a pin from the bathroom drawer and—clenching my jaw—popped the bottom of each bubble, catching the rivulets of clear yellow liquid with wads of toilet paper before flushing them down the toilet.
Too tired to be angry, or hungry, or apologetic, or regretful, I climbed into the luscious comfort of my own bed. Stan and Azreal nestled themselves on either side of my legs, pinning down either side of the blankets and keeping me from moving. This was fine, since I wasn’t able to lay on my side without crying. I fell asleep almost immediately, and the next morning I woke up to two hand-sized, yellowish stains on my sheets: the blisters had continued to drain as I slept.
Before I could begin to change the sheets, my phone started blinking: Adam was calling.
I know you can’t get enough of this drama–here’s more: