It has been quite some time since I last updated. I went to a beautiful wedding and then ventured way out West to Colorado with my little brother for about ten days. I have been home, in New Jersey, for about a week and while little of import or interest, especially pertaining to my writing career has happened, I am still optimistic I can complete a viable portion of my second manuscript this summer. I was certainly inspired and rejuvenated by my journey to Estes Park, Colorado. I would like to share some of my vacation memories here in hopes the recounts will be inspirational to some other aspiring writer or writers.
Mikey and I left on our trip directly after Mass. That first day, I drove through the remainder of New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Ohio, deciding to call it a night at a hotel in Fremont, Indiana. It was all standard operating procedure as far as road trips go, but the romantic in me was alive and well and there was a remarkably attractive man eating his continental breakfast, surprisingly alone. Had I been alone, I like to think he might have sat down at the table I had chosen and struck up a conversation. But I was not alone, I was with my little brother whom I love very much, and we both believed the drive to be breathtakingly beautiful. There was just so much space, filled with vibrant greens and blues I had never seen before.
The second day of travel, we drove through a tornado warning in Iowa. We stopped at the World’s Largest Truck Stop to eat and wait for the storm to pass at the World’s Worst Buffet – I bestowed it with such a title because buffet implies choice, but this so-called buffet only offered fried chicken with an assortment of expected sides. When we left, the storm had only dissipated ever so slightly and it seemed like we were actually driving into the worst of it. The rain was so thick and driving so hard, I could not see. I crawled along the interstate with my flashers on, shoulders tensed near my ears, leaning as far forward in the driver’s seat as possible to search the skies for enormous lightning streaks and funnel clouds. I have never seen such dark, threatening skies. I held the rosary hanging from the rearview mirror and said a few prayers. Doing so saved me from a tornado, but not from a speeding ticket in Indiana. I guess they can catch some “Midnight Riders,” as it were.
As scary as the weather was in Iowa, nothing filled me with fear as much as breezes rippling leaves of cornstalks in large fields. Thanks, Stephen King. Mikey put it in a more poetic way; he called it a sea of green, leaves in the wind rippling like waves.
When we stopped at a hotel in Lincoln, Nebraska after the second day of driving, we met a guy on the elevator from Colorado – he was headed back home. He was drinking a beer and had I been drinking a beer, he would have sufficed for a romantic daydream. I imagined that had I been alone, he would have invited me back to his hotel room for a brew and intelligent, wonderful conversation. Instead, he said the mountains in Colorado are breathtaking the first time you see them and went on his way.
At dinner that night, there was an older man seated at an adjacent table who was on his way to Los Angeles, California for his niece’s wedding.
The next day, the third day, we made it to Colorado. Estes Park is the most beautiful place I have ever seen – I know I’ve been overusing that phrase, but the beauty is nearly indescribable, so the tired phrase is all I can come up with (poor excuse for a writer, I know). When I was driving westbound on Route 36 in Colorado, and I saw the Rocky Mountains looming in the distance, I was awe struck. The beauty and the majesty overwhelmed me and suddenly, I felt like crying. The dark rock and the snow-capped peaks looked mighty and formidable and I was inexplicably terrified and anxious, gripping the steering wheel as tightly as possible with sweaty palms. But, upon some reflection, I bet the curving road that hugged mountain and cliff alike with no guard rail was probably to blame, especially considering my poor, stuttering engine that worked so hard to keep up against the staggering elevation. I made sure to charge my camera battery upon finally reaching the hotel and resolved to really try to take some pictures, to try and capture the indescribable beauty, because the camera on my iPhone was not cutting it.
Downtown Estes Park is perfect. I wouldn’t change a single thing about it. Rivers run along the rear of the shops and the most charming bookstore is right next to a perfect coffee shop and paper store. It is where I would like to meet my husband.
On the journey to Colorado, Mikey and I crossed through two time zones. We were chasing the sun.
I-80 sucks – not matter which time zone its in. There was SO much construction.
If you want proof that God exists, that life at its worst is only organized chaos but as its best is a miraculously detailed plan of exquisite beauty, then shut your mouth, open your eyes wide, and go West. It really is God’s country.
Mikey and I rode the aerial tramway to the top of one of the Rocky Mountains, then we hiked to the summit. I did it in cheap, rubber flip flops, too. While we were there, I fed a chipmunk; he took a peanut right from my hand! He put his little paws on my hand and it was adorable!
I spent time at the heated, in-ground pool at the hotel, just reading, listening to music, swimming, and tanning. The creepy trees with markings eerily similar to human eyes on the light-colored bark Melanie and I found in Maine are also in Colorado.
Mikey and I went to The Stanley Hotel for a Night Ghost Tour – it’s the hotel that inspired Stephen King to write The Shining.
But my life is such a fucking shit show. When Mike and I were dining at the restaurant next door to our hotel, called The Sundeck, my debit card was declined when I tried to pay with it. But I didn’t think much of it because I had just paid the balance for the room and have a daily limit of about $700, so it made sense to me. Then, at the restaurant in The Stanley Hotel called Cascades, it was declined again. I was embarrassed and concerned, so I tried to use the ATM downstairs. It didn’t read my card and I thought maybe the card was old and worn; parts had been peeling off and it expired in about a month anyway. I tried using my phone to locate a TD Bank in Colorado, but there are none. Panicked and sweaty, I tried the ATM machine again. It read my card this time because I swiped it properly but it wouldn’t allow me to take any cash out. This all happened in the half-hour before our Night Ghost Tour was set to start, so I was feeling rushed and overwhelmed. I called customer service and apparently, my checking account was frozen because of suspicious activity – someone in Washington had been buying (or at least attempting) software online. I explained that I was far from home on vacation and needed money to eat and get home. The woman verified some recent purchases and then transferred me to a supervisor who agreed to allow me to access my account very briefly. We agreed on a withdrawal of $600, but the stupid ATM at the hotel only allowed transactions in increments of $200, so I had to complete three separate transactions and had no debit card for the remainder of the trip. I wondered about how to pay for hotels on the way back. I had my credit card, but feared maxing it out.
To make matters worse, Mikey really enjoyed the Night Ghost Tour and wanted to venture on the Paranormal Investigation with me but he couldn’t because he is not eighteen and I felt awful because he was disappointed, and I didn’t want to leave him alone, but I knew that if I didn’t go, I would regret it. UGH! I knew I should go because I planned the trip before I knew Mike was coming and I could make it up to him by buying him an expensive watch from the gift shop, but I still felt like shit. The watch was $120.00 which I didn’t really have to spend, but Mom agreed to send money if there was a need. I hate using my parents’ money. Only I could be that miserable on vacation.
The best parts about those days were Barney and Jessica. Barney was our waiter at breakfast who reminded me of Dick Holloran from “The Shining,” who moved to Colorado from Washington, D.C. the day Pope John Paul II died. He knew the locals, the regular customers, and easily and readily engaged in animated conversation at The Mountaineer. Jessica was our waitress from The Sundeck who I bumped into at the hotel pool with her two beautiful, friendly children (girl aged 7 and boy aged 4) who were diving for pennies after the little boy lost his candy in the pool, which his sister rightfully refused to retrieve. She thought her mom and I were friends, which was sweet considering it was mainly idle chatter. Jessica told me about her eight siblings (a brother in Fort Worth, Texas and the others in Missouri) who want her to leave Estes Park to be closer, but she won’t because she absolutely adores Estes Park – she never locks her door and has never felt the need to. She recommended the tours at The Stanley Hotel and was just a genuinely wonderful human being.
When it rains, it pours; you know, when I woke up in the morning of June 27th, I felt incredibly uncomfortable in my own skin. It was a horrendous combination of exhaustion, nausea, and anxiety. Mike and I purchased breakfast at the Donut Haus – and then we went into Downtown Estes Park and did just a little bit of shopping. Afterwards, we decided to venture into Rocky Mountain National Park.
We stopped at the Alpine Visitor Center and decided to travel Trail Ridge Road. It’s the highest paved road in America and goes through different tundra. The views are literally breathtaking, to the point where it seems surreal, like there’s some kind of magic taking observers from one painting to another. It’s almost unfathomable that such beauty, possibility, and opportunity, can exist and that there are some who will never experience it. We stopped and took tons of pictures. The road was longer than we anticipated so when we finally exited the park – $20 and an hour later – we were ready for lunch and to return to the hotel. I put the address in the GPS and for close to an hour, we were hopelessly and miserably lost, with the needle of the gas gauge dangerously flirting with the red. Mikey was infuriatingly unhelpful and obnoxiously oblivious to the terror and misery consuming me.
Dad sent me a text message asking me to call him, so I did when I finally found a gas station and filled up on fuel. I cried, finally venting and finally breaking. Mom thinks I just finally allowed myself to freak out about my debit card being frozen. For five days everything was going so smoothly and then it all went SO shitty SO fast. Once I finally realized the only way back to the hotel was back the exact way we had come, we backtracked and I had to pay another fucking twenty dollars because when we first came in, the park ranger didn’t tell me to keep my receipt because it was actually a pass for a week’s admittance, and it blew out of the window.
I was beside myself.
But the trip was salvaged and I was okay once I knew where I was. I ate some food, and talked to Mom. Mikey and I didn’t do much for the remainder of the day, other than get some ice cream in town and watch a girl catch a small fish in a plastic cup from the river behind the shops.
The Stanley Tour at The Stanley Hotel was more informative than the others. It talked about its supernatural past, as well as the more general history. We were allowed to travel upstairs and peeked into rooms. That same night, I went on my Paranormal Investigation. There were severe thunderstorm warnings being issued, constantly breaking into the regularly scheduled programming with alarming buzzes and beeps. The sky was something to see, with the lightning appearing to strike the very tops of the mountains. Mike was okay at the hotel and I swear a ghost tugged on my pants. It was a good night.
The next day was Saturday and our last full day in Colorado. We were running out of things to do and were honestly ready to head home. Since the hotel wanted us to change rooms for our last night, we simply cancelled that last night and left for home Sunday morning, after Mass at a beautiful church near the hotel. We only stopped once on the way home, somewhere in Iowa, probably because we were so anxious to get back. That second day, I drove through Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania and New Jersey. I was exhausted and glad to be home, but already, I miss the beauty, majesty, mystery, romance and imagination of Colorado.
This past week has been nothing short of horrendous. Personal and familial tragedies have left me feeling drained, hollow and empty. I sleep for ten or twelve hours and when I wake, I am somehow still tired. I have had a headache for about a week. However, despite the previous litany of complaints, I want to stress the fact that this post is not an invitation to a pity party for me. I am also not fishing for compliments or sympathy. I am a writer; I observe and am compelled to share these observations with an audience.
Today is Sunday and I went with my family to Mass, as I always do. Every once in a while, the readings and/or the homily hit upon an aspect of my life and of my current personal experience; they can be uncannily apt. I have always taken these occurrences as a sign from God that either I am doing okay, that I will be doing okay, or that He is answering a question that had been on my mind. Today was no exception; two of the readings dealt with two deceased sons being raised from the dead. It made me think of the funeral I recently attended, and of the family who lost a son and a brother. I spent two days with them for the viewing and the funeral and the repast. Time and again I witnessed the family struggle to cope and understand and even function. But time and again I witnessed this same family gain composure, stand rock solid, and support one another. The love shared was palpable, nearly tangible and it was invigorating. While the liturgy dealt with actual resurrections, I came to the conclusion that though their son will not rise and walk from the grave, he is still as present as ever because of the love of his family. They love him dearly, and love each other dearly. They love all those who came to their son’s viewing and funeral, and love all those who sent kind words and kept the family in their prayers. I honestly believe death can be conquered by love, and this family is living proof. I am so blessed to know them and have them in my life.
I had a really wonderful time with loved ones yesterday at Cheryl’s surprise 50th birthday party. Cheryl is the mother of my best friend, so I view her as my mother by extension. She is extremely caring, loyal, honest and strong. I am blessed to have her in my life and be counted as her loved one. I am also blessed to have such a large extended family, blood relations notwithstanding. At the party, I was one of the few people who were not related to Cheryl by either blood or marriage. I viewed myself as a kind of ambassador, representing my family, and it got me thinking about why it becomes so difficult to mix different groups of friends; I believe it is because different people allow one to show different sides of him or herself. We love myriads of people. Hopefully, most of us are surrounded by people who bring out the best in us. But now and again, we develop toxic relationships and love the people who hurt us and bring out the worst in us. Some people see that as being weak, and as being taken advantage of. I prefer to see it as being brave. To give love unconditionally time and time again no matter how many bruises it inflicts is a beautiful and precious gift that is clearly deserving of being shared with everyone.
Never stop loving.
“Oh Jesus, I’ve fallen. I don’t mind the rain if I meet my Maker; I’ll meet my Maker clean. But Jesus, the truth is I struggle so hard to believe I’ll meet my Maker. I need my Maker.”
– “Get Me Right,” Dashboard Confessional
“And can you kneel before the King and say, ‘I’m clean, I’m clean’?”
– “White Blank Page,” Mumford & Sons
PROMPT: “He was pretty religious once.”
PIECE: Marilyn was slowly walking from the church. Her high heels were clicking against the concrete and the sound echoed out into the almost deserted parking lot. She paused at the curb, fumbling with her tiny purse, looking for her pack of cigarettes and lighter. Will didn’t like her smoking in the car, so she figured she’d feed the craving before climbing inside. It was an act of consideration and wisely played, because Will would most likely be incredibly cantankerous – he had waited for Saturday evening mass to end in his car in the dry summer heat without air conditioning. Marilyn had tried to use the lack of comfort and cool air as an incentive for Will to join her inside the church, aside from the fact that doing so could save his immortal soul and provide his life with some kind of moral center. Her pleas had fallen on deaf ears; Will was not to be shaken from his lack of faith. She lit up and took a long drag, exhaling the smoke towards the moving sky. It looked like a severe, sudden summer storm was on its way.
“Will still sitting in the car, huh?” a familiar voice asked. Marilyn turned to see her best friend, Hannah. Hannah was smiling, sunglasses blocking her eyes.
“Yeah,” Marilyn answered. “I’ve tried everything, dude. Maybe it’s not that important. Maybe I should stop pushing my values on him.” She flicked the ashes from the end of the cigarette, and watched them flutter to the pavement.
“Maybe; you know your relationship better than anyone else, aside from Will, of course.” Hannah paused. “He’s lucky to have you, you know?”
Marilyn shrugged. “He keeps saying that, and I keep trying to tell him that it works both ways. Sometimes, I think he gets upset because he works down at the masonry center and he thinks it’s nothing glamorous and that I think the same.” She turned to face Hannah fully. “Do you think I’m pretentious? Do I give off that vibe?”
Hannah shook her head. “Not at all; and Will’s fears and doubts are Will’s fears and doubts. It’s his baggage that he needs to work through.”
Again, Marilyn only shrugged. “I know, but I just want to help.” Hannah was silent beside her, out of clichéd things to say she’d learned from sitcoms with female target audiences. Marilyn turned to face the parking lot, seeming to look out beyond it all and into the past. “He was pretty religious once,” Marilyn said.
“Really; Will was religious?”
Nodding, Marilyn said, “Yeah. He would go to mass every week, confession every two weeks. Every night before bed, he’d hit his knees and pray. He had a Bible beside his bed and he’d try to read a little bit of it every day.”
“What happened?” Hannah asked.
“I’m not entirely sure,” Marilyn admitted. “It’s weird. He won’t go to church, but he brings me every Sunday and he doesn’t go home. He waits in the car. What’s that about?”
“Maybe he’s waiting for a reason to go in,” Hannah offered.