Nothing compares to Lake Isabella in May

Another California Lake near Oroville. Image by The Paltry Sum

We walked back up the bank back to the RV. It was hot, there was no shade, and dust was getting everywhere. Routines had not yet been made, and the rule that people everywhere make, no pooping in the RV bathroom, meant that the children had to navigate using camp bathrooms for the first time. Thankfully these were relatively civilized arrangements that flushed and were clean. I was not yet desperate enough to try a cold camp shower in a concrete block of showers, so we missed that experience, and returned home to Beastie. The screen door rattled in the breeze, as we sat laughing and talking, playing the guitar, and the children stared out into the increasing inky blackness. An eerie animal screaming started up, a kind of howling, yipping and yelping. The coyotes were calling.

Billy was distracted at the window. A black sedan passed us again…and again…and again. Eventually they pulled up next to a mostly blue dinged up old beater of a chevvy, words were exchanged, hands shaken, and off both cars went. The black sedan went round and round and round. Billy raised an eyebrow at me, and locked the door. “Lets head up to that Lake Isabella tomorrow,” he said breezily. The children climbed up to the bunk, next to each other, and fell asleep with the faint white noise hiss of their radios joining the coyote calls, and the sounds of the campground at night. I did not feel comfortable, I felt safe enough with Billy, and his various legal weaponry, but not comfortable. The coyotes unsettled me more than the apparent drug dealing.

Billy and I made our way to the back bedroom, I fell asleep on his shoulder. Everything was better. My children felt safe and free of Mr Charming’s abuses, I was beyond scared of the huge life changing choices I had made, but Billy, good old undependable Billy was there like a slightly lopsided rock. And no one was hitting me, or torturing me, or starving me, or abusing me. It was the most uneasy bliss I had ever felt.

The morning came and we unplugged the RV from the post, filled up water bottles and the jugs from the camp faucets, and stowed everything away for the next drive. This would be a little longer. A hundred and sixteen miles inland. Neither me or Billy was used to such adventure, we were not used to trying to head in a particular direction, we did not even really know where we were going. There was a vague agreement that we would head north. The next part of the journey we spent zig zagging California aimlessly travelling around. I wanted to visit Yosemite if we were doing fun aimless things. I never got to see Yosemite. Billy and his lack of sense of direction and general aimlessness got in the way.

However much I was in love with the old Billy of New York before all this happened, my punk rocker, my crazy-hoss, however much I appreciated his help and loved him at the start of the journey, Billy was no where near to perfect, or even adequate. Billy is not the kind of person you expect much from. That is not to say I didn’t care for him, want to be close to him, wanted him desperately to stay sober. It is not to say that I didn’t see a future with him, to add to the past. It is just that he is who he is, he himself will admit freely to be useless, shy of responsibility and commitment, a lazy good for nothing. This is not quite the case. Not nearly. He is unique, a humanly flawed example of vox humana. The human voice, human frailty, human flaws. Billy is the exact opposite of Mr C. for all his faults, Billy is warm, loving, caring and responsive. His faults make him intolerable, but not bad. Not bad at all. I just cant be near him any longer. Kids today have wierd fancy words that make no sense, to describe falling in love with the person. I prefer plain old sensible bisexual. These days I find the idea of any romantic physical attachment to a man increasingly appalling. My luck is running out. Rather than a man eventually destroying me, creatively, emotionally, physically, rather than a man stamping on my dreams and wanting to take my work for his own (lets start a band, Paltry, lets use your songs), rather than a man be self centered and indulgent, Ild rather wander through this world alone, searching for my very own Patti. My rebel with a cause and a birds nest in her hair. My twin.

We hit the road and headed inland for Lake Isabella. Our maps were totally inadequate, and with no money for good maps, we got closer, but ended up totally lost. My sense of smallness had not abated. It was all a far cry from the concrete and bamboo, the gentle hills and volcanos of Japan. It was dust, and dry heat, skies bleached with the California sun, it was endless car lots with their long thin balloon men bopping and dancing in the breeze, it was Petcos and small expensive grocery stores. It was scrub and brush, a hard vast mean landscape of immense proportions. We pulled into one of the parking lots, and asked for directions. An elderly couple said they were headed in that direction, and to follow them, they knew a great campground, that had showers. We followed them down small county roads, that turned from blacktop to gravel. We shook and jolted down the road, our camper vibrating alarmingly. I was very concerned that we would pop a tire. Billy drove slowly and carefully, we turned into the campground where the elderly couple waved goodbye to us with a smile, and wished us happy camping.

The camp was green and had large pull thru spaces with electric and individual water faucets, a large modern shower and bathroom block, and plenty of choice of spots. We were absolutely new to this, drove round looking for who or how to pay, some kind of idea of price, and tried to choose a spot away from other people. I smile remembering this. This quickly became our standard procedure. Stay as far away from people as possible.

I was always allowed to choose the space we camped in. Considering I had not got to choose anything at all for decades this was a luxury, to choose the view, the space, where I slept. Where the kids played.

Each campground has something special. This one had hummingbirds, vast flocks of hummingbirds. Billy went outside to plug in the electric cable that runs from the RV to the post in the campsite, to haul out the water hoses and fix them to the faucet, giving us the luxury of cold running water, and to stare at the landscape until he felt safe enough to accept that no Viet Kong would come crawling out of the bushes to attack base camp.

He motioned to me quietly, whispering, “Paltry, lookey here!” The large bush outside was alive with the perpetual motion and iridescence of tiny wings. Hummingbirds. They darted about hovering above the blossoms, collecting nectar. “There’s another one!” I whispered in a soft shouted whisper. “Kids, look!” We counted one, two, three, four of the busy little workers, yellow and green and blue and shining. It was the best nature show we had ever seen. After standing there a while, the arms of my family around me, I felt something I could barely recognize. Something wonderous. Something beautiful. Something rare and precious. I felt happy. I was encased, enveloped by everyone I loved and cared about, Mr Charming had no idea where we were, I felt protected by Billy, and at ease in his familiar company. My bruises were healing. The trees and bushes and hummingbirds and lake were packed in so tightly it gave the impression of being cocooned in a verdant playground. I felt safe.

The hosts of this particular park were very kind, very welcoming and very friendly. Chatting to the woman with her 32 foot class A in brown and tans with a kangaroo painted on the front, she offered to drive me in her jeep to buy food. I trotted back to Billy, told him where I was going, and went off with Diane. We meandered into town, back down the gravel county roads, and into a large grocery store. I grabbed cereal, bread, pasta, cheese, tomatoes, onions. Armfuls of food. Cut adrift from Billy and the children, temporarily, chatting benignly about the weather, the campground, RV’s and children, I lost all sense of safety and security. The road seemed too long, the children too far away. I started panicking that they would not be there when I returned, that Billy and the Beastie, and the camper would be gone. That the entire camp would have disappeared. That I would never find my way back to them again. It was all absolutely unreasonable, not based in reality or possibility, yet felt so very real. I was trying not to panic as we pulled up the gravel path, into the gates of the campground, and over to our space. Billy and the children were waiting outside quietly. They ran up to me and hugged me. “Mom, I thought you were never coming back,’ Rosie cried, shaking and grasping handfuls of my jacket and hair, trying to climb up onto me. My little son, held shyly around my legs. I hadn’t thought. I had just thought that unhooking, and driving back into town and finding our way back here would be impossible, and there really was not much food. Now we could stop a while and breathe. I didn’t consider that none of us were ready to be apart for even seconds. The children calmed quickly. Rosie came up with her tale of woe. “Unkle Billy thought that maybe it was not safe for you to go with her, and then he thought that we should follow you, and then we started crying and Unkle Billy said he was just being bad and then Jamie started crying and then Unkle Billy started crying and then I started feeling baaaaaaaaaaad.” She stopped, triumphant. “So it was not really just me this time. We all missed you.” Billy looked sheepish. “Panicked. Thought out loud. Bad Unkle-ing. Sorry.” So much sorry. So much worry for others. My life usually consisted of me being to blame for everything from Japan being nuked in world war two, to my husband hitting me because I fed him pasta and sauce and Italians are passionate (which is a story for another day). I started to make my own apologies. “Come on, let’s have a nice day,” I reasoned. We are all paid up. It is pretty here, we have a nice tree over the camper, and there are hummingbirds. Who wants a nice day? Eh? Come on. A nice day.”

And so we did.

That night we all walked to the bathroom for the evening bathroom trip. It was dark, and the trees whispered friendly secrets into our ears. Billy found flashlights, and one camping lantern with a metal handle. We all held hands, a line of four of us. Four of us moved forward as one unit, stumbling over the field, avoiding rabbit holes, and gopher holes, arms linked. Singing. “Bye bye Miss American Pie, drove my Beastie to the levy but the levy was dry..” This scene in the dark of a California night, with that perfect line of everyone I loved, singing about the book of love and chevvys and levys and jumping jack flash, this scene hangs in my head. A more beautiful picture I have never seen. Ive been to Paris, Ive been to Spain, Ive seen Van Gogh’s painting of the rain in St Remy de Provence, but nothing compares to Lake Isabella in May.

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