There are things about my current life that make me feel like a human being: a box of facial tissues on my bedside table to blow my nose on…a ceramic cup for my tea…my little garden…shelves with books… a bed with clean sheets and an inside private bathroom. I used to blow my nose on brown paper towel I stole from Walmart bathrooms, drink out of a travel mug because I was always on the move and never in one place, moving from campground to campground in the van. I had entire forests around me, but no garden of my own. How can anyone have a garden when they do not stay still to put down any roots? I was transient. Nomadic. I moved from this place to that, up and down the coast. I slept in a sleeping bag which had not started out as new or mine. I used vault toilets in primitive campgrounds and drove miles to campground showers to bathe in hot water, or else used cold water to wash my hair in the camping space. It was frowned on to use soap on the forest dirt, but I never felt human with filthy greasy hair. Feeling human was a full-time preoccupation of mine.
Most of the time I didn’t even have access to electricity and would have to stand in bathrooms using sockets to charge my phone. The only music I had came from my acoustic guitar, and the only heat from a campfire. I suppose from a certain viewpoint it might seem charming, even pleasant. A life on the road with nothing to stop me except the sun going down and the price of gas has a certain mellowness from this side of the window. From the outside looking in, it is not quite so peaceful a scene. It is not so much pastoral simplicity as it is utter deprivation and soul destroying poverty. A clean white tissue from a cardboard box doesn’t sound like much, but it is the difference between feeling comfortable and hygienic and smelling the faint scent of other people’s toilet trips on harsh brown paper nabbed out of a public toilet area.
I am sitting here with a cup of herbal tea, drinking it out of a studio Ghibli mug. Totoro stares out from underneath his umbrella at me with a benign smile on his face. There is no point in umbrella in campgrounds – everything gets wet, and it is a matter of withstanding the rain and the cold, and living with it, rather than shielding yourself from it. After all, there is no place to get ‘inside’ to, so what is the point. I just stayed as dry as possible and turned onto my side in the ancient sleeping bag and turned my head towards the wall of the tent or the truck and let myself drift off to sleep. It is amazing how well someone can sleep when they are tired, and there is no other choice. You find something to focus on apart from the fact you are living outside, try and find a bit of blanket or sleeping bag to cover your face with, and get as comfortable and hidden as possible. It is primal. Outside wild animals pad around sniffing at your sleeping quarters. Inside is so close to outside – just a thin piece of fabric and a tarp, or the tinny wall of a van, that the two merge and blend.
I used to take the walk from my camping spot to the bathroom in a particular campground on the coast. The trail was lined with trees which filtered the light, and caused rain to drop in abstract patterns on the ground. The beauty of the scene made me feel rich in the moments I spent in it. I would look back at the campsite growing small in the distance, and the children playing outside and try and fix that particular moment in my mind, so I could travel back to it one day when I needed to feel the love and warmth and togetherness of that fragment of time. If I close my eyes now, I can almost fool myself I am back there, with all the people I loved, that made my heart shine and my soul glow. Almost. The reality of the days there sets back in fast. I remember the cold concrete of the campground shower, the cold water, the vulnerability of being naked in a public bathroom with only a little lock between me and the outside dangerous world. I remember the huge spiders and the dirt and the filth, and trying to get warm again once I had soaped and rinsed the dirt from my body. I would plug in my little hairdryer in the communal changing area and dry my hair, blasting heat down my neck, shivering with the intensity of the cold. In summer I would boil and the campground trash bins would overflow with shitty diapers, and the communal areas get dirtier and nastier. People who are tourists, who were just visiting could be absolutely disgusting. They would leave turds in the showers themselves, and old food containers everywhere. It attracted flies and smelt like hell. I preferred the solitary cold wet winters to the dry warm busy filthy summers.
Here I am now, having had a hot shower, and dried off in my warm room, wearing clean clothes and sipping tea. The apartment is spotless. The outside world screams and yells outside in crisis, but I am mainly safe indoors. I can separate myself from the outside world, and remain pristine and unmolested. Except for when the outside world intrudes on my years of peace.
The phone rang last night. It was my ‘husband’. He was laying down the law like only a man can. Laughable really considering I haven’t seen the bastard for over eight years. He was blaming and demanding and yelling and accusing. I am satan incarnate apparently. I am unfair. I am a whore, a bitch and a bad mother. I am to blame for everything bad and wrong and sad in the world. I told him to get lost and turned the burner phone off. That was quite enough of that. I feel like a human punching bag and I have had enough of it. I am not perfect and nor do I pretend to be so, but I don’t harass other people, I keep myself to myself, and I am mostly compassionate and kind. I rarely get that back in return.
I would rather anything than live with that abuse. Anything. Even living outside in the campgrounds, wiping my nose on walmart bathroom brown paper, drinking out of an ancient travel mug, and showering with the spiders. Anything. I feel battered and depleted. I feel sad and shaken. I will always feel this way, and to be frank, it is not fair. I do my best to keep the peace, to not rock boats or make demands for my freedom, but it is not enough. It is never enough.