~ CHAPTER SIX ~
The morning was glorious. The sun shone and the grass smelled sweet and earthy as it warmed. The car’s odometer informed me I was 420 miles away from Harry. What a wonderful feeling. I was eager to add more miles to that figure as quickly as possible and wasted no time in packing up. I didn’t even bother to make a cup of tea over the fire, I was ready to push on and see what lay ahead.
The cornstalks were a pale gold in the sunlight and I savored their scent. I knew that soon these fields of corn would be behind me for good. The rainstorm had passed this way and the hues of green in the trees and grass were deep green or brown, the colors enhanced by the saturation of rain. I headed along highway 24W and arrived at Fort Madison, Iowa, just as the café opened for breakfast. I bought the cheapest item on the menu, a breakfast bagel, and then set off to see what Missouri had to offer. Driving 61S, which followed the Mississippi River, rewarded me with an occasional glimpse of water. I’d read somewhere that ghosts have a hard time crossing water, and now that I was on the other side of this large river I felt there was some hope of leaving my ghosts behind. The cornfields were behind me and I was beginning to enjoy this little adventure.
I was headed south through gently rolling hills the landscape offered more trees and fewer cornfields, and my soul lifted with the joy of freedom. I studied the trees, with their brown leaves and thought how beautiful everything was. The gentle roll of the landscape offered new views over every hill, and the river danced along with my sparkling soul. I was free, this was my time, and I decided to avoid the cities and interstates as much as possible on this journey, and travel the smaller, back roads instead. Near Hannibal, I took 19S and noticed on the map there was a state park near I70. I had no experience with long distance driving, and being in no hurry, decided that Graham Cave S. P. seemed like a good place to stop for the night.
I expected the campground to be busy, it being a Saturday and close by an interstate, but only two spots were occupied. None of the residents were home, so I studied the trailers carefully. One was run-down and had all kinds of junk scattered around it. I didn’t feel comfortable camping near them, nor did I feel comfortable camping further along the row where the junky trailer would be my only neighbor, despite the distance. The other trailer was much newer looking with a tidy camp. I chose a spot halfway between the two and set up my tent, then inspected all of the fire pits and the woods nearby for wood and added it to the small bundle I’d bought earlier that day. I’d remembered to buy a steak and a beer for supper from a store nearby, so now I had time to take a walk and look at the cave that was inhabited as much as 10,000 years ago.
The cave was interesting, though a little disappointing, as there was a fence up to stop people from entering. I understood the need the protect the artifacts, but I wanted to crawl in there and feel what it was like to sit in that cool space and imagine how it felt for the people who lived here all those years ago. Coming from England, I knew very little about the native tribes of America, and I wanted to learn more. For now, though, I had to settle with peering into the darkness and imagining it.
I continued my walk around the State Park returning to camp at dusk to start the fire and cook my steak. It was still a challenge to get the fire going, as all the wood I found and bought was damp from the humidity and recent rains. So far, I’d been very lucky with the weather. After the rainstorm in Indiana, the sun had shone continuously, making the driving far more enjoyable, and helping to lift my spirits.
I had the steak almost eaten and darkness was total when I heard a twig snap and something rustling in the bushes behind me. I tried to focus into the darkness after looking at the brightness of the fire, and saw a pair of eyes peering back at me from the black woods, the reflection of the fire dancing in its eyes. A tingle ran down my spine and I jumped away from the thing in alarm, putting the fire between the unwelcome visitor and myself. What is it? Do they have lions here? Why is it watching me? Maybe it’s a bear, but it’s too short to be a bear, I think bears are bigger than that. The truth was, I’d never seen a bear in the wild and had no idea how big they were, and there were no signs here warning of bears in the area. Then the eyes moved as the creature took two steps in my direction. That did it! I ran to my car and leaped inside, nothing was going to get me. I was alarmed to find my heart was racing and I was truly scared, I’d thought I was doing so well camping alone, now here I was hiding in my car and quivering with fear.
The animal appeared to have been just as startled by my erratic behavior as I’d been by its visit, for when I looked again no eyes watched me from the shadows, there was only darkness. Then the lights of a vehicle streaked across the campground, hitting the bushes, and dimming as the driver realized he had a neighbor camping nearby. The truck pulled alongside the nice looking trailer and two men jumped out of the truck, both were dressed in hunting garb. I could make them out in the faint light emanating from the inside of the truck cab.
Uh Oh! two men, no women. My fear of the wild creature switched focus to the men, as I realized how vulnerable I was. It would not take these men long to realize that I was a woman camping alone, and there was no one else in the area to hear my calls for help should the worst happen.
From the safety of my car, I considered my situation. I could stay in my car all night, but in doing so would get no sleep, as the back seat wasn’t big enough to stretch out comfortably in. Plus my blankets were in the tent, my steak was still perched on the edge of the fire ring, and I was still hungry. It seemed my only option was to face my fears head-on, the creature in the woods and the men in the camp. I would just have to be alert and careful.
The second I closed my car door the men looked up and one of them headed my way. I stood with my hand on the door latch, ready to jump back inside the car.
“Hello neighbor,” called the man. “Just want to say hi.” He stopped a respectable distance from my camp and glanced around. “Hey, are you alone?”
“Err, hmmmm, well, err yes, I am, I’m afraid. I sure hope you’re not a couple of wild rapists or something. If you are, please tell me now so I can get out of here.” I smiled and gave a nervous laugh.
“Ah, ha! I see you’re dilemma. Well, you don’t have to worry about us, were both happily married, we come here a couple of times a year to do some hunting and fishing. My names Jeff by the way and my friend over there is Brian.” Jeff glanced around my camp and his eyes rested on my plate with the scrap of steak on it. It was obvious all I had to eat was steak, the plate held no traces of any other food. “We’re cooking up a huge feast of food, would you like to come and join us? We have way too much food left over and we leave tomorrow.”
“Well, I don’t know if I should.”
“Tell you what, we’ll cook the food and then see what you say once you smell it.” He smiled at me. “I didn’t catch your name.”
“Roxy, and thanks for the invitation, I’ll think about it.”
“Okay, see you soon.” He waved as he returned to his camp, where his friend had started up a propane grill and a fire and was mixing something in a bowl.
I huddled by my small fire, ate the scrap of steak, and watched them busily cooking up several different dishes and piling wood on a huge welcoming fire that cast light high and wide. They also had a propane lamp burning, and it all looked very welcoming and friendly. After a while, my nostrils were tempted with several delicious aromas, and my stomach grumbled. The small, cheap steak I’d cooked had kept me alive, but I certainly wasn’t full.
“Hoi, over there, Roxy. Suppers up, come and get it!” My ears caught the invitation, and hesitantly I headed over to the camp next door.
This was certainly better fare than cold baked beans and cheap steak, before me lay an array of food: Pasta covered with some kind of white sauce, mixed green salad, gorgonzola cheese, parmesan cheese, garlic bread and red wine. It was like walking into a restaurant. They even had cloth napkins, real plates, and cutlery.
“Welcome, sit down and relax. Would you like some wine?”
The men’s warm smiles and friendly countenance triggered no warning signs, so I relaxed and enjoyed their company. They told me wild tales of big fish that got away and explained that the creature in the woods was the local camp dog. His name was Hobo and he probably wanted some of my steak. If I had been friendlier, Hobo may have crawled in my tent and kept me company all night. I felt rather silly after that, and we laughed about it.
I told them that I’d left my husband and was traveling around looking for a new home. Brian told me that his wife had a friend that was in an abusive relationship, and we all sat shaking our heads. This woman had been in the relationship for twenty years and showed no signs of leaving him. It was around 11:00 PM when I crawled into my tent, my stomach ached pleasantly, and the red wine had made me forget that there was anything outside the tent to fear.
* * *
In the morning the smell of sausage cooking drifted from Jeff and Brian’s camp, and I wasn’t surprised to hear them shout, “Hey over there, Roxy, breakfast is served, come and get it.”
A feast of eggs, toast, jelly, hot salsa and sausage was a good way to start the day. They made camp coffee that would put hairs on a baby’s back, and I had to add a ton of sugar and milk to drink it.
“Where you headed today?” asked Brian.
“Wherever the road takes me.” I smiled.
“Well, here’s some food for you to take with.” Jeff had made a care package for me with leftover food: loaves of bread, meat, cheese, cookies, chips and more.
“Oh, I can’t take all this.”
“Actually, you’ll be doing us a favor, our wives will have us on a diet when we get back, and we don’t want to haul all this stuff home with us, we only got it for this trip.” I took the food gratefully, wondering how people can have so much money that they would buy whole jars of jelly and peanut butter just for one short camping trip.
When I’d woken that morning I’d noticed that my tent was covered in stick insects, and before I could pack up the tent I had to pick each one off. I didn’t notice any on the ground, but I cringed at the thought that I might be treading on them, they were impossible to see and they were everywhere.
I’d enjoyed the company of the two hunters, and as I shouted goodbye to them I felt a sinking feeling inside. I suddenly realized how alone I was in the world, and a wave of sadness washed over me. Not wanting to start on that emotional downward spiral, I pushed all thoughts of how alone I was out of my mind and forced myself to think about all the new places to explore, new people to meet and the unknown possibilities for my future. What would happen I had no idea, but I sure wasn’t going to dwell on how alone I was in the world. This was the beginning of a new life, and by heck, I was going to enjoy it!
I was beginning to get into a pattern now. I’d pack up camp, then lay the road atlas out on the hood of my car and search for the next state park on the map. Then I’d figure out how to get there by back roads and set off, the compass my dad had bought me the year before guiding me across this huge country. On this day, I’d chosen Johnson’s Shut-Ins State Park located in the St. Francois Mountains as my first destination, which wasn’t very far away. I planned to do some hiking then move on, but the drive was so beautiful and the park looked to be the same. I was also feeling a little tired from the late night and the wine, so decided to camp there.
I set up my camp early that afternoon, and there were quite a few other campers still around. However, shortly after I arrived the other campers packed up and left me with the entire park to myself, and it was wonderful. This was the first time I’d been completely alone for years. I expected to feel afraid, but instead, I felt invigorated like the world was mine and mine alone. I could do anything here and no one would know. There was no one to boss me around or criticize me. I could eat when I felt like it, walk barefoot in the grass, take a nap if I wanted to without having to concern myself about anyone else’s needs, and especially not my husbands demands. The feeling of freedom made me feel light, and I decided to go for a short walk.
The sky was blue and held not a single cloud, once again the temperature hovered around 80 degrees. I couldn’t ask for a more perfect day or a more beautiful place to be. Alone at the edge of the river I thought about the passage of time. These rhyolitic rocks were formed by volcanic eruptions, mayor uplifts of the land, inland seas forming and retreating and erosion. Hadn’t my marriage, been through something similar? It too had been a series of eruptions, and now I’d uplifted my belongings and my soul and retreated from all that confusion and violence. Perhaps, given time, I too could be happy enough to bring smiles to people, the way this bubbling river and these beautifully carved, intricate rocks did to me. It was something to strive for, and I made a conscious decision to try to spread happiness wherever I went.
I had peanut butter and jelly for supper that night, compliments of Jeff and Brian, while I huddled by my small fire and gazed with wonder at the Milky Way. It brought to mind other camping trips where I’d attempted to use the stars to draw Harry’s attention away from me. Harry didn’t always do the heavy drugs and on the trips where he stuck to beer and pot, they could be enjoyable, but I always preferred it if I could avoid the sexual aspect of my wifely duties. I allowed myself a few moments to remember some of the good times. By the time I’d burned up my ration of wood, I felt very sleepy and the night passed in dreamless bliss.
(Link will not work until the chapter has been published)
ARE YOU ENJOYING THIS TRUE STORY? HERE ARE SOME WAYS YOU CAN SHOW YOUR SUPPORT OR SAY THANK YOU:
THANKS SO MUCH FOR YOUR SUPPORT