New Mexico Runaway (2001)
I think if I were to say that Caroline was my shittiest ex-girlfriend she would be enamored with the title. She really wasn’t my worst ex-girlfriend, but she’s in the top three. She was four years older than me, crashing in my dorm room, ruining my relationship with my best friend and cheating on me with local crust punk boys. We broke up, got back together, broke up and got back together again. Somehow I decided to move out of the dorm with her and we got an apartment together. I was still in love with her and she was really all I had. My parents were not okay with me being a homo. A household where I wasn’t allowed to bring a girlfriend home to or look gay in…it was a dysfunctional time. Caroline wasn’t living anywhere either. She bounced around and made it somehow from day to day.
I was 20, she was 24. Moving out of the dorm into my own place with my fucked up girlfriend led to several disasters. In the end we had survived a house fire, being held up by gun point and my puppy dying together. We had some shit.
This brings me to my story. Behind the deejay booth again, I was playing riot grrrl at the lesbian bar in Baltimore. Caroline was working the bar. Staring down at my shady live-in girlfriend as she tends bar, flirts and drinks. I can’t help but notice she is getting real close to this ugly girl with bad style. I see them touching hands across the bar and then Caroline leans in for a kiss. I’m seriously here still, hello! She totally kissed this girl in front of me and continued to slut it up with her. I’m playing the music for them to frolic to and I can’t take it anymore. I put on a long song so I can go down and chat them up. They are drunkenly falling all over the place, acting like nothing is wrong. Caroline is off work now, so of course she is going to leave with this girl. Where are they going?
To a strip club of course.
The gunpoint, the fire, the move out, move in and she’s doing it again. This time, my co-worker isn’t telling me about it. This time, I don’t need to second guess anyone else’s story. I’m not going on instincts of behavior and fishy feelings. It’s happening right in front of me.
Fuming, I find an equally enraged friend to freak out on/with. Her name’s Jamie and she’s playing pool, angrily. Cursing with a red face, she’s listening but not really. She knows Caroline is a bitch. She has bigger problems. I don’t really know what they are, but she threw the pool stick hard against the floor and stormed out. I chased her because I knew she was drunk and about to drive. She hopped into her VW van and I hopped on top of it. “Fuck you! Fuck you! Get down!” she screamed at me. I sat criss-cross on top of her van, smiling. “You’re not driving, you’re angry and drunk”. She laughed at me like it was crazy for me to be standing up to such a wildly disturbed person like her. She got up on the roof of the van with me and we yelled at the sky. “Why does life suck so bad! FUCK EVERYTHING! I wanna get outta here”, we pined. “Far away, let’s go far away”, she said. I told her I had a friend in New Mexico. She was my internet girlfriend from when I was 16.
Janed1369 and I met in a gay chat room. It stood for Jane Doe but I always read it as Jan-ed. Anyway, she IM’d me two words and I was in love. “Sleater-Kinney” Well, one word hyphenated I guess. That’s all she had to say. SK was listed in my AOL profile under music I liked. I knew Janed1369 wasn’t a creepy old man by the way she talked about bands. A parent might look at those last numbers and see red flags but teenagers just think it’s funny. We kept in touch as pen pals for years. Her name is Val and she’s really cool. Val visited me once and told her parents she was going camping before hopping a plane to Maryland. We were in high school and it was epic! My gay aunt was the only one we told and she let us hide out in her apartment for a month. Anyway, Val said I could come visit anytime. Jamie was already in New Mexico in her mind by the time I finished explaining this story.
We got it together and went inside. Jamie cooled down at the bar with a glass of water and I closed up shop behind the deejay booth. We were going to do it. Without saying goodbye to any of my friends, I charged out the door, hopped up into Jamie’s 1970’s VW van and we headed to her house for supplies. She lived in a Food Not Bombs house so there was plenty of frozen soup and loafs of bread for everyone. A pit stop at my place, home of the evil ex-girlfriend, to get whatever money I had in my lucky cat bank and we were off!
After driving for about an hour and a half through windy mountainous West Virginia, we found out we were back in Maryland. DUUUudde! Not cool. This wasn’t stopping us. We just had to look at the map and reroute. Yes, actually look at a map (made of paper) because this was before mapquest on phones! Can you even remember? I got really good at folding up maps on that trip. We were not going to get to West Virginia and back out. No way.
Kansas was the state I started feeling that way. Fucking Kansas. Dude, this is scary now. We really drove far and now I feel like Dorothy in an unfamiliar world where there is only one computer from the 80’s in the library and everyone’s looking at me funny. I was totally down to just turn back around and go home to deal with our crappy lives. Jamie, on the other hand, was a no go. She was all, “WHAT?! NO!!! We are DOING this!”
So on to the next one. All we had was scavenged bread, soup and $150. How did we get to the next one? Naturally, we stole gas all the way to New Mexico. Like real outlaw runaways. The prison they call Baltimore City would never see us again. Gas ‘n’ Go in the VW was not as easy as we’d have wished. We had an extra can of gas with us, so we’d fill that up first. Next was the gas tank. Someone kept a look out while the other one anxiously, with a scared giggling face, filled up the van. Then the gas filler got in the van. With a loud crank of the engine, started her up and PUT…..PUT…PUT….we crawled like turtles onto the on ramp. Pounding the dash board and screaming, “GO! GO! GO!!!” we hoped for the best. Small towns with ancient antique looking gas pumps were easy targets. No one woulda ever guessed us two little girls were running away across the country and stealing thousands from gas stations. We even got pulled over for a bunk tail light down south and the cop didn’t smell the weed or see the empty beer cans in back. We told him we were just driving across the country, he smiled and gave us the directions to a local body shop. Two words: White Privilege.
Sleeping in Walmart parking lots across America is probably one of the most dangerous spots for two queer women. Even just walking around in those Walmarts when they were open was dangerous. We got many looks. We were followed and when we tried to buy a 40 they wouldn’t sell it to us because it was an out of state ID and we look twelve. Sleeping in the parking lot late at night made me scared some country boys might come up and try to have their way with us, or a cop maybe. Either way we didn’t sleep much until we got to Colorado. There was no heat in the van and it smelled so bad of gasoline. We had to sleep somewhere in Colorado because it was too fucking frigid.
The Colorado state rest stop was the place. We got all our blankets, the one candle in the van and headed for the bathroom. There was a lock on the door so we could get some shut eye. It was a one room stall and it was pretty clean. That candle lit toilet rest stop slumber party is actually one of my fondest memories. I’ll hold it close to me forever. It was just so sweet and warm.
“Truckers Atlas” by Modest Mouse was the best song to listen to during that drive. It was that and Janis Joplin. We really didn’t have much music because we left in a hurry. I think there were just a few tapes in the van which got old real quick. Mainly we played our own music. We each brought a guitar and Jamie had a drum and a mouth harp. Mouth harp is so hard to play BTW. She rocked that shit though. She also made this crazy fish carving out of stone during our drive. Colorado was the last leg of the trip before Santa Fe.
Reaching New Mexico was like finding an oasis in the desert. Well, a cold oasis because it was winter. I really don’t know how to describe the feeling of finally getting to the place you ran away to after making law breaking decisions, erratic choices and leaving behind your world. I was scared and unsure of my future but Santa Fe was brown, sandy, adobe, warmer and chill. I think Val was working when we arrived so we went to Backroad Pizza to meet up with them. Val lived in this fucked up adobe. Everyone smoked cigarettes inside which made me sick because I’m one of those sick kids whose respiratory system would never let them be cool and smoke. Basically the living room was a cloud of smoke filled up with a pool table and a couch. I think there were two bedrooms and a backyard. Jamie spent a lot of time in the back yard chopping wood ferociously. It worried me, how much she chopped wood. I’m glad she had an outlet though I still don’t know what exactly her problem was. It’s sad to think about how disconnected I was to her while we were doing this epic thing together.
We separated even more after two weeks. I had to go home. New Mexico was action packed fully equipped with a female fronted punk band from Utah. I can’t remember the band’s name but the lead singer girl really liked me, it was weird. After the show she like ran after us and wanted to talk to me. We exchanged info and became internet friends for a while but she said she was straight. I didn’t really get it because she was definitely flirting with me. Either way, I didn’t worry about her too much because I gave up on the straight girls in high school. I wasn’t going to waste time on a closeted hard core vegan from Mormon country.
Besides that punk show, I went to the infamous Cowgirl, saw a freaky/incredible circus at a warehouse space, played a lot of Four Non Blondes on the guitar and gazed at the stars on the picnic table in the backyard. At two thousand miles away from homophobic parents, oppressive Baltimore and cheating girlfriend, I felt a shift in my perspective. I was getting tougher. When I got back, I would leave her for real, soundproof the wall built to block out homophobia and keep it pushin’ in the 410.
I realized I had made a major error in my rash decision. I had tickets to what would be the first time I’d get to see one of my favorite musicians live in concert. It was Le Tigre’s first tour ever. My tickets were in Baltimore and I was in Santa Fe. The show was in like one day when I realized this. So what is the only sensible thing to do? Find out where they are playing next and go there! My best friend and band mate, Jeannie, was the savior in my life at this time. She came through like nobody ever had before. She understood my crazy runaway even though I didn’t say good bye to her at the bar. But most importantly she felt REALLY BAD that I couldn’t see the Le Tigre show because that was our like, our favorite band. She researched the tour schedule and found out that they were playing in Tallahasee, FLA at this place called The Cow Haus. It was in three days, exactly how much time it would take me to get there on the Greyhound. Jeannie fronted the $186 for my ticket, which I still need to pay her back for. With a click of the phone it was settled. I was leaving the next morning on a Greyhound. I said goodbye to Jamie, the broken down VW and Santa Fe.
To be continued…