Our relationship was essentially reserved. Just a few days after a casual encounter in Sequoia National Park, we began a long-distance relationship. Considered to be the first “dating” canoe on Lake Sequoia.
I spent many of my twenties fearing commitment, but somehow he was the first person I felt I could express those feelings and work through them. He was very charismatic and actively radiated. He made me laugh. And he followed me, which is unusual for me. At that time we used to use FaceTime to call each other every day. He lived in the Midwest. But he said he has wanted to move to Los Angeles for years.
And three months after our new relationship, he did. Somehow. He stayed with me for a month. However, he struggled to find a job quickly, and his credit card debt piled up. He returned to the Midwest, where he was able to recover financially and be with his family. I continued the long distance relationship. But I felt guilty because I had pressured her to be here before I was ready. I believed that this person—the first person I seriously wanted to date in adult life—might My Male. But the honeymoon phase is over.
Then an epidemic happened.
Our push-and-pull long-distance relationship lasted for another five months before he decided he was ready to try Los Angeles again. This time he was doing his work in the warehouse. He also had a plan: He was with me for a few months and then he would find his place. I already had two roommates, all working from home, but I thought I could manage. After all, it was only temporary.
But he held on. His plans to find his place and hang out with friends have failed time and again. Six months later, he left for the Midwest. Too. He claimed that the restructuring would take only a few weeks. But we were both familiar. A month later, I broke up on FaceTime. I cried in the fully prepared empty tub. I’ve been hurt before, but I never liked it. It was my first Serious relationship, and hence my first serious catastrophe.
There was more uproar. I had to move because the landlord had put the house I had rented for sale in Highland Park. For weeks I could hardly eat. Google searches like “how to find your life’s purpose after a sad farewell” have opened up across multiple devices. I received an email containing a self-help book that I barely remember ordering.
During my six years of living in California, I crossed the desert almost every year and traveled to Death Valley to camp and take pictures. For obvious reasons, I didn’t get there in 2020. I was forced to leave the house during a pandemic, and after experiencing the collapse, I felt like running away.
And road trips often feel the same way: run away. Nothing Now and essential necessities to survive. Where to sleep, what to eat, how many miles from the next gas station. Mobile phone services are difficult to access in Death Valley. It takes about 2 hours to drive from one end of the park to the other. Road trips are the ultimate toe to immerse yourself in a pool of things that are off the grid.
Dust settled from the moving truck, and I was devastated without participation and thought it was time to go home.
What better place than Death Valley to escape a broken heart?
As a freelance photographer, I shoot almost exclusively digitally. The film still seems like an exploratory process to me. So, as a challenge for myself, I decided to use my father’s old Minolta to shoot Desert Trip entirely on film. A day after the trip, I noticed that I had packed only a few cans of film. Never mind, I thought. There’s always a Wal-Mart at the Nevada border an hour away.
Three days later, the camera broke. Fully. I thought it was just dead, but after running for about an hour at Wal-Mart looking for the battery, it gave up. To make matters worse, I missed the final sunset of the trip due to the act of a fool.
I had a digital camera as a backup, didn’t lack shooting ability, but this artwork was lost since I was a kid and because of my relationship with my father.
It felt like there had been another uplift on a road that was already covered with potholes that I had been facing for months.
The emotions I had held back throughout the journey have come back with all my might. Everything caught on the surface. I tried to move away from “what to do” and “desires”. But they were there. I should have understood more about how difficult my original move was. I have always known my passion, photography, but forget that not everyone has such a clear path. I wish I hadn’t been too aggressive about expecting him to figure out his career so quickly and send him a list of jobs after list of jobs. Looking back, I think he felt lost here. I think he wanted to help him do a better job of sharing and communicating his fears and wounds with me. I guess I didn’t notice till the end. We loved each other, but they were incompatible.
Being alone in the desert was not the healer I had hoped for.
I felt as though I was unable to break out of the cycle of suffering. And that’s exactly what the division is about: a long mourning for a life we no longer share.
A few days after the trip, I was lucky enough to call my parents at the CVS parking lot in Pahrump, Nevada, just outside of Death Valley. And I cried. I told him about the camera. I told them how lonely the desert is—not the kind of loneliness I’m used to, the kind I crave at times, but the kind that crushes. I told him I forgot the film, went for an hour to replace a battery that didn’t need replacing, and tried to repair a camera that didn’t work no matter how many repairs I did. Wanted to have.
Not everything can be saved, and it may only take three days in the desert to remind you of that fact. My dad didn’t care about his broken camera. At least I don’t think so. My parents reassured me that everything was fine.
A few days after I got home, I was able to replace the Minolta online for less than the cost of the repair.
There’s always a different camera and there’s always more footage.
The author is a freelance photographer and writer. Her website is linneabullion.com and can be found on Instagram @linneabullion.
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