The Friction of Learning to Live in a Space the Size of a Walk-in Closet

There aren't rules for this sort of thing.

Zach Bowman Odyssey
Beth Bowman

Zach Bowman has sold everything he owns, slapped a camper to his high-mileage 2003 Dodge Ram and has taken his family on the road. His clan numbers three, counting wife, Beth, and their infant daughter. They are touring America, working and discovering, and are sending The Drive periodic dispatches from the road.

There’s a fire glowing through the gaps in a tall stone ring, throwing light in uneven swells on the sand at our feet. An hour ago, we could see 50 miles to our east, the horizon framed by jagged red rock and a pair of snowy peaks. Now, it’s so dark we can’t see the truck from where we sit 10 feet away. It’s quiet. We’re quiet. We’ve had worse ends to better days.

We’ve been doing better, Beth and I. Figuring out how we work now that we share a space the size of a decent walk-in closet. Etched out a rhythm, a pattern for our days. What tasks fall to who, and when, and how often. It’s a tired but honest truth that nothing happens without communication. We’ve known each other for fourteen years, a time that has gifted us with an infuriatingly accurate ability to read one another.

Beth Bowman

But communication is as much about what you say as what you don’t. The confines of the camper have worn tender and raw the little itches we were once so adept at shrugging off; we can’t help but stumble over them again and again. Maybe it was easier to bite our tongues and shuffle off to another room when we inhabited a saner-sized living space. I can't recall—our house, our life, in Knoxville seems like something from a half-heard story. I couldn’t have guessed how little time it takes to turn reality to flashes of memory.

I started it. Bitching about something insignificant. And because a fight loves nothing more than an excuse, it caught quick enough—it didn’t take long for us to go at each other in earnest, a month’s worth of irritations spilled out on the floors and splashed on the walls. I’m breathing hard and furious. Beth’s eyes are sharp and wet with tears she’s too stubborn to let spill. I throw one last barb and run my hands through my hair. Grip my skull for fear of putting a fist through the camper's thin skin.

Beth Bowman

Kiddo’s at my feet, and though she doesn’t understand our words, she hears my intonation. Feels it, mimics it back to me, burbles rising to a half shout, ill-formed syllables tumbling from between the gaps in her new teeth. And when her chubby fists rise to her own temples, I wilt under the sight of it: the disgusting vision of myself mirrored back to me by my daughter.

There are dishes to do. A camp to break. Another 200 miles between us and that campfire. We stow it. Put ourselves to the work at our feet and do it in a ragged silence.

Beth Bowman

When I step outside to ready the truck for the day’s roaming, the view snags in my chest. We’re in the heart of the Grand Staircase National Monument, one of Utah’s quiet jewels. Great slopes of bare stone rise and tumble around us, the very earth rusting at our feet, red and raw against the green desert floor. It’s beautiful, and I hate it for its beauty. Or, I hate myself for drenching the whole spectacular thing in another pointless argument.

Later, we do as we’ve done for the past 14 years; use a dusty windshield and an empty two-lane to put ourselves back together. Run our palms over our rough spots. Talk through it all as kiddo sleeps in her seat and we work our way towards dusk. There aren’t rules for this. There’s just what works and what doesn’t. We carry the one and leave the other.