From Golden, Colorado, by way of the great Nebraska I-80/I-70 wasteland comes Aaron Long. Aaron only meant to stay for two nights on Nov. 20, but I enjoyed his company so much that I invited him to stay for Thanksgiving since his destination was only “east.” I don’t ask many people to stay past their original departure date, but Aaron was someone who just needed another person who wouldn’t pass judgement or jump to conclusions. While I am not much for holidays myself (if you ever see me in public, you can ask me about how all holidays are sustained for the simple task of stimulating the economy), Aaron was a guy who needed to be with another human being on Thanksgiving and not in a gas station parking lot or someplace similar.
Most people who travel around the holidays are usually on their way to see their families, but you are doing the exact opposite?
No, I am not going to see anyone really. I left two days ago from Golden, Colorado, which is where my ex-wife and kids are. Not all my kids are with her, just two of them — my oldest and my youngest. But I didn’t actually come from the house or from seeing them for that matter. I’ve been in prison for about a year and six months in Canyon City. It was minimal security. I had a job working on a dairy farm, and I got assigned an iPad so I could listen to music, check the news, etc. Makes it so you don’t feel locked away.
I guess this is where I should ask, “Why were you in prison, Aaron?” (I honestly felt shameful when I asked.)
Domestic violence. My wife and I had a fight. It got physical and the kids saw. I was arrested, pleaded guilty and went into a halfway house program while I was on probation. Obviously we filed for divorce. The halfway house I was placed in was in Longmont, which is about 40 miles away from Golden. She requested that I be placed far away. While I was at the halfway house, I got connected with a “fatherhood” program, which helps guys like me who lose custody of their kids. I heard a rumor that my ex was letting my 14-year-old son smoke pot with her and her friends like they were buddies. I wasn’t cool with that. I smoke pot and drink, but I would never allow my underage kids to do that. So I reported it to the police. My ex-wife turned it around and said I was harassing and stalking, so the judge put me in prison.
What happened when you got out?
I couldn’t go home. I had a car stashed with a friend. I was able to get all my belongings back from the halfway house including my iPhone, clothes and some money. The hardest part of getting out was not being able to see my son. He wasn’t hers. I came to Colorado from Fresno, California. I moved out to Colorado with my girlfriend of four years. We were in our early twenties, and we just wanted to get out of the fallout that was Fresno. We got pregnant about a year into being in Colorado. After he was born, she got messed up with meth, and I got custody of him.
I raised him and got him to where he was before all this happened. But when we were dealing with custody issues between lawyers, we agreed that he should stay with her because it would be a stable environment and he could stay in his regular school. This was before I found out about the whole smoking pot with his stepmom deal.
However when I got out it was very clear that I couldn’t go home. There was a restraining order preventing me from seeing him, my girls, or going to the house that I legally co-owned. The only conclusion I could find at the time was that I needed to help myself first before I could come back for them. My current state was not safe for anyone, let alone myself. So I got my car, my belongings and what little money I had and headed east. Just needed to find myself a new place to get established — work, home, something stable.
Do you have a destination?
Not yet. I’ll know it when I see it. I drove through Nebraska for what felt like hours. I only stopped for gas. Didn’t even try to look for anything there. Omaha seemed promising, but I was just trying to get out of there after all that nothing. I mean Iowa was pretty empty before I got to Des Moines, but it wasn’t like Nebraska. Des Moines has been cool. I went down to Valley Junction because I needed to find a post office, and I found an insanely good little Mexican grocery store (La Michoacana) and had some lunch. From here, I think I am going to head to Milwaukee. I like the idea of being near Lake Michigan. Either way, I just want a place that I can find stability. The only way I can help my son and my girls is by getting my own world put back together. ♦
Kristian Day is a filmmaker, musician and writer based in Des Moines. He has couch-surfed across the west coast as well as through the Midwest. He also offers his home up to unknown travelers passing through Des Moines… for free. Follow him on Twitter at @kristianmday.