Category Archives: West

down in the Texas of my heart

To say I miss Texas would be imprecise. I don’t miss everything about it: the neverending wind, the weird traffic customs, steaming my ass in a chicken suit on a tarmac in the summer…it’s not all worth celebrating. But then I think about the drives I used to make from Del Rio to San Antonio, especially the ones by myself, early in 2004, when my ex was in training and I had to feed the snake myself. (He had graduated from rats to rabbits and was getting cumbersome to handle. The snake. Not my ex.)

I would rouse myself at six in the morning, feed the cats, make sure no tarantulas were peeking out from under the bed. Then I would grab a few CDs and set up some music for the drive in my lemon of a Ford wagon with peeling paint on the hood. I was finally used to driving again after the accident the previous Easter, though driving past the Hondo McDonald’s never got comfortable. I would get in, ease down the road, stop half an hour later at the gas station/laundromat in Brackettville to check my tire pressure. There was nowhere to stop in between. Brackett was the first chance. Sometimes I’d peruse the flavors of Blue Bell in the ice cream case, but mostly I’d head back out and drive without accommodation.

Here was the Border Patrol stop, at Cline, the one that always closed during rainstorms because of the bend in the road. Our Congressman was fixing that with funds appropriated for a new covered station with a dog kennel on site and 24/7 surveillance. It’s probably there now, but I haven’t been back.

There was Uvalde, where my friends and I went antiquing that one time and the interior decorator in the group brought home a framed windowpane to hang from the ceiling, to separate her living room from her kitchen. There was the hairdresser. There was Wal-Mart. And then there was nothing again.

Here was Knippa, with a sign letting you know it was okay to blink. Everyone knew the only cop in town attended church on Sundays, so if you wanted to speed, do it before noon. There was Sabinal, where the speed traps got serious, but you could really start picking up San Antonio radio if you tuned just right. And then there was Hondo. I didn’t like to think about it much after the accident. I always saw myself on the side of the road, in the middle of a standing takedown and apologizing to the firemen on either end of my litter for whatever gas was about to escape from my loosened body.

Castroville was my favorite. Not only did it mark the edge of San Antonio, but it held an Alsatian bakery I loved going to if I could get there early enough. A chocolate milk and a cruller could hold me for most of the day. Most people know San Antonio is heavily Mexican-American, but I’m always shocked at how many fail to recognize the area’s German heritage mixed in. After all, isn’t norteño just polka with a different accent? If you want to know what’s unique about this part of Texas, look to the confluence of those two bits of culture.

By the time the sunrise stopped troubling my eyes, I was in western San Antonio, complete with Sea World and The Best Little Warehouse in Texas, scoping out the Best Buy and Super Target and anywhere else I couldn’t visit in Bordertown, U.S.A. I knew I only had a few hours to kill. I needed to head back before nightfall, before the deer took over the road.

Now I have Best Buy and Target and even IKEA within a ten-minute drive. I have an incredible view of Mount Evans and Longs Peak every day. But I don’t have that long, lonely drive. I don’t have an early-morning cruller, and I don’t have the occasional radio transmission from Victoria or Odessa, borne on a spring fog. I don’t have any sense of isolation, and so I don’t have gratitude. The natural beauty and capitalistic abundance here breeds smugness. I miss missing things.


welcome home

Here’s the thing: when you’re driving somewhere and you don’t know where you’re going, when you’re going somewhere you’ve never been, it’s all beautiful. It’s all possibility. (This includes the possibility of driving off a cliff, my mind chants to me as I swear silently. Minor details.)

You find yourself in situations you’d never contemplated, like shimmying sideways on a two-lane road to escape a thirty-foot dust devil on an August Saturday in west Texas. You find out quickly that, much like the controllers on your Nintendo when you played Mario as a kid, your car doesn’t jump when you do. You also find out that you didn’t die. You didn’t die! And now there’s one more thing you’ve survived, another tale of badassery to add to your arsenal: I survived almost getting eaten by a killer monster dust devil.

You wind your way around canyons that call to mind Wile E. Coyote. Then you realize you’re in roadrunner country for real and it all hits home, you’ve done this thing, you’ve left the mountains you called your heart and descended into a new country full of tumbleweeds and grit in your teeth, and you can’t take it back. It’s for love, you tell yourself. It’s an adventure, you tell yourself. This is true. But when you’re rolling into town at ten at night and it’s still ninety-nine degrees outside, when the hot action on the strip is the makeshift car show outside the local Blockbuster, when you aren’t yet familiar with every other radio blasting accordion, all you can think is, I can’t take it back.

Welcome home.


busybodies.

I’m writing a short story for my fiction seminar, and I’m not happy with the first draft. I sort of skated through a fuzzy part of the narrative to get to the final confrontation, and while it’s not deus ex machina, there’s nothing really inspired there, either. So in an effort to break out of the old trope, I tried an exercise yesterday where I had my characters talk to one another to work out what they should do in this situation.

And it was working. They’d already figured out a few things that wouldn’t really work upon close inspection. But then they started talking about me. And they had a lot to say about me. They debated whether I should have broken myself on the altar of Mammon the way I have over the past year or two. (They definitely think I’m overdramatic.) They concede I probably should have taken the grad school offer I intended to take last year, but now that I’m still here, there’s more wiggle room. I am part of an amazing creative scene in this town, and they can understand my wanting to take advantage of it. But Sawyer in particular thinks I need to get west as soon as I reasonably can.

I still don’t know how I’m going to improve their story. They haven’t told me. So we’ll keep talking.


spin me round again

even in winter, colorado can’t pull a gray face for long. eventually the mood lifts, the sun comes out, and the sky reveals itself to be a brilliant, cloudless, endless blue, just as it always was before. i ached because my soul could not spread out to match the domed expanse.

when the bright snow kisses the reddest sandstone everywhere it can, in secret hollows and in the dazzling brightness of the eastern slopes, bearing witness to their love is too much for my heart to stand. seeing such intense beauty feels like the moment of creation.

—–

i wish i felt as passionate about anything as you do about this, i said to her. what about writing? she said.

i get in my own way. i love writing. it feeds me if i allow myself to feed it. but i am indeed passionate about my lost and found western home.

—–

at the end of the week, after two days of snow and another day of bad driving, i left.

i didn’t want to leave. i’d reconnected with a place i loved, with a person i treasured, with a self i couldn’t reclaim any other place. but i’d delayed as long as i could. we packed up the rental car for the last time. i left the radio off and my hands on the wheel. my head was filled with song. throwing glances over my shoulder at my beloved mountains, i listened to imogen heap’s voice expanding and reverberating between my ears. there is no other voice that can describe the hope and the grief i felt all in that one moment.

—–

the next day was christmas. i was invited to listen to “hide and seek” on new headphones, one of the day’s gifts. i closed my eyes, shut out the noise and wrapping paper, and listened. it’s what i do when my soul needs its space. i don’t do it often enough. i simply listened, nothing else, and only to this.

when i opened my eyes, everyone assumed the tears were from the gorgeous sound. what i didn’t say was that, when i closed my eyes and heard that gorgeous sound, i saw mountains.

 

Imogen Heap, “Hide and Seek”


smoke and ashes

i want to think that i’m flexible, that i’m not tied to any particular place. this is proving not to be true. perhaps i should accept this.

the texas panhandle is glorious. mesocyclones steal over the green swells of the burgeoning high plain. they never announce themselves, just suddenly loom like your big brother when you’re searching underneath his mattress for the august issue. everything’s big in texas.

as i inched toward the border, i snapped a quick shot of the BNSF in my side mirror, all clacking, steaming, black smoking chugging snaking miles of the thing. streamed past silos before the landscape reddened and then turned dusty. when the first cinder cones shouldered over the horizon, i wept.


hard drive

Bill found a buyer for the cabin; it should be sold by now. Dad went out there to visit one last time. He asked me to come, but I had classes. He asked me to come, but I said no. So Dad bore witness by himself.

There is no more cabin in my family. There will be no more nights of sitting out on the porch, blinded by the stars. You are the only one who saw these things with me. You are the only one who knows them, who remembers. Don’t you understand what that means? You are my memory, you are my sense of myself. You used to refer to yourself as my external hard drive. My facility with early details is unimpeachable; I can recall the sharpest bits of my childhood with ease. But I don’t trust it. I trust even less as the years go on. I hang on to everything I ever had because I am hanging on to everything I ever was.

You know me in a way no one else does. I used to find the collision of my separate worlds too jarring to repeat much. Once, Chris H. came up to see me in Franklin, and I couldn’t concentrate as I navigated our way through West Nashville. The moment was like a saber hung on the wall. I kept waiting for it to drop with me under it, no clatter, just a sickening slicing sound. Later on, I got cozy with the thought of knitting all my threads together. Introduce all my friends to one another, make sure they became friends, and my world would be an unencumbered whole and everyone would remember everyone else. Mine would truly be a shared history; no one could forget me and everyone would recall the same pieces of me. “Remember that day when,” one would say, and the others could nod and laugh. I could not be lost.

These days, I feel lost. You are not here to remind me of me.


Excerpt from Frontier Journal, December 1890 [west closed, come back tomorrow]

I don’t know what I feel anymore. Neither does she, to be fair. We’re both floating along, feeling hurt and victimized, then claiming numbness like a birthright.

Claiming our numbness. Identifying it, as though it had been in the lost and found. Making a case for it. Declaiming it to all who care to listen. Pushing for it, like pressing a lawsuit. Making a claim against the guarantee of no emotion. You made me feel; take it back. This is my recompense.

Staking it out, this territory, building on this vast land, this nothingness, this stark plateau of the soul. Feeling is not here, it is over there, on that mountain, past the valley of sunlight, deep in the heart of the reservation, somewhere I am not welcome. Somewhere I cannot go. Soaked in sun. I stare at the snow and breathe.

I wish I could let it all go, just find a wide open space with blue sky and a warm bed at night, and escape with my love or myself to the great fire that awaits me.


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