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I’ve never hated Tucson, my hometown. My homeboy. My home de plume. I’ll defend it to the grave, and have had to defend it many a time, sadly. To asshole boyfriends, to people who call it “the armpit of Arizona” (I’m looking at you, Phoenix! (Also, it’s called Yuma)), to telemarketers who ask where “Tusson” is, to people on Twitter even. That’s how devoted I am to the city that welcomes everyone with Valley Fever, whose rivers are dry dust 90% of the time and whose skies are so blue they burn.
I don’t go back often, despite my territoriality. I believe in the Mariah Carey doctrine, that you must set free what you love, and if they come back, it’s to tell you about the gonorrhea. Or the eczema, in Tucson’s case. I don’t visit Tucson for all the cliché excuses imaginable – Work. No time. Places to see, people to do. In-laws that need visiting. Unemployment. Time, but no money. Instead, I say to Tucson, “Come see me. Come to where I am and I will remember you.” This doesn’t bode well, for either party, as you can imagine. But I can’t help it – I want commitment. I want the ghost town of my past to grab a trowel and unearth itself from my flaky memory. I want roots to dance, in ruffled skirts and with too-loud trumpets. I want to view the distance between us as something other than loss.
But I can’t, not easily, at least. Each time I go back to Tucson, something else falls away. A childhood friend. A 24-hour Mexican food chain. The rotted limbs of a pomegranate bush in my front yard. The yard itself, which has never been mine, actually. It belongs to the University of Arizona. Someday soon, I will have to say goodbye to it entirely. The house, with its acres and acres of farmland bordering the Santa Cruz river, the hayloft where I would bring potential boyfriends to make out with in the most uncomfortable way possible, the easily frightened cows, pierced with fluorescent tags and swathed forever in flies. I used to feel so sorry for them. I would call to them, (I spoke fluent cow) and beckon them to wrap their meaty tongues around my arms. I only had the courage once to ask my dad what would happen to the cows once they left “our” property. “They’re research cows,” is all he said in reply.
As Tucson-the-place erodes a little more each day in my mind, Tucson-the-eternal never fails to delight. Ammie talked about this – the peculiar religion of the creosote bushes after it rains, whose scent demands penitence, the mountains that enfold you on all sides, the unapologetic hippie crystal love fest and the wranglers with gun holsters next to their cell phones, the dust that gets everywhere to the point where you’re not breathing so much as chewing. I dread leaving it, each time. Yet, I can never quite place the sadness. Where do you come from?
As Alain de Botton wrote in The Art of Travel, “…the pleasure we derive from a journey may be dependent more on the mind-set we travel with than on the destination we travel to. Instead of bringing back sixteen thousand new plant species, we might return from our journeys with a collection of small, unfettered but life-enhancing thoughts.” That is, perhaps, what is most troublesome about Tucson.
It never fails to remind me of my insignificance.
That’s not necessarily a bad thing, of course, but in the wake of many recent life tragedies, involving cancer, floods, and being unemployed for three months (just to name a few), this realization of insignificance was much less inspiring than say, the Grand Canyon.
Until the universe knocks me back on track, however, I am learning to be content living in this slower space, where learning about community supported agriculture, reading good books and writing about things both inane and metaphorical are my current form of dwelling.