When I was nineteen years old and saw the Rocky Mountains for the first time I promised myself that I would move west. Four days after my twenty third birthday I stood in front of my new home. A six hundred square foot pink stucco house nineteen hundred and ninety miles away from everything I have ever known in the heart of Tucson, Arizona. For four years I had promised myself that I would leave. I finally did.
It has not been easy, any of this, but when your dreams are eight states away you drive thirty hours into the sunset to chase them. My other choice was to stay, and as easy as that choice would have been to make, I know that I would have regretted it forever. It took an army of people to get me here. Friends, family, peers, colleagues and mentors who believed in me at moments when I was filled with nothing but doubt. I am eternally grateful for each one of them. To the kid who sat in the back seat of my car and yelled, “you are incredibly talented and you have to stop acting surprised that you’ve been given this opportunity”. To the boy on the roof who assured me that it would be worth the pain, that I NEEDED to go. To a dad that thanked me for all of the crazy adventures and a mom who said, “never once did I doubt that you’d get in”. Dreams are hard, they are scary and they rarely are accomplished in solidarity. So here we are: Tamrin and I and our three cats (who miraculously made the journey), ready to embark on life’s next great feat. There is a palm tree in our yard and mountains along the horizon. This is not Ohio, but for the next three years this is home. This home is one in which I will accomplish great things, it is here that a new chapter begins.
I wrote those lines day one, with my parents still here and some sense of security. That was last Monday. A week later I feel the same, but we promised ourselves no moping, that to do so would have been to break our hearts for no good reason. We choose this, and so we owe it both to ourselves and those we left behind to take advantage of every single opportunity we came here to seize. Saturday I dropped my parents off at the airport. Saturday it was just the bees against the world. Saturday the desert adventure actually began.
At four in the morning I drove away from Sky Harbor airport with glossy eyes. It was pitch black and Running on Empty decided to grace the airways of my 2001 Ford Windstar. Serendipitously Jackson Browne told me, “Looking out at the road rushing under my wheels. I don’t know how to tell you all just how crazy this life feels. Look around for the friends that I used to turn to to pull me through. Looking into their eyes I see them running too.” The tears dried as I drove to pick up Tamrin the other ‘running friend’ and as the sun rose over the desert painting the red rocks blue I fell in love with this vastly different landscape, my new home.
We decided to head north through Phoenix and Flagstaff to the Grand Canyon, because neither of us had ever seen it seemed like the thing to do. When we left Phoenix it was over one hundred degrees, less than two hours later with the rise in elevation it dropped to below sixty. We got to the Grand Canyon in tank tops and shorts amongst a crowd of jacketed tourist. The sky was black and the air misty. Freezing we set foot into the souvenir shop where we bought overpriced matching fleece sweatshirts that proudly boasted ‘Grand Canyon’ and the fact that we were totally unprepared, rookie south westerners.
It wasn’t long before the sky opened up and we dashed to the van. The canyon wasn’t real, hazed over it felt more like a giant projection than actual rock. Still it took my breath away. We sized it up and promised the terrain that someday soon we would become better aquatinted, that we would strap on our boots and hike down to the bottom. As we drove away we were fascinated by our surroundings, the amount of trees and foliage that dotted the land. Quickly this changed into a pine forest and then suddenly we found ourselves unexpectedly at Sunset Crater, a volcano I had no idea existed. This was my favorite part of Saturday. It stood in sharp contrast to the canyon for many reasons, most notably the lack of people. There we were, the only souls for miles, a lone raven keeping us company. It was post apocalyptic, a barren land with vibrant hints of new life. We walked across a vast expanse of lava, black and brittle beneath our feet. It stretched on for miles, a naturally scarred landscape amongst the mountains. One half of the sky was a vibrant blue, the other black. Three mountains stood opposite the crater dark and smooth and void of all life. We stood in awe of the world around us before driving away. As quickly as we happened upon this wonder it was gone, dissipating into the never ending horizon. The land changed to hills and bushes, Native American ruins and in the distance wide open sandy desert where the sun danced wistfully over the plateaus. It was Hollywood and we rolled on from one movie set to the next.
For the first time in a long time I was myself, driving countless miles, guzzling cup after cup of gas station coffee and sharing a large McDonald’s fry with my favorite co-pilot. After the hardest bandaid I have ever had to rip off was gone there was/is comfort in knowing that I am still me. I long for the road, a wandering bone my mother once called it. I break my own heart then piece it back together because I am a hopeless romantic and west is where all of the hopeless romantics go. For now I am finding peace in knowing that even though it has proven to be the hardest thing in life to date, I am following my dreams. For now, this is enough.
“I saw Sonora before me, so otherworldly, so desolate, some cast-out mistress on the pale blue planet, and longed suddenly to stay.” – Hannah Lillith Assadi