phoenix, az. After leaving the sunny snow of Colorado, I headed to the airport with my family. Lindsey, Ricky and Dad all heading to Chicago, and me off to sunny Arizona, where nan and uncle Kurt live. When asked by the curbside check-in where I was going, I offered: Chicago. Midway. “Really?” he asked, “I see a Richard on here, but no Ashley.” Oh jesus. I am going to Phoenix, not home. Indicative of my place right now – lost, unsure, bewildered, filled with wonder – I hopped on the plane headed for the desert sun.
Uncle Kurt and Nan picked me up amid all of the airport congestion. We spent a few days bumming around, seeing their friends and a movie and lunches and dinners. We ran into Rick and Bonnie, friends with whom I stayed in Paris on an excursion from Rome. We talked US state department and related careers, and I asked for advice for my future. The more time I spend away from home, with time to think, I begin to know that I do not know what I want with my future. The conventional wisdom suggests, however, that I shouldn’t. From every woman I have ever known who has had a baby or gotten married or settled in a career before twenty-five: don’t do it, see the world, explore, find yourself. So I am.
At Nan and Uncle Kurt’s house, I spent time lying on the cold concrete in the hot sun; it felt like an electric blanket warming me in the mild desert winter. They had pink grapefruits growing on a tree in the backyard – when eating them I just felt like I was biting into fertility. These luscious fruits just burst out of the dry sands and now exploded with flavor in my mouth. It always smells like spring in the desert, with few blossoms to be seen, I still smelled a plethora of budding flowers as I made my way through the day.
Ani’s visit was a welcome change. She came in from Miami for the weekend and we went straight away to see her native friends at o’odham tash carnival in casa grande. Amid some car troubles and uncertain directions, we found our way to the festival by looking for the ferris wheel among the desert flatness. We met up, ate flat bread, watched a rodeo and chatted in the soft winter sun. We listened to some country, then traditional Mexican music, then sauntered over to a baseball diamond where the o’odham where holding a pow wow and a drum circle. We headed back over to the rodeo area where there was to be a dance. It was too early so we ran off to get some food, and back in time for the festivities. Shane showed us how to “chicken scratch,” a dance by which everyone walked in a counter-clockwise circle all together doing something that looked like a cross between meringue with their feet and bobbing their head like a chicken to cumbia music. This communal dancing lasted all night; Ani and I cut out after a few rounds.
The next day we met up to take a trek to Montezuma’s castle – a cliff dwelling belonging not to Montezuma, but another tribe up in the sheer rocks of Arizona. After the short tour, we decided that we had enough day left to head to Sedona. We squabbled over where to park, and then found our way up bell mountain. The higher we climbed, the more spectacular the view, and we just kept conquering the boulders going up and up and up. The sun was fading quickly, so we had to turn around. We slipped out of the red rocks just as the sun hid behind the mountains in the distance and popped into a strange café in town. We laughed over the strange waitress, Taco, and the wackiness of the decorations and staff. Our cheers slipped out the door and into the fading blue sky, echoing amongst the purpling cliffs.
Ani’s visit was a joy, filling me with such love for my good friends. The kind who always want to know how you’re doing, but actually care about your answer.
It was quite comforting to catch up with my family in the west: talking to them honestly about my hopes and fears, being taken care of by them, and feeling belonging for a time. “If we loved you any more we would just burst!” So, I bursted inside with joy and love and contentment.