What do we think of, collectively, when we think of the desert? Is it desolation or promise? Does the Golgotha remind you of death or rebirth? The moat of Sonoran Desert that leads to the kingdom of California. We took this path, I-8 for three hundred and forty-four miles, and the end goal was the two-bedroom apartment of our friend, Marion. A weekday weekend, a respite from mundanity, from puppies who wake you up at five in the morning, and you sleep on an air mattress in the living room so you’re lower to the ground for the baby.
We left Monday night after my third day of working in my new job. We made the plans months ago and I couldn’t handle a quiet house for another day, another vacation Nolan was able to take without me. I hurried home with no food in my stomach, but filled with the tingling sensation of anticipating an adventure. I washed my face (as I always do when I first get home), threw on a nondescript white tee, and we dropped the dogs off at a sitters for the following nights.
A five hour ride can be deafening or it can read like a poem. The only agonizing moments in that car ride was stretching my legs in the front seat of the Mercedes. It was nice to fall back into place with Nolan again, to have moments of clarity about past issues, to be open with one another and not have to punctuate conversations with television, phones, or dogs that need outside. We created an atmosphere, a mood to fall into. It was comfortable, the silence when it was necessary, the lazy way he held my hand on the winding roads that curved into bends where signs read “Ice Cream — 40 miles ahead”. If we missed the turn for Taco Bell, we missed the turn for good.
And we drove on. We drove for three hours before our first stop. It was a McDonald’s that blinded us with its white lights. We had come from desert roads, where light refracted into the mountains. Everything out there was a soft hue of muteness. This restaurant plastic, but we were starving. If we missed the turn, we missed the turn for good. And it was in the silence of eating our hamburgers, sharing the fruit punch and getting more and more ketchup that I realized how lucky I was to be able to have a friend. How rare it was for me to ever appreciate that, being usually so turned off by the thought of dependence. But in the halogen lights of this roadside McDonald’s, it felt comforting to know who I’d sleep with that night.
And when the meal was done, the trays dumped and the paper mats crumpled, we got back in the car and followed the nascent blood moon to our destination. The sweat on my shirt had grown cold in the air-conditioned fast food joint and it clung to my skin in patches. I put a sweatshirt on and fell asleep, curled up into myself like a circle that can’t break itself open.
And as we rolled into the parking lot, looking for Marion’s space, the blood moon rearing its prophetic head, I looked up to a cat on a balcony and knew we were at our temporary home. And I fell asleep almost instantly that night, balanced on the air mattress with Nolan, sweat still clinging to me like nightmares.
On Tuesday, we woke up with Marion already gone for the day to work. It was up to us to fend for ourselves in the Valley of the Sun. With the morning breaking, we got our showers and stopped at a coffee shop for a quick breakfast, the McDonald’s from the night before laying sideways in our usually-healthy stomachs. Outside on the patio a woman told us about her dead son and how our cologne reminded her of him. We sat in silence until she left and felt uncomfortable about the alienation of boundaries with the information she shared. Nolan is Eastern European and I am reserved by nature–any emotionally-laden story is usually unwelcome to us. It’s in our nature to be stoic, self-preservation and distancing ourselves from other’s responsibilities.
The day was spent at the pool instead, to make up for all the houses we didn’t rent with pools included. We were there for hours, the only ones there. It was midday on a Tuesday, even the pump echoed in the apartment complex. We took our time relaxing, enjoying the heat and how dry the wind felt (something we’re currently experiencing here in San Diego). We curled up under towels in the lounge chairs and napped, careful to hide the keys and our sunglasses, careful to not make tan lines and so we stretched our bodies akimbo. We did not waste the sun, a whole city was built on the economy of it. We worshipped Ra and studied the way steam came off our fingertips when we stepped out of the pool and stood with our sunglasses on, the deep-end being only four feet.
We stayed in the water until it was time to meet Marion, to see the Lana Del Rey concert and drink a little. It was exciting to be outside in a new town, a new city that looks both built-up and torn-down at the same time. We waited in a bar, drinking beer and cranberry-vodkas until the ticket takers let us come in. It was fun to open up, to relax, to not have to be in any workplace setting and laugh with old friends, recreating moments from Pennsylvania, recreating feelings of belonging again. The night ended at a waffle house and we were stretched out on the air mattress by midnight.
By Wednesday morning, it was time to go. Nolan and I packed everything up and retraced the 8 all the way to home, stopping for coffee and nothing else. I work for a large hotel business and never take the vacations I witness, so it was nice to have a break in my week, to see an old friend and to feel loved again. By three, I was back to cleaning the house, doing a load of laundry, and picking up Elsa’s messes. I was back to reality, back to home.
PS, A few recipes will be coming soon!