I was at the Hut on Friday, watching the live band with all of my brother Dan’s friends in it, they’re really good, so I was enjoying it, but after Melissa left I was on my own for a while. And feeling funnily split into layers, Tucson means too many things to me to fit inside really, they slide over each other uneasily, and I wonder who exactly I am.
It means the desert, which to me is beauty and freedom, wide open spaces and heat. It’s growing up in the adobe house my parents built on a dirt road removed from everyone but my immediate family. It is deep happiness in being alive, and every evening spent on the hill watching the sun set golden behind the mountains. It’s walking in the monsoons and being surrounded by water, watching it pour down the wash in waves of muddy roaring taller than me, sweeping everything before it while the sheet lightening brightens the sky and the thunder cracks and the world is fresh and new smelling. It means a fascination with the world around me, how plants grow and the lives of animals and insects. It is years of devouring every book I could get my hands on. It’s walking out the door with my dog and walking for miles and never seeing another human being. It’s running around barefoot. It’s losing everything.
It means school too, and years of never quite understanding the kids around me. It’s my own terrible shyness coming off as snobbishness I think. And being far too much of a school girl and never cool enough to pull off the second hand clothes and bad haircuts, and learning just how much other girls can wound you with only their words. And it was always being defensive and afraid…of just looking people in the eyes because that could be enough for them to physically hurt you. It’s P pounding some other girls head into the pavement with her right hand wrapped up in the girl’s long black hair. It’s blood on the floor of the hall, lockers bent out of shape, the guy that got shot in the high school parking lot, people taking pills in the drinking fountain and unplanned pregnancies all around me while I was still afraid of kissing. It was constant reminders of our poverty, and thinking about race and class and the world. A lot of fear and humiliation from school really, though I had some good times too.
It means working at Kmart, and living in the world where English is never spoken, going out to dive bars in South Tucson with my ex Luis, and dancing to rancheras and mariachi and tex mex pop in places where I wouldn’t get carded. It’s winning 20 dollars in beer vouchers in a cumbia contest in a bar just off the res, it’s a new fear of the migra. It’s all of my minimum wage jobs really, and coworkers like Art who used to go out driving with beers and his gun and shoot up the watch-for-cow signs on the reservation, and Mike who used to spend work breaks playing with salt, using his license to card it into snortable lines on the table. It’s Famous Sams where they used to have los tigres del norte and gath brooks and lowrider oldies and led zepplin on the jukebox, and where I used to play pool.
It’s coming home now, now that my parents live in a completely different part of town and having no contact with anyone I used to know, or the old places I used to go. I am almost like a tourist now, it never quite feels real. I sort of inhabit my little brothers’ Tucson which is completely different again. I haven’t even thrown in the Britishness, or Mexico or college or L.A. I’ve come so far since then, yet these are the foundations I suppose. I’m still not sure what they mean, though I keep stumbling over them.