Dust Devil Memories

We stopped by my grandmother's old house this morning, pulling away from last night's venue in 100 degree weather and punching the address into the GPS: 2317 N Tuscon Blvd. Before he bumps it into drive Decker pours a Dr. Pepper over the old cubes from his cashed ice coffee and answers a phone call on his head set. "Are you in Tuscon?" he opens, "You son-of-a-bitch! I was at Congress last night!"  He pops his bubblegum and the extroverted enthusiasm of his conversation fades to the corners of my consciousness as I try to regulate my own temperature. The a/c hasn't started working yet and the van is an oven. If I don't find my sunglasses in the next fourty-five seconds my eyeballs are going to spontaneously combust. Decker's been kind to take me on tour with him this weekend, and even kinder to drive me up to the old place just for a look-see. 

I kick my feet up on the dash and listlessly watch as we navigate through the neighborhoods of terracotta and stucco with xeriscaped yards of flowering cacti and mammoth succulents, past adobe walls crawling with bright pink bougainvillea and roadside regiments of prickly pear and palm trees. I wonder if this heat will peel the skin off my face, and I hold my iced-coffee up to my forehead in desperation. The houses start to get smaller and the yards turn from private oases to hot dirt driveways and weeds. The cute coyote fences change to chain link and the gravel groans under the weight of our tires as we pull up to the address: 2317. 

I hop out of the tour van to take it in: maybe six hundred square feet, metal grates on the window and a basketball hoop hovering over a disintegrating cement slab in the back yard. Various electric and telephone wires border the small lot, and a solitary juniper tree casts a few feet of hopeless shade to the left of the front door. 2317. Granmie Merrie's House. 

What I remembered about the floor plan was totally correct, living room on the left where my younger brother and I sat mesmerized in front of the television watching claymation "Pokey and Gumby" cartoons while Merrie died in the next room of cancer. Maybe 4 and 2, and not yet aware of death, we were happily transfixed -- crosslegged and frozen, leaning forward in the dark as if to enter the glowing box we so rarely had the opportunity to indulge in. The day outside must have been bright and hot like today, but the curtains were drawn in my memories and the doors closed. 

I hop back in the van, worried I might disturb the current residents, and we carry on out of town, stopping for gas before heading north to Phoenix. Birds take flight from the tops of the metal canopies covering the pumps, and tinsel flags glitter ostentatiously around a used car lot across the street. Decker asks me something, but I struggle to answer, still withdrawn into the far corners of my memory, pressing rewind on the VHS tape and listening to it's whir blur the sounds of my mother making lunch in the adjacent kitchen. We never even knew there was something unpleasant taking place! My kid brother and I tore into those sandwiches with the same terrorizing hunger we would have had at a summer amusement park. How a mother can protect you and shelter you from sorrow with just two pieces of bread and sliced ham! 

We hit the interstate and a tambourine jangles in the back seat when we speed over bumps in the road. I try to take myself into the present moment, try to appreciate all the chaos and history that has brought me here to this arbitrary but enjoyable moment in time. Picacho peak juts it's jagged toothlike summit above the Sonoran plains, glimmering though a curtain of heat waves. Columns of dust devils, like hot pink smoke signals, swirl and dart in between the tall cacti. I think about all the childhood stories that rose up out of this landscape for me, how they've created my identity as it is today -- random whirlpools of memory resurrecting from the dusty past. 

How could I ever mistake the desert for being lifeless? How dare I! 

I wonder if dad ever played that club we did last night. It was a historic hotel, so my guess is that thirty years ago it would have likely hosted the desert-rat rock n' roll bands he kicked around with. We've stoped off the side of the road now so Decker can have a smoke, and I watch him roll it through the dirty windshield - wild hair bunched back at the nape of the neck, ringed fingers and brand new belt buckle making little light explosions in the noon sun. A train speeds by with colorful boxcars stacked like children's blocks and he cups his hands around his cigarette as he lights it, turning from the blast of sandy wind from the wake of the train. He grinds a stone into the ground with one tanned sandaled foot and as he looks down his sunglasses fall to the tip of his nose. We don't really even know each other, and he is being very tolerant of the introverted, self-reflective state I've had all morning. 

I dive back into my mind one final time as he's taking his last couple of drags, squeezing the last few contemplative breathes out of the morning before we set into the frenzy of preparing for tonight's concert. 

I think about dad and mom's life here before I was born: singing Fleetwood Mac covers together in their matching suede mocassin boots with the bright silver buttons lined all the way up the top of their calves, and about that one remaining photo of them on their wedding day. She was tanned and thin, gracefully waiting, as though holding her breath in her understated but elegant satin wedding dress. His hair was full and exploding in a firework of brown rockstar curls. There wasn't much for anyone at their wedding save a congregation of saguaros and sun beams. 

I wonder how much of who I am in this present moment was sculpted out of the hours I stared at that photograph. How much of my mental bandwidth is occupied only with the aching to begin my own life, make my own family with children who I captivate with a single polaroid from the past. But I am here in this moment instead, frozen like a bug in amber, in a kind of limbo. I'm between worlds, between identities, between stories. I'm a vagabond troubador on a random baking hot highway, headed north. And I'm just fine with that, I suppose. At least I retain something malleable and fluid, something of the uknown and magical. 

It reminds me of a quote I just read by James Baldwin, and I release a breath of relief, recognizing my good fortune to be staring out at the open landscape of my future, writing a story very different from my parents, and still -- nay, always -- discovering who I am. 

"Identity would seem to be the garment with which one covers the nakedness of the self; in which case, it is best that the garment be loose, a little like the robes of the desert, through which one's nakedness can always be felt, and sometimes, discerned. This trust in one's nakedness is all that gives one the power to change one's robes."