On missing a place that you have no intention of moving back to:
a love/hate letter to my home state
I miss my home state like I miss an ex-boyfriend. Sure Arizona, you’re hot and fun to be around, you know me better than anyone else, and easing into you is like putting on that perfectly broken-in, long since stolen hoodie (you know you’re never getting that back, right?). Mostly though, what I come back to time and again despite knowing better, is that you’re comfortable, safe, easy. You’re not what I want or need anymore, because I outgrew you. And even still, like a persistent memory of a guilty pleasure I won’t let myself indulge in again, I feel you in so much of what I do. So much of my thoughts and my actions — what I find sustenance and renewal in (spiritually, emotionally, physically) — have been informed by you and the values you instilled in me. How is it possible to be of you, and at the same time, so much more than you?
There is beauty in the desert that shaped me, as much as there is cruelty. There are vividly electric purple and pink skies; bright orange fires and muted red dirt; dusty, prickly vegetation scrapping it out for resources. Squat buildings dot the horizon, meant to outlast extreme heat. There is a community of people who are welcoming, empathetic and kind, despite what the news says about tent prisons and discrimination. But exactly like what the pundits (or perhaps wild west tales) say, it is brutal and it is heartless, in the landscape and politics both. There is a blatant disregard for life that its residents have come to expect, a disregard which only the most hardened can navigate. The Arizona desert is majestic but alienating in its vastness and desolation. It imparts that desolation on its living inhabitants, to the point of stagnation and suffocation. This is the environment that taught me how to survive, to always be vigilant of my surroundings, whether I should fight or flee. It was hard to leave, but it was never an option to stay.
If Arizona is my ex-boyfriend, then LA is the mystery man that maybe things will work out with this time. Eerily similar to a past life in so many quietly reassuring ways, but satisfyingly new and exciting in all others, and full of the qualities I want to discover and integrate into my character. Isn’t that why we explore unknown things, despite the comfortable and predictable familiar?
Sometimes I catch a glimpse of the Santa Monica mountains out of the corner of my eye and I’m momentarily transported back to Tucson. The scale is all wrong, but the color is almost the same if the smog is clear enough. And then I spend a few displaced seconds in the haze of feeling back in a relationship that’s long since ended, before the traffic and lush greenery of this ineffable city snap me back to reality, a reality I chose over another.
I feel like I’m not supposed to miss you, star-crossed desert love, because I moved away from you in order to grow beyond the boundaries and comfort zone you provided. I didn’t relocate here to be stagnant, like I would have been had I stayed with you. I left you for LA to be challenged, to conquer, to stick my flag in the soil and claim a small part of an un-ownable city. I left you so I could adapt to a new set of challenges presented with a new environment, and become a better version of myself in the process. I know that there’s a reason I find myself reflexively murmuring “thank god” as the flight attendants announce, “welcome to Los Angeles.”
And yet, I do miss you. I think of your sharp mountains and clear skies, succulents and fought-after shade, venomous creatures both animal and human, on the daily. I get lost in daydreams about heady, creosote-perfumed summer monsoons and the charge of electricity in the air when it’s still 90 degrees at 8pm. I slide back and forth between LA and Tucson like a shapeshifter, to the point where I forget to where — or whom — I really belong. I declared my love for the state openly and proudly when I tattooed a saguaro cactus, the ubiquitous Sonoran desert symbol, on my body so that I always remember where I come from, all the while always pressing forward. I have grappled with and accepted that my utter infatuation with my new life doesn’t negate the adoration and pride I can feel for my hometown. I am more than this place; I am of this place. When both become intertwined forces that shape my identity, they cease to be mutually exclusive.
So here’s the thing. I am sincerely attached to where I come from and simultaneously unabashed in my ambition that takes me beyond where I’ve been. Moving to LA was the best thing I could have done for myself, because the accelerated rate of growth I’ve experienced since then would have been impossible if I had stayed in Arizona. And while I struggle with it, I know that I can inexorably miss you and still not want to be with you; that it’s okay if both truths live within me.