This was written on loose leaf notebook paper in early June, 2005, shortly before my twentieth birthday, en route to San Diego. Some passages have been omitted for pride's sake, and some are just plain missing.
My headache prevents me from setting my thoughts straight. Several thousand course through my skull, but none that I can grasp and lash down and squeeze like blood from my fingertips. I'll just discuss my headache. Write what you know, eh? It's the child of a diet of processed sugar and processed starches and processed meats that I've succumbed to eating the past few days. That, and a slight case of dehydration, and not just of the physical kind. I am so used to seeing bodies of water in our lake-plentiful Midwest. Here, I have not seen a body of water for days, save a brief teasing look at the Rio Grande. But that was before El Paso, before New Mexico, and though I-10 follows the mighty, poisoned mess of silt and bloated livestock like a lover, there have been scrabby hills, foul-smelling stockyards, and the relentless sun obscuring my view since. We are stopping in Las Cruces, though, and I hope to sleep within sight of the river so that my dreams can nestle on its muddy banks.
Marty Robbins sings currently of a lovesick cowboy on the hills of El Paso, by the Rio Grand-ay. He gets the feeling that in a past life he called El Paso home. Coincidence?
Motel not in sight of the river, but cheap and with a small pool. I think I may have stayed in this town before, but it was in Alabama.
The motel is owned by a jovial Mexican woman, or perhaps she's American Indian. My untrained hillbilly eyes betray me on occasion. She's big and ageless as the surrounding mountains, but still has that sun-cured Southwestern beauty, face creased by lines deep as canyons.
"I'll be honest," she repeats over and over again. It seems the last room available, a single bed, has just been vacated for the first time in five years, so the walls are freshly painted. The fumes do nothing to help my headache, but she knocks a few dollars off the price. There's a single outlet, for the lamp and the TV, and the air conditioner needs to be charged. Our car is the only car in the parking lot not on blocks. I haven't showered since Lenexa. The water temperature fluctuates, and duct tape holds the wall tiles in place, but the pressure is forceful and brilliant. We head to town for a bite to eat with our dwindling funds. I have a suspicion that time stands still here, that only the cactus and brush and tumbleweed can muster up enough selfishness to age and wander.
Heavy hearts retreat to happier times, but right now I have retreated Westward to enjoy it and the jewels it holds. My problems are Back There, weighing still on my heart, but I am braced against mountains and craters and cacti and the dry riverbeds and the outlaws and the immigrants and the truck drivers and the stockyards, and I feel fine.
I eat to keep from dying. The stale fries discuss me, and I have no appetite. I put the last half of my fried chicken under the plastic ice box to keep it from the flies.
I am incredibly homesick, but dreading my return. Out here I have no responsibility or obligations, but I feel so lonely.
------ sings "Gonna Wash That Man Right Outta My Hair" as she changes in front of me, modesty be damned.
The birds in the air above 10-West towards Tucson particularly amuse me. They twist and pirouette and somersault in the warm air thrust up from the blistering sand. They dance in ways truly alien to my eyes accustomed to a temperate climate.
One large field, surrounded by the Dos Cabezas mountains, has given birth to an entire family of dust devils, at least eight. They range in size, and one in particular looks like a perfectly formed tornado, except lacking all the dreadful and darkly foreboding elements. I feel it almost necessary to stop and observe these wondrous flukes of that same warm air that causes the birds to dance, but time is limited and California still several hundred miles away.
I finally feel truly like a stranger in a strange land in the desolate country approaching Yuma. The heat is suffocating, yet so dry you almost forget it's there until it burns your arm clean off. Mountains to every direction, the ground is sand. My blood [missing]
"I think they were playing fool the Gringo," says I.
"I think so, too," agrees ------.
The needle hovers dangerously close to empty. Dangerously past empty. I breathe slower, hold my breath. We finally roll into a gas station miles after what we had been told by the grocery store clerks.
I rise triumphantly from the gas pump where I have been resting. "Let's go to California."
"What makes you think I'd cross state lines with you?"
"Because you already have, five times."