July 11, 2009

One Last Night

My last night in Joshua Tree. I'm afraid once I leave I'll never sleep well again. In the cricket room, heat nor bugs nor wind nor coyote howl disturb my sleep - only the coming sun, first orange then yellow then white, snapping my eyes open without alarm, one morning after another.

I yawn sometimes when I drive, but generally, I feel rested. I rise early, water, hike, eat breakfast twice, and spend a full day touring, learning, trespassing, photographing until I return for sunset, exhausted. I retire after 15-18 hour days, satisfied. And I sleep, dream, with heat hanging over me, ceiling fan rattling, crickets chirping.

Today, on my last day, I attempted one last hike, twice, but at best got a hot, sunny walk in before one last meal and one last duet at the Route 62 Diner, this time singing in unison with Vern rather than the harmonies. The patty melt he made me oozed of tender loving care, carmelized onions soaking into the smashed beef patty, juices from both absorbed by the greasy crisp rye encasement. The cheese strung out from my teeth and held on tight. Not one fry was soggy.

I went to see Vern again nine hours later, this time for salt-rimmed margaritas and more singing, though our duet was drowned out by the karaoke singers hogging the spotlight. I started to feel really sad about leaving, even tearful. I would miss the little routine we had established over just a couple of weeks.

I too will miss the moon, glaring from behind leopard spotted clouds, the only patch in the sky. The free-floating skidding of driving too-fast on sand-filled roads. The subtle sway of a hammock under a dimming sun. The askance stare of a cottontail startled by my advance, still and trembling. The natural rhythm of moving through life, rising at day, breathing clearly.

I think most of all I'll miss the openness I've allowed myself. To go bowling with a stranger, tell my story and my number to any who ask, lay my soul on the line - these are precious experiences I don't remember having when I first moved to New York City. I recall a time much farther back, when I was released into the wild by my parents, who left me in my single Stillman Hall dorm room alone, refusing to join me down the hill for orientation as all the other parents did. I was forced to be open then; I had no choice.

I don't know if I want to be open in New York City, to the homeless, to the Moroccan guys who try to speak French to me, to the girlfriends of my male friends who try to figure out if I'm a threat. But I have to think I can bring some good experience from the California desert back with me, if not as a scar then as a souvenir. My tan will fade. I will gain the weight back. But what happens to my insides upon my return?

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