Hello, good people. It’s been so long since I was here. I’m sorry. Please forgive me and read on. A little recap first and then we’ll rumble. Thanks for hanging in there.
THIS PAST YEAR has been terrible. The absolute fury of my Iowa trip with its deep emotion, fear, and lunacy still drains me. I even doubted what I’d done by burying Kathy’s ashes in a grave that’s hard to visit1, all this based on wishes I intuited from her on the day she died. But now she’s in the ground together with her parents, grandmother, uncle, cousins, and the rest. The circle is complete. She loved her family fiercely in a way I never felt with mine, and that’s why I’ll end up there too.
There was just too much dysfunction with the Farrs. I always thought my mother’s family east of Baltimore was more lively and outgoing, more relatable for sure, but Granny had the old man by the balls. Whenever we did show up back East, we’d go to Chestertown and slight the folks in Middle River only 90 minutes distant. My mother never had the nerve to press for more attention to her siblings and suffered from the separation. I remember when each one died (my Uncle Buddy is the only one alive) but don’t recall her breaking down in front of us. I do know there was pressure to conform and she probably felt guilty for having moved away with Dad. It’s so damn hard when everyone is dead and no one’s left to tell the stories! We all go back into the God soup as if nothing matters.
It matters with my Kathy, though. One downside of our moving to New Mexico was that she fell out of touch with friends in Maryland as time went by, people she’d known for almost 30 years before. The same was true for me. We made friends in Taos, but for the most part—not all—these relationships lack the easy intimacy of shared experience. Harder to ask for a ride to the airport, say, and no connection to their kids or families. There weren’t deep enough roots here for the memorial celebration she deserved and that was crushing. In the middle of the pandemic, too. She was such an extraordinary spirit, a being made of love, scholar and musician to the core. I don’t want people to forget. For her sake as well as mine I needed both our names together on that marker in Keota so that everyone could see. “MARRIED JAN. 16, 1981 – NO TWO EVER LOVED EACH OTHER MORE,” it reads (my words), carved into the granite, standing out amidst a sea of pious platitudes to make a statement for all time. The stone will outlast anyone who knew us and make strangers wonder who the hell we were and how we lived. I’m glad I followed through.
Ye gods, though. Ye poor gods… The magnitude of everyday human events that hit you singly like a gift-wrapped anvil. It’s all right though. Nothing really dies. Even now I know we’re part of something bigger than the bones and stars and always were.
At least I’m getting out a bit. I took that photo on the way home from a drive to the Valle Vidal in northern Taos County on the day before the forest service closed Kit Carson National Forest due to the encroaching fires. No entry is permitted now. I was the only person on the 60-plus mile drive across that special place, all alone on a gravel road that climbed to nearly 10,000 feet. I did take pictures, but they’re not as good as what you see above. My heart just wasn’t in it and the mountains were so dry. I actually had a better time on the way back, coming through the state park in the canyon. The dense and vibrant greenery along Cimarron Creek was something that I hadn’t seen in years and made me wonder how much longer I would stay here. Losing Kathy left a monstrous hole I don’t know if the desert and my own endeavors can ever fill. I want more life in my surroundings now, water, plants, and people while I’m still alive. I grow flowers in the window like a solitary pensioner. Oh right, except that isn’t who I am at all! Online friends tell me to get a dog and they’re not out of bounds. I’m free to relocate but don’t know where. I’d like to generate more income and explore.
For all the hype and grandeur, Taos often seems a cold and lonely place. Without a mate or family to anchor me (especially kids), it’s hard to lose the feeling that I’m screwed or wasting time. So many come here as mature adults like we did, leaving past lives behind, dangerous in my opinion if you can’t afford to get away. The town survives on tourist money, hype, and selling real estate to retirees who want to ski or think it’s good for artists. Some of them build studios and dabble, but when everyone you meet is from another place, there is no common soul. You’re hungry all the time. It’s fine if you have roots here, la familia and such. People bitch the way they always do but most get by even though there’s no sustainable economy to speak of and the infrastructure is a joke. Anglos even brag about it: “That’s just Taos! Heh-heh.” In the old days it was likely fine to simply be here in the mountains, far from mostly white America. You could build a house of mud and hunt. It rained and you could plant things. You were part of some great secret and belonged. The Pueblo’s been here for a thousand years. They know. Sometimes I do, too.
None of this is evil, only human nature in a world of change. With enough resources, friends, shared history, and decent health, one can have a fine rewarding life here in the Terrible High Desert™. You have to like the cold and not mind wind and drought. Health-wise, you might drive for hours to an endodontist or a checkup for what’s growing on your ear. This is not a place for growing old. Well-intended newbs will have to move back home to get their diapers changed. Nature spirits, Latino culture, and the Pueblo did become a second family of sorts for us and I’d miss that if I left. It’s so goddamn lonely now, though. Pathologically so. I’m like a ship that’s been torpedoed and the crew is gone. There’s no one I can talk to5 who would make much sense—the only one who knows the truth is me—although I do feel love and caring from a source or two (and thank you). That aside, without Twitter I’d be dead already.
I’ve recited the silly Taos rant a thousand times and I am sick of it but this is different. The main thing is we came here and she died. (COME ON!) Do you know what that is like? Every landmark blows a hole right through my heart. I drive home from the grocery store down the same old dusty road, over the forever bumps, past the neighbor with the horse tied up to the fucking gas meter in his stupid yard and want to scream at first but never mind. It’s over. I’m ready to forget the past and start again. Here, there, another planet, doesn’t matter. Never mind the house and all our stuff, dear God. I deserve to have a whole new life and thrive and that’s what Kathy would have wanted. Wants, I should say. She pops up in my head, you know. Yes, I’ve mentioned this before. I have these transcendental moments, just a teeny-tiny thing, no louder than a thought, except it isn’t me… Like yesterday when I was walking to the water towers just across the road.
[Actual dialog rapid-fire, mostly silent, paraphrased and reconstructed here for clarity, but all the words were there.]
John. JOHN. Listen to me.
I recognize the tone (!) and stop right in my tracks to pay attention, leaning on my walking stick. “Hi, honey. I love you!”
Listen to me. DO WHAT YOU LIKE. Trust your heart, be proud. I love you, too.
“I miss you so much…” [crying]
DO WHAT YOU LIKE. WHATEVER YOU WANT. SURPRISE YOURSELF.
Exactly what I need to hear of course, wherever this is coming from. I take it on its face because I’ve prayed for help and here it is. “You’d better be waiting on that bench! I don’t want to die now. I want to show us both that I can make it. What if it takes another 20 years? The numbers won’t mean anything to you, but what if I forget?”
Still standing by the water towers. Scary vision of an old man bent and broken all alone. Fading now. Cross-talk in my head. Me, her, other babble. Wind hissing in the piñons, dogs barking in the ‘hood. A nicer fellow down the road has his sheep out grazing by the acequia. I hear the bells, the bleats, the yipping of the shepherd dogs.
I would never say, “Surprise yourself,” for one.
No one’s ever told me that before. It’s new.