Back to Arizona
It had been three years since Justin and I visited Phoenix. This is where we both lived for two years. Where we met and Johnny was born. Where we still have friends and family. Who knows why it took us so long to get back?
When I first came to Arizona in sixth grade to visit my aunt Beth, I couldn't believe a place in America could be so different from Kansas City. I took mental notes to tell my friends back home. "Everybody has a swimming pool in Arizona...In Arizona, no one has grass in their yard...At the Grand Canyon, Europeans are everywhere. And...(I whispered for emphasis) some of them sunbathe topless..."
And I vowed to live there some day. Out in the desert, with possibilities as far as the eye could see. Maybe it was because it was different that Phoenix held so much possibility. Kara, my friend who I moved there with, and I used to say we felt like we were on vacation, driving to our jobs along streets lined with palm trees. Beth and Devida knew all the best places and introduced us to all their friends.
It turned out yards in Phoenix did have grass. Ours even had orange trees. It was like being on T.V. in California, I thought, with Kara and her brother Jeff--my roomates--being so funny that I felt like I was on the set of a sitcom. This mentality might be why I was the world's worst waitress in Arizona. Subconsciously, I was thinking, "I'm not a waitress. But I play one on T.V."
And now, here Justin and I were, actually on vacation this time. Relaxing in the mild dry night with our friends--Beth, Davida, Kara, Lexi, Roland and their friends...Playing fetch with Francis, the Australian Shepherd who catches tennis balls like it is his job. We'd go to a favorite place in Arizona and then relax by the pool. We'd try to trick Kara's computerized 20 Questions game by being too honest. Thinking of a hair barret, we'd ponder whether it stored information.
"Maybe," Kara said, deviously. "If you inserted a microchip into it."
Do the police use it? 20 Q asked.
"Yes," Lexi and I said. "Female police officers do."
But 20 Q, being a mind reader, always guessed right.
Meanwhile, I played my own game of 20 questions. What if we had stayed here, I wondered. Justin joked that we'd still be living in our studio apartment.
At that apartment, I'd gossip on the lawn with the other stay-at-home moms. Well, the others weren't moms, really. More like stay-at-home beer drinkers. I'd run into them on the sidewalk when I walked the baby and one guy would say something like, "Did you hear? The landlord is kicking me out just because I lost my rent money in the couch cushions and accidently gave away the couch to a friend whose phone number I also lost."
And I'd say, "Wow. That's unbelievable."
"I know," he'd say, and I'd think, "I know that you know that I know that's unbelievable. Yet here we are."
And the subject would turn to the weather.
Once I tried to borrow baking powder from our apartment neighbors to make a cake for Justin's birthday. I knocked on all the doors where I could hear a T.V. playing and everyone just stared at me like I was asking to borrow a hambachoowakeetee, or some such made up thing. And seeing what everyone's favorite pasttime seemed to be, I thought, "Damn. Why couldn't the cake call for marijuana? Several neighbors could loan me that ingredient. Then this cake would be in the oven by now. Totally baked." Pardon the pun.
So, no, we wouldn't still be living there. I mean, I might not be the world's best go-getter, but it's not like I accidentally give away couches. At least not ones that double as piggy banks.
But even living in a place where many people had fallen on hard times and couldn't get up, I felt like I was on vacation. I even suspected that our apartment was an old hotel, due to the way the balconies surrounded the pool.
And there were mountains to climb, patios to relax with friends and family on, dry air to breath and sun to soak up. The boys would have loved it there, where lizards are as common as house mice and it rains so rarely that people sit outside to watch it like a drive-in movie in the sky.
We listened to the song "Trip Around the Sun" while we were there. It says, "No, you never see it coming/Always wind up wondering where it went/Only time will tell if it was time well spent." You always wonder, when you return to an old home, if you made the right call. If you turned right when the situation called for a left turn. But when you don't know where you're going, any road will lead you there. My brother thinks that saying is a warning. I think it's a promise.
Justin and I and the boys are happy in Kansas City. It was the right decision, but this much I know, we won't go on a trip around the sun again without making a trip to Phoenix.
Back home, we went to a First Communion party for my cousins. It was a cool, humid day, typical for May in Kansas City. While the big kids played baseball, Johnny searched for "wild animals" lurking in the "bamboo" on the edge of the lawn.
When he saw us, he ran across the yard, yelling "Mommy." Richie bolted over from the sandbox to see his daddy. J.J. stared at me blankly for a minute, then smiled in a way usually reserved for a soap opera character who sees the twin he thought was lost in a tragic accident at sea but, as it turned out, was only kidnapped and raised by pirates. "Where were you? Why didn't you call? Or throw a bottle into the sea, at least. Oh, listen to me. None of that matters now. Come here. Give me a hug. Do you have any rum?" Or in J.J.'s case, milk.
The next day, I wore the "Got Chile?" shirt Beth and Devida bought me at Los Dos, our favorite restaurant in Arizona. While I unpacked and drove the boys to the park and unloaded and loaded the dishwasher and made dotted numbers for Johnny to trace, I pretended I had one foot in Kansas City and one in Phoenix, like a cartoon character on a souvenir map. If only a big step were all it took to go back and forth.