Saturday, January 8, 2011


A ritual in an era run amok: a face separates itself from the crowd, a weapon vomits, grief explodes, people across the world open their veins to the words, the voices, the endless live updates streaming into their various receptors, jonesing with the same addicted response to information that probably led to the violence. Arizona radio spits the horrible story through my computer into this Austrian evening, and I break out the Ritter Sport Dunkel Vollnuss and start clicking my mouse. Funny that I avoided going to a blues club to hear MtMn tonight because I felt uncomfortable with the idea of being in a bar. Here I am downing shots of "analysis" with that same old drunkard's head, knowing what a bad idea it is but unable to turn down the next hit.

There's the Safeway at Ina and Oracle on my screen, the flat streets of Tucson still familiar. 30 years ago I would take Greyhound down to the U of A to visit my first love, later I drove down with MtMn to hear him play at the El Conquistador. I never wanted to come to Arizona; we moved right before my junior year in high school for my dad's job and it felt like a tragedy from the beginning. I saw guys with buzzcuts overturn the Muslim Students Association information table on my campus during the hostage crisis. I saw men with guns in their holsters walking through the streets of downtown Phoenix (only concealment was illegal). I was in graduate school when the car salesman turned governor slashed the university's budgets by thirty percent and said in a press conference that the newspaper was using microwaves to read his thoughts. When I got my Fulbright, we rode out of town in our Volkwagen Golf with the windows down and all of our possessions in the back seat. I let my bare feet hang out in the scorching air and ate potato chips as MtMn drove, and I knew I'd never live in that unnatural place again.

Of course, because life is hilarious, those ten years in Arizona were also joyous and irreplaceable, filled with good fortune and generosity. My husband, my dearest friends, the accidental beginnings of my beloved profession, my first chances to travel and live in Europe, all of these gifts were given to me there, could only have come from that place. MtMn and I discovered our kinship on drives and hikes in the mountains and deserts. The wild landscape is printed on me, lives on in our choice of American home, our little house slowly taking shape in the Texas hills surrounded by similar scrub and crowned by the same endless sky.

That's the country I love, despise, and long for. Freedom's yin and anarchy's yang, Mars and Venus, strip malls and fruited plains, the romantic tug of those poles - who isn't attracted and repelled by the epic New World? Of course terrorism has always played a part. My hometown celebrates every year the failure of middle America's favorite terrorist, Jesse James, to rob the local bank. It floored us once - has it really been almost a decade? - to be attacked from outside, but from inside we expect it even as we drop to the ground keening, again, and again.

Someone walked up to an elected official at a public event outside that Safeway, put a gun to her head, and fired. He shot other people as well, and there was at least one other gun in the crowd. Clearly the congresswoman was targeted, clearly her death was, to the gunman, worth the inevitable additional injury that would follow. I can taste in my memory the early January air of Tucson, dry and cool, probably a note of mesquite or cedar, certainly warm with sunshine. I imagine that right before the air split in two, people were buying their Saturday groceries so as to leave Sunday free for church and football. They loaded their food (plenty to feed their families) into their trunks, started their cars, and turned on their radios to listen to whatever voices would confirm the truths they already held to be self-evident.



Robert Best said...

It's strange that the same state where the smell of greasewood bushes let you know just how long it's been since the last rain, the austere yet stunning purple-hued mountains in the early evening convinces some that there is a higher power is the same state where death panels are real and a disturbing undercurrent of insecurity and paranoia pervades. Of course, I live in Tejas so we have enough nutjobs to go around...

Yoga Mom with a thing for fiber said...

Thank you for describing my conflicting feelings about home as well. Couldn't wait to leave after high school, but miss it so viscerally, especially in winter when I still expect to smell orange blossoms.
It has been hard to listen to the radio and harder to stop since the shooting happened. My mom lives in Tucson now and was friendly with Gabi Giffords. That was the kind of event my mom is likely to attend. This one she happened to miss.
Thank goodness for her, but still so many hurt or dead and another step backward for our country.

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