The campground was closed.
Every choice I have made has led me here. A school bus on the side of the road, 7 young people, and the man I love climbing over rocks turning blue in the dusk. And New Mexico spilling out below us, the red rocks bluing. In the evening air, Lake Abiqui luminous in the last light. There is a silver necklace looped over one fence post. The three youngest gather around it, passing it from hand to the next person’s hand. They agree, in unison, that the chain is to be returned and left there, as it is surely some token of superstition, of love, fear, of Cross Road promises.
When I was 14 years old we left my father. He was. Simply. A very cruel human, and leaving him was hard. Learning to live without fear seemed impossible. That summer, my mother, in a fit of pique, said – let’s drive cross country from Indiana to Santa Fe and visit her youngest sister. So. We packed up my 5-year-old brother, put down an air mattress in the back of the van, and started out. I wore a pink sundress and had a ribbon in my hair. Big glasses. Long legs. Skinny and awkward and broken and scared. I read the maps, and she called me her navigator. Once. In the Ozarks, my mother’s nightmares woke us all up (and possibly the whole campgrounds) with her screams. I had no idea then what it took for her to leave him. To drive an old van with two kids toward family. At camp stores, I bought Louie L’Amore books and dreamed of what the southwest would look like. I met temporary best friends and ran amok in KOAs and Jellystone campgrounds. Every day as we went west I would build up walls around my heart with this sentence in my head, “It won’t be as beautiful as you think.” I had spent my whole life protecting my heart.
And then we hit that New Mexico border.
And the world spilled out.
Red rocks and golden sun and my breath caught in my heart throat with every view.
I forgot to convince myself that it wouldn’t be beautiful. Because it was. It was. And my whole world shifted.
And it never stopped. I started seeing it. Everywhere. The way the light fell on the face of sunflowers and those I loved. The rain in the mountains. The waves of corn. The street lights at midnight. All of it. More beautiful than I expected.
And then, in my forties, my whole life shifted again. I was lost and broken and trampled on. And I remembered. That it might be as beautiful as I thought it was. That love might be as beautiful. That a new life might be as beautiful. And. It is.
I went west. With the man didn’t know I’d find. And the beautiful family we made. And the campground was closed. And we drove and in the dark found Echo Canyon, New Mexico. When we awoke the next morning with the sun coming through the old bus’s windows, it was so beautiful that the 7 young people jumped out of their beds and ran across the red earth, laughing and calling to each other, clambering up rocky slopes. With every expectation that the day would be as beautiful as it began. And it was.