July 2nd, 2015: It’s been two to three years at least, and now that I’m back, it’s just not the same. It’s more like one of my childhood’s favorite toys that sits in the corner of the back yard, now mossy, lifeless, and whose batteries were long handed over to some other distraction of finer merit.
July 7th, 2015: Albuquerque is nearly two thousand miles away from me now and I’m writing this from my dining room table at the far end of Long Island.
It was a short trip, ten days, but one which allowed me to revisit my childhood home. I moved to Albuquerque from Iowa somewhere between 3 and 4. My memories of that time are only vague now and come to me in flashes when called forth. I grew up with my two cousins at my grandmother’s house down in an area of town called the north valley. We played and played, and before I knew it, I was eighteen and I had graduated high school.
In that time I had swum in the Rio Grande on multiple occasions, learned the rudimentary linguistic set of Spanish (after having reconsidered from French my first day of 6th Grade – thanks for the reasoning, Dad), and I ate enough green chile to need a tongue transplant. The stuff is good.
I only recognized a few streets. The names of the streets were very familiar, and I recognized them right away. But when it came to getting there and working my way around town, it just wasn’t working. That’s okay. But it is weird. It’s weird because this place occupied a mammoth chapter in my life. It was the stage of my formative years. I knew the streets, I had a girlfriend, friends, school, soccer, weekends, a personal schedule…I had a life, a rhythm. And then I left.
And now when I look back, the time hits me. That was 20 years ago.
As an adolescent growing up in New Mexico, I wasn’t too fond of the place. Perhaps like many teenagers, I wanted my name in lights. I wanted to exist somewhere famous, where there was stuff to do. No, no, not stuff like hiking or desert; that doesn’t count as stuff. I wanted to live in a town where there was a famous basketball team, like the Yankees, or the Dodgers (*yes – these are baseball teams. A friend pointed this out. Oops.), or something like that. I wanted to live in a place where famous people lived, where popular music was being written and played, where people went to race, or eat famous food. I wanted to live in a place that was…not where I was. Don’t get me wrong; this wasn’t some desire that consumed me. It was just me being a teenager, I suppose. I used to think it was weird that I wore the athletic hats of certain sports teams when I wasn’t from those places. How could I really call myself a Minnesota Twins fan when I was neither from Minnesota nor a twin?
I don’t know. That was what the 18-year old me thought, or at least the 16-year old me.
But again, that was twenty years ago. It’s amazing the lessons life teaches you in that amount of time. It seems like a long time, doesn’t it, twenty years? But it’s not. That’s the smoke and mirrors Father Time plays on us.
Looking back, New Mexico was a beautiful place with its own spirit and color to it. Still is. It’s not the New Mexico I grew up with, but then again, why would it be? No one ever steps in the same river twice.
Some of the same people are there – my family’s still there (most of them, at least), and just as in the first paragraph of every one of Jordan‘s Wheel of Time books, “The Wheel of Time turns…leaving memories that become legend.” Well, it’s not that dramatic. It’s Albuquerque, not Tar Valon. It’s still there, very alive, and very real. It’s still the heart of the Southwest, full of cowboy legends and Navajo whispers. It’s still where you go for terrific green chile, and the Rio Grande is still a rio, though sadly, it seems to have lost a bit too much of its ‘Grande.’ It’s all these things, It’s just not my Albuquerque anymore.
Yet, it’s still a very warm place, and a place for which I am grateful. The energy of that town has shaped me, added, enhanced, and shaded my life, all in a beautiful mysterious way which, all the while I was there, was hidden from me.
In so many words, I’ve appreciated my visit to the Southwest home of my younger self. I felt again its embrace of my return and its perennial contentment of my fondness for it.