I roam the streets of Tucson looking for her.
I obsessively drive past the apartment where I used to live with N. I drive through the U of A campus -- where the only familiar landmark now is the clocktower. I pass by Greasy Tony's where I ate too many meatball subs with girlfriends from my African-American lit class. And I stop and wander 4th Avenue -- the funky arts district with the coolest feminist bookstore in the state of AZ. Antigone's. Though it's moved from one corner of the street to the other in the 20 years since I lived in Tucson, it's still the same blue-walled safe space.
There's the tie-die shops. The Hippie Gypsy, where I spent way too much money on a Janis Joplin T-shirt to help bring me back into my novel. The Blue Willow Cafe (which, to be fair, is not on 4th Avenue, but on Campbell & Grant), where I used to go on Saturday mornings for breakfast and wonder why I was living in a place where the sun shone 350 days of the year.
Yesterday, I did these things again -- a solitary breakfast at Blue Willow, where this time I read The Tucson Weekly and saw that WRITING BEGINS WITH THE BREATH was their #10 bestseller that week. (I almost choked on my pinto bean burrito). I debated going back to 4th Avenue or to return to I-10 and head home. It's been a very long week. I gassed up at a Chevron on Prince and Campbell and sat for ten minutes trying to convince myself that I didn't need to spend the $200 I would surely spend if I went back to 4th Avenue. But I went back anyway. And yes, I contributed to the local economy in a way that would please the current administration.
I left Tucson in a rush in 1988. I didn't even stay for my graduation. I had finally broken up with N and just wanted to start over again far far away. I ripped myself away from Tucson, but I left a piece of my flesh there, wandering 4th Avenue, wondering what happened to the Goodwill where she bought her first used couch. I left her hanging out in the Modern Languages Building on the U of A campus hoping to hear something she missed while she was fighting N, and fighting the grief over her father's death.
I catch glimpses of her sometimes, in fitting room mirrors in the vintage shops where I spent weekends. She doesn't have as many wrinkles as I do now. She also doesn't have as much hair!
I walk past The Coyote Wore Sideburns, a hair salon that is still exactly where it was in 1988, where I went to shave my head after leaving N. My hair then was long; mid-back. "Get rid of it," I said to the heavily tattoed woman.
"What's his name?" she said.
I told her.
"We'll get you back," she said. And in less than ten minutes, my head held only a peach fuzz of hair. I didn't let it grow long again for 19 years.
When I visit Tucson, I feel her breathing. I chase her, but when I get close enough to touch her shoulder, she disappears into the fierce morning light. I can't quite bring myself to leave without her, but I can't stay long enough to find her. So I get back in the car and head west again, following the train tracks. She has to wander, I guess, and I have to go looking for her.
Maybe one day she'll forgive me for leaving her, and maybe one day I'll forgive her for staying.