i am exhausted and running out of gas, but friends want a selfie. The sign behind me says welcome to Arizona and I can’t help but wonder if I am really welcomed. Midwestern states were a blur. 2020 was a blur, one that sneaks up on me during warm mornings, provoking violent heaviness and thoughts of sweaty summer days on a lonely third-floor balcony, gasping for a new air, hoping it will reach my decaying lungs. I am driving west on Interstate 40 and I have no idea where I am going. My mother struggles to breathe from a hospital bed, but she says “Go” in-between those breaths, and I do.
I shake off the thought as I feel the warmth of my friend’s arms around me while we pose. The pictures take longer than some of their attention spans but I promise myself to continue being present and to enjoy the little time I have with them. Ana and Nilufar had already turned around after our unsuccessful attempt at camping in Santa Fe; we really thought we were that kind of folks who can seamlessly camp out, of course, the lack of planning caught up with us there. I miss them already, I miss home; they are fractures. Slowly I begin to realize the truth: I have left everything behind and there is no turning back.
I nervously check my phone for new updates that are not coming. I am ready to be there, wherever it is that I am going. I was accepted into Prescott College in early spring and decided to attend before knowing the world would be disrupted by a pandemic. My academic journey was interrupted for so long due to a lack of immigration status and “lockout” policies in my home state of Missouri that deny undocumented students access to higher education. When the opportunity came to embark on an education journey and attend college tuition-free, I took it. I left my career, my family, everything.
Navajo land approaches and fields of yellow greet me in the distance. I am grieving so many things. I wish I had the time to process these emotions, but I just want to forever get lost in these fields of hope. It’s sometime in August, and I am beginning to think that I lost July in my lungs. What is time anyway? As Natalia drives, I sit on the passenger side, remembering the days where I would imagine waves of happenings happening without me, without all the people that will never see another August; or another summer July. As I stare out the blurry car window, I remember I stood in the street corner by that empty third-floor apartment. I stood there, recklessly, the virus contagiously running out of me. But I wanted to see the moon and think of the times I thought we were immortal. I guess we are not. I guess you are now. Half of my soul is still standing in that corner waiting for what I lost–including July.
It has been only a few days since you died and I cant see a motorcycle that doesn’t remind me of us riding along the ocean when I was just thirteen. At the hospital, you made friends with the nurses and after everything you were going through, you made them laugh because you knew we all deserve that. You taught me that. In our last conversation, you told me you loved and joked about your own life, revealing that you knew that this was the end of the road. Three days ago mom woke up; the following day she watched you die, the phone clutched in her hand, her audible tears reaching me through the phone. Now you are gone, and I am leaving.
A week ago my life consisted of waking up and struggling to walk around and feed myself. Days felt like months alone, in that empty apartment on the third floor. The electricity in my chest prevented me from talking, but I would call the hospital every day and ask for you both. Time has been suspended since then. I find myself staring at the dirty mirror, behind me, I see my friends and I feel protected. I smile for the first time since Kansas while SZA plays loudly in the car.
Seven months later I will be sitting on a granite rock on Thumb Butte Road, looking at the mountains and ponderosas trees, listening to the jays, and I will feel the closest to you. It will be April Fools Day, your birthday, and you will be 44. I will think of last summer how I think about your life: warm, tragic, and unforgettable. I will call my mother as often as I can, and sometimes we will just hear each other breathe. In those moments, silence will feel right. Her breathing is a sign of life; I am content with that.
It’s April, and Nilufar’s voice echoes in my head: “Practices of joy are revolutionary acts.” I decide to find joy in the junipers along the road, in the ravens calling out the names of those we lost, and in your memories, uncle Miguel. Through the loss and grief, I learn to trust my instincts and I begin to love myself again and let go of the guilt of leaving everything and everyone behind.
A small ocean forms in my face. I am uncertain of everything but as I drive into the unknown I know that I will be okay. The forest hugs the road and I pull myself back to reality. Leaving my family was difficult; loss almost prevented it, but I trusted the ones I love and they carried me here. I feel at home wherever I feel this joy and I am grateful to be alive. I am still on the road – but I know exactly where I am going.