Wednesday, January 13, 2010

That time of day . . .

This post has been hard for me to write. I started it in the autumn of 2009 and have just finished it (though I may come back and proofread it for minor changes in the coming days).

There's something about late afternoon with the changing light leaving long shadows across the earth as the sun is starting to set. It reminds me of so many things. In this transitional period before we're left in darkness, I both dread and enjoy the memories and accompanying feelings sunset usually evokes.

When I was still a student at Culver (that would be Culver Girls Academy, in Culver, IN during the following years: 1985-1989), my mom would come out to visit every few months, whether it was just for a regular weekend or an official Parents' Weekend. She'd come out for a weekend and take me out "on leave" 'til Sunday evening.

I specifically remember one late afternoon, early evening, when it was still sorta warm out and mellifluous light was washing over us. We were in her car (a rental car, I think?) one late afternoon. Maybe we were heading to the hotel in South Bend or Ft. Wayne or to dinner after she picked me up on campus. I can't seem to recall any exact details other than the facts that we were in the car and the light was golden and starting to fade. I remember her telling me that she loved this time of day. I think I asked her why, but I didn't really get why.

This time of day during my four years at Culver always made me feel . . . well, "depressed" isn't actually the right word. Maybe "blue" or homesick or wishing the day weren't over yet. When I think back to that afternoon, I think that I felt like that because I knew her visit would be wrapping up soon. It would be over after dinner, and that night's sleep. Or possibly I was feeling the beginning of homesickness or missing her, because, perhaps because it was already Sunday evening, and she was taking me back to campus, and things would be back to normal, off to the races the next day.

To this day, I can still recall how vividly I felt like I already missed her; I'd just wanted to rewind time so that I'd have an extra day or a few more hours with her before it was time to head back to campus.

My missing her during late afternoon's dwindling light kinda morphed into something else as time went on. For instance, I experienced a completely different feeling while I was at OTS (the US Air Force's Officer Training School) at Maxwell Air Force Base, in Montgomery, AL.

I'd gotten to Montgomery in mid-August, just about a month before autumn started, when the hot, sticky humid days of summer began getting shorter and held the distant hope of cooler temperatures. My recruiter out of West Des Moines, IA had told me not to get there and report in too early in the day (she'd said exactly: "Don't get there first thing in the morning, or too early in the day. From what I hear, they may be 'mean' to you."), so I timed it per the recruiter's instructions and got there just after lunch. That particular day ended up being overcast and kinda drizzly all day, with a harder falling rain happening every often. The gray, wet day, the nervous tension of not knowing what to expect for the next 12.5 weeks, and the rushing around doing various in-processing tasks prevented late afternoon from having any sort of "homesickness" to it . . . though I'd eventually "grown out" of being homesick by this point in my life.

However, once my fellow squadron-mates and I were settled into a daily routine, I started noticing that when the sun began its journey towards the horizon, and the light had that certain familiar Midas quality about it, I felt  . . . like I should expect something. Like I would be given just a moment to breathe a sigh of relief. There would be a magic moment when all the 50-million tasks we had to complete, all the stress, the "I need to give 110% every moment of the day" necessities would pause for just that moment.

After eating our evening meal, as we were marching back to our dorm, I always felt like, "we're almost there." Like I would be okay . . .  as soon as we got back to our dorm, there was the promise of a moment's respite. Sure, there'd be one thing or another (polishing boots, ironing uniforms, an upperclassman yelling at one or all of us). But I knew that there'd be just a little while when I'd get a "time out" and have 2 or 3 hours of peace . . . of sleep . . . before the cycle started again.

However, what really makes me love sunset is the saudade I feel when I think about the long shadows Midas' sun creates in the evening as the sun paints the Southwest a coppery-brown, turning the mountains a liquid gold.

I spent a lot of time in Tucson, AZ, El Paso, TX, and Alamogordo, NM while I was on Active Duty in the Air Force. It was in these places, Tucson and Alamogordo, especially, that I began to really appreciate the way the setting sun painted the earth with a golden glow.

It was like I was home, and there was nothing to worry about, even though there was plenty to worry about, if I really put my mind to it. Let me see if I can explain . . .

I had, for a time, an Appendix Quarter Horse named Wild Stride, but who we called Cotton. He came to me for a few brief months, arriving in Tucson on Cinco de Mayo, 2001, a Saturday. He was my friend Brenda's horse; she sent him to me as "therapy" for me for something that happened earlier that year. This is a story for another time, however. I'm not getting into it now.

Anyway, he and I had a wonderful time together during his brief stay with me, his reason for leaving was 9/11; Brenda came to get him in October, because I was on 12-hour shifts at work, and it cut into my time with him, and I felt bad, feeling like I was neglecting him; it hurt me when he had to leave, but I wanted to do what was best for him.

He gave me something great, though. One of my favorite memories is our last trail ride together. It was a day after work, when I was able to leave a little early. I headed to the barn for a ride. I groomed him, put a bridle on him, got up on him bareback, and we headed out on a trail. It was magic. The sun was starting to set, and everything was aglow, the mountains, the wash, the ground, Cotton, everything, was dressed by Midas, golden. Cotton was very mellow, and it was like he was there solely so we could enjoy each other's company. Ahhh. All was right with the world on that trail ride.

Then, I remember a time when I'd first met Andrew on a TDY (Temporary Duty) the week after 9/11/01 in Montgomery, Alabama - yes, the same place I went to OTS, Maxwell Air Force Base. We were there for two weeks for a logistics class. When I got back home to Tucson, I had a feeling of saudade: I was home, but I felt a longing for something else, something I wasn't sure I'd ever be able to have. See, I didn't know if or when I'd see Andrew again, and I missed him; I missed his company. I remember that a song called "7 Days" by Craig David was big, and I heard it all the time after getting back. It sorta reminded me of how we met. It made me feel saudade for him. I'd hear this song on a Saturday when I was at the car wash, and I'd think of him. I'd hear it on the way to the stables to visit Cotton before he left, and I'd think of Andrew. You get the idea . . .

Well, of course Andrew ended up coming out to Tucson to visit once - to be my "date" for the Air Force Birthday Ball originally scheduled for September, but postponed 'til November due to the 9/11 attacks on the US. Of course, this was also at the same time I was promoted to 1st Lieutenant, and was also the week after my birthday.

I remember showing him around Tucson since he'd never been there. I remember taking him to a Mexican restaurant the day he flew in; the restaurant was La Parilla Suiza. He got there at this time of day - the time that the sun, the ground, the atmosphere in general, gets a golden glow about it. I remember his giving me a birthday present, a necklace with a pendant - a topaz pendant - my birthstone which just so happens to be the same color as Tucson's setting sun, the color of the shadows and light that used to make me melancholy, but that I started loving during my time in the Southwest.

I also remember taking him to the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, hiking to 7 Falls . . . lots of places there in the arid landscape that I really love, miss, and yes, feel saudade for, this desert beauty. I remember hearing Jewel's "Standing Still," "Fallin'" by Alicia Keys, or Shakira's "Whenever, Wherever" and, well, you know how you sometimes hear a song at a point in your life, and hearing it later will automatically take you back to that time? These songs do it for me, taking me back to Tucson, and bringing saudade with them.

Fast forward to mid-2006 - Andrew was deployed, and Olivia and I had to move by ourselves to Alamogordo, NM for a new assignment. As Charles Dickens wrote, "it was the best of times, it was the worst of times," and this certainly applied to me. I was leaving an assignment I would never want to repeat, going back to my beloved Southwest. The story of Holloman Air Force Base is best left for another time. But the fact that I was in New Mexico, well, it seemed to make things okay.

They call New Mexico "The Land of Enchantment," and I think it really enchanted me, and Andrew, too, for that matter. We loved New Mexico, and being so close to El Paso. We loved going to Mesilla, near Las Cruces, Santa Fe, up north (I promise to tell you about our short few hours in Santa Fe), and being surrounded by the high desert's arid beauty.

All of this beauty, returning to New Mexico, to El Paso, seems unlikely as I sit in my dining room here in east-central Iowa, with snow on the ground, the afternoon sun pale in comparison to its golden splendor it displays in the Southwest. Maybe it's just saudade enveloping me, making me want to cry, and run to my grandparents' house in old El Paso, to the smells of tacos and beans cooking in my grandmother's kitchen . . . the chorizo, eggs, and tortillas in the morning, to my grandfather's spearmint gum, to the warmth of their home; I want to go back. But it seems like that will never happen now, and the longing, and inability to go back to what once was . . . that is just what saudade is - the best of times AND the worst, the bittersweet heaviness of my heart, remembering certain wonderful memories, and trying to reach back to them, and they're just out of my grasp.

1 comment:

Andrew said...

You should add the chocolates and the purple cat from the Disney store.

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