how i found you

How I Found: My Home
March 24, 2009, 8:02 pm
Filed under: my home | Tags: , , ,

We moved states every two years when I was a kid: West Virginia, Connecticut, Texas, Florida. When I was ten, we settled in Baton Rouge, LA, my mom’s hometown, and my parents put me in Catholic school. I made a few friends, went fishing in lakes, had crushes on boys that ended painfully (Steven Davis, 7th grade, would sit behind me in religion class and measure the width of my Cuban-Italian ass.)

At my public high school, I transcended boredom by transcribing the lyrics to my favorite Pearl Jam songs during class while most of my friends started doing drugs. I just watched: the boys poured their 40’s out in memory of Kurt Cobain; my best friend, a preacher’s daughter, came to school with purple hair, her belly big and pregnant. We were white suburban kids, living in pristine little subdivisions called “Wedgewood” and “Shenandoah,” pissed off at something we had yet to define: there was a feeling that the world was just outside the door, waiting to open so we could breathe clean air. But all we could see was the slightest sliver of light underneath the doorjamb.

College was where the door, which had slowly cracked open to allow a glimpse of the green outside, blew apart. Finally, free from the safety of fellow middle class Christian kids, I stood on the steps and surveyed the street. Then I went for a long walk, past the houses that all looked the same. The more I walked, the more the view changed. For a long time, I saw the same tall oaks and bayous, but with every liberal arts class I took, the view became Walden, the Southwest as seen from the lens of Ansel Adams, paintings by Georgia O’Keefe. I heard about the counter-culture movement of the 50’s and 60’s. I read the Beat poets. I stopped shaving my legs, I started smoking pot. I wanted to go West, and see what it was that drew so many people that way.

*   *   *

At 20, high on first love, Jason and I drove my Dodge Spirit northwest, towards Colorado. Neither of us had ever been west of Houston, had never seen even a hill, and we were Rocky Mountain-bound. Cutting through Amarillo, TX, still fairly flat country, led us west to Tucumcari, NM, and then northward. Somewhere in that expanse, we had to pull over: up ahead, Mountains, dusted like jagged cupcakes with spring snow. On the side of the road we cried at actual mountains, at vistas which spread a hundred miles in all directions. We kept driving, we laughed with glee at the “rivers,” which, to us, were fresh faced creeks that could have been swallowed a hundred times by Lady Mississippi’s luscious brown mouth. We threw our Marlboro Lights away; the air was too clean for cigarette smoke. We took pictures of clouds, scratched our flaking skin, and marveled at our hair, line straight in the dry air.

Five years later, Jason and I had parted ways amicably: he was in North Carolina for massage therapy school, and I was applying to MFA programs all over the Southwest. I had just been fired from my job at a non-profit and was utterly aimless. Just a few months after my brother’s suicide left me numb and sick with grief, I was out alone one night to hear music at Chelsea’s Bar. Matt, the friend of a friend, was there, telling me he was leaving the next day for a two-week-long camping trek through New Mexico, Colorado, Utah. The story of my brother surfaced and Matt’s eyes grew wide and soft. “Do you wanna come?” he asked. Briefly, I hesitated. But we left the next evening, his Chevy truck filled with camping gear, his wolf-hybrid and me and my little mutt, Pepper.

Santa Fe was where it happened. I remember thinking, “I’m going to live here one day.” This was the Southwest I had imagined: houses made of dirt bricks; cloudless skies; women, so different from Southern belles, in baseball caps and rugged sandals; health food stores selling items like tofu and seaweed. I’d never known of such things. But I liked it.

A week into our trip, Matt and I believed we were in love. We planned on never going back to Baton Rouge. Instead, we would pitch a tent, get jobs, save up some money, and move out here to Santa Fe.

*   *   *

By 29, I was engaged. To, by all accounts, a great guy. Then why was I having panic attacks? Why did I feel trapped and alone?

That was when Santa Fe finally became a reality. Aaron, my fiancée, and I were living 300 miles south of Santa Fe in Las Cruces, NM, where I had just finished my MFA. (Matt was a memory; we hadn’t spoken since we split, just a few weeks after returning from our whirlwind trip.)

It was Aaron who called it off, for which I was (later) so thankful. But even though he realized we weren’t ready to get married, he wanted to stay together, to make our relationship work but not feel the pressure of impending nuptials. But after three years together, we still weren’t sure about each other, and I knew this was indicative of something greater than simple cold feet. As I heard what Aaron was saying, I knew that to stay with him would be to put my life on hold, to keep living based on what he wanted instead of what I, or even we, wanted. So I asked myself, “What do you want, for you?” And the answer was so clear: move to Santa Fe.

Since I’ve been here, magic has happened. Doors have opened while others have happily sealed shut. Aaron is now married to someone else. I live just north of Santa Fe on a lavender farm in a gorgeous valley called Nambe, with apricot trees and the Sangre de Cristo mountains just outside my kitchen window. The rising sun and the crows of roosters wake me every morning. And the three doors to my house all have windows. So I can see.

Nena Villamil holds a BA in English Literature at Louisiana State University (Baton Rouge) and a MFA from New Mexico State University (Las Cruces.) Currently, she lives on a lavender farm in Nambe, NM and feels extremely blessed to be doing so. As a graduate student, she taught freshman and sophomore English classes at NMSU and worked as a coordinator at NMSU’s Writing Center. Nena also taught for Upward Bound program, a program encouraging low-income youth to pursue college. Currently, she runs an Upward Bound program for students in Pojoaque and Ojo Caliente, NM. When not working, you can find her with her dog, Pepper, on their favorite hiking trail in Nambe, likely with a piece of cheese or chocolate in hand.


1 Comment so far
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There’s something wonderfully transient about this story. The journey, the journey, the journey.
Life is restlessness.
Well done, well played.

Comment by Al Martinez

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