Somewhere in central New Mexico last Sunday, somewhere around the pueblo named Laguna, I felt an echo of de je' vu and remembered the time, more than thirty years ago, when me and the cat were packed into a sky-blue VW hatchback, rumbling along the very same corridor on I-40, leaving Arizona and the Southwest and returning to the green cusp of the Great Plains, where I've lived ever since. The cat died years ago. That's another story.
On that trip, it was just she and I, a gorgeous calico. My wife and new baby girl had flown from Phoenix to Sioux City that very day, as I remember. A litter box was on the floor in the back; and by the time I got to Winslow or so, she'd stopped howling. Poor thing had never been in a car. The howling had been awful. She'd almost died in the desert.
It wasn't the cat I remembered last Sunday, it was the memory of a strange feeling that something was over--our four-years in Phoenix, where I'd really loved teaching in the kind of city high school I'd wanted to be part of since Welcome Back, Kotter or Room 222.
Me and the calico--our leaving meant the end of all of that, but I didn't regret leaving Arizona in the rearview. I remember thinking good things about returning to small-town Iowa, to the college where I'd been taught Calvinism--among a load of other things.
The Arizona administrator who'd hired me just two years before really disliked my return, but I was taking a college job. I knew if I were ever going to write anything I had to get out of high school--no matter how much I liked it--and get to a place where day-in, day-out classroom prep didn't entirely exhaust whatever creativity I had in me. I wanted to teach in college. I remember having the feeling that I'd not travel this way again--from Phoenix to Siouxland.
Last Sunday morning--sun so bright I couldn't see half the time--there I was again, same road. Laguna pueblo--I've got pictures--looked a whole lot different thirty-plus years ago. The landscape is the same, of course, just more people.
I suppose the moral lesson is that one never really closes up shop. Once, years ago, I thought I was on that section of freeway for the last time. Several times I've been there since, twice in the last six months; and, I'm betting, I'll be there again--soon, in fact.
Doors don't close, I suppose, don't lock but once maybe.
It was a gorgeous Sunday morning in the New Mexico highlands.