Earlier this week, the boys and I were running errands in Scottsdale, a city I haven’t had to be in, in over 15 years. Afterwards, my oldest son asked me if we could drive over to a “toy store” (a collectibles store) in a small strip mall located in the Paradise Valley area. We’d been there earlier this month for my birthday, when we had dinner at an old Chinese restaurant haunt of mine. Next door are the collectibles. We didn’t have any other plans, so we made our way.
There are a lot of new freeways and highways and all sort of ways to get around Arizona, roads I never had to drive on when I lived here many years ago. Knowing me and my total lack for all things pertaining to direction, I relied on old habits. I drove down a familiar road, confident it would get me to our destination.
To the right of us, an Olive Garden became visible as we made our way through lunch hour traffic. I pointed at the restaurant, telling my boys, “I know this Olive Garden!” Slightly ahead of us, on the corner, sat Paradise Valley Mall. Even though I haven’t been back to this particular area in many, many years, it felt like I knew my surroundings so well! With that revelation, something odd happened.
I became emotional.
I couldn’t figure out why. I mean, we passed an Olive Garden, and a mall. So? A restaurant and a mall generally don’t produce an emotional response out of someone, yet there I was, with tears in my eyes. What???
Yesterday, my husband and I celebrated six years of marriage! He deserves a medal for so many things (putting up with me being one of those things). He decided that we should celebrate by visiting some of our old haunts. For him, it’s been seven years since he said goodbye to the Valley of the Sun. It was interesting to me that his idea for our anniversary coincided so much with what I’d been dealing with at an emotional level. I hadn’t mentioned to him what I’d been feeling, because I felt a little silly (you know, Olive Garden and a mall making me emo and what not). I couldn’t put anything into words, or explain what was going on, anyway. I didn’t want to put a damper on our afternoon, an afternoon lined up with a sitter, time spent alone, just the two of us.
After a delicious lunch at Flo‘s, in Scottsdale, we drove to the apartment community he lived in, before moving to Nebraska.
His apartment was located somewhere between these two buildings, at Franks on Shea. I asked him if he ever missed living there. He told me he didn’t, not really. Back then, his life consisted of work, and the apartment, and that was pretty much the gist of things. He’d only been there a year before he packed up his belongings and as he puts it, “re-rolled his life”.
Next up was my old apartment, but we had to drive to the 12th and Bell area. I remembered how to find the community, but finding the exact apartment I lived in was harder to do. There’s not a whole lot I remember about the place, other than a few things, like the time my sister flew from Oregon to visit me, and at some point spilled Sprite soda all over the carpet. She was a teenager at the time and it was a total accident, but I still freaked out over it. Sorry, Sis. Or the walk to the pool. I loved the flowers and the heat and the general feeling of freedom I had while making my way for a swim. (It was my first apartment.) Sometimes, I’d run across a field located next to my community, in order to visit a friend who lived in the community next door. We were very close and lost touch years ago, but I still think of her on occasion. I wonder how she’s doing.
We drove to Dragon Palace, the Chinese restaurant haunt of mine. I frequented the joint or did take out probably once/week back in the day, and I haven’t found any other place in any other state I’ve lived in that has better crab puffs. When we had that birthday dinner at DP a few weeks ago, I felt like I’d time warped back fifteen years! The lemon chicken hasn’t changed, which for a nostalgic sap like me is a good thing.
When I suggested we head over to the place we’d first met, I found out it was already on my husband’s agenda.
We were just kids, back then. Neither of us thought so, of course. He was a newlywed, and I had a boyfriend. We had separate lives and were going in different directions. We were friends, and it was okay. That was life, fifteen or so years ago.
The building is empty. The company we’d worked for relocated years ago, yet spending a little time outside the glass doors at the place my husband and I first met put a lot of things into perspective for me. I’m emotional because I moved to Arizona a young woman, leaving behind everything and everyone I’d known to start a new life for myself. I was nineteen years old. In the short time I initially lived here, so much happened in my life, a chapter I’d closed fast and in some ways, too soon. As my husband put it: “You never really had any closure.”
And maybe not.
I’m here again, now a grown woman. I can’t seem to relate or identify with the girl I’d been all those years ago, yet there are pieces of me all over the place, like scattered memories. The zing of the lemon chicken and the cream in the crab puffs, or the enjoyment I feel when it rains in the desert. I still love that smell, even after all these years. It’s the things I used to appreciate about Arizona, and it’s still there for me, even now, after I’ve grown and changed but maybe I haven’t changed as much as I’d thought. At the core of me, I’m still, me.
We tried Camelback Mountain, but we couldn’t find the trail head. I really want to go hiking, when it cools off a little. After a much-needed Dairy Queen stop and a couple of blizzards, we headed home, to the East Valley. Back to our lives.
I’ve said this many times before, but it will always resonate for me. What I’ve experienced in my life, the road I’ve traveled led me to my destination. Arizona was a pit stop even when I didn’t see it that way, the roots I’d planted never really gone, but waiting for me. I can’t help but feel I’ve come full circle in so many ways, yet I’m starting new adventures and a new life, too. So different, yet in some ways, still the same girl who was full of big dreams when she made her way to Arizona many years ago.
And I’m with this wonderful man, who still thinks I’m awesome. Even if I do get emo over an Olive Garden and a mall.