“It’s time to leave. Wave goodbye, and we’ll get on with our adventure,” my father said as if the pile of stucco and memories were a living thing to hug us and wish us well in return. No one could say I was upset about leaving. If I were, I played it off well for a fifteen-year-old. It manifested more like numbness and lack of attachment that would follow me for the next twenty-two years.
Grandma bent over each of us and gave the “bendición,” a tradition going away blessing in the Hispanic culture. She wiped away my mother’s tears, she hugged her son-in-law, who had been a second son to her all these years, and she kissed her grand-babies. To my knowledge, no one ever left New Mexico. You were born there, married and lived there, and tended to die there. To break that cycle was near sacrilege to my people. Maybe that’s what made it such an exciting prospect to me. I would get out of that cycle, out of this place that I had come to feel people didn’t live in, they just existed there. It wouldn’t be until fourteen years later that I came to realize my birthplace, Santa Fe, wasn’t just a place but a way of life.
When my father pulled the family together three months earlier, it seemed like any other Friday night chat. We would discuss the weekend plans for the annual Hatch green chile roasting or maybe see my aunts in Glorieta to play with their dog.
“Your mother and I want to run something by you guys,” my father started, looking a little hesitant at the smiling faces of his son and daughter. “We think it’s time for a little change. How would you feel about moving?”
My younger sister and I looked at each other and shrugged.
“Sounds cool. Where too?” I was the first to speak.
“Washington State,” came the reply. “My mother,” he said, referring to his own, “will be coming down from Alaska for cancer treatment. We think it is a good time to be a little closer to her. We also want to show you, kids, that no one has to stay in any one place forever. Moving can be done, and it is a perfectly fine thing to do.” The look of concern on my mother’s face did not escape me. “ We know this is a huge change, and we want to be open to your thoughts, questions, or worries. There will be better educational opportunities for you kids and better job opportunities for your mother and I. We feel it’s the right time for us all.”
At the time, my mother’s maiden name was well known in the area and had been for generations. It seemed like Grandma and grandpa knew everyone in the state, and I felt like royalty. While moving to a foreign land would leave me in a state of obscurity, the prospect of something new had a more potent allure than fear of the unknown. I couldn’t have anticipated how hard a struggle it would be to later find my “tribe” within the people I lived among. Everything would change. Peers would ask to see my “green card” because they didn’t understand New Mexico was a state, no one would believe I am Hispanic, and when adulthood hit, finding my people again, my place in the world, would be one of the greatest struggles of my life. I would become a nomad, moving twenty more times before planting the thinnest of roots forty-seven-hundred miles from “home.”
“Can I be someone else?” I asked my parents. “I want to be different.”
“Yes, honey,” my mom piped in. “You can be whoever you want to be as long as you are happy.”
“I want to be brave! I want to be noticed and interesting,” I told them. “I wanna be a rock star!”
My statement elicited a laugh from my parents and sister, but they knew what I was getting at. I wanted a change, and clearly, I was ready for it.
We began packing our rooms the next day. I had my jeans, t-shirts, stereo, and collection of Led Zeppelin albums ready to go. Everything else was just fluff. We planned to load a thirty-foot U-Haul with our life’s possessions, then my father and I would drive it north. Mom and Rachel would hang back until we returned for the final push.
Did I just not care about leaving? Why did I feel so indifferent to everything? I had a social group, but it was nothing to write home about. Believe it or not, I was sick and tired of the sunshine. My father, sister, and I loved rainy days in New Mexico. We would open all the shades to the cool, iron-gray clouds and loved to watch the thunder and lightning storms. New Mexico is unique in that you can smell a storm coming long before it ever reaches you. It smells like copper, like pennies. The smell only grows when the rain mixes with the red clay dirt. There’s nothing like it anywhere else. I would miss that. Even in rainy Washington, you can’t smell it. Maybe it’s nose-blindness after so much moisture in the air.
As the last of the big boxes were loaded into the truck, I started to feel something. Not sorrow, and not loneliness, but something like a tiny little piece inside of me was breaking off. It didn’t hurt, and it didn’t make me sad. I just felt different. I felt almost superior because I was leaving that piece behind in the hope of gaining a new, more significant piece. It was a badge of honor that showed I made it out.
The engine turned over, my dad slammed his door shut, and into the cassette player went “Boston’s” debut album. We were ready, and we were gone. There was nothing left to say but goodbye to the pile of stucco and memories.