I can hardly believe that it’s already September; looking down the line at the beginning of my very favorite time of year in the Pacific Northwest (September-November), I find that my mind is busy with contemplating the last few seasons, and–on a broader, more existential scale–the recent seasons of my life. Since last November, I’ve been on a very long and meandering road, one that has taken me from an unhappy, unhealthy life to one that is new and wonderful and very secure—one I feel damn good about. I’ve talked a lot about how vital the experiences of reconnecting with old friends have been to the distance I have been able to travel on this road, and I’m going to talk about it some more.
While my college days were not really so happy or carefree and subsequent reminiscences of that time have been equally heavy, my time in high school was—for the most part—the exact opposite. I went to high school in Tucson, Arizona, where my family lived for about six years. I was lucky enough to find and fit into a truly wonderful, eclectic group of friends who made my high school experience a totally fun, if not somewhat mischievous, time in my life. Those were the halcyon days for me: ditching school in my Jeep with the girls, going to ska concerts in dirty frat house backyards, taking over entire sections of excessively bright 24-hour diners—all that good teenager stuff.
But because I was eager to get out into the big, bold world, I left Tucson literally the very next day after graduating high school in order to go on a five-week NOLS course, sea-kayaking off the Southeastern coast of Alaska. Afterwards, I went off to college here in Washington and because of my father’s illness and death, rarely returned to Tucson to visit those friends who had been the core of my support system for so long. In fact, I only reunited with my Tucson friends once in five years to attend the wedding of my high school sweetheart and camp colleague, Johnny Waszczak.
Another five years have passed with very little contact, but two weeks ago, I drove down to Portland to surprise one of my dearest friends from high school, the mighty Dave McGinley, on his 30th birthday. I spent the day with Dave and our friends, Alex Talavera, Kevin Maloney, and Kristian Unvericht. I haven’t laughed so hard, so much in one day in a long, long time. Though life and the last 10 years have taken each of us to new parts of the country and new lifestyles, coming together again felt as easy as if no time had passed at all. Rather, it was really fun and joyful to figure out all the ways in which we’ve each changed, and all the ways we’ve stayed the same.
It was extremely difficult to leave behind once again that lovably foul-mouthed group of boys in order to get back up to Seattle to start my work week. Driving the two and a half hours from Portland back to Seattle, Mona passed out on the seat behind me, I let the blueish stretch of asphalt in front of my headlights become the stage for a replaying of all my favorite memories of high school, of that time in my life before everything changed so drastically for me, before I started to become the person I am now.
Revisiting these parts of my past has been a bag of mixed feelings for me. On one hand, I look at the life I lived when my father was still alive as if it were a dream—a fantasy that feels so permanently out of reach now. It’s a bittersweet, often sorrow-filled gaze that looks back on that life, that other Tanya. But on the other, I am learning that it feels really good to remember such happy times, and to spend time with people who are able to see how far I’ve come.
What’s more, it feels extra comforting to reconnect with old friends who knew and loved my father. As I get older and move into new phases of my life, the percentage of people in my life who were fortunate enough to know my father becomes smaller and smaller. And in that process, those lucky few who loved and laughed with my father become ever more precious—almost scared and untouchable to me.
I’m busily working on a new poem about my life in Tucson, but since it isn’t quite ready for public eyes yet, I’ve posted the poem I wrote a few years back, after attending Johnny’s wedding–the only trip I’ve made to Arizona in 10 years. Here’s to us not let so much time pass between visits, ok boys?
Notes On My High School Sweetheart’s Wedding
The desert quinine rubs my teeth,
works the enamel like a highly refined polymer.
The grit fixes itself to my skin
like a shiny wet leech,
but leeches don’t live here at all.
I stare at the empty riverbeds, remembering
their self-fulfilling Spanish names,
they way they overflowed, flush
with silty rainwater, every August.
Those windless desert mornings
were the best part of the day;
I watched for them–
a universe retrograding.
I haven’t lived in the desert for a long while,
but I can sense, if I shade my eyes just so
and close my ears to these city sounds,
the sun against my shins, the scorch and bake
of the late desert mornings.
Where I live now, ferns curl their fingers,
seductive and papery and wet.
Now they welcome me each morning.
They rule here, same as the saguaro did,
and the water they hold
tastes exactly the same.