Our Desert Quinine

 My mind has mercifully not been my worst enemy lately, and for this, I am a grateful girl. Certainly I have to work to keep my overly active mind at bay sometimes, but for the most part, my brain and I have been working together quite well in recent months.

 My subconscious mind, however, has not been altogether as kind to me.

 I’ve said about a million times that grief, from its infinitely mercurial nature, tends to sneak up on us in strange and unpredictable ways; I don’t easily forget the old days, when a sad song on the radio could reduce me—literally—to a pile of sloppy tears on the floor of the local fabric store, and I like to think that I am much better prepared for such untimely grief freak-outs these days. I say it all the time: loss does not get easier with time, it just gets a little more familiar. I could say this, write it, repeat it to myself until I’m blue in the face, and grief would still find a way to surprise and horrify me.

 Indeed, grief-induced surprise and horror found me just the other night while I slept. Now, I’ll need to preface this next bit by explaining that I have always been able to remember my dreams in great and vivid detail, often recalling and replaying whole dreams back to myself many years later. I can usually even decipher what time of night each dream occurred. Typically, my early morning dreams are the most wild, the most vibrant, and the most memorable. So for me to relay the contents of a dream in such detail as I am about to relay is not particularly unusual or spectacular.


I dream about my father from time to time. Some of these dreams exist to merely display the firing of random synapses in my brain as I sleep—unpatterned flittings of the sights and sounds that my subconscious soaked up throughout the previous day. Other dreams that bring my father into the picture are very clearly of his doing; I know the difference between some silly old dream and an actual–however ethereal–visit from my father where, for the briefest of moments, we are together again. I wish all my dreams took the form of the latter, but it’s not often the case. And the other night, I had a cruel instance of the former.

 I dreamt that I was back in our Tucson house, the house my family lived in for six years during our Wisconsin-hiatus and have long since sold. In the dream, the house looked exactly as it did when we lived there; my mother’s trademark greens filling too much of every room, books overflowing on the shelves, my teenage pictures and posters cluttering the walls of my bedroom, my father’s winter coats hanging in the closet. I opened the double-doors of the house and entered, knowing somehow that the house had been abandoned all this time, but also that it would be perfectly preserved in the exact condition we kept it when we lived there. I stepped out onto the shiny, pale-pink tile floor and ran through the living room, around the corner, and into the home office where my parents did their camp work. I looked in the wide closets, checked under the wall-to-wall desks, and began to cry. I continued from room to room, frantically searching for my mother, my father—anyone. In my parents’ room, I stopped in front of their bed, threw myself onto it, and cried. I doubled-back through each room, every closet, all the cupboards, looking for remnants of my father and reliving his loss through each item I found.

 When I woke up, I could feel in my throat that I’d been crying in my physical form as well as in my subconscious mind’s projection of myself, could taste the bitter desert quinine of that strange, contained time in my life. My hair and t-shirt collar were damp with sweat. The curtains were just beginning to filter the dull, blue-tinged dawn light into my room. I knew it was still early, but that I would not be falling back asleep that morning. Instead, I pulled my hair out of my face and rolled over, my hands covering my forehead and eyes, and let myself cry some more as I replayed the painful tour I’d just given myself through a time in my life I usually don’t think of much.

 I have fond memories of my life in Tucson and have so many important people in my life because of that life. And my father was happy there—he loved the desert, loved the active life we could live there. But that house—the house that never seemed to feel like ours—isn’t something I want to think much about. To me, it’s just another empty space left emptier without my father around to make it feel like home. We’d only just barely put down roots there before transplanting ourselves again during my father’s illness, and my memories of our time there evidentially remain somewhat conflicted.

 I’ve reconciled all those painfully loaded images now that a few days have passed since the emotionally epic dream. I’ve tried to replace the awful feeling of searching for my father in those rooms, and not finding him, with the happy memories I have of him—of all of us—there. Because there were plenty of happy times, silly times, important times in that house.

True, I will always have the soul of a Midwestern girl inside this West Coast convert’s body, but there will always be a bit of the desert in me, too. It won’t take the form of a love for hot weather or southwestern mentality, but instead I’ll cultivate as best as I can a fondness for the monsoon season’s tumultuous afternoons and subsequent early morning hues of a sunset fast-approaching but not quite here, and in the ever-present memory of feeling wrapped by the silhouette of the Catalina Mountains–my mountains–and in the bitter quinine taste in the air of the foothills that I can still sometimes sense at the tip of my tongue.


2 thoughts on “Our Desert Quinine

  1. Your blog reminded me of this:
    “The miser always imagines that there is a certain sum that will fill his heart to the brim; and every ambitious man, like King Pyhrrus, has an acquisition in his thoughts that is to terminate his labours, after which he shall pass the rest of his life in ease or gaity, in repose or devotion. But of sorrow there is no remedy provided by nature; it is often occasioned by accidents irreparable, and dwells upon objects that have lost or changed their existence; it requires what it cannot hope, that the laws of the universe should be repealed; that the dead should return, or the past should be recalled.”
    -Samuel Johnson, The Proper Means of Regulating Sorrow

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