When I was in college in Santa Fe for one odd semester I tried to sell a stereo receiver on consignment at a store called something like West Coast Audio. When I saw the name it was the first time I realized I was in a place oriented in a different direction from where I’d grown up. I’d been thinking of myself as let out on a long lead from the east coast, far from what I knew but still on the line, ready to be reeled in. But maybe I was thinking wrong: maybe I was a west-coaster now. My ocean gathered the sun in at night, my mountains were craggy and unyielding.
I got to talking to the salesman at that store who had also grown up on the east coast. But he was a committed New Mexican now. He didn’t even like going back east–after spending years in the ochre and sand of the high desert the east seemed strangled with green, so much green, everything everywhere was green and he couldn’t stand it.
Santa Fe is where I saw my first shooting star, too, and felt a dry heat for the first time, a heat that spirited sweat from your skin before you even noticed you were sweating, a heat that vanished as quickly as you could step into a shadow, a scorching heat with no power to cling or linger. It got cold at night, colder than I’d ever remembered being. One night after I’d had dinner on the roof of a classmate’s adobe apartment–I remember very badly made sourdough and shaggy hand-rolled cigarettes–I was walking uphill toward the school and a star dropped from straight overhead to almost the horizon, a fat bright ember drifting earthward as though there were no atmosphere between us.
I lost my head in Santa Fe. Humidity is a stifling but familiar breath, a way of letting you know you are here. Green can choke you but it holds you in place.