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Breathing In Phoenix

Updated: Mar 11, 2019

Previously Published in Diverse Voices Quarterly

I once lived in Phoenix for fifteen months.

Mike L. drove me, my possessions, and my cat Fred in the U-Haul east on I-10, away from the soft beach toward the hard cracked desert.

He was twenty-five and I was thirty.

On a Friday night after work, we fell in love by mistake. It was over a joint and some Thai food. The following Monday he blushed when I walked by him at his cubicle.

We were explorers together. Reading Diet For A New America and cooking tofu, beans, and rice. We were warriors, yoga breathing ocean from deep in our throats. We were Tantric lovers, crossing our legs, touching our toes to our thighs, eyes embracing, hands clasping; we were patient to erupt.

We stopped in Blythe before crossing into Arizona. I fastened a blue harness onto Fred and dragged him around the hot black asphalt, hoping he’d relax and walk while Mike L. filled the tank and bought water, pumpkin seeds, and trail mix.

I couldn’t inhale; the air was thin and hot; dust and gas fumes caught in my chest.

We pulled over at the state line. I have a picture. I'm standing in front of the blue sign with the yellow star that reads, “The Grand Canyon State Welcomes You.” On the side of the road, small, nothing behind me, Mike L. phantom snapping the picture, I’m holding Fred tight, smiling hopeful.

Me and my cat, Fred, at the border of Arizona & California

We planned for him to join me in Phoenix: to open a yoga studio and be happy vegetarians together.

I could never take a deep enough breath in Phoenix. I was sticky and thirsty. It was dusty and flat, and the sun beat down on the cars, the buildings, and the people. My skin cracked and baked. I kept going left when I should have gone right.

“Let Camelback Mountain be your guide,” the Phoenicians told me.

“They all look the same,” I would reply.

My car died over and again in the heat and so did I.

I went back to LA to visit.

“How many guys have you been with?” he asked me. We were standing in line for beer at the Tom Petty concert at The Hollywood Bowl. The cool breeze brushed against my neck, caressed my shoulders, swirled under my skirt, and kissed my thighs. I missed breathing.

“Four,” I lied.

The next morning I woke up wrapped in his arms and the sheets. “I’m not in love with you anymore,” he whispered.

I wonder if anyone can breathe in Phoenix.

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