Memories of the Desert

California poppies—bright orange petals like sunshine, happiness, and everything wonderful in a sea of desert dirt and sagebrush. At dusk, they wrapped their petals tight like a hug before bed. Gold, orange, and fuchsia stretched across the sky. Beautiful memories of growing up in the Mojave Desert.

My dog, Alexis, and I chased jackrabbits in the expanse of desert in front of our boxy stucco house. The sagebrush and creosote scraped against my legs as I ran. We returned home thirsty, breathless, and exhausted, me more so than her. The only thing I caught were foxtails and burrs in my shoelaces. It took forever to pick them from her silver and black hair, but it was worth the adventure we shared. She wasn’t just a dog. She was my battle buddy and best friend.

My human best friend, Adrienne, and I walked across town to the library in the scorching heat every week. We spent hours searching the stacks and enjoying the air conditioning before the long walk home with an armful of books. We took a shortcut home—a vibrant oasis surrounded by brown apartment buildings and dead grass. I touched every green leaf and vivid petal in the nursery before slipping through a hole in the fence and walking the rest of the way home.

Adrienne and I watched old episodes of The Monkees on MTV. I remember thinking that the twenty years that passed between 1966 and 1986 was the equivalent of a hundred years. Adrienne was steadfast in her love of Davy Jones. I was in love with Micky Dolenz, then Mike Nesmith, then Peter Tork, and then back to Micky. Davy and Peter are gone and Micky and Mike are old men. They were in their forties when their show played on MTV. Now, I’m in the last year of my forties and MTV just celebrated its 40th anniversary. Oh, to be young again and think twenty years was the same as a hundred.

Adrienne and I became obsessed with The Monkees. We laid on her bedroom floor and listened to all their records more times than I could count. She still loves The Monkees. I secretly love them. I can’t tell you how excited I was when “Steppin’ Stone” was featured in The Queen’s Gambit last year. If we weren’t playing their records, we listened to Poison and wished we were as beautiful as Bret Michaels. My friend Michelle and I listened to Bon Jovi and Journey and ate all her mother’s Doritos. I’d go home and listen to Elton John, Billy Joel, Huey Lewis, Otis Redding, and Madonna. I wasn’t in love with Duran Duran like everyone else. Boy, did I have a major crush on Corey Hart and Corey Haim. And the lead singer of a-ha. And Val Kilmer and Patrick Dempsey. And of course, River Phoenix had my heart and I will love him forever.

MTV and VJs were part of our daily lives and we waited anxiously for world premier videos, none of which has ever been better than Michael Jackson’s “Thriller.” We watched Live Aid and I recorded bands on my tape recorder. We didn’t have a VCR yet. After Live Aid, there was Farm Aid and U.S.A for Africa. I watched the “We Are the World” video a million times. Everyone but The Monkees was in that video—a veritable who’s who of recording artists from the 60’s, 70’s, and 80’s. Kenny Rogers still looked like Kenny Rogers.

I was 16 when we moved back to Oregon and left the desert and all my friends behind. I hated living in the desert, but I was devastated when I had to leave. Poison’s “Every Rose Has Its Thorn” played on the radio every hour. A car ride that should have taken no more than two days took six— six days of staying at camp grounds and rest stops in the Fall of 1988. My only connection to Adrienne was handwritten letters we mailed back and forth. Of course, this was before texting, social media, and free long-distance calling plans. Each stack of letters is tied with a ribbon in a box of treasures underneath my bed. I read through them every once in a while,

In the Willamette Valley of Oregon, California poppies bloom every year and remind me of what I loved about growing up in the desert—the brilliant colors, my sweet dog, laughing with my friends, watching MTV videos, and riding my motorcycle with Adrienne on the back. I treasure those memories. Not every memory of living in the desert was wonderful, but that’s a story for another story.

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