The town I grew up in was originally called Jackass Flats by the black lunged, cruel hearted, pale faced settlers who, with their noble and calloused hands, built the meager spine of shops, saloons and rancher’s reserves which the infrastructure clings to, to this day. The earth is dry and crude, there. Cotton puffed thistles and prickly pear blossoms are the most ornate foliage one will find amongst the brown and tan skeletons of plants that only rarely blush green under the non-committal kiss of rain, but the locals all agree that the real centerpiece is the sky.
It’s the same sky that hangs over foggy London or smoggy New York City but there’s something in the emptiness of our sky. The one that stretches on scorching cyan for miles uninterrupted, and erupts magnanimous every evening all coral and crimson and ochre, only to burn so black and so cold in the night that the stars are like frigid holes punched in the velveteen blanket of darkness which seems draped over a bright and magnificent bulb beneath.
Our sky makes the dead earth look alive.
And people in the barren valley between the border towns and the ski retreats tend to reflect this sharp juxtaposition. There are dry and crackling landmasses of folks just sitting and waiting and slowly executing a spiteful whitewashed mariachi themed dirge of the dying as far as the eye can see. Conservative, simple folk. They are stubbornly grey, excruciatingly fundamental. Their skin is cracked by the sun just like the earth, and just like the earth, you can depend on them to be a static landscape of perennial weeds. Ruddy, though they’re fragile and- don’t wait for them to die a natural death because they’re going to outlive us all, the lizards.
And then there’s the others.
The outcast bright nights of souls flittering fuchsia along the trails of dead leaves (and even still, those muddied leaves glitter with the dew which turns to frost on January mornings like so many tiny, temporary diamonds.) Everyone casts the prickly pear blossoms a sideways eye between puffs of Marlboro Red, everyone secretly wishes them dead. Everyone hisses, you’re not the sky, just quiet enough that you’d have to be spying to have heard, and to confront them, well that would be ruder than rude.
But there’s a place for the outcasts, there’s homes for us, still.
There’s Castle Canyon Mesa, a small square grid where every aluminum plated singlewide provides shelter to someone too brown, too intoxicated, or otherwise too poor to find his bootstraps. And all of us kids who came up in that block, we knew the glisten of eyes too wide to take in the needles by our Kmart brand Adidas (with four stripes, not three) at the bus stop. We knew what it was to rollerblade hot asphalt all day so we didn’t have to endure another day of our parent’s volatile relations capped off by a brown liquor evening where the cops come to call about another domestic dispute.
We watched each other fade from innocence far sooner than the others, and we held each other’s hands in an explicitly unspoken way. It was in our chins tipped up in the halls at school and our voices muttering, “hey.” And to this day, I don’t know if I could mention it to them without them balking and puffing up their chests because that’s what you do.
If you’ve ever come up with less, that’s what you do. You let your frayed jeans drape over the fourth stripe on your Adidas, you suck in your belly which bloats beneath the cheapest fare, you harden the tears at the corners of your eyes into a smile like the thorns on a cactus and you manage to mumble a terse greeting.