i was the palm fronds

First published in CRATE literary magazine, Volume Seven.

Vegas isn’t a city most equate with self-discovery or soul searching. But home is where you go when you finish college and don’t know yet what to do with your life.

It was winter and I broke up with my boyfriend, or he broke up with me. I don’t remember which one of us finally ended the thing, but after I finally stopped flying to see him in Pittsburgh, I was in the desert. In the cold.

The winds battered everything in the valley that wasn’t nailed down: the palm fronds, the trash-tumbleweeds, the dust. I’d been holed up in my apartment all day, battling a panic attack, alternately laying prostrate on my bed and jumping up, checking my phone, walking to the kitchen.

I called Sanja. She’s lived down the street since the days I dated her brother in high school, and I’d been eating dinners at their house three nights a week since I’d been back. I was despondent, I told her; anxious. What was my life going to be about? Days like this, it was hard to remember what it ever was about.

I was the palm fronds, the trash-tumbleweeds, the dust. A degree and no job, four years of loving and no man, and back here in the desert, Vegas was starting to feel like a ghost town. The wild, wild west.

Sanja rolled up, honking the horn in her brother’s car and waving me down. I put a coat on and met her at the stairs. She was holding two large Starbucks cups, black tea for me, with no sugar. She knew me.

We left her car in the parking lot and walked out past my apartments into the empty desert lot where I’d seen ten cop cars chase a fugitive the month before. It was too cold out that night, no one was around, and we hurried past the lot and up onto the hill.

The hill was about a mile away from my apartments, strong taupe lines jutting out into the clear sky. It was brittle and dry, and we walked briskly, not talking much, sipping tea until we had to concentrate on climbing the looming, sandy hill.

Once at the top, we looked west and watched the row of airplanes coming, in a straight line, four or five heading into McCarran airport. That row of planes stays steady all night, bringing in ex-schoolteachers for their AARP conferences or soon-to-be-husbands and their lewdest friends.

From the hill, though, they were just lights lining the sky, and the casinos were miniature lightshows. The city was only a bowl of sparkly lights. I was home.