Lonesome Was the Blacktop


At my dad’s house in Tucson, almost everything I picked up was expired. The contact solution. The Aspirin. The Frosted Mini Wheats. I consumed all of it anyway. So far, none of it has killed me. 2008. 2007. A chocolate rose from my senior prom in 2001 might be the oldest thing I’ve yet to throw away. Or a rose pin from godknowswhere, dusty, made from a stiff kind of velvet. I pinned it to my jacket so that I could show you later, like I should be rewarded or something.

The cancer came back. I thought that too had expired, but there it was. I didn’t throw away the contact solution or the Aspirin, but I did throw away the milk, but not before using it in three cups of coffee first. I said, There’s something about drinking coffee all day. I said, It’s because of the Frank O’Hara poem:

oh god it’s wonderful

to get out of bed

and drink too much coffee

and smoke too many cigarettes

and love you so much

And then I remembered the cigarettes.

When I left Tucson this time, he cried. It was the third time I’d ever seen him cry. And when a doughy man in khakis and a white button-down passed me in the airport, I could smell the tobacco on him and it repulsed me but still I walked too close behind him until I saw my gate and was forced to veer. Sometimes I think I’ll die of lung cancer anyway because I grew up around so many smokers. Sometimes I think this is inevitable even though I’ve smoked five cigarettes in my life. Sometimes the smell turns me on. The chemical burn. It smells like bad decisions.

Sometimes I sneeze when I get turned on too quickly and you said that happened to your ex too, and I thought, She’s one step ahead of me everywhere. I thought, I’ll never sneeze again. I thought about this author I know who’s into S&M, who wrote me. I thought about how he cuddled with a friend of mine recently, and how I’d rather beat him up than cuddle him, not that he asked me to do either. Instead he asked, What are you up to? And, When are you coming back? I don’t know him very well, but I feel like I do because of his words, even though people say that about me sometimes and I always roll my eyes. When you write about what cores you, people think they know what cores you. Maybe they do know. Maybe I should stop rolling my eyes so much.

I found my mom’s leather trench coat in the closet, which was covered with mold. I found my grandmother’s bowling shirt with the three crosses and “Anna” stitched to the pocket. I found the IHOP mugs I’d stolen in high school, which was perhaps my greatest teenage “rebellion.” Aside from sneaking out to the Texaco to buy Snapple and Juicy Fruit at 2am.

I texted you at the airport. I texted my ex and my mom and my married woman too. I didn’t want you to be the one to hold my hand through this, but still I texted you. I put my hand out. Because my dad cried and then Adele came on the radio and I thought, I know what you’re doing, Universe, and I’m not falling for it.

I told you there’s a wig loan program at Arizona Oncology. And free qi gong on Fridays. You said, Write that down. So I did. I wrote down “Cisplatin” and “Gemcitabine” even though I didn’t know how to spell them, even though I didn’t want to admit how little I knew about chemo drugs. I know a little more now. I know that Cisplatin is an alkylating agent that disrupts the normal structure of cellular genetic material, DNA. I know that Gemcitabine is an antimetabolite that interferes with cell replication. I know that all of this is a verbose way of saying, We’re going to kill everything.

The doctor showed us an x-ray of the tumor, which was on the left side, near his heart. I couldn’t help but feel the placement was symbolic. I couldn’t help but feel it on my own heart. I found a flyer for an acupuncturist in the waiting room, next to the too-much coffee and the non-dairy creamer I’m allergic to but used anyway. The acupuncturist was a lady with a white-sounding name, and I know he probably won’t call her, but he took the flyer anyway because he loves me. So we just kept drinking coffee and he talked about Tucson politics and how we both wear our hearts on our sleeves and how we’re (still) (always) fucked.

On my last day in Tucson, I took pictures of the Santa Cruz river and recited Jewel lyrics that I still remember, “…of a nation that’s starving for salvation / where clothing is the closest approximation to God / and he only knows that drugs are / all we know of love heyeyeyey.” I took pictures of the sky and thought, In the desert, everything can hurt you if you get too close. I thought, Soon this will be someone else’s home, someone else’s memory because when my dad retires, he’ll have to move out of the not-ours house on University of Arizona property. I thought maybe some other girl will move in and bury coins in the dirt and make out with boys on haystacks and think it’s a good idea to climb a  100-ft grain silo on a dare. And maybe she’ll never find the things she buried and that’ll be okay because they weren’t hers to begin with anyway. Like you.

I wanted to run my fingers along the teddy bear cholla, but didn’t because I’m 29 and not 9. I wanted to show you everything. I wanted you to know me, but you were in San Francisco, and maybe we can’t know anything about anyone. But oh, I wanted you to know then. I wanted to tell you that the Santa Cruz is 225-miles long and that it’s one of the few rivers that flows northward. Except that it doesn’t flow anymore because, in Arizona, rivers are not actually rivers at all, most of the time. I wanted to tell you about the time I ate 3 Eggo waffles before track practice and threw up in the Santa Cruz. I wanted to show you the place where our trailer used to be, except, like the water in the Santa Cruz, it is also gone. They sold it to a guy in Wilcox, my dad said.

But the tree is still there, the one with the trunk painted white that we used to climb. And if you were here, I would point to the air and say, That’s where our cat, Lucky, got stuck in the insulation under the single-wide. He kept meowing and we didn’t know where it was coming from, but eventually we did, and my dad pulled him out. Later he was crawling on the barb wire fence near the rusted tractor parts and was gutted and my dad had to cut the fence off and I had to hold him upright with the barb wire sticking out of his belly while we drove to the vet, and I thought, I’m never calling anything Lucky ever again.

I would point to the ground and say, This is where the Diamondback rattlesnake was coiled up and sleeping one night when we came home from Peter Piper Pizza, and how terrified I was all night, but also sad the next day when my dad told me he chopped it to pieces with a hoe and sold the skin. I thought, But it wasn’t doing anything. It was just there.

I would point to the middle distance and say, This is where I put my first boombox, which broke every tape I ever loved, but not for a while, and I was too dumb to stop using it. I broke Stevie Wonder. I broke Huey Lewis and the News. I broke Mariah Carey and The Beach Boys. Eventually I had nothing left, and started watching TV instead.

If you were here, I would tell you how angry I am and maybe it’s powerlessness and maybe it’s uncertainty and maybe I should stop searching for other words when angry will do just fine. But I can’t because the tumor came back and I can’t because you don’t want to be with me. I would tell you these things, and it wouldn’t change anything, but maybe we would know each other a little better, for a little while.

Anna is a Twitter Jockey and blogger for Mother Jones. She also writes a social media etiquette column for SF Weekly and a relationship column for After Ellen, as well as attempting to lead a haiku revival on her personal blog: annapulley.com. More from this author →