Moving to Arizona from Wisconsin at age 22 was like moving to the moon. Except with more gravity and ponderous crawling traffic.

We traveled very little when I was growing up. Indiana was the farthest I had been, and I didn’t even get on an airplane until I was 18 years old, and even that was only the 30-second jaunt from Chicago to Detroit. Over the next few years I traveled much more in the Midwest, and then made my way over to the East Coast, where everyone sounded like a movie thug and looked like Jerry Seinfeld. But even the East was somewhat similar to the Midwest in climate and terrain and a mix of history and farmland and scary-looking old Industrial Revolution buildings. The Wild West was calling me.

I was 21 when I landed at the Phoenix airport for the first time. It was sunset and I stared in awe at the huge tall palm trees set against the pink-purple of the sky. The psychedelic orange fireball lowered slowly as we drove off. Groovy.

I’m in the friggin’ DESERT, I thought, look at me go. Ha! The hell kind of place is this? Everything was low and new and tan. Dirt that looked dryer than any dirt I had ever seen and CACTI! I honestly expected Wile E. Coyote and the Roadrunner to pop out anytime. People actually lived here? WOW. Those people, especially the girls, were tan and thin and much better-looking. It’s true. I felt like Farmy McMoo, with dyed platinum blonde hair.

I spent a few days out at the pool greedily taking in the trusty sun and 95-degree temps, scorching my paleness into some sort of pink burn-tan, pleased as could be. SUN! YAY! This was more like it – screw winter and snow and clouds and all that. This was the life. So a year later I moved into my boyfriend’s crappy ‘60s-era red brick rental ranch in Scottsdale, with the caveat that he kick out his crappy weird friends and his extra-crappy girlfriend, too. So he did, and we enjoyed the fun that is a non-air-conditioned home in Arizona that we could not afford or maintain. As the pool turned to frightening green sludge and the bills piled up, we found an apartment that was better suited to his salary as a hotel bellman and my salary as a completely-unemployed person. I sold some photos and cassettes, but it was a meager income, and my folks tossed me a few hunnerd every month, probably to assure that I would not move back in with them. Heh.

After a few months, the sun and the desert and the weird stuff that grew there ceased to be novel, and I was left with, well, not very much. I didn’t know anyone, I wasn’t working, I didn’t really know at all what I wanted to do, and the bf relationship was rollercoaster at best. I started hiding from the heat, and would sleep during the day and stay up at night. We drove around in the dumbest car EVER to own in Arizona – a 1964 Corvair Monza Spyder convertible with black vinyl seats with an air-cooled engine that constantly broke down. I’d put a towel down on my passenger seat, and it still was hot. Blast-furnace hot hot hot all summer, with relief in the fall and winter.

But even the cooler temps didn’t improve my mood, and I became depressed. The isolation and lack of connection and lack of purpose was too much. Aware of my sucking vortex of sad, I would force myself to go outside once a day, walking over to the little strip mall behind our apartment complex. It was the only place I could go on my own – I didn’t drive then and was too intimidated by the buses. I hardly had any money, but I’d buy something, anything, just to have an excuse to leave the apartment, to stop thinking for just a moment. On top of that, my dear old cat, whom I had picked from the litter when I was nine, was dying of cancer. Oh, nice, huh?

I didn’t bond with Arizona, and I just had to leave. I don’t like being unhappy.

We made plans to move to Chicago, where I had close friends and would have the option to pop up to Wisconsin to get some decent food and the laundry done for me. There was nothing more we could do for the cat, no more surgeries or chemo. I sent her home to Wisconsin on a plane ahead of us. I didn’t want her to die in Arizona. She died two days after she arrived back home, and my brother buried her underneath a tree at my parent’s house.

As we left Arizona in a U-Haul, towing our newly-acquired and even more stupid car, a 1976 Mazda rotary engine station wagon, I looked around for a moment and took it all in. What a surreal place, I thought. I didn’t know what to think yet about my time there, and I didn’t know if I would ever return. I had a feeling if I did, though, that it would be a very very long time from then.