Ten years ago, I set out on an international journey to find myself in a world that no longer made sense. I lost everything that I had spent years taking for granted, and I needed a new perspective to sort out the crushing feelings inside me.
After traveling halfway around the world, I found safety in a little house in Iloilo City, Philippines, during the pandemic, where I spent my days writing and spending time with my new family.
But I always miss Tucson.
Two of my grown boys and their families still live and work in Tucson, and my aging parents are even retired there, safe in their little Sonoran desert oasis where they can tend to their garden and sit on the porch in the gathering dusk, watching the roadrunners and javelina scoot through the wash next to their house.
All my older memories exist on Tucson’s streets, off and on in a period between 1983 and 2011. It was an oasis for me, too, in more ways than one. When I was young, it was an escape from my teenage years’ difficulties and consequences, where I started over and found a place for myself in a world I no longer recognized.
It was a place my family and I always returned to when we needed someplace safe to lay our heads. We’d been to New Mexico and as far as Massachusetts. We even lived in an overpriced condo near San Francisco, but we always returned to Tucson.
We returned there because it always felt like home.
It was walking in Barrio Hollywood to Pat’s Famous Chili Dogs after work at Burger King and eating our weight in french fries. We would sit on the patio and eat until we could hardly walk home and still have money for ice cream at Circle K.
The malls were bustling, and we loved to hang out in the air conditioning on our days off. El Con, Park Place, and Tucson Mall were our regular haunts, but we would make the long trip across town to Foothills once in a while to watch a movie.
We would climb in a car with our friends on payday and head over to Mi Nidito Restaurant in South Tucson for the best Mexican food we had ever eaten. Pretty much any restaurant you stopped at in South Tucson was good, but we avoided that area on Friday and Saturday because of the traffic — everyone was cruising.
Every Christmas, even before we had our own car, we would grab a bag of canned food and head over to look at the Winterhaven Festival of Lights. I was sad to hear it was closed this year because of the pandemic because it’s such a fun thing to do to get in the Christmas spirit every year.
Sometimes during the week, my parents would pick us up and we would travel through Gates Pass and walk through the Arizona-Sonoran Desert Museum before it started getting blistering hot, and sometimes walk the trails of Saguaro National Monument.
Later on, my parents lived in a fifth-wheel on the outskirts of Sabino Canyon. One winter, my dad and I went for a short walk and ended up hiking the whole 10.9 km Seven Falls Trail with my dad’s weak legs and a bottle of water between us.
It was camping on Mt. Lemmon and later getting to play in the snow if you had a 4-wheel drive after a winter storm.
It was trips to Nogales and drunken weekends two-stepping with the locals and getting sloppy-drunk in the streets of Tombstone.
It was so many little things that made it feel like home, and if I had 10,000 words, I still couldn’t describe it all. It was the people and the friends — it was the desert heat and mild winters — it was the small-town vibe and big-city conveniences.
I married my first love and divorced for the first time in Tucson, and my three boys were all born nearby. I lived in every part of the city, from a mansion in the Foothills to a modest 1-bedroom in South Tucson.
I had a lot of hard times, too, because we were poor, and my mental illness continued to get progressively worse over the years. I’ve been inside the mental hospitals at Kino and St. Josephs and spent drug and alcohol-fueled adventures around the UofA and Fifth Avenue.
I’ve applied to the Tucson Police and Fire departments and worked as a manager for Burger King, Little Caesars, and Taco Bell.
Tucson was everything and nothing to me at the same time.
The plan for my new family in the Philippines was always to move back to Tucson. By I ran into difficulties with my illness, and by the time I was well enough to see the light of day, Trump had taken over, and the United States spiraled into chaos.
The States had always been problematic, even before I left. There was always an undercurrent of racism and bias, and the gulf between rich and poor grew more expansive every year. Crime was terrible, and you couldn’t drive on the roads most days without being a victim of road rage.
When I left, I needed a break from the all-you-can-eat capitalism of the U.S., where consumerism is a religion and privilege and entitlement were a way of life.
Despite all that, America was my home. I found myself going back and forth every few years, starting new businesses and projects and trying to find ways to get my family moved over.
But the Philippines was a healing place for me, and I eventually settled there. I still have a severe mental illness, but the less-stressful way of life taught me ways of coping with my symptoms, and I will always be grateful for the country sheltering me during the pandemic. We didn’t feel it as bad as America has, and even though a lot of my family was there and I worried, I felt safe here in the Philippines.
But the plan was always to move back to Tucson. Now with Biden and Harris are in office, and the country is healing from four years of hell, I can see going back. It is good to see the progress that groups like Black Lives Matter have made in battling systematic racism, and I want to be part of putting America on the path to being a more equitable place.
I want my new family to see where I grew up and where I spent those formative young adult years of my life. I want them to experience the good things as see why America is ‘the land of the free and the home of the brave!”
And I mostly want to go to Pat’s and eat chili dogs, french fries, and hamburgers.