Teaching and Learning and Caring Blog
I drove up to Albuquerque for Thanksgiving. My college roommate, Suz, was flying in from Portland, Oregon, and we were both staying with our friend Nancy who we had known for forty years. Nancy loves to give parties, extravagant ones, so between sighs and giggles over our youthful memories, we handled a lot of food, plates, silverware, and glasses. After all 20 guests had left and the dishes cleared, leftovers put away, we sat, just us’ns, and watched the Playing for Change video, Stand By Me, in our pajamas. Then we blew out the candles that took so long to set up and went to bed.
There aren’t many things better than old friends, maybe a room full of cousins. Nothing begs an explanation or an apology. It doesn’t matter if a conversation goes unfinished; it will hover in the wings waiting its turn, even if that means months or years from now. And Nancy’s new friends could be your friends too. They are already vetted.
Being in this city was like being with my younger self. Here is where I came after high school in Virginia. Here is where I went to college, grew up, got married, got divorced, bought my first house, had my children. This is where almost all the milestones had happened, but it was not where I lived. I always thought I would return to Albuquerque after I retired. That’s one reason I kept my house. It was the right size in the right location for an old person. Many of my old friends still lived here, so many in fact, I didn’t have time to touch base with them all on this trip.
And this was my first house. I bought it by myself in the early 1970s when banks didn’t loan money to single women and when my neighborhood was redlined anyway, meaning that even if I was married, they didn’t want to make loans in this dilapidated part of town. But it was the only house I could afford, and now the neighborhood is a very cool one, between Downtown and Old Town. The memories accumulated in that house are woven into the walls no matter what color, the kitchen is saturated with the aromas of my soul, and a time capsule filled with treasures is buried in the earth itself. I haven’t lived there for 22 years, and will never live there again.
When people ask me why I don’t go back, it is hard to explain. Albuquerque is too far away from the border, 276 miles from house to house. The hard to explain part is the difference that makes when I no longer even cross the border. It’s like the Rio Grande with no water in it, still our river even in drought, even with two names, even though it has been expropriated to divide us.
The friends I have here in El Paso are mostly about 40 years younger than I am, former students. They aren’t like my old friends in Albuquerque, but then again, they aren’t like my old friends; they have new music, new ideas, and they are comfortable with new technology. They find me wherever I am in this city, and even if they haven’t been in my class for years, they say Dr. Howard, is that you? I say yes, and what have you been doing with your life? They push me to explore new things. I would miss them if I left. It would feel like my border feels, that another piece of me has been amputated.
The woman who has lived in my house for the past eight years just got married. She wants to buy it. Her own echoes are filling up the rooms.
It’s not an easy thing to let go. The only way it will be possible is in the company of the best of friends, old and young. “No, I won’t be afraid, I won’t shed a tear, just as long as you stand by me.”