“Desert is simply that: An ecstatic critique of culture, an ecstatic form of disappearance. — Jean Baudrillard, America
The desert will show you your true self. That’s why people go there, I think, to slough off dead skin — literally and metaphorically. I didn’t realize it at the time, but he had become my dead skin, and I couldn’t peel it back without some searing heat and bitter truth. So I took him to the desert.
“Forcing it” is my specialty, I can make a key meant for nothing jam a lock shut, I can pretend my way in and out of the most hellish situations, and I can certainly convince my heart that scraps are enough to get by on, and more importantly, the best I deserve. But this is about the desert.
One of the best parts of the desert is going to the desert. I imagine it’s not quite the same if you live there; there’s the journey, away from ample water and civilization, into the long, lazy stretches of nothingness — that’s half the experience.
For the trip, I’d acquired the use of a gorgeous little convertible, a bright cherry red convertible. It felt so good to hide inside the luxury of this speedy, flashy car. I could’ve happily driven it for the rest of my life, I think. Heading out into the middle of nowhere felt safer with Wi-Fi inside the car, and, maybe I thought the car would cover up whatever insecurities I felt in myself. On the way there, it almost felt like it did. On the way back, I was happy to have a car that felt foreign and small, to speed away in.
All the accessories, and driving with the top down made me feel special — which is exactly what a convertible is supposed to do. But we fought about whether to have the top up or down, what music to listen to, what lane to be in, how fast I should drive; the car was another reminder of how often we disagreed about how the basics of how life should come together, and how often I chose to put aside my own feelings to elevate his.
At one point, I realized I liked having the car on the trip more than having him. That was a warning sign.
If the desert won’t bleed it out, nothing will. For me, the desert obliged, easily sweating out my five-month obsession over him, with a couple of tequilas and his careless tongue. Commitment is something that most people falling in and out of hookups fight over, but no one made my hopes for it feels as cheap as he did. Sex is not love; loving gestures are not love; pretending like they are because you’re lonely is not love.
You want someone to show you who they really are? Take them to the desert and watch them crack open, brown and scaly in the sunlight, bleach dry, wind-whitened, scary with thirst or oversaturation.
Let’s settle something once and for all: If you are really in love it doesn’t feel like an endless want. If you are inside of a good love, you won’t have the urge to blame him for your own foolish, blind assumptions, or wonder how he couldn’t possibly want you back. If you are really in love, you don’t become a monster when denied what you want. Or, maybe the desert makes everyone a monster for a minute, sun-blackened skin molting off a selfish body.
Many people go to Joshua Tree to seek peace, I went to go to war with my heart. None of this was his fault, really, but mine. After the battle was done, I felt thankful for Fairfield Inn, where we were staying. It’s located right off the Twentynine Palms Highway, near to the heart of the national park without being in the mess of tourism — affordable, clean and quiet. I needed that comfort.
There is something to be said for a hotel that’s close to the action, but slightly off the beaten path.The Fairfield was comfortable and steady — and it had a killer pool. God Bless that pool. It was a cleansing oasis, mid-breakup.
I’d stay there again tomorrow, and swim in the chlorinated water to reclaim it as my own.
Of course, it would be gone off tequila in that pool where I’d confirm, once and for all, that he didn’t love me, had no daydreams of commitment and a future like I did. Our early time together was, to him, a distraction, not a foundation.
On the one hand, it wasn’t surprising at all. All the men I love have never loved me enough to stay, or say it, or live it. This is my infinite loop experience with men, ouroboros. On the other hand, it was shocking, since his love was palpable in almost every action he took. Days of entwining our lives more and more meant my hopes had built into a glittering, beautiful treasure.
Over the course of a weekend, that treasure turned to a trinket and slipped slowly underneath the blue water, stark against the shimmering desert air. I was slipping under too. Into lime and anger, club soda and self-loathing, and the ever-rippling silkiness of a tequila bender. It shimmered, like a heat mirage. Then it was gone, and only a headache and tears remained.
Many people go to the desert to find part of themselves — I went there to lose part of me. The part of me that said things I didn’t mean, in hopes that it’d make a man love me. The part of me I shrunk down so he could feel bigger. The part of me that insisted, again and again, that the tiniest scraps of attention were enough to satisfy me. But the desert doesn’t have patience for this kind of lush pretense.
The desert is an unflinching, endless mirror. When I looked at the twisted expanse of Joshua Tree, choked with cacti and rocks, I didn’t like the weak, crippled thing that looked back. Joshua Tree showed me myself, half twisted in the half-light. It also showed me him, a shadow of what I deserve.
I wanted to be mad at him forever, but all I could really do was be mad at myself; for pursuing for this thing that was a half-life of a relationship. For constantly thinking I can change something broken into something whole. For continually settling for bits and pieces when I deserve an entire, strong, real heart.
Why do we trap ourselves into a semblance of a love? The desert knows, but it doesn’t tell. Instead, it only bakes your doughy, half-raw dreams until they crack. Then, from the ruin, something stronger walks out. The next day I drove around alone in the convertible, back out into the desert — and I went as fast as I wanted.