OK, I'll come clean: I haven't given a gold star away for at least a week. I was hoarding them myself, too inwardly-focused to give much of anything I had away.
I went back to my childhood home, to Tucson, Arizona, and, before my friend who is getting married in July arrived for a weekend bachelorette along with other of our gang from high school, I had some time to reflect in the desert sun, to stare at the still, awe-inspiring mountain vistas, to take in the sweet musky smell of mesquite, to contemplate how I came to be at all, let alone how I came to be this old.
I feel like the same little girl who wobbled her banana-seat bike into the cactus more times than I care to count, who hated getting dust in her toes as she hiked in the desert. I can ride a bike now, though I rarely do, and I don't give a rat's ass about dust in my toes, I like it actually. But I am that same girl.
I took a long hike in Sabino Canyon by myself, alone there, I think, for the first time ever though I went to that park, part of the Coronado National Forest, quite often as a kid. I grew up five minutes away.
As I meandered nearly four miles up into the foothills, I stepped off the road often, through the dry brush, onto little sandy beaches where ducks and little fish and dragonflies played in the shallow waters that remained from the run-off of the mountain's late winter snows. Someone had spelled out F-I-S-H in one stream with big rocks and a single Converse high-top, the shoe used in the display out of comedy or necessity, it wasn't clear. I sat at many of the pebble and concrete picnic tables set solidly into the dirt, wondering which one had hosted me and my friends at my 12th birthday party, a party captured in my mind as distinctly as the photograph of it in my scrapbook.
I love the desert now, though I didn't always appreciate its peacefulness. I'm not sure I would appreciate it now, either, if I lived there. The mountains, as I look at them for too long, seem lifeless, imposing rather than empowering. It is too quiet. Even as I enjoy my solitude, I do so because I know it is a respite from cacaphonous New York, where I happily make my home.
It is good to go back to where you're from, to recognize what it gave you and what it didn't, to see that making other choices that fit you and your desires better is what it's all about.
I would have given a gold star to Andy, the waiter by the pool at La Paloma, where I stayed. He was deep in the midst of his search for himself, for a home. He hailed from Texas, but he had lived since leaving there in San Francisco, in Chicago and, now, in Tucson, a town he labeled cool because of its "Resorty artsy fartsy feel..." He wanted to go East next, was thinking of joining the military and heading to Cape May, New Jersey. We talked for a long time, the resort hit by hard economic times and so too his tip possibilities that would have had him working harder.
My Dad, a talker like me, a connector, joined us after a bit and tried to offer Andy a way out of the service industry with a new multi-level marketing scheme he's trying, a travel business. I had warned Andy that my crazy Dad was coming. Like most people do, though, he liked my Dad. He would have to make his own call about his sales pitch, about going to a meeting touting how to get rich quick. Where once my Dad's sales pitches might have perturbed me, I had separated myself. I am an adult, a person in my own right, not to be confused with a limb or extension of my parents. It is a hard road to learning that lesson. It takes a lifetime of trying, I think.
When I got back to my room after my hike the next day, Andy had sent over a cowboy hat filled with shot glasses and mini bottles of tequila, with chips and salsa and, along with that, two bottles of water and two bottles of Corona. A note said how much he had enjoyed talking with me and my Dad, and offered up his assistance if I should need anything else. It was so nice. I never saw him again during my stay to thank him or give him a gold star. It was nice to be the receiver.