Maybe I’ve been avoiding writing about Santa Fe. I used to write poems for the City Different, for the people there, and the smells, mountains, the sky that swirls constantly into its folds like blueberries into batter. I love Santa Fe the way I’ve loved people, for all its complexity and frustration, for its ability to leave one with nothing to do at night or with a world of possibilities if we are willing to take a small risk, for its irony and cliché. To truly love someone is to not love them despite their flaws, which is to say to wish they were somehow a better or different version of themselves, but tolerating this lesser version anyway.
And so it was that I found myself making excuses to travel up to Santa Fe from Terlingua, rather than heading straight west into Tucson, Arizona. I have a crush on Truth or Consequences and wanted to stop by and see that town. I wanted to see friends in Albuquerque at the Saviors show when the band played The Launchpad. But really, logic be damned, I was headed (and thus, so was my family) to the mountain town of Santa Fe, New Mexico to spend Christmas with old friends among the snow-covered streets and farolitos.
I needed to at least see the city. I missed even the view from Highway 25 as it nears St. Francis, and the adobe begins to pop up, the beige and red clay a warm contrast against the clean white of snow and steel grey wintry sky, street lights just beginning to turn on during these short winter days.
We had been there for five days when Jaime died in Albuquerque. Jaime was like the moon to me, with four phases, four personalities, all of them bigger than a single human life, and I loved him. Since I moved away twelve years ago, I lost some tabs on him but still kept in touch. Just like at his church service, the stories I could share about Jaime aren’t fit for this blog. But he was a good person and loved his friends heavily, and took everyone as they came, without ever seeming to expect anything more—a skill I can only strive to possess.
My friends in Santa Fe became Evan’s friends, and their friends also became our friends, and we saw how easily we could slip back into the groove I’d worn twelve years ago. We hiked and made dinner together, cried and went to Christmas parties. We hoofed the farolitos walk and watched movies in bed. We ran errands around town and went to the funeral, we got food at my favorite Albuquerque restaurant and went to a memorial party at the Launchpad, which opened early just for us. We hiked some more, went to another party where I was told another friend had passed on Christmas Eve (more on that later), sang karaoke at the Cowgirl and suddenly it was New Year’s Eve and we were still in town, and Evan and I were invited to a New Year’s Eve party at Jelly’s house, which was the best New Year’s Eve party I’d been to in a long time, with so many faces I’ve been missing, and luminarias outside, and good music and friendship.
A very vain and selfish thing I love about Santa Fe is that it feels like it sees me, acknowledges me, and wants me there. Like maybe the love is mutual. We had to leave after the start of 2016 because it was just too cold in the mountains for our camper, and for our old, bald dog who hates cats and thus can’t be let inside our friends’ house. I almost cried as we pulled away. Maybe I was already missing the camaraderie of simply sitting in a room with an old friend, listening to records and barely speaking, or the overwhelming floral of nostalgia from simply walking into a supermarket. Maybe it was the immeasurable love for my friends who, like the city itself, seemed to always take me as I came, and who were so easy to love for themselves. But what I see when I think of Santa Fe is the round-corner buildings and Virgin of Guadalupe murals, the snowcapped pines and aspens, the lights flickering in an otherwise dark-skied night, and the roadside fires burning so warm into that same dark, their paper bags holding the flame, protecting it from the winds.