Or maybe Albuquerque is the moon, and the Valley is the lush planetoid. Maybe they’re not celestial bodies at all, but a pair of towns separated by a wall. One won’t acknowledge the wall exists, but never crosses it; the other doesn’t notice it, because no one ever leaves.
My best friend worked down here, at the Cornstalk Institute, an experiential after-school program for kids, where as a teenager he’d learned to garden, climb telephone poles, and take charge of crowds. He told me about the Valley as we drove in—unincorporated; frequently missing sidewalks; the brownest part of town—and I felt something most people usually feel for other people. I was scared and in love.
I couldn’t have named it at the time. I’m only now noticing how the Valley holds so many icons of my childhood. Bosque, dirt roads, and acéquias aren’t exactly eastern Massachusetts, but I was a kid who spent most of his time in the woods. I knew that spirit immediately. The part that scared me wasn’t the brown people, or the dogs run loose, or even the shotgun justice I gleaned from Damien’s stories. It was me.
The South Valley is a mirror.
It shows me my privileges, my opportunities, and my insecurity. After four years, the ladies at the Price Rite are starting to smile when I come through the line. Who knows what kind of faces I must’ve been making to them.
But the Valley is complicated.
Hershey was in my top four—of all dogs, ever. He and Mocha, another one of ours, liked to roam the street. I liked Mocha, but I never loved her.
Someone gave them antifreeze for their trouble. A long, slow paralysis, that starts in the hind legs. I held Hershey as he wheezed into death. Hours passed, and Mocha held on, her stomach a perfectly circular balloon, growing and falling. We buried them in a good place.
Deep in the ways I don’t understand this place is a kernel of something. It’s not romantic or evil; it’s dark, obvious, difficult, and old. I am a guest in a house I cannot own.