The South Valley is a little moon that orbits Albuquerque.
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.
On Easter morning two of our dogs died. Shotgun justice.
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.