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The Ruby Slippers

In the summer of 2016, I admitted to myself that I felt trapped, bored and lonely in my home town. Being a New Englander with a stiff upper lip and an inherited propensity for martyrdom lite, I wrote myself off as a hopeless ingrate and switched to bag wine.

Our kids had done what they are supposed to do: grow up and become independent individuals. As difficult as it is to raise them, setting them free is much harder. I missed them.

Whenever I complained to my father that I was bored, he would tell me that boredom was the only sin against the mind, which was not something I understood entirely until just recently.

Like the proverbial serial masturbator, I had dulled my senses with too much excitement and novelty by traveling each winter. Every spring, after four months of life on the road in our 17′ Casita travel trailer, I would begin to crave the everyday luxuries and want to go home, but then after a week of reveling in running water, heat and electricity, I would get restless and want to go back out west. There were only so many walks I could take on the beach.

The summer of 2016 was notably awful for personal reasons, but the Trump Fest made it so much worse. Trump’s bloated visage popped up in the gym when I was trying to self-stimulate with endorphins, and took up real estate on Facebook that should have been devoted to group shots of tipsy ladies holding fancy cocktails. NPR became insufferable and forget about reading the New Yorker–that was enough to make me go all Sylvia Plath. It would be fair to say that I might have been a little bit depressed.

The one thing that held me together that summer was my job at the cafe where I worked as a cook. The kitchen would routinely reach temperatures of 110 degrees or more but I didn’t mind because my co-workers were so entertaining and distracting. I would sweat so much that my bra would offset colorful triangles of dye onto my whites and no matter how much water I drank, I could work all day without needing to pee. It was very hot in the swelter of Sweet Cakes Cafe, but never boring.

By the time My Royal Consort and I left to go on our fourth winter walkabout, I was a complete mess. I had finally faced up to the fact that the sibling rivalry in my family was intractable, which was bad enough, and then the unthinkable happened on November 9. I couldn’t imagine accompanying myself across the street, much less across the country.

After a few days on the road, I began to feel like myself again. Each day we were out meant I was one day closer to the deserts and the mountains and further away from my blossoming existential crisis.

I think Christmas is best enjoyed as a cozy dinner with My Royal Consort and our two kids, with a few ersatz nods to holiday tradition. Meeting up with Thing 1 and Thing 2 in North Carolina for Christmas was just what I needed. After a relaxing week with them, My Royal Consort and I continued southwest toward Big Bend National Park and they went north to visit friends and family.

When the temperatures dropped into the teens, we left Texas and made a break for Tucson. Our mission was to participate in the Women’s March and then hike as much as possible wherever we could. We intended to work our way up to Utah, and then into Colorado before heading back east.

The Women’s March gave me hope and made me feel much better about my fellow Americans. The organizers had expected 5,000 demonstrators, but 15,000 showed up. The skies that had threatened us with rain cleared up and we all slowly made our way through downtown Tucson. The stately pace of the crowd gave us the opportunity to meet people and take a good look around.

Avoiding winter in Rhode Island has been an evolving project. Four years ago, My Royal Consort and I took our first road trip with our Casita and fell in love with the Southwest. This year, we were beginning to realize that we might be outgrowing our Casita.

After our second year of travel, we invented a game unofficially called “where would we move to in the Southwest if we ever move to the Southwest?” Each year we flirted with Silver City, NM, the Texas Hill Country, and Bisbee, Arizona. Just when we were sure we had found the perfect place, we would move on to the next place and become smitten all over again.

In 2016, we got very excited about the Texas Hill Country, and if the weather had not gotten frigid, we might have circled back toward Kerrville and Bandera for a closer look. Texas is one of the best kept secrets in the union.

The day after the Women’s March, My Royal Consort and I bagged Wasson Peak in the Tucson Mountain Park. On my way down, I realized that my three-year-old hiking boots were completely worn out and needed to be replaced.

Between the Women’s March and the day we went to REI to replace my boots, both My Royal Consort and I had a magical mind meld and concluded that Tucson was where we would move to in the Southwest if we ever moved to the Southwest.

After buying my boots, we drove around Tucson looking for property and got frustrated because we didn’t know the first thing about the local housing market or the city. We decided to call a realtor, but of course we didn’t know one, so I took out my phone and googled “realtors near me.”

The fates smiled upon us when I made contact with Evelyn and her associate, Mik. They were the first two friends we made in Tucson. Before meeting them, we didn’t know a single person.

Mik did not flinch when we told him that we were dry camping on Bureau of Land Management land outside Tucson city limits in a rig smaller than a horse trailer. If the reek of woodsmoke, patchouli and BO on our clothes made him gag when he drove us around, he never let on. Without running water or an economical heat source, we were relying on $2 showers and campfires.

At home, I am often referred to as The Mayor because I know so many people. I have tons of friends, yet I feel like I have no friends because I never see them. I recognize that I do not play well in large groups of women, and that might be why I feel so isolated. If other ladies aren’t down to poke poop with a stick or handle snakes, I lose interest. There is also the little matter of living a half mile up a dirt road with no neighbors.

My social problems ceased to exist in the Tucson BLM because our friends Kate, Caleb and Cynthia ended up joining us there. Caleb is a musician and Cynthia not only handles snakes, she can hunt, skin, and cook them. Caleb and My Royal Consort complimented each other perfectly when they played music together.

Each night on the Tucson BLM, we would have a big campfire with live music and welcome anyone who stopped by. Our only requirement was that guests not be Trump Humpers or nationalist whack jobs. The BLM is lousy with single, angry, white men living in squalid cargo vans. If and when someone proved to be an asshole, we would tell him (it was always a him) to leave our campfire and then hope he didn’t come back and shoot us.

The BLM we were staying at was almost festive because of all the people hanging around Tucson for the two-week Gem Show and the rodeo. As for amenities in the campground, there were none, except incredible sunsets and the presence of owls nesting in the cliffs above us. For the first week we were there, they would commence their hooting at dusk and carry on until sunrise. I love owls and consider it a special blessing whenever I am lucky enough to see one.

Early on in our stay at the BLM, the owls enticed me away from the light of the campfire and into the darkness. I wanted to get closer to the hooting, and while I was at it, I thought I might sneak a quick puff of pot so as not to offend the good people of Arkansas at our campfire who I knew were not pot friendly.

As I strolled in the darkness with my eyes up and my hand in my pocket, I suddenly found myself sprawled over a random mound of hardened concrete. Before the first string of curses could leave my mouth, I knew that I had modified my foot in a most unpleasant way. Clearly, we would not be leaving Tucson in the foreseeable future, and there would be no need for the brand new hiking boots.

Suspecting that I had a bad sprain, I stuffed my foot into one of the old hiking boots, chugged a tumbler of wine and crawled into bed to weep bitter tears of klutzy butt hurt.

Mik is the only Tucson native I have met (everyone else I have met here is from somewhere else) and he genuinely loves the city. Kind, generous, funny and conscientious, he showed us houses in all the neighborhoods where he thought we would fit in, and within a week, we made an offer on a little place in the center of the city.

In Arizona, there is no dithering once you have made an offer on real estate and the seller has accepted it. From that day on, you have thirty days to get your finances in order. Each step along the way takes place in a predetermined number of days and brings you ever closer to the point of no return.

In college, I was the sick individual who completed my semester projects in the first quarter of the school year because deadlines always freak me out. I also hate spending money. Buying a house with cash while parked out in the desert with nothing but a smartphone, transported me to a nauseous place way past my comfort zone. To keep my courage up, I wore the carved owl that Cynthia gave me after I sprained my foot.

I knew that real estate investors are not supposed to read and sign off on real estate contracts from a laundromat. Or move money around while seated on the curb in front of a Walmart. Or buy a house they have only seen one time. During the all important inspection phase, our last chance to bail out, I was busy getting an X-ray. I also knew that if I had to stay put in our house in the woods in Rhode Island I would end up like my parents.

From the day we attended the march until the day we closed on the property, the entire endeavor felt as though it had been preordained by a kindly spirit who wanted us to live in Tucson. Aside from a few minor freak outs over finances, I felt like I was on cruise control.

Instead of worrying about how we would manage the logistics of living in two states, or how lousy it would feel to kick our tenants out of their rental, or if our primary home would sell, and if I would regret selling it, or what I would do about my 30-year-old horse, or if Tucson was the right place for us, or if our kids would forgive us for selling the house they grew up in, I chose to trust the owls.

Every single person we told about our intention to move to Arizona congratulated us and wished us well with two notable Northeastern exceptions, one of whom fretted over our liberal bonafides the way a Catholic mother might fret over the state of her daughter’s hymen. For my own good, I was advised to seek out other news outlets besides Fox News. I am hopeful that with the money we will save by living in Arizona, I can afford a subscription to the New York Times.

Having our attorney wire the wad of cash that our financial advisor had mustered for us was the perfect intersection of my two major anxiety triggers: deadlines and money. In the last week before the closing, I was certain that something would derail the wire transfer and that we would piss off everyone we knew in Tucson–an ever expanding circle a of kindhearted people who cheered us on every step of the way.

Closings get delayed all the time for one reason or another and the sun continues to rise and set, but apparently in my case, this last little detail about sending the money in time was a cipher for all the legitimate worries that I had consigned to the owls. When we finally went to that mysterious and vaguely intimidating entity known as Title and Escrow to sign final documents, I stood up from the escrow officer’s table and noticed that her shelves were covered in owl figurines.

On the day of the closing, Mik met us at the house with the keys, a six pack of craft beer, a gift certificate to the local food co-op and a card that made me cry. Laura, the seller, left us a bouquet of flowers, a box of chocolates, an excellent bottle of wine and a card.

Once my sprained foot healed and I could walk from our new house to the costume shop on Fourth Avenue, I treated myself to a pair of ruby slippers. I knew that in the upcoming year of chaos and change, I would need them to find my way home again.

32 comments

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  1. Judith Salomon says:

    So excited for your new adventure-the art scene in Tucson is healthy and vibrant-will miss you in RI but I know our paths will keep passing somewhere, somehow.
    much love, Judith

    1. admin says:

      Thank you for the well wishes! We will still have summer in RI so when you guys do your family thing, be sure to look us up. The art scene IS amazing. Music, art, film, theater…and so much easier for is to access.

  2. Jody Petersen says:

    “Trust in the owls”. Your entire journey could not have been more simply yet beautifully expressed.
    I love how your words speak of emotions and at the same time capture the grit of the physical world. Not only do I get a sense of place for the Tucson environs, I feel that I can almost touch the places of your mind. A delightful piece of work Liz.
    So glad that we all pulled into Snyder Hill at the same time!
    Jody

    1. admin says:

      I am so glad you enjoyed it! It is great that you read it and rang true given that you were there. Tonight is our first night back out on the road and we are just settling into a fire–using Cynthia’s stick, the one she carved after she burnt up the other one–and thinking of the gang while remembering what the trip was like before the owls.

  3. Evelyn says:

    Tucson is equally blessed to have you as new property owners! May the next journey in your life’s chapter be equally swift, profitable, and smooth. Thank you for sharing your experiences. xo

    1. admin says:

      Thank you! We will have lots of fun together when we get back xo

  4. Gary says:

    Always fun to read your tales, and such exciting news for you both! Congrats, and have a great time in your new home 🙂

    1. admin says:

      Thank you !

  5. Peter Nunes says:

    I am fond of La Cocina, near the Presidio. Light rail get you around nicely, but you know that. Good bars near the University, too, but they take some finding.

    1. admin says:

      We are just down the street from the Meet Rack. So many great breweries that I’ve given up solid food

  6. Ken Orabone says:

    Enjoy Tucson! I spent 1990 – 2008 out there before moving back to Rhode Island. I don’t miss the heat of summer, but I find myself missing many other things; the food, Bookman’s, The Desert Museum, hiking in the mountains, the smell of orange blossoms in the spring, the monsoon storms and lightning…

    I was over near Craycroft & 22nd. If you haven’t stumbled across El Sur Restaurant, do. Inexpensive, but good, with fresh grilled jalepenos and onions brought to the table (22nd and Craycroft). And Cafe Poca Cosa downtown was also one of our favorites. And Mama Louisa’s if you are in the mood for italian.

    Gah, I’m a bit homesick now for my home away from home… I hope you enjoy it as much as I did!

    1. admin says:

      Bookmans has moved and we haven’t caught up to it yet but now that you mention it– that would be a fun activity . Orange blossoms and acacia are blooming now and are intoxicating. We are having freakish hot weather for now, cranking along at about 90. Our house just rented so we are free to continue with our trip, which I am happy about. We have no furniture and the Casita is way too hot. Heading up to Utah to hike now that my foot is mostly healed. Can’t wait until we move for real and can start gardening. I love the desert landscaping.

  7. Kathryn Speary-Donahue says:

    Liz, you KNOW from the signs (owls, etc.) that this was the right path for you both. I’m so excited for you! Nothing like adventure to keep you going in life! I can’t wait to hear of your future exploits…keep writing! Yes, I’m using a lot of exclamation marks, but I’m really happy for you! The southwest has been calling to me for years, I’ve yet to make it out there, but I will. God and Goddess bless you and keep you safe and happy. – Kat

    1. admin says:

      I really hope you do get out here somewhere in the west –I can totally see you being happy here. I’m so glad you mentioned the owls. My most recent and I think my best Tattoo is of an owl.

  8. Wayne Rocheleau says:

    You are in the right place both physically and mentally, happy for you both. Just to make you fell even better, blizzard on the way here. Sarah has only been out of the house once in the last two weeks. We were supposed to go to Wang center tomorrow for an evening listening to Il Volo. Looks like that’s not going to happen.

    1. admin says:

      Argh she must be so disappointed! Tell her to hang in there–brighter days ahead. We are busy scouting out all the breweries so that we will be ready for you. We will be back soon. Can’t wait to see you both! Xoxo

  9. Hope Leeson says:

    Your tale warms the cockles of my heart, though tugs at the heartstrings. I’ll just picture you tucked down close to the red earth behind those orange cactusy-flowering things.

    1. admin says:

      Don’t forget to picture the four of us hiking a different mountain everyday you are here visiting!

  10. Rick DeBari says:

    Do you and Jack know I once lived in Tucson for a year? it was in the late 70’s the year of the blizzard of ’78? I loved the weather from October to May. Summers get very toasty. The nice thing is that, most of the time, a swamp cooler is fine vs AC because of the dry heat. As you know, the scenery is breathtaking. I used to love horseback riding there in the desert washes(dried out river beds). Loved hiking the desert in Saguaro National Park. Unfortunately my life was very screwed up at the time. I was between two girlfriends, my father passed away also while I was there and I didn’t have a viable career yet so money was tight for me and I returned to RI.

    1. admin says:

      Where did you live? We ended up in Feldmans near UA. We can walk to everything which is nice. We will need a consult with you about the swamp coolers–they are totally out of our wheelhouse but we do intend to –er– endure at least one summer just for the esprit de corps . It is so beautiful. Catalinas in one direction, Rincon the other direction…and flowers!

  11. Martha V Badigian says:

    Sounds so fun! Just make sure you check back into little Sk from time to time and give us a buzz..

    1. admin says:

      We will be your neighbors on Orchard Ave!

  12. Claudia says:

    I’m a serial lurker but I never comment til now, you’re writing is so succinct yet nuanced. I loved this post and I’m so happy for y’all. Maybe we could coordinate a day to get together?! Xoxoxo

    1. admin says:

      I really want to see you and Alex and meet Marcus. Let’s plan on it . We will be around all this year as the Tucson house is rented while we get our ducks in a row back east. BTW thank you for the kind words!

  13. Kim Falcone says:

    God-I love your writing style, Lavie!

    We’ll miss you here in Wakefield…just to make you feel even better about your decision-a noreaster is on the way for Tuesday-Can’t wait!

    1. Kim Falcone says:

      12 to 18 inches…

    2. admin says:

      Kim, that means so much to me. I wrote this sucker three different times in three different ways and then spent 2 full days polishing it up while Jack did work on the house. I have been feeling like my sense of humor has flown the coop and that my grammatical skills have left the building. I’m a little bit rusty and have noticed that I have developed some annoying tics in my writing. I can’t believe you guys are getting slammed NOW! Thank goodness it’s at least daylight savings time . We will be back soon and hope I will return to Sweet Cakes and reconnect with everyone. Xoxo

  14. Sabrina Patenaude says:

    Reading your adventures warms my heart! Best of luck in your new home. x

    1. admin says:

      Thank you!!

  15. magicjackatx says:

    Kudos! Great choice!! Blessings in your new home y’all!
    I like what you said about Texas, it baffles my RI peeps how I can stand it here LOL.
    Always enjoy your great writing, humor, and honesty. So glad we had a chance to meet up in Austin and hear some great music last year!
    Jack McCabe
    South Austin

    1. admin says:

      Jack, you know you are always welcome here in Tucson. Awesome music scene here!

      1. magicjackatx says:

        dang I just saw this OCT 23rd 2017
        sure think if I get out that way I will look ya up!

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