Heidi Isern

writer. thinker. whiskey drinker.

The Road to Tucson

Location: Tucson

Mileage: 922

Music: “Keep the Car Running” by Arcade Fire

Meal: Bad roadside ceviche that I hope doesn’t have a parasite

The trip between Los Angeles and Tucson is eight hours of hot dusty driving.  At one pit stop en-route I managed to lose a gas cap and my Mac Powercord.  At another stop I decided it would be a good idea to order roadside ceviche. (The aftermath of which may keep me off ceviche for years).  As my stomach churned, thoughts flashed chaotically inside my brain. “Why am I doing a road trip when I can fly cross country for $199 on a Jet Blue Special?” “I am already making myself sick and it’s been less than a week! I should have gone to the Balinese healing resort!” “I should go back home to my comfort zone working as a consultant.  33 is too old for a crazy cross-country trip!”

These doubting voices were abruptly silenced as the spectacular of the present moment washed over me.  My car windshield presented a view hole into an amazing landscape stretching endlessly under vast desert skies.  Rocky formations sprouted up out of the red earth. Saguaro cactuses danced in the afternoon sun.  Velvety sand dunes delicately surfaced, glimmering underneath the bright blue sky.  Once again I found my own country beautiful.

My chosen path, the scenic Interstate 8, also offered another interesting spectacle—Border Patrol.  I passed through two eerie checkpoints where I had to stop the car, open the door, and repeat in unbroken English “Yes, I am an American citizen” to khaki clad officers.  I was slightly worried my international accent would come out, they would deem me a phony, and ship me off to Juarez.

But English prevailed and I passed their tests and made Tucson in record time.  As the crimson sun dipped below the edge of the earth I arrived at my hillside hotel.  Promptly afterward a tall, green eyed, black haired beauty came to fetch me.  I had never met Kate before.  She was a friend of a friend who had committed to show this weary traveler a good ol’ Tucson time.

Kate is the type of woman who would give up her evening plans to befriend a random stranger out of good will.  Kate is also the type of woman who brings said random stranger a chilled bottle of wine in a cooling case upon the first meeting. “I heard you liked wine.  And I figured you needed to have a bottle for your journey in case there weren’t any good options around.”

Amazed by the generosity, I willingly accepted her gift and we went off to dinner.  Kate and I talked, laughed, and become fast friends over wine and a gorgeous view of the city.  Kate insisted that she had no story that anyone would find interesting.  However, I am confident that every woman has a story to tell.  I learned that Kate is the youngest of eight children, born into a close knit Irish Catholic family that decided to homestead Arizona.  After putting herself though college (“with 8 children there wasn’t a lot of extra money floating around”) Kate married a wonderful man she met abroad, launched a successful career in the medical field and raised two doe-eyed heartbreaking boys that she would do anything for.

However no life is perfect.  As we started talking about her large family, Kate suddenly became a bit sad.  Her oldest sister, Mary, passed away of cancer last Fall.  Mary was a woman that would have intrigued anyone. “You should have written her story” Kate said.  During the 70’s Mary left Arizona to join a commune in San Francisco.  She later went up to Alaska to work, got married, divorced, and came to Kate’s wedding as the pregnant Maid of Honor. “She was always the wild one, yet the favorite one,” Kate reminisced.  Unlike Mary, Kate had stayed in Arizona, her love for the desert too strong to take her far away from it.

Mary battled cancer for almost two years and Kate devoted herself to taking care of her.  She points to a ring on her finger. “This used to be hers.  I had the honor of removing all her jewelry right after she passed away.”  Tears start to well up in Kate’s Irish green eyes. “It was such an honor to be the one to take care of her and show my parents that devotion…the youngest taking care of the oldest.  It was such a honor…”

I asked Kate if her sister’s death changed her at all. “Of course.  I am not afraid anymore. I am not afraid to do things, to die, to seize every opportunity.  For instance, I used to be afraid of flying…and now I travel all the time for my job! Life is such a blessing that we need to embrace every moment and chance it presents us.”

I also wondered if Mary’s death had affected Kate’s views on Catholicism or religion in general.  “I still do believe is God….but rather a different holy trinity.  My trinity is the body, the mind, and the spirit.”  As a swimmer, medical professional, wife and mother, Kate appeals to each in everything that she does.

With kids soon off to college, Kate is currently debating her next steps in life “Before my life was about my husband, then my children, then my sister.  And now…I think…it’s me.  And I have high aspirations for that part!”  Kate shares my belief that it’s never too late to reinvent yourself.

I found Kate to be such a genuine gem of a person that I was sad to leave her. However, wonderful women, especially the re-inventors, always seem to find each other again.

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