When I first stood in White Sands National Monument, I thought distinctly that it would also be the last time. I was alone, on a road trip funded by my tax returns, and for all sensory purposes on another planet.
I knew that once I was back home in Wisconsin, all would be a frenzied blur toward graduation. On the road, somewhere in Nebraska, I’d listened to a voicemail while I drove: I’d been accepted into graduate school in Boston, and offered a scholarship that made the whole scheme a reality.
So I left, still dazed, hungry and dehydrated from the drive. I said goodbye, and four months later, hello again.
My brother and I had planned for me to crash with him that summer, at his apartment in Houston. Now that I was moving away from home, too, we knew the days of our childhood, best friends churning out imaginary worlds together, were squarely behind us. The summer would give us time we might never have again, and we knew that.
Four days before I was set to make the drive, my brother heard news from his job: he was arranged to report to a new office in Midland, Texas for the duration of the year, effective Monday.
Two months in Houston became two days, and then I was hard-boiling all the eggs in his apartment and helping him load the slow-cooker and coffee-maker into his pickup truck. I set out behind him, and our caravan went West to Midland, through the green hill country of San Antonio.
Midland is a classic West Texas oil town that was established out of a broken-down train car. It sits about fifteen minutes away from Odessa, Texas of Friday Night Lights fame. Nodding oil derricks and snoozing cattle dot the blank, unforgiving mesquite horizon.
Midland is also a handful of hours away from New Mexico. After about a month in the oil town, we loaded the car with gallons of water and set out for Roswell, and then Alamogordo, the home of the White Sands. When I’d been here alone, the yucca were all empty. Big green fruit like bananas hung around them now. We drove the perimeter listening to Gustav Holst’s “Venus.” That’s what it looked like all around us, like the moon, like the Ray Bradbury story. All summer in a day.
My brother is engaged now; yearly trips to Texas are a new family ritual. The summer after the White Sands held a brother and sister on the brink of falling into new lives, I brought my parents. After a few days in Midland, we loaded the rental caravan. My dad was at the wheel, and I knew the way.
The yucca were flowering. So was the whole, vast little world underfoot. It was a gift, and we knew that.
Written by Missy J. Kennedy.