• Mallory Porter

Desert Kingdom

It’s nothing new to say that life is unexpected; that what we meticulously plan doesn’t always follow through, and that our “never gonna happens” often become our reality.

About two and a half years ago, I planned to hightail it to Atlanta right after college graduation, and find a job at a city magazine (preferably the Atlanta Magazine). A year and a half ago, I planned to escape to Arizona right after college to live near my best friend in a warm climate. Neither of those things happened.

When I left for college, I told myself that I would never live in my hometown of Carmel, IN again. I had it engrained in my brain that I would never be one of those people who stayed in Indiana after college. Both of those things happened.

Turns out, I find comfort in stability. Especially with the passing of my father my senior year of college, I felt the need to stay near home a little longer. I found a promising career path in Downtown Indy. And, my boyfriend, Zach, and I settled in a perfect starter home in Carmel.

Staying in Indiana did not make me feel stuck as I thought it would. It has actually given me the opportunity to save, travel, explore and build a solid foundation for myself until Zach and I are ready for our next adventure. And we do indeed plan to move out of Indiana one day together.

I met Zach when my plan to move to Arizona was still floating around in my head. He obviously did not want me to leave Indiana, since he was ready to buy his first home and wanted me to be part of that. Coincidentally though, he grew up in Tucson, Arizona until he moved with his family back to Indiana when he was 14 years old. It has always been his dream to move back to the desert state. Now, that has become our new dream together (funny how things work out that way).

But, the desert life was unknown to me. For years I’ve laid my head down to slumber deeply in dreams of temperate winters; waving a final good-bye to Indiana’s frozen tundra. California culture caught my attention, but I deemed it to expensive. Florida felt far too muggy, like a Southern version of Indiana. Atlanta still holds my interest, but the winters can freeze up occasionally. None of these locations offered me the climate and lifestyle of the Western desert, so I needed to experience it for myself.

The best way to figure out if you want to put down roots somewhere new is to visit. And I don’t mean lodging up in a hotel and lying by the pool for a week. I mean immersing yourself in the state as if you were already a resident.

Zach and I semi-spontaneously decided to take a trip out to Arizona to visit my best friend and her husband, Zach’s cousin and his childhood friends. It would be Zach’s first time in Arizona since he left about 15 years ago. We expected to get the feel goods from seeing my friend and staying with Zach’s cousin. However, we did not foresee the connections we would make with Zach’s past and with the state as a whole.

One of the biggest pleasures of the trip was being part of Zach’s reconnection with AZ. We visited his old neighborhoods, his elementary school and some if his favorite childhood restaurants and spots. Sharing these moments with him was so special to me. It was like opening up a treasure box or time capsule that a child carefully placed for someone appreciative to find. I was taken aback by how much I sensed Zach and his family around the state as we travelled. I felt a deep connection to the roots of his heart and who he is as a person in a new way.

Reconnecting with Zach’s childhood friend, David, brought about emotions neither of us were prepared for. I’m not sure if it was the sunny weather or the people, but the laid back, kind attitudes of the individuals we spent time with in Arizona were so refreshing. David in particular was so welcoming, and the 15-year gap from the last time he and Zach spoke face-to-face dissolved almost immediately. His house, complete with chili pepper kitchen wallpaper and a swamp cooler, felt like home, which came as more of a surprise to me than Zach.

We spent most of our time with David, and even a little with his core group of friends. Conversation over a Mesquite tree bonfire came with such an ease and a comfort that it made me feel as if I had been to this place and spent time with these people before. I ended up being the one to tear up when we hugged David goodbye near the end of our trip. I felt as if I was leaving a close friend as well.

Finding immediate emotional connections with people I had just met further swayed my opinions on moving to Arizona one day. But, while Zach and I both find it important to live near people that influence us in a positive way like David and Zach’s cousin, Laurie, we both enjoy our alone time. The solitude and peacefulness of a backyard overlooking an Arizona desert mountain became a picture perfect ideal for me. I’ve been to the Great Smoky Mountains, but the openness and warm air that flows so freely around desert mountains has a completely different atmosphere.

The landscape, or rather rockscape, of Arizona fascinated me. While the lack of trees and brownness of it all worried me at first, I realized cactus is the coolest thing in the world, and we found homes and spots that had more of the trees and foliage that I’m used to in Indiana. The plants and dry climate are vastly different from Indiana, or anywhere else I’ve been before. The weather that makes Arizona so diverse from other states definitely drew me in closer.

My curiosities were heightened when Zach’s cousin, Laurie, told us that the 60 degree nights we were experiencing were more winter weather. In Indiana, you’re hibernating 4-5 months out of the year. It’s difficult to keep an active lifestyle when it’s too icy to even drive somewhere for months at a time. Near year round opportunities to relax and adventure outdoors is on our must-haves list for a permanent residence.

I saw the hot AZ light at the end of the frigid IN tunnel on our hour and a half drive from Phoenix to Tucson. Dry heat and areas to walk, hike and explore all around are beautiful things. Indiana folks, you have not experienced real hiking until you’ve hiked a rocky mountain; talk about a workout. I find solace being surrounded by lush, green trees in the woods. But as far as hiking, Arizona’s style beats the flat dirt paths of Indiana hands down. There is a constant closeness between you and the earth in AZ that you don’t feel often enough in IN.

Flying back to familiar, humid Indiana after living the life in the opposing dry, earthy Arizona hurt a little. Zach and I were ready to be in our home with our GSD, but we started wishing our home was placed in Arizona. Realistically, settling down permanently in Arizona is 2-3 years away for us, which fueled most of the separation anxiety as we flew over the flat greenery of home. We had to remind ourselves that the sad feeling meant that our vacation meant even more to us than we anticipated.

I encourage everyone, whether you are ready to move, like Zach and I, or not, to travel around before pinpointing your permanent living location. Seeing and learning how other people live is an eye-opening experience that helps you understand the world more and what you want out of it.

If you fear the travel, or leaving your comfort zone, or if you think you already have a set plan, take a moment to rethink your checklist or never-list. In the spirit of “nevers,” one of my favorite lyrics from a NeverShoutNever song is: “You’re only as tall as your heart will let you be. And you’re only as small as the world will make you seem.” Don’t let your “perfectly” mapped out plans or your homegrown fears hold you back from travel and witnessing a different way of living firsthand. Don’t hold yourself back.

#Lifestyle #CreativeNonFiction #NonFiction #Editorial

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