By Tisha Marie Reichle-Aguilera
Driving east on Interstate 10, I crank up the a/c. The sun peeks up over distant mountains, blinds me despite my designer sunglasses. Damn! It has been years since I trekked across this desert. Swore the last time I’d never do it again.
I don’t remember much about last time. Just knew when I left, there was a lot worth forgetting. Squeezed my eyes tight and wrung out all the water. Haven’t shed a tear since. Haven’t drank a drop neither. Almost ten years sober. And now I gotta cross this barren desert with no one to hear my cries of thirst.
The wind blows across the highway. Tiny pellets of sand tap-tap-tap on the side of my car. Doesn’t matter how fast I drive, how slow I go, always the same tap-tap-tap, like Momma’s nail on her dead front tooth when she figured the bills or waited for the oven timer to ding. Hobo dinners, sloppy joe lasagna, or that damn tuna noodle casserole—it infested the kitchen towels with its fishiness. When I missed Momma, I tried to make it and was sick for days.
Maybe it’s not sand. Maybe Momma’s scattered ashes are drifting back and forth across this highway watching out for all us fast-driving-on-too-little-sleep travelers heading to Blythe. Or leaving Blythe for bigger, not necessarily better. See, Momma spent her whole life in that town alongside the river. Never wanted to leave. Said she never needed nothing she couldn’t get right there. But I saw what happened to people like me who stayed too long, loved too hard, and drank too much.
Ten years ago, the sun rose behind me, chased me out. Friends said ride with the window down, that’ll sober you up good. Didn’t have much choice. With no a/c then, my back started sweating before I passed Corn Springs Road.
Maybe salt from my pumpkin seeds got my heart to pounding too loud. Maybe the cherry Mountain Dew coursing through my veins made me hear them voices. They weren’t coming from the radio, nothing but static or Spanish on the AM dial from Chiriaco Summit to just outside Coachella. The voices I heard were definitely English:
“Can’t catch me!” said the woman who stole a pint of Schnapps from Discount Liquor. She ran past me into the path of a big rig.
“Be right back!” from the guy who left the party on the levee to get more beer in town. When he didn’t come back, we found his Jeep upside down on the side of the road.
“Cannonball!” yelled Big Liz when she jumped off the bridge into the canal. We waited on the ditch bank, sipping wine coolers all afternoon, but she never resurfaced.
“Eat my dust!” from the kid who jumped the biggest sand dune on his motorcycle and collided mid-air with a 4×4 truck that dragged half his body across the sand. Teacher kept his empty desk at the front of the room the rest of the year.
Those voices followed me all the way to Los Angeles. They lived with me, silent mostly. But when I hurt the most and wanted a drink real bad, they’d cry out. Remind me what I’d left behind to get sober.
Because nothing lasts forever in this world. Except pain. And longing. And voices.
Chicana Feminist and former Rodeo Queen, Tisha Marie Reichle-Aguilera is an editor for Ricochet Editions and on the leadership team for Women Who Submit. Her short fiction has been published most recently in PANK, Toho Journal Online, The Citron Review, and Puro Chicanx Writers of the 21st Century. She writes so the desert landscape of her childhood can be heard as loudly as the urban chaos of her adulthood. She is obsessed with food. A former high school teacher, she earned an MFA at Antioch University Los Angeles and is working on her PhD at USC.