I’ve been in the desert – both literally and metaphorically. Almost two weeks ago, my stepmom, Diane, was diagnosed with cancer in her spine. She passed away last Sunday from complications of that cancer. It hit hard and fast. Cancer fucking sucks.
Diane and my dad have been together since I was a kid. It is hard to remember a time when she wasn’t a second mother to me. She was utterly and completely amazing. She was an eternal hippie – quirky and strange and friendly. She made friends with everybody she met. She never said an unkind word about anyone, ever. She loved tie-dye and frogs and dragons and rocks and crystals. I cannot even begin to do her justice because it’s all just raw emotion and unprocessed grief. But she taught me two great truths. The first is that you should never be afraid to be yourself. Even if that means being sixty and sleeping in a wrought iron spiderweb bed with crystals and frogs hanging from your ceiling. Or being a history nerd with a potty mouth and a blog. Because the first step to being happy is owning who you are. And the second truth is that it’s almost always better to be kind than to be right, better to be compassionate than to be smart, better to give a hug than an attitude. I still struggle with that one, but that’s OK because I’m a work in progress. And because of the first one. Because I’m happy with myself.
When I found out that she was dying, like soon, I rushed home and threw everything in the car knowing that I wouldn’t make the sevenish hour drive to Reno in time. My dad called with the news that she had passed as I was pulling out of my driveway. I don’t know if he needed me, but I needed him. So the three kids and I made the long journey up through the desert.
With the DivaTeen and Middle Little plugged into electronics, and Doodle-Dude sleeping most of the way, I had plenty of time to think as I was driving. When you’re grieving, when it is still raw and fresh and festering, that’s maybe not the best thing. Especially with the long stretches of nothing but unending desert and unyielding sun. I’ll spare you the details, but it went something like this: drive forever – oh look, a cactus – drive a little more – pull over and cry – continue driving – that whorehouse sells hot sauce – drive until you’re pretty sure you’re halfway to hell – cry some more. And so on, ad infinitum. And as I drove, I thought about all the things we had done together, and I replayed all of the stories (like the time I mistook her for a Sasquatch), until somehow those stories, and the desert, and she and I and everything became linked.
And it made perfect sense. Because she was like that, you know? A breath of fresh air. Like the world’s biggest firecracker or roadside stand that sells desert honey and gemstones. You’d be going on in your normal everyday life and she’d show up in a flash of tie-dye with a smile and mismatched earrings and constantly open arms, without judgement or expectations. And then she would leave, and it was back to the desert, but with a smile on your face and an excitement and anticipation for whatever might come your way next. She was just like that. And I’m never going to make that drive again without thinking of her.
Only seven and a half hours, but this trip was too big – she was too big – for the story to be told in just one post. So I’m going to do it in three.
Diane and the Desert: Part 1 – Impressions
I will link the other posts when I get them up. Give me some time. It’s a process. For now, I’m going to leave you with some impressions of random things that I saw that reminded me of her because they flashed across my dashboard and made me smile. In no particular order, and sometimes for no reason at all. I know it’s not a proper memorial, but idgaf. I hope you enjoy.
This is the Area 51 Alien Center souvenir shop. It is right next to the Area 51 Alien Cathouse and is located about an hour and a half from my house. Last time my parents went through the area, they stopped here for some trinkets. They were offered a free tour through the brothel. My dad said that they weren’t giving free samples, so he turned down the tour. I didn’t ask what he thought free samples from a brothel would be like. Because he is my dad and that’s icky. While this place is not really close to Area 51, it does border the Nevada Test and Training Range (so does most of southern Nevada), so I’m sure there’s probably Super-Secret Military Stuff and Other Things ™ going on nearby.
Fallon, Nevada is a smallish town about an hour Southeast of Reno, which houses a Naval base. Now, that might seem a bit strange considering, you know, it’s in the middle of the freaking desert. However, Naval Air Station Fallon is home to the Naval Strike and Air Warfare Center a.k.a. TOPGUN. And also a lot of meth, if the sign above is any indication. I know it’s a bit blurry, but it reads: “METH has become a Nevada Epidemic. Don’t let this POISON destroy your life!” It’s a far cry from 160 years ago when clean clothing, not meth, infiltrated the area. Informally called “Ragtown” for the laundry scattered along the banks of the Carson River drying in the sun, this was the first water stop for wagon trains after crossing the 40 Mile Desert to the North. If they made it to Ragtown they were home free. Well, except for that little mountain range to the West and a little thing called Donner Pass. But that’s nothing to worry about, right?
Tonopah was a lovely place, I’m sure. We didn’t stay for very long. But if you’re ever in the area, maybe you could get a room at this Clown Motel. It looks like they have great rates. The nightmares are free.
Not far East of Hawthorne, NV is a teeny tiny little town called Mina. At first glance, Mina seems to be a ghost town, but there are actually 197 people who live there. Some of them, I assume, work at this place…
You can tell that the Wild Cat Brothel is a classy place because of the Greek columns set up around the perimeter of the double-wide. Now, I didn’t take this picture because I didn’t want to explain to my kids why I stopped at a brothel. So I got this from their website www.wildcatbrothel.com. Go ahead and click the link. You know you want to. And don’t let the double-wide and chintzy twinkle lights fool you. That shit ain’t cheap.
I have so much more to show you and so many more memories to share. But I don’t think I can handle any more right now. I hope to post part two in a couple of days. Until then, take care of yourselves. Hug someone you love. Embrace your weirdness. That’s what she would have wanted.
To go to the second part of this series, click here Diane and the Desert: Part 2 – Goldfield and Cool Shiny Stuff.