Arcosanti floats around in the desert under a hazy reality. You get the sense that people go here to escape, to learn, to find themselves, to be disappointed, or maybe just to get high on something and think about life for a while.
“Gimme Shelter” was blasting from the car stereo and wind violently whipped hair around my face as I stepped out of my car at Arcosanti. He pulled into the dirt lot so fast it scared me, sliding his truck next to mine like a stuntman. How funny would it have been if he’d hit me? Looking so forward to seeing you after all these weeks, boom, never mind.
He didn’t hit me, but when he jumped out to hug me, he squeezed the life out of me all the same.
I wondered what this moment would feel like. I always wonder that. I always imagine what a reunion looks like after I’ve been away for a while. In movies, people unabashedly embrace each other with dramatic flair — oh, how I’ve missed you! Once, in an airport, a young woman asked me if I knew how to use Snapchat. She wanted me to record the moment her boyfriend saw her for the first time after spending a month apart. I said sure, but inwardly gagged. I waited, finger poised like an idiot by the baggage claim, thinking that if my bag came during this momentous occasion I was going to be pissed. I just wanted to leave.
So the moment comes, she ran towards her love, arms flailing, and wrapped herself around him like she was auditioning for the role of a lifetime. Darling, my darling, kiss me in public and show everyone how much you love me! In my head she sounded like Scarlett O’hara. In reality, she just emitted high pitched squeals. No actual words were uttered, at least none I could hear, because I was too busy fumbling with her phone. During this immensely public display of affection, my finger slipped and I ended up only recording the moment they walked away from each other. I wondered what that said about me, but not for long, because my bag arrived.
I handed her phone back with a sheepish grin and said sorry.
My moment of reunion in the dirt parking lot outside Arcosanti was stunted.
I kept thinking: would time reveal how much we needed each other? Would we meld into each other passionately? Would I run to him, arms flailing and wrap myself around him like that girl in the airport? What about those squealing noises of joy? Or would we just hug each other tightly in an awkwardly restrained fashion and whisper inaudibly that we missed each other? Yes, to the last one.
Standing in that dirt parking lot, my body was stiff in his tight embrace. It was like his hug threatened to deflate me. When he let go, I wanted to grab his face and kiss him. I backed away instead. I turned off “Gimme Shelter” and we ventured into the mid-century dreamland together.
Together, but separate.
We spent the rest of the day dancing between intimacy and restraint. Exploring each other and the site. One moment his hands would be all over me, and the next they’d stay just out of reach — enough for today. I never knew what to do with mine in the between time, and they ached to touch him when it was clear they should not. That deflated feeling hung around. It clung to every interaction. It felt so utterly unsatisfying I wanted to scream. I had to hold back the question burning it’s way through my body — is that it? Really?
And part of me hated that I’d hoped for more.
When night came, sleep was fragmented with bouts of affection. We’d embrace and then turn away. He’d rub my back just long enough to say he cared. Then I’d return the favor. Once, my hand randomly landed in his and I pulled it away immediately — sorry for the accidental intimacy! He grabbed at my hand, pulled it back, and forced it to sit inside his.
In the morning, I felt his urgency to move, so we got up and explored the grounds one last time at my request. I wasn’t done with this place. I was searching for something to take away that feeling. He was restless too. But he wasn’t searching for anything, it felt more like he just needed to leave. As we sat on top of a domed roof and chatted, he said it felt like I was trying to figure him out. I was. I always am. Figuring people out is what I do.
So we parted early, in what felt like such a rush. It was harsh to swallow with the aftertaste of anticipation still floating around in my mouth. He hugged the life out of me again in that dirt lot, and then we drove separately in the same direction. Together again, but separate again.
On the drive home it was still there, dragging behind me, this deflated invisible thing.
“Is that it?” My insides wanted to know.
The thing following behind me, stalking my car, answered that it was.
He messaged later to say he wanted some more of that view, and also for more of the wine at Arcosanti.
What about the awkward midnight hand-holding? Could you go for more of that?
That thing following behind me whispered, “probably.” I rolled my eyes at it.
I tried to think of the view, but I couldn’t. I was stuck on the moment we walked away from each other.