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As the City Slumbers by Amber V. '24

thoughts while walking in a park

I was at the park near my grandparents’ place today, picking up graphic novels from a squat library. I gave a wide berth to a mom with her kids at the playground, and a trio of middle school boys in neon orange masks. I hadn’t been to that park in forever, which isn’t all that surprising, given that I’ve only lived in Tucson half the year. My cousins normally visit, but this year they stayed in Canada, and Covid safety means hangouts among friends are few and far between (and socially distanced).

I wandered from the library to the hill, where people used to watch Shakespeare in the Park, and over to the fields, where I played soccer in second grade. There’s a tree so gnarled and bent that even little kids can climb it, and a tall, steep slide with no railings, a relic of past building codes. It stood there when my mom was small. I hope the city doesn’t tear it down.

Last time I’d been here, it was summer, and all the grass was dead. A boy I’d dated back in high school had emailed me out of the blue and offered to catch up. We walked around the park that evening — in Tucson summer everything takes place at night; only those with a special disregard for sweat and suffering will brave the blazing sun. We discussed our relationship, or lack thereof — for really it had been friendship, under the wrong label, only wee freshman me had wished it were otherwise. He was everything I remembered, except now he wished it were otherwise. It was wild, and random, and empowering, that I could have exactly what freshman me wanted, and I did not want it at all. 

I bid the boy farewell and walked more after he was gone. I wove between spindly palm trees and grinned to myself. Freshman me would be wide-eyed and intimidated if she could see me now01 and a little disappointed, obviously, that I hadn’t met all her lofty aspirations, and also that I did not begin dating that boy.

My baba and zeide (pronounced ‘zay-deh,’ Yiddish for ‘grandfather’) live some blocks from the park, though they have not left their yard since Covid hit. I know I’m extremely lucky that they are able to take care and keep themselves safe. They are retired biologists, and they tell me over Zoom about their wild college days. I can’t wait to see them in person again. In years prior, my cousins from Canada stayed at their house every winter break, and I would spend most days there, too. My cousin Sarah and I always escaped to the park. 

One year we made a daily pilgrimage to Eegee’s, which is a Tucson sandwich chain named for its fine-ground flurries. We got ranch fries and eegees — eegeeses? — she strawberry, me holly berry, which in hindsight is not a berry one consumes, but the artificial flavor sure was good. Another year, before we actually liked coffee but after we discovered espresso drinks, we ventured farther, to the Starbucks a few blocks down. One winter later, we were happy02 manic? sleep deprived? There may be another word I’m looking for jittery caffeine addicts, and I showed Sarah all the coffeeshops by the university. Now we can tear up the town in my orange minivan, but we still prefer walking. There is a strangely high density of ice cream shops in walking distance, and before a new one opened last month, we could proudly say we’d tried them all.

We talked about friends and boyfriends. I told her the first time I kissed a girl. Maybe it was high school, or maybe it’s just being human, but this event seemed to be of earth-shattering importance. Watching certain movies as a crusty wise nineteen-year-old has been making me think about how many things in high school felt that way: that moment between third and fourth when you walk by your crush, sharing a few words, a quick laugh in the hallway. Having them notice you seems to be of vital importance, and yet making a move is petrifying, and if you don’t then nothing, ever, will be quite as good as it could have been.03 at least I assume this is high school as opposed to college, but I’ve never been on campus, so maybe we’re all just idiots forever :’)

Of course these feelings all are fresh, because I haven’t really been to college, yet, and I tramped around Europe but that was a far cry from real adulthood. I’m in this not-unpleasant in-between. 

The grass is dead in the park this winter, because in a desert we have a different culture around sprinklers. At least most of us do — the fenced-off golf courses are always green. I wonder if the grass here is ever alive, or if it’s just for two weeks in April, which is when everything seems to come to life: the palo verde trees bloom yellow, and the desert willows drip with pink and purple flowers. Anyway I was walking around, and thinking of how Tucson is small and everything overlaps, memories on memories, especially in this very park. I used to find that suffocating, that there were so few new places to discover, nowhere you could take a boy or girl without thinking that you’ve gone with someone else to that same spot. Now I think it’s alright. My hometown feels lived in. It’s like a movie that you’ve watched so many times you know all the jokes, but you still laugh when you play it again. And that’s good, I want to leave a mark. I want to know all the secrets in this place before I move on to the next one.

I am moving to campus soon, and I’m excited to tear through Boston, to leave memories in the parks and on the streets, in a hall at MIT where conversations can last forever, and the city glitters across the Charles river.

Sometime after I leave, and enough of us have vaccines, Tucson will stir again. It’s still moving, just more softly: my friends are getting internships, getting crushes on people I haven’t met, but we aren’t gathering together to talk about it. Without seeing everyone I begin to feel like the city is sleeping. Like the whole world is sleeping. But it will wake up.

My cousins will fly back to Tucson, maybe next winter, or maybe another time. We’ll walk in the park, and maybe then the grass will finally be green. Sarah will tell me all the drama her college debate club cooked up in quarantine, and I will tell her about Boston: how I wasn’t prepared for the snow, the people I’ve met and the ones I will meet, and the wild hack I will surely pull off (and keep secret, of course). 

In the meantime, I’ll do another lap around the park. The world slumbers, and we keep on.

picture of tree leaning at a 30 degree angle so it's easy to climb

the climbing tree

  1. and a little disappointed, obviously, that I hadn’t met all her lofty aspirations, and also that I did not begin dating that boy. back to text
  2. manic? sleep deprived? There may be another word I’m looking for back to text
  3. at least I assume this is high school as opposed to college, but I’ve never been on campus, so maybe we’re all just idiots forever :’) back to text