"You going to be ok, you know, going to the desert this weekend?" Monica asks hesitantly, knowing the answer already.
"I'll be fine, promise," I respond, no more fooling her than I am myself, but eager to move the conversation elsewhere.
It's nothing personal, Palm Desert, really. I mean, I'm not a huge fan of your heat, and this northwest girl likes a little greenery, but it's not anything you did. You know how for some people it's a song or a smell that takes them back to a time or place they'd rather not go? That's what you are to me.
You see, two summers ago, I packed up all my things and drove to an empty house right off your main highway. I had a summer job I couldn't refuse, and decided to brave eight weeks of living in my grandparents empty house, hundreds of miles from anyone I knew. I am Sarah Schwartz, hear me roar, I can do whatever I set my mind to, right? I was 21 and alive, coming off the best few years of my life, and ready to conquer whatever was next.
I moved all of my possessions in barely holding together cardboard boxes into that little house, confident that God had me there for a reason. I wasn't quite sure why, but I had this feeling in my chest I just couldn't shake, that something beautiful and new was on the horizon, and that summer was a key piece of what was next.
Whatever You're up to, I'm in, I prayed. Oh, and the desert was a poetic touch.
So I spent eight weeks with you, and yes, a new season came. Just not the kind I was expecting. (Just like I wasn't expecting it to be 115 degrees everyday, but hey, life is full of surprises, am I right?)
Instead of new life, my time with you marked the beginning of a lot of death.
Broken relationships, a broken heart, a broken spirit, you name it, if it was mine, in the months following the desert, it was a mess. For months, it seemed like everything I touched or that touched me died. And not graceful, quiet, dignified deaths, but the kind with explosions and shrapnel and lots and lots of bleeding.
And while a good amount of that death happened after I left you, you are the place where much of it gained it’s footing, so I've avoided you like the plague for past few years. You see, visiting overwhelms me with memories of the last time I really felt like myself, coupled with the dizzying, almost comical way that everything fell apart after I left you. It's a strange, strange collision of emotions.
Another summer has rolled around, and I am preparing to come back to you for the first time in quite a while. While watering flowers in the backyard this week, I found myself thinking about the girl I was that June, and the girl I am now.
I always expect these moments to happen with greater fanfare, but this one came quietly, green plastic flowerpot in hand, watering my roommate's new tomato plant.
All of that breaking, all of that death? That landed my ass on a therapist's couch every Wednesday afternoon for 18 months. It full force shoved me into the arms of my truth telling friends, and made me call my fear of being too much to the floor so we could tango. It helped me find my anger.
I've spent these past two years fighting for myself (some days better than others) in a way I didn't know I needed to learn how to do.
I've had no choice but delve into the dark, dusty corners of my soul, and stare my demons square in the face. I found pieces of my heart I didn't even know existed, and that needed healing.
And this June, this trip to visit you, Palm Desert? I am stronger, healthier, better and braver than I was the first time around.
I'm not ready to say I'm happier, or that I'm grateful for you. I don't know if I'll ever be ready to say that. You may always be tender to the touch, you may always make pieces of my heart sting.
But I think I'm ready to make peace with you, and all you represent.
Because maybe you were a gift to me, in a strange, backwards way. Maybe you were the beginning of something needed and new.