If you walked just far enough across the broken rock and rough sand, you felt that you had lost a hundred years and you were back in a time when no one knew what was out in the desert, and even fewer people cared. You knew the bodies under the sand were far more than what you could count and if you walked just the right way, for just the right amount of time, you would never see a single human being again before you inevitably died of exposure, or worse things if you had karma against you that day.
Then, in the barrio, you knew bad people were doing their dark deeds under the arc sodium lights from the ocean to the foothills. Even as a kid you knew that you simply didn’t go outside when you heard the helicopters overhead and, if you stupidly did, you prayed they never pointed those huge spotlights in your backyard for longer than a second or two lest you brace against the door in the warm dark of an abandoned closet that you hoped the bad guy would ignore. Ignore as they ransacked your house for anything that could get them just one more fix, one more fix and then they could stop, they swore that one more is all that it would take to get them on the straight and narrow. They just needed to get the spiders out of their skin, stop the itching, stop the dreams.
The plains aren’t flat like the jokes tell you they are. They are this nearly never-ending undulation that starts in Ohio and never really ends until you slam into the Rockies thirteen hundred miles to the west. The wind never stops, and not a light breeze either, it has had days to get to you and it hits like a truck right before the skies turn that green-tinted gray that only means that you need to find a basement or a really good hole in the ground. The clouds sit just a few dozen feet off the ground sometimes and you swear you can hear the thunder and the lightning resetting like a huge gun being cocked.
Here though, here by this lake that I fell in love and hate with on the same day, this is where the points of my life have brought me to stay. With humidity that makes your clothes stick to you like you just got out of a pool and cold that makes the meteorologists simply tell you that you will die if you go outside without the right clothes on. Simple drives can take you through cities and forests, across rushing rivers and pastoral farmland all in the space of a half an hour. Communities on the edge of the urban sprawl look so comfortable and cozy but they have secrets far darker than you realize. You never look into the windows of certain houses, you never look into the cabbage fields late at night or something just might notice you doing it.
It isn’t the obviously frightening things you are afraid of in these places, it is the narrow streets you don’t see all the way down, the dirt roads that lead to the churches you know have been closed for generations, and yet there are fresh tire tracks leading up there every single Saturday. It is Richard Ramirez and the hauntingly real terror that he brought to an entire generation of children in Los Angeles, even after he got caught. It isn’t tornadoes you are afraid of, it is the looters who storm chase to make sure they get the best stuff right away.
Fear is not a universal constant, what frightens the Bear would hardly touch the Dragon, or the Great White Wolf, or even the Kitten, but there are places that make all of us shiver just a little bit as we go by them and no matter how long it has been since we have been Catholic, maybe we whisper words we don’t believe in, in a language that no one speaks anymore, just in case.
Just in case.
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