Funny how a realization can come out-of-the-blue, at a most odd moment, with even odder prompting....
A conversation at work today somehow wandered from hydrangeas and how they change color depending on soil acidity, to piles of oak leaves in an Arkansas forest, to the Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix and its 10,350 cacti.
We were verbally wandering, and painting. Two of us at the long table, Debussy piano from the speakers, a flicker (woodpecker) on the feeder outside the window. Fog.
In my head I followed the map from Arkansas to the Southwest, and recalled an argument my ex-husband and I engaged in periodically, which ended in unresolved conflict.
The first time it came up, we were in Texas, visiting his family. I said, "I want to drive into West Texas. I want to see it."
I'd heard about West Texas, first in the eloquent prose of Larry McMurtry in his epic novel, Lonesome Dove, where it's depicted as vast and bleak, stretching out for what seems forever. And my ex- sometimes mentioned it, said that you wouldn't want to drive across it.
I told him that I wanted to go there.
He said, "No you don't."
I said, "Yes I do."
"There's nothing there."
"That's what I want to see, the nothingness."
"No you don't. Believe me, there's nothing there."
And so the conversation went.
He loved to bring this subject up when we were with anyone from his family, and always, they all burst out laughing. It was if they knew something that I didn't, couldn't know, and damned if they were going to tell me. I felt six years old and prim in a roomful of saddle-weary cowboys. (Even if they were all graduate and post graduate-school educated intellectuals, with nary a pony in sight.)Any argument from me went nowhere. And really, what did I know? I was a newcomer to their beloved Texas. West Texas was for cattle rustlers and Commanches, Texas Rangers and bandits. It was an unforgiving landscape, a place where you didn't want to run out of gas, no place for a moss-hearted poet from the Pacific Northwest who knew only persistent moisture and ever-present ferny foliage.
And I wanted to see it, precisely because of where I was from: a landscape gloriously hemmed-in with mountain ranges in the distance, with tree upon towering tree in the foreground. I desperately wanted to experience this other landscape, to feel that expanse of desert-earth spread out beneath the wheels of the car, mile upon mile. The sun. The dearth of greenery. I imagined it as an opening of the heart, a letting-out of the spirit, a flying-loose of everything held close for comfort.
We never went to West Texas. And during the conversation at work today, it struck me that this conflict was at the core of our rift, the irreconcilable piece of our union, a way of looking at the world that we did not and would not ever share.
I envisioned what he called "nothingness" and saw infinite possibilities for sensory experience. He saw, well, nothing.
And the more time that passes, the potential for infinite possibilities grows exponentially, West Texas or no West Texas.
Maybe it seems an over-simplification to boil down the failure of a marriage to whether or not both parties want to experience whatever it is that one really experiences in West Texas. But sometimes a moment surges to the forefront among all other possible moments and announces: pay attention, this is important.
And today I did.