denver

The Forever Tourist

Photo by Kait Herzog on Unsplash

“I’m going to paddleboard at the lake this weekend, I’m so excited!” The grocery store lady told me as she loaded the groceries into the back of the car.

“Oh fun! What lake?” 

She froze for a split second and looked at me with her face all scrunched in confusion and I felt a little like a time traveler or something that just asked what a computer is. 

I grew up here. Just down the road about a mile and a half. I lived the first 20 years of my life here. And then I moved to California for another 20 years and now I’m not from here anymore. All the local references have been wiped from my brain. I remember none of my life here. I don’t remember any of the local things, lexicons, street names. All gone. But I can distinctly remember what the lilacs in my grandma’s garden smelled like. And the feeling of the butterfly landing on my bare thigh when I was 5. I remember what a crawdad feels like when you pick it up out of the creek and the itchy feeling of wild grass hitting your bare shins in the summer. I remember the way an early Saturday morning in springtime smells and the way the mountains look on a clear day. I remember picking those little navy colored berries out of evergreen bushes and getting tiny, microscopic splinters in your thumb. I remember the smell of Leah Farrell’s basement. I remember the afghan Mrs. Teemsley had on her couch that day we found out where she lived after the principal died, and asked to hang out with her for a while. I remember the dried food on the black wrought iron chandelier that hung in the house my mom was renting. I remember the clogs I was wearing when I was 3 and I remember stretching my legs out straight ahead of me on the couch so everyone would see the heels on the clogs when I was having my picture taken in the den. I remember hanging out at the bowling alley with all the other kids whose dads were in a league and making hickeys on our necks with those rubber poppy things from the vending machines. And then in the summer, I remember hanging out at the softball fields with all the other kids whose dads were on softball teams and buying candy from the snack tent thing and hiding under the bleachers and getting sand stuck to my sticky fingers. I remember telling Heather Staroscik I was allergic to water because I didn’t want to run through the sprinkles and I remember watching “V” at the sitters house waiting for my mom to come pick us up. 

“I thought you were from here” someone will always say. 

I am and yet I don’t know how to make that relevant. My memories don’t include anything practical, unless twisting your ankle in a snake hole is practical. I remember the way my pink room would turn peach in the early morning sun. I remember reading Huckleberry Finn on my bed looking down the hallway to the stairs. I remember thinking I would remember that precise moment for no other reason but to see if I could. I remember trying to fly off the fireplace and I remember thinking it was possible if I thought about it hard enough. I remember eating a walnut from a glass dish at Christmastime and hating it and having nowhere to spit it out. I remember reading a book in the living room about a ghost while it rained outside and I remember the way the turquoise and red line printed on a shampoo bottle jumped into each other when you looked too close. I remember the feel of the knitted blinds in my parents’ bedroom and I remember prank calling 911. I remember where I was when Freddie Mercury died (in the backyard playing paddle ball with my sister) and I remember where I was when Ronald Reagan was shot. I was at someone’s grandma’s house. I think. The house was blue. I remember that my 4th grade teacher moved to the United States when she was a little girl and learned to speak English by watching Sesame Street and reading comic books. I remember the smell of her perfume. 

Isn’t it like that with everyone, though? Who could possibly remember the name of the street some lake is on? The name of the video store that sold beta and vhs? Where the fish store was that smelled like cigarettes. I just realized that the cigarette smell is so much a part of my memory of it, that I expect fish stores to just smell that way. And I suppose they do not. 

And if I’m no longer a local because I don’t remember where the haunted farm was or that it even existed until I got lost one time trying to get to the Butterfly Pavilion and happened upon it, where do these memories belong? I know the wild grasses and snake holes were in the field behind my house, but that particular field isn’t this vast space full of my childhood anymore, but only a small strip of overgrown land behind some houses I barely recognize. Or it was last I drove past it. I don’t like going over there anymore. 

So no, grocery lady, I don’t know what lake you’re talking about, but it sounds really fun. And I’m going to nod my head and pretend I knew of a second lake that’s even cooler than your lake and I was making sure we were thinking of the same lake. You know, so I look cool. Like a local.

Things to do in Denver when Old You is Dead.

I’m from Denver. Well, like 20 minutes northwest of Denver. Denver adjacent. I moved back about a year and a half ago from a 21 year stint in Sunny Los Angeles and I feel like I left a whole chunk of my heart and my soul back in the Valley when I moved.

Photo by Neil Soni on Unsplash

I moved to California, when I was 20 and obnoxious (probably because I was 20). I was shy, and angry, and wrote embarrassing journal entries that I was sure would win awards once I died and they were found and published. I knew everything and as I whined about the world through pages of angsty words I threw together about living alone in this world (dramatically with cats and adoring fans of my works). I couldn’t stand to be alone. I couldn’t do anything on my own. I didn’t know how to do anything on my own. I didn’t know how to do anything. And I didn’t ever have to. And then I moved to Los Angeles. Studio City to be accurate. A mile from the Brady Bunch house to be even more accurate. A couple of blocks down the street from Universal Studios, actually. Thankfully. Because I got a job at Universal Studios (CityWalk) and on my first day of work, my car wouldn’t start, so I had to walk those couple blocks (and that REALLY BIG HILL) in end of July, Valley heat. Valley heat isn’t like anywhere else I’ve ever been. Valley heat is sticky and it smells faintly of car exhaust and dirt. Sometimes garbage, depending on where you happen to be. And your head sweats under the hair you just straightened, making it rise in volume by 2.5 units. I’m not a math person, so just believe me and pretend you know that I’m right and hair units are a real measurement. I walked into my new job, a helmet of hair that now smells like the street, face hot and flushed bright red with exhaustion and being out of shape and it’s now itchy because of the sweating and I’m in HOLLYWOOD (adjacent), my roommates hated me because they had to live with the awful version of me that was now completely depressed, and, the icing on the cake, freshly car-less. I had to make friends. And quick. I knew no one. And that lasted about 20 minutes, because let me tell you something about Los Angeles. Everyone is obnoxious. And lonely. And insecure. And alone. People cling to other people like life rafts in Los Angeles. And it’s wonderful. Sometimes it’s awful, like being stalked by a stuntman awful, but most of the time, it’s amazing. And I wouldn’t be who I am now if I didn’t have to kill off pretentious, emo queen, “Denver Amy” to survive. It was the best thing that ever happened to me. Like Personality Boot Camp.

I moved back to Denver (adjacent) on an opportunity and while it’s been a great move for all the California boys I brought back with me, which is really only a husband and two kids and not like actual back-up dancers, which I didn’t realize I needed until now, there’s a feeling about moving back to a hometown where nothing has changed except there’s now a church that’s taken over the old movie theater that I saw Beetlejuice in. It’s suffocating in a way that I imagine is a lot like that one Tom Hardy movie with the black ink demon thing that people draw porn and write fan-fiction about. Anyway, I feel like “Denver Amy” haunts the streets where I grew up, reminding me of how awful I can be; my own personal Ghost of Christmas Past.

It’s entirely possible I just grew up, but throwing myself at a huge city I had only ever seen on tv and then loving everything about it for 21 years has a way of making you feel a part of something bigger than you. And I think that my reluctance to fully re-embrace Denver adjacent has more to do with my fear that if I let LA go, I can never get it back again. If I embrace my new, I’m allowing back in the old. And I made a pact to pretend that version of myself was a bad fever dream. However, recently I’ve been coming to refreshing feelings, and maybe it’s because it’s been warm for like 3 days in a row and I’m getting hopeful. I’ve decided to embrace and fall in love with my new home as if I had never sat in that new church down the street laughing at Michael Keaton in his striped suit, or been in that grocery store a mile the other way that allegedly had a make-over but I can still hear inky demon/high school me thinking about Anne of Green Gables in the frozen food isle that used to have greeting cards in it. So If I avoid those two places – the church will be easy because I don’t do the church thing, and the grocery store is where my demons seem to congregate so that one is out, then I can pretend I never lived here before.

You know what it is? When you move away from your home town, you create a new life. Like a Witness Protection kind of thing. And you can completely erase all the bad, embarrassing character flaws like Peggy Olson did with Pete’s baby. You just Don Draper it. But I’m at the Priest Colin Hanks calling me out in the Lord’s house part of the show and I want to skip ahead to the roller skating in the office part. You know? The walking down the hall carrying all my stuff in a box with octopus porn art under my arm in sunglasses with a cigarette hanging out of my mouth part of my journey. I think that I’m actually pretty close to strapping on my roller skates, though. I have made a conscious decision to actively love where I live with such vigor, that I single-handedly become the Denver Adjacent Tourism Board. I can still love Los Angeles, fiercely, but I’ve seen Sunset Boulevard. It doesn’t work to shut the world out thinking it still loves me; demanding that Hollywood not forget me while I rot away in my self-imposed exile.

But you see, as I wrote this, several friends from LA have randomly and unknowingly sent emails and texts of love and gossip, reining me back in.

OMG! Mr Deville, I’m ready for my close-up.