I walked down Tropicana, all the way to Maryland. Could've taken the bus, maybe should've, but I needed to walk. Because this is what I do when I return to one of my sacred-ground places - I walk. I walk a circle around it, if I can.
Today, not so much - 95 degrees, and the pavement radiating its heat right up through my sneakers. Baking from the inside out and outside in.
I stopped at a coffeehouse near where Copioh used to be. Got an iced coffee. Sat and sweated and felt and thought.
And I opened myself to Vegas, and... I know. I understand. I know why the girl I was fell so hard in love with this place. It is because it's broken, because it's wrong. Because the girl I was had never had anything go right. First love gone mad and bad, all the hospitals, all the camps, all the people crying out "fix me, help me, heal me" and all the tragedies small and large -
And the only thing left to do, really, was fall in love with a city that screamed the same thing. Nothing else could have been large enough to fill that great and terrible need to help, to heal, to fix. Such belief that this was what was needed. Such willingness to sacrifice.
Oh, I sacrificed. The remains of my innocence sliced away on this desert stone, in this unnatural place. My faith and my love.
This place broke me.
But I fixed myself.
I look at my life then, at all of the things and people I threw myself at, all the grenades I fell on. And I look at my life now, and I know that I am not that girl. That need no longer consumes me. I have a child now. I have loves who give as good as they take. I do not need the things I needed.
I have won.
I did my little pilgrimage. I walked the route I'd walked that night, through the old apartment complex, out the other side -
There is still nothing there. Cursed ground where nothing grows and nothing is built.
I stand. And I whisper, as I must: "Hey, Elizabeth... I'm doing all right these days."
Impulsively, I sprinkle water from my cup. I think half of it evaporates before it hits the ground. I lick my fingertips and taste the salt of my sweat. My salt, my water.
I keep on.
The places that were deserted four years ago are still deserted. Improbably, nothing has changed. I see my ghosts everywhere. I remember.
Oh, I remember.
And I think... I hope they remember, those of them that are still alive. I hope they knew I loved them. I hope they knew how strong that love was. I hope that, in the hard times, they remember how very much they were loved by one strange little girl.
I talk to people as I walk. I talk to a near-toothless street preacher who used to be a line programmer for IBM. I talk to a guy in his twenties who was taking diving courses, but had to stop because he needed knee replacement surgery - why? a gun went off in his lap, blew his kneecap right off. (I tell him to get back to the water.) I hug strangers. People always talk to me. But especially today.
For one brief season, I was a priestess of this place, an acolyte of chance. This city has not forgotten, and neither have I.
And now I can open my heart to this jagged-broken place and I can love it without throwing myself into the vortex of its need. I can love it, wholly and unreservedly, for what it is.
You don't know how very much I can love.
I am so glad to have had this chance.