A Desert Lament


If I only knew then what I know now, I wouldn’t be so out of shape.

Sighing, I lay down my Kindle, and push myself out of my sunken couch. My hips protest as I shift from one swollen ankle to the other. I wipe the sweat off my face before my makeup runs into my eyes. My tank top feels like I just came out of the pool. The kitchen beckons me with a pantry full of sweets and a refrigerator slammed with sodas. My mind scolds my stomach, but my stomach always wins. Chocolate cake with Diet Coke- they cancel each other out, right?

Lollie sits intently before me as I slice the cake and return the rest to the fridge. I’ve never given that dog any people food, but he still hopes. His eyes bore into me until I finally go to the laundry room and return with a Milkbone. At least he gets a healthy snack. Always the gentleman, the fluffy Pomeranian gently takes the treat from my hand and goes off to find a place to hide it.

After plopping myself back on the couch, I grab my phone and check the weather app again. 106 degrees. It hasn’t changed in the 12 times I’ve checked it during the past hour. The air conditioner wheezes a faint coolness into the room. If I stand on the couch and put my hand up by the ceiling vent, I can barely feel it. I resist the impulse to do that now as it would take too much energy.

Gazing out the window, I can see the ripples of heat rising from the driveway and the street. The front lawn pants and shrivels up. With the water restrictions, it barely gets enough nourishment to survive. No bird or animal is seen. A woman walks by with her baby stroller. Nature has more common sense than humans, and waits huddled in the shade until nightfall. The heat is an anvil pressing down on our city, the legacy of living in California’s desert region. Coming here from Iowa, it seemed so cheerful and sunny.

What did I know back then? I’d never seen mountains before. The stark sculptured horizons of the desert seemed bold and expressive to my eyes. Most of the year provided temperate weather, at least to a native of snow and ice. I could wear shorts in October instead of jeans and boots. In a giddy rush, I tossed out my heavy coats and sweaters. I welcomed the sun on my face every day in place of cloudy skies. Then summer arrived.

I admit that July and August were hotter than I expected. But when November finally came, I forgot about the heat when I watched the winter weather reports on TV. It wouldn’t be as hot next summer, I convinced myself.

But it always was.

Twenty-five years later, older and more sensitive to heat, I am trapped in my living room for those horrible summer months. Walk the dog? You’re kidding, right? Even at 7:00 a.m. the temperature hovers at 80 degrees with plenty of humidity. Humidity in the desert? I feel betrayed by every movie I’ve seen featuring California. It’s not all beaches and surfing here.

Frantically, my mind makes a list of all the things in our house that would have to be fixed before we could call a realtor. The hole in the garage, the broken tile in the pool, the horrible front porch carpet. With renewed purpose, I jump up and grab a notepad and pen. My husband and I could probably whip through these repairs in about 8 weekends. I pick up my phone again. What temperature will it be at 7:00 p.m.? 101 degrees? It looks like we won’t be able to start any fixing up until after Halloween, and that will have to fit between El Nino rainstorms.

If I had only known what I know now, I would have settled for the smaller house with no yard. I would have ignored my rational mind that argued that the desert was more affordable. Since I could exercise every day, I wouldn’t be a fat blob that I am now. I would have been happy in my tiny condo at the beach.

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