I was born in Tucson, Arizona. I lived in the area for over 28 years. I ran barefoot through the green-spotted desert as it turned from the square quilts of cotton fields to the oval patches of over-watered golf courses. I rode my bike on gravel-lined dirt roads that grew overnight into car-filled highways. I shot a BB gun in my front yard and waved at passersby, calling to each by name. I remember when that Dairy Queen was the only thing out there.
The majority of my youth was spent in Marana, a town just north of the city that my family helped to settle and govern. My father has served the town of Marana through seats on the council, and now as the mayor, for over 30 years. Unlike the indigenous vegetation in the area, the roots of my family have grown thick and deep into the clay-baked soil of the Sonoran Desert.
I attended the University of Arizona and graduated without honors. Somebody has to. I met my wife on two-for-one night in a bar just off campus. I was drunk on whiskey, and I’m still hearing about it.
Many of my family and friends remain, meaning my ties to Tucson are more than just margaritas and sunsets, although both are fantastic.
I grew up in a conservative home. The earliest jokes that I can remember had Jimmy Carter as a punchline. We went to church every Sunday, and on holidays my uncles would sit in the shade of my grandparents’ porch, sip iced tea and wrap themselves in layers of racism, homophobia and laughter. I didn’t know innocence from ignorance, and I laughed just as hard as they did, happy but to be there.
My parents taught me things that transcended politics. They taught me how to be happy with very little money, and how to treat people with respect, courtesy and humor. They never suggested that I consider violence as an option, and when I outgrew religion they never tried to tether me to it.
Ours was built firmly on trust and understanding.
I left Tucson as an adult, and although I’ve returned for weddings and funerals, each visit made it more and more clear, you can’t go home again.
It used to be the heat that kept me away.
And then technology went forward as technology is prone to do, and suddenly I found myself looking into metaphorical windows, staring into a world that I had left behind — a world where many never noticed that other paths diverged, and so they continued along the only way that they had ever known, easy and slow and bending forever backward. The path most traveled is paved without thought, and it has made all the difference.
Days ago a young girl was shot and killed. A judge joined her. The tally rose to six innocents dead and many others wounded. The target had been a congresswoman, full of courage and reason. The shooter had been a boy, full of madness and confusion.
I blame the line between fear and reason. It zigs where we are told that it should zag.
Of the victims, know that their story is not here. I am not qualified to write words on the victims or their loved ones. I cannot comprehend the depths of their loss, nor will I cheapen their memories by attempting to do so. Just know that I grieve like we all grieve. I anger like we all anger. I can only wish things weren’t as they are and think thoughts of better days for those they’ve left behind.
I once thought of Tucson as a beacon of light in a state of gray and darkness, but in the years since my absence I have watched it grow overcast and haunted. Or, I thought, perhaps I am only now seeing how it has always been.
That’s not to say that there are not stars there. They are many, and I reflect upon them fondly. But the night is bold, loud and howling. It twists words like the wind and wrings sweat from the brows of the misguided. It is spreading swiftly.
I feared that the Tucson I knew, or thought that I did, was on the verge of disappearing forever.
And yet, the stars shine brighter but for the darkness.
Last night I watched a memorial for the fallen. The president spoke. My father was in the stands. There were tears as far as the eye could see.
For the first time in a long time I saw a glimpse of what I once took for granted. What has always been there, only hidden too often by levels of bureaucracy and the sad fact that ignorance and hate sell more papers than rational quotes and the good deeds of everyday people. Amid the pain and loss of a country I saw the courage and strength of a city, and from its collective diversity came a roar of passion that the media couldn’t comprehend. I saw Tucson’s heart and it was sad, but strongly beating.
For the first time in a long time I saw the place that I used to know.
I saw Tucson, and it felt like home.