Archives for category: West Texas

So begins my retrospective of my almost year in Presidio, Texas.

Looking around Presidio, it seems desolate and often devoid of life. Nothing but dirt and scrub cactus in every direction.


Imagine having this to look at everyday. No, don’t.

In the cooler months, when the rattlesnakes were dormant, The Boy and I would walk in the foothills looking for treasures; centipede bodies hollowed out by voracious ants, butterfly wings and a backpack full of rocks. On our last outing my heart stuttered when out of the corner of my eye, I saw the stealthy peek of an animal head. I was half a mile from the safety of “civilization” with The Boy and two bite-size schnauzer snacks. Our safe, albeit very quick, return home was successful because it turned out to be a stray dog, and not a coyote. The dog packs that live in the surrounding desert grew daily, recruiting from both sides of the border, the language barrier non-existent for them. They circled on the fringes of a town without law because the animal control officers only lasted a few weeks. Nobody wants to be the executioner, no matter how steady the pay. After a while, it got so bad, we stopped leaving the compound. But even that wasn’t protection.

An adorable mutt came along and took up residence in my neighbor’s garage; kept comfortable in the heat by the inflated pool he cuddled up to and drank from. The dog was terrified of adults but the gang of stray children could get close enough to torture him with their love. They named him Hercules because if nothing else, Presidio is definitely a Sandlot for the kids.


I rescued him from their affection repeatedly by removing t-shirts and homemade collars. The kids would look at me with disappointment and say, “We don’t want him to get picked up! He’s our dog.” I would remind them that he wouldn’t stay their dog long if his collar got caught on something and he choked to death or he got over heated in the 100+ degree temperatures. Hercules disappeared once and my neighbor was relieved to no longer have him hanging around his “pool house”. Two months later Hercules seemed to rise from the dust, I was certain he’d become part of, and resumed his residence. I admit, I was just as happy as the children to see him because I couldn’t face the loss of life.

Except for those wild varieties, Presidio was death to dogs. My first neighbor, who moved out just weeks after we moved in, lost hers to a snake bite. She reported this information almost cheerfully and then detailed rushing him an hour and a half to the vet for blood transfusions and every measure money could buy to save him. Because I was new to town, it seemed crazy at the time to try and save a dog that obviously wasn’t going to make it and even crazier to not shed tears while recounting the event. Later, I understood. Presidio likes to take everything from you and the transplanted residents weren’t going down without a fight. It wasn’t cheerfulness in her voice, it was triumph and it came from the fact that she had an end date. She was getting out with her remaining dog and she wasn’t ever coming back. Our neighbor, Carlos, found his Pug, Candy, laying dead in his backyard, the cause never to be know. Another neighbor, Pete, lost his dog, Lulu, when her collar got stuck on their fence, hence the cautionary tale. “Lulu’s dead?” the children asked me, with as much hurt in their eyes as if she’d been theirs. Pete acquired two dogs in the following months, Lucas, a purebred golden lab puppy he found wandering fifty miles in the desert while out on patrol, and then a little toy poodle, Peppita a legitimate import from Meixco. The Boy and I basked in the joy of living next door to two puppies. They fell over each other in their efforts to greet and lick us every morning. Then, Peppita disappeared. And just a little while later, Lucas was gone too. I knew better than to ask.

It was only a matter of time before death came knocking on our door. One morning, one of the Schnauzers didn’t come rocketing down the hallway at the sound of food in his dish. When I picked him up and set him on his feet, he fell over. It would have been funny, if it wasn’t so terrifying. For an entire day, he never moved. The vet was an hour and a half away and she would cost money that I wasn’t sure we had. I syringe fed him water and chicken broth every couple of hours. I cried on the long road to the vet. X-rays were taken and blood tests sent out, but, she could only guess at what was wrong. She gave us some medicine, mail-ordered some others and hoped he would get better. I drove home without an indication that my dog would survive. I just had to wait and see. I cried and cried.

I was trapped in Prison and had nothing to distract me from a week of this.

I was trapped in Prison and had nothing to distract me from a week of this.

This dog was once named Marley but he became Moo when we realized Marley was too dignified for the likes of him. He is not one of those dogs that causes me to go into raptures over his loyalty and angelic qualities. He is a killing machine. Rats in Chicago. Birds in Presidio (I still haven’t figured out how he caught them.) He never comes when he’s called. Michael once had to chase him half a mile down the beach of lake Michigan and then a mile back in the other direction. I laughed the whole time because I had told him not to let that schnauzer off the leash. Moo barks so much that he continues to bark while I’m shouting for him to stop, while he’s eating and even when someone holds his mouth shut. It’s a talent I wish he didn’t have. He’s terrified of everything. Seriously. Wave a piece of paper at the dog and he shoots out of the room like a gun went off. Thunderstorms are not his favorite and unfortunately for him, the desert had a lot of those. He eats soap. He is a sweet and cuddly of the dumb variety, and definitely crazy. But, he’s my crazy. And I love him. I didn’t want him to die. A week and a half I cried and worried and syringed and prayed and hoped. Prison was bad enough, now it was going to kill my dog too? And then one morning, he got up by himself, just for a minute. A few days later, he was fine. We never knew what was wrong with him, just that the heavy antibiotics worked and Presidio was poison. We shut the door in death’s face that time, but he was still hovering around the neighborhood dogs. After all, snake season was just beginning.


On January 7th my great friend, Emily, who also happens to be my one fan, informed me that it had officially been a year since my last post. I thought about giving up this blog (like so many do) because there are so many other things that occupy my time but, how can I deny my one fan? 

I am Edward Scissorhands, in all of my pale, awkward and misunderstood glory.


I will one day meet somebody and I will tell them that I almost spent a year living in West Texas. The most frustrating almost-year of my life. I will tell them, as I am telling you now, that West Texas defeated me. It was where I learned that there are some things I just can’t do (even if someone else can) and no amount of willpower or positive thinking can alter reality.

Do you remember how I said I wanted to belong? I tried. I tried so hard that it literally (I do know how to use that word correctly) made me sick. Perhaps I cursed myself using the Edward Scissorhands analogy, but in the end, I didn’t just feel like Edward, I became Edward. And now, one year later, almost to the day, I have been given my opportunity to run back to my gothic mansion (actually, a cute little house) to sculpt my ice sculptures in the frozen north of The Twin Cities. Not chased by a mob. Not even noticed by them.

Now that I’m leaving, I don’t mind telling you, I lived in Prison. Literally. Well, it’s the literal English translation of Presidio. I lived in Prison, Texas. I lived there for at least six months, surrounded by native Spanish speakers before somebody bothered to tell me this. I guess when you live in a place called “prison” it becomes the orange-jumpsuit-wearing elephant in the room. When the translation was finally revealed, right about the time that everything was falling apart, I laughed. How fitting.

Kind of looks like Prison, doesn't it?

Kind of looks like Prison, doesn’t it?

Don’t get me wrong, Presidio is a nice little town full of nice people, many of whom are very happy there. I could have been happy there if not for the comedy of, not quite errors, more like misfortunes, that befell me. Nothing catastrophic, just a steady drip of frustration and mishap. At first seemingly innocuous, subtle in it’s ability to slowly break me down. Just like chinese water torture, after each drip, the next was that much harder to face.

I planned to recount my misadventures – some hilarious, and some painful – in one long blog post. A final farewell to Prison. But, as I began to do it, revisiting it made me physically sick. It was too much all at once. I recently finished reading Blackout by Connie Willis and although it is science fiction, it made me think about real survivors and veterans of wars, who don’t like to talk about what they experienced. I get it. On a very minuscule scale, but still, I get it. It was bad enough the first time, don’t make me live it again. Unfortunately, the rest of your life doesn’t make sense without that piece of your history. I am the way I am because of what I’ve lived through. We are all that way. That is why we cannot judge. We do not know the private heartache and adversity people around us have faced.

The Prison yard in the rain

The Prison yard in the rain. It doesn’t improve much in dry weather.

I want to blot out the Prison chapter of my life and never think about it again. But, if I did that, I might forget all of the things that I learned. The benefit of suffering is that you learn so much. Instead I will bravely face each water droplet one blogpost at a time. The only reason I can do this is because it’s over. I’m free. I hope you enjoy it, Emily.

The thing about the suburb depicted in Tim Burton’s film, Edward Scissorhands, is not that it’s wrong, it’s just that it’s weird. There is a surreal quality to it that is unsettling. The viewer enters the neighborhood like Edward, as an outsider. But, everything in life seen from the outside is slightly skewed because until you are on the inside, it’s impossible to understand what the reality, and not the perception of reality, actually is.

I am constantly reminding myself of that fact since my arrival on the border. In the past eleven years we have moved eleven times and to make those numbers even more impressive, six of those eleven years were spent in just two residences. I know that when you uproot yourself there is an adjustment before you feel like you belong, before weird seems normal. My adjustment here on the fringes of the country is going to take a bit longer.

Although Mikey warned me that Roswell, New Mexico was not impressive, I didn’t believe him. It was only as I drove down the main street through town that I realized how right he’d been. My disappointment was colossal. There was nothing supernatural or even campy about it, unless you consider endless concrete strip malls strange. To me it was simply wrong that they existed in that mythical place. The presence of their characterless uniformity made Roswell exactly like everywhere else when I had wanted it to be so much more. After The Boy and I arrived at our hotel I searched for an alien themed restaurant to treat myself and The Boy after our long trek and revive my fading romanticism of the town [probably rooted in this guilty pleasure from my teenage years.] I am sorry to tell you, there are none. I stopped on my way out the next morning to take a picture of Alien Zone, which is just a block down from the International Alien Museum and Research Center, but by then the damage had already been done, my disillusionment was complete. The flock of sheep standing beneath irrigation sprinklers in the thick morning fog a few miles outside of Roswell was the eeriest thing about it.


A couple of hours later I saw an animal dart into the street toward a truck a few yards ahead of me, I wasn’t sure what it was, but I saw it return to the side of the road after the truck swerved out of the way. As I drew up to the crouching form, a crazed looking dog ran straight at me as I was traveling 75 mph to, as I could best ascertain, herd my car. I slowed and then stopped, completely unnerved by the maniacal animal who stared straight into my eyes, challenging me. I was grateful there were large pieces of metal and glass between me and the possibly rabid dog. I slowly edged around it and, it let me, I guess satisfied that my little white car was not, in fact, a stray sheep. I looked in my rearview mirror as I drove away and saw that it resumed it’s ready-to-pounce stance on the side of the highway.

I spent hours on a badly paved two lane road passing oil drills bobbing up and down, kowtowing to imaginary Kings with only The Boy and semi trucks for company. At one point my directions became almost impossible to follow and I worried that I’d become lost. Then I remembered I was going to the border of Mexico, as long as I was driving south, I’d get there eventually.

I entered West Texas and things suddenly began to change. The flat expanse with no houses, towns or people spotted by spiky cactuses turned into rolling hills and then mountains with distant ranches tucked between them. It was a surprise and it was beautiful. We stopped on the side of the road to take a picture and when I stepped out of the car, the air was warm and fresh, more at home on a spring day than mid-December.


I wound through yellow fields of grass dotted with rocks and cacti. In a sunny valley, I gave a bicycle adventurer, who was literally 100 miles from anything, a wide berth as I passed him and he waved cheerfully wishing us well on our way.

It was strange, it was different, but I loved it.

Small towns with West Texas charm sprouted every 50 to 100 miles. Border Patrol trucks became more frequent and the grassy fields turned to beautiful tree-less deserts guarded by cows and to my amusement, a pair of camels. An ancient white-washed Mexican church appeared in a ghost town set between two hills, it’s bell tower rising high above a handful of foreign deciduous trees with bright yellow leaves. It is wide, open and beautiful here. I kept saying to myself, “West Texas, I think I love you.” I was unexpectedly elated.

The feeling continued until I turned at the mountains that led to our new town. Our town is . . . less picturesque than everything around it, but it is our new home. The Boy was very pleased when he realized, “We live in Radiator Springs!”

We spent our first night reunited as a family in a comfortable trailer but a house had recently become available and we would be moving the next day.

When we drove down the street of our new neighborhood for the first time I could not help but notice that the houses were all exactly the same, just with varying shades of what I considered odd color choices. The two other government neighborhoods have charming nicknames (the one directly behind us is “the snake pit”). I asked Mikey if this neighborhood had a name. There wasn’t one that he knew of. Edward Scissorhands, I told him.


My New Neighborhood

edward scissorhands - pastel houses[1]

Edward’s New Neighborhood

It isn’t just the neighborhood that feels reminiscent of the movie, it is my position as an outsider and the overwhelming novelty of my surroundings. Everything here is foreign to me. I am not only outside the culture of the town, but I am also new to the culture of the government law enforcement presence here. I really felt like I’d just come down from my secluded gothic mansion on the hill. The landscape, the people, the language is all so foreign. It is like I am living in another country, although Mexico is still another mile down the road.

Walking through our new, very comfortable, house felt like being on a movie set. I surmised the house had been built in the 60’s but later discovered that it’s only ten years old. The Army Corps, who built it, seemed to have mastered time travel, going back decades to find light fixtures, vent covers and bathroom tiles from eras long past. It seemed to fit perfectly in this odd world and I loved it.

At church on Sunday (it’s 90 miles away and we have to pass through a Border Patrol check point to get there) somebody said, “Oh, you live in the gated community?” I smiled inwardly, amused that anyone would consider an eight foot chain-link fence topped with barbed wire to be a “gated community.” I think the word “compound” is more accurate. The children, who abandon their bicycles everywhere, climb to the summit of the neighborhood rock pile with the Mexican mountains as the backdrop of their “King of the Mountain” victory.


(That’s Mexico in the distance.)

The night is often filled with the chorus of the three-legged Chihuahua gang that patrols our neighborhood during the day. They hobble around looking tiny but formidable, a thorn stuck in one of each of their paws, too macho to ask for help. (I am slightly concerned our resident Schnauzers are going to be peer pressured into joining them.)

The nearest big box store, a non-super Walmart, is 150 miles away, the nearest one after that is four hours in the opposite direction. But, we can “shop” at our own Prada store (100 miles away and actually just an art installation) and we only have to drive 60 miles to watch hipsters hobnobbing at art galleries.


It is a strange world we’ve entered. There is much to love, much to be amazed by, and much to learn. . . but the fish out of water feeling is still there. I still feel like Edward, wide-eyed and overwhelmed, completely naive to the way things work around here. Although I do not have scissors for hands, I am certainly as pale as Edward is to the majority of the town residents. Nearly everyone here speaks Spanish. The old Mexican cowboys frequently try to engage The Boy and I at the Post Office but the only thing I’ve been able to decipher, as I smile and nod, is, Feliz Año. The people of West Texas are very generous and friendly. We have happily been ambushed by two of our neighbors carrying impressive displays of cookies and friendly welcomes. At the library, the grocery store and the city offices they graciously (and impressively) switch to English for me but I know that as long as they do that, I will remain, like Edward, on the outside.

But, I don’t really want my life to emulate the end of that movie. I don’t want to run back to my gothic mansion with a mob of angry suburbanites . . . or cowboys after me. I want weird to become normal. I want to belong.

(If you have never seen Edward Scissorhands and want to see the entire plot of the movie in two minutes, check out this trailer here. The strangeness really captures my current fish out of water, surreal existence.)