Sedona, Arizona, is dry. Very dry. Scorching hot too. It has a population of approximately 10,336 people, which doesn’t accurately represent the seventy people I saw regularly in the small town center. It’s home to about twenty miscellaneous stores brimming with paintings of indigenous peoples and little homemade trinkets. My favorite store over the few days I stayed there was the fudge store. It was managed by a petite old lady, who was always so kind to her two teenage employees, who too were kind, offering me large chunks to try even when I simply asked for a “little piece”. Through the glass, numerous pieces of luscious chocolate lay comfortably, sweating in the condensation of the refrigerator. “Can I get a double chocolate caramel please?” I reminded myself of a child on her tippy toes peering into the ice cream display, although I stood tall at 5’8, just awaiting my sweet.
I handed over the wrinkled twenty that had found refuge in my pocket all day in exchange for the wrapped chocolate, feeling it’s weight on my hand while the cashier fumbled for change. She spilled the coins into my empty hand, and smiled and waved as I pushed the glass door open, a small bell ringing as I wandered back into the blistering heat towards the car. Although I had seen that cashier twice, she became a familiar face in this empty town.
Quite frankly, I hated this town, because there was nothing to do here. No one to see or talk to. I felt lonely here, or maybe I felt alone. I didn’t know the difference, for all I knew was that I didn’t like the feeling of complete isolation. This town left me with nothing but my parents and I, and if not my parents, then this town left me with nothing but my thoughts. That was worse, for being left alone with a brain like mine was like being trapped with a toddler who always has questions and always wants to know what’s going on. The kind of child who asks why the moon is round. No one ever has an answer for this child, but they never stop asking. And in this town where voices couldn’t be heard except for the one in between my ears, I realised now that Sedona, Arizona, gave me a reason to confront myself.
As I stepped back into our home, I swiftly detached from my parents as they prepared to unload the groceries. I climbed up the narrow stairs towards my room which creaked with each step. The stained glass windows on the second floor invited the light of the sun to melt into every corner, warmthing patches of my skin as I roamed the hallway towards my bedroom. I closed my door quietly, and sank into my mattress, facing the earthy wooden ceiling. I stared at it for a second, as if I was awaiting a conversation, but the ceiling gave me nothing but an empty silence, until my own voice took over.
It’s so hot here. How does anyone live here?
Where are the teenagers? Is there a high school here?
I miss my friends. A lot. Do they miss me?
Wonder what they’re doing right now. Probably talking about me.
I do, in fact, think about why I think so much. My anxiety runs through my veins like blood, as if it’s what I need to stay alive. To stay alert, knowledgeable about the world and every single person in it. And their intentions, and what they think of me, and why they think it. The list of worries and concerns is eternal. My brain perpetually feels like a maze that shifts patterns every minute, and even though I know that, and even though I know how useless it would be to keep trying to find my way out, I still try, because I’m hoping I’ll figure it out one day. I don’t think I will.
I’m distracted for a couple hours, until I look outside, pausing my Netflix show in pursuit of knowledge of the time. I haven’t actually been paying attention to the show, but the sound of the characters’ voices are enough to make me feel a little less alone. I peek out from behind my laptop screen. The sun is descending into the blanket of the earth as the moon creeps up from underneath. There are hundreds of stars in the sky, unlike anything I’ve ever seen at home. It’s quite beautiful. They splatter the sky like white paint on a black canvas, and I find myself tracing the canyon rocks with my finger in the air from the comfort of my bed. But laying in my bed feels like a wasted opportunity, so I slide out quietly and traverse across the wooden planks until I reach my window. I struggle for a second to unlock the hatch, but with a little pull, I slide the door open, allowing the hot air of Arizona to flood into my room. I step out onto the dusty floor, and the whole world looks a little bit clearer than usual. I feel the warm roof underneath my fingertips as I linger towards the front of the balcony. I’ve always wanted to fulfill my dreams of being a teenager in a coming of age movie who sits on her roof admiring the sky, hoping it’ll fix her problems. If nothing else will, I think that maybe the night sky of Sedona, Arizona, deserves a chance.
I can see the Chipotle from here. It’s eleven now, so there’s no one inside, but the lights are still on, awaiting the lone wanderer who wishes for a burrito in the midst of their adventure. The roads are smooth and untouched, because the cars stay parked until the driver chooses to escape this town in search for something more. Who knows what that might be. The neighbourhood here is compact, as expected, and I can feel the fallen souls of the town sink deeper into their sleep. There’s something about being the only one awake in an entire town that makes me feel at peace. Who knows what my neighbours are dreaming about. Maybe dogs, or cats, depending on the kind of person, or maybe travelling through the world on a dragon. Maybe they dream of their long lost love from their youth, or maybe they dream of what it’s like to fall in love, because not all of us know. Maybe my neighbour will never know, or maybe they have yet to find out.
I ponder atop this roof, my thoughts disintegrating like sugar in water as that water pools on my eyelids until all I can see is a blur. A tear falls down my cheek so effortlessly that I almost don’t notice. I choose not to question why I’m welling up, so I wipe my cheek quickly. My cheeks are sore, exhausted from the pressure of my knuckle trying to clean away my sins, my mistakes, my lies, my broken hopes and dreams. My heart is hurting, but I ignore that too. It seems a pain too familiar to be feeling in this moment of peace. The sky is my only friend right now, and it keeps me company with each passing minute. The stars find their way into my heart, sewing themselves into the cracks, mending the sharp edges until I can feel it beating fully again.
I’m noticing every trivial detail of this town as if I’m searching for an answer to a question I have yet to discover. I study the stillness of this frame like it’s a painting, and it feels peculiar to see a whole universe surrounding me, this universe being a few houses, one road, and all of God’s creations in front of my eyes. This quaint town is quiet, and I savour the way the silence fills my ears, ushering out all the words crowding my head. In this one moment where the world and it’s complications have left me unaccompanied, I take a deep breath, and I count. 1, 2, 3. I hold my chest for a bit, because once I let go, the world will shake beneath my feet, the stars will align, and the two paths in front of me will ask for the answer I have held onto for too long. I let go. The particles of my breath fly away in all directions, and this town remains silent. My neighbour is still dreaming. The Chipotle lights are still on. I look down at my chest, watching it rise and fall on a steady beat, and I hear my nostrils pumping air back into this world. It’s a perfectly coordinated orchestra.
This town is dry. Very dry. But as the morning greets the people, I feel the dust of the rocks on my fingers, and it feels real. As I step outside, I catch a glance of my neighbour, a middle aged lady who sits and drinks her coffee pleasantly. A man walks outside, and I watch them lock eyes. I can feel the earth spinning, so, so slowly. She was definitely dreaming of her youth lover, because I think he’s standing right in front of her. I envy her, for knowing what it feels like to fall in love. As she lets her thoughts drown in her cup of coffee, watching them turn into the steam that joins the heat of the air, I’ve come to the conclusion that she has found herself in Sedona, Arizona. I think I have too.
I wonder what my friends are doing.
And with that, I step back inside.
Ariana Rossuck is a Filipino-American living in Singapore. Writing takes up most of her free time, but often gets lost in her collection of untitled google docs. She loves her coffee, volleyball, sci-fi movies, and 18 unorganised spotify playlists. She is another contributing creator of Written by the Youth.