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Desperately Seeking Enchantment

Land of Enchantment, originally uploaded by elefanterosado (away in New Mexico).

In mid August, the long, hot, wind-whipped expanse of I-40 stretches for what seems like interminable miles, from the eastern edge of Texas through the middling heartland of New Mexico. By Tucumcari one can feel the steady presence of The Land of Enchantment, that confluence of the ancient, majestic and unseen. Mile upon mile of open desert stretches before the Eastern pilgrim hungry for a view of expansive vistas and endless sky.

When I moved to Northern New Mexico twelve years ago, locals often greeted me with a curious refrain.

“Where are you from?” they’d ask.

“The east,” I’d say.

“Well…” and then a maybe I shouldn’t be telling you this pause…“the mountain will either take you in or spit you out.”

Others would talk about the mysterious “Taos Hum,” which was an apparent (and mysterious) component of the rhythm of the land. Many think Taos is a spiritual epicenter.

For as long as I’ve been coming here, things just seem to happen for me in New Mexico. Good things. The universe provides.

But on this most recent pilgrimage things have had an uncanny way of going wrong. Or have they? Are trying circumstances really as out-of-alignment as a chiropractor would have you believe on his hard cradle of a table, handing you the low-down on the subluxations of your body? Or is some higher purpose actually being served?

On that unbearably hot expanse of I-40, the broken air conditioning in the truck meant dangerously high temperatures. My husband (and our two dogs) suffered through the hallucinations of heat and seethed at the betrayal of the auto shop back in Vermont that had failed—not only once, but twice—to fix the ailing coolant system.

My son and I, aboard flights from Hartford to Atlanta and again from Atlanta to Albuquerque were fatigued from a long day’s journey, but navigated the twists and perils of airport mayhem with little difficulty.

Then we hit Albuquerque. My husband gets lost in the airport labyrinth and is late to pick us up. His eyes are glazed over with torpor and a certain wild-eyed misery.

“You say this is an easy airport to navigate,” he admonishes me. “But there are no signs for arrival. I got sucked into some kind of vortex. It’s just like everything else that’s gone wrong on this damned trip.”

His mood doesn’t improve as we crank down the windows and wend our way toward the industrial city campground where not even two thin slivers of green grass can be found for our dogs to relieve themselves on. Huge RVs hoard vast spaces and are lined up next to each other in cheek-to-jowl fashion, resembling nothing so much as a delicatessen lackey’s sandwich-making station.

By now I know that the air-conditioning systems in both the camper and truck have failed on the outbound trip. The camper AC rallies, and the cooling relief descends into the metal heat pit we call our temporary home.

Our campground neighbor tells my husband about a good mechanic within reasonable proximity; we decide it’s a good idea to take the truck in. My husband rises early the next morning to drop it off by 7:30. He’s drained and irritable by the time he’s made the 45-minute hike back to the campground; our Golden Retriever and miniature Daschund have uneven strides and continue to mindlessly wrap themselves around one another’s leashes. It is an omen for later events—one that doesn’t portend well.

Later, on a walk with the dogs, my son and husband stumble upon a nest of red ants. Luckily, my son is wearing shoes and socks. My husband is wearing Crocks and feels the full measure of the ants’ angry stings. He curses as he tends to the burning inflammation with aloe gel.

Meanwhile, our larder is bare and my son—a delicate and recalcitrant eater under the best of circumstances—has been subsisting on junk food such as Cheetos and pretzels. After a tearful struggle, he finally agrees to get in his stroller so I can wheel him across the concrete jungle of a road, full of blaring sirens and choking diesel fumes. I am on a mission to find a humble loaf of bread and perhaps a quart of milk. There are none to be found—at least at this hour. Only closet-sized gas station food kiosks are open, all stocked to brimming with snacks loaded with corn syrup and sodium. My son begins to whine and fuss. He begins to struggle in the stroller until (in desperation) I select a bag of cheese puffs—a non-food item which doubtless has never shown up on the American food pyramid (or any other food pyramid, to my knowledge). I’m well aware that my husband will have an aneurysm if I don’t at least attempt to find some bread, so I head back to The Family Dollar—a store which, an interminable ten minutes before refused to open its doors until the dot of 9 a.m.—to buy some bread made of the same soluble fats, unprounceable preservatives and crude sugars found in the Cheetos, minus the food coloring.

Back at the trailer there is more bad news. The truck’s battery is bad, the AC will need to be fixed again, there’s some sort of leak…

I shake my head wearily and ask the age-old question.

“How much?”

“Four hundred and eighty three dollars,” my husband replies, as though stabbed in the heart.

We are now all three of us equal parts miserable, hot, and hungry. Added to that, we’re waiting on tenterhooks to find out if the money from one checking account has transferred by wire into another. My husband fixes me with a murderous look when I inform him that I’ve forgotten to bring the money market checkbook and reminds me that he’s probably overdrawn our account on the drive out. We fire up the laptop and find this to indeed be the case—to the tune of $258. Of course we have overdraft protection, but it’s not the worry-free kind. It’s the kind that covers overdrafts but charges you steeply each time. Luckily we bank at a friendly, local kind of establishment, and the nice ladies there promise us that if the wire transfer arrives by such and such a time, the fees will be waived.

Without a vehicle there is no way to send a fax without taking a cab to parts unknown of Albuquerque, so I slink over to the RV office to try to sweet talk the proprietor. Of course I’m told that only local faxes are allowed. The woman looks harried and holds an enormous binder of papers in front of her. Her husband, hooked up to an oxygen tank outside, looks ready to meet his maker. I assume a sugary tone and give her a sob story of our recent woes, realizing that with a panicked and shell-shocked husband back in the trailer, cabbing it to a copy shop isn’t really an option.

“Listen, can you give me fifteen minutes?” she asks, with a resigned sigh.

I want to tell her that all I have is time, but given the state of her husband’s health, consider this an indelicate response. I simply nod, thank her profusely, and return to the trailer. I tell my husband the situation; proud of my efficiency and wheedling abilities. But I don’t get any kudos. For him, our vacation is already a disaster and is destined to stay that way. And so it does.

After the allotted 15 minutes I returned to the harried lady and commence again to kill her with kindness. She tells me there will be a $2 fee to send the fax; I agree gamely. Just after the wire transfer form faxes through safely, her office phone begins to ring shrilly.

“My boss,” the good lady tells me.

As this office has only one phone line, I’m forced to wait an excruciating five minutes while the boss—who had the temerity to send his fax inbound just when I desperately needed to send mine outbound—ties up the line.

At last he’s finished and my fax goes through. I leave the office hungry and spent.

Back at the trailer it’s decided that I’ll head over to Bee’s Diner with my son, while my husband holds down the fort with the dogs. As his cell phone is low on minutes and he’s waiting for a call from our bank, we switch phones and I make my way over to Bee’s with J.

I’m just anticipating my first bite of breakfast burrito drowned in mouth-watering green chili when my husband, sans dogs, jogs over to our table, very much out of breath and brandishing my cell phone.

“The credit union called,” he tells me. “They received the fax but now they need you to approve it by phone.”

In this age of identity theft and bank fraud, I should have known that a simple fax with every social security number and tax i.d. known to mankind wouldn’t suffice. No: despite answering a long list of security questions before they’d let me make the wire transfer, they were now—I realized with a growing horror—going to pummel me with more of the Spanish Inquisition.

I dial the number and get the voice mail of the nice lady who had helped me before. I hang up and try the main number. Eventually a nasal-voiced young man answers. He, of course, has more security questions for me. Do I have a credit card with this institution? Yes, I do. What is the credit limit? Um, $3,000 is my best recollection. No, incorrect. I imagine a vast buzzer going off, or a giant mallet hitting a gong somewhere. Any minute now he’ll tell me I have only five seconds left to select the correct answer before the wire transfer is rendered null and void. Sensing my weakness, he begins to cop some attitude with his hapless customer. But now, fed up as I am, the lioness is released from her cage and begins to roar.

“Ask me another security question!” I snap.

“How much was your last deposit?” he asks. (Is it my imagination, or has his tone suddenly become a fraction more timid?)

“Just over $5,000,” I shoot back.

“But how much exactly?”

“Listen,” I say, adopting the tough tone of a smoky-throated gangster, “it comes from P Bank in New York City, and it comes four times a year. I need this wire transfer to go through. You need to make it go through. Now, what’s the next question?”

Mercifully, it turns out there are no more questions. It’s as though I’ve pulled the plug out of a cheap inflatable mattress. His little power trip is over.

“Okay ma’am…that’s all we need.”

The soggy, uneaten burrito now looks truly unappetizing. My son dawdles over his sausage and begins spreading about forty packets of Sweet n’Low over the table.

“This is cash,” he tells me.

Oh, how I wish it were.

In the next few days, I feel certain that I am going slowly insane. My husband has become so irascible, his moods so unpredictable that I feel like a kitten caged in with a tiger. My son’s temper tantrums are so unpalatable to him that he begins to unravel, gradually, like a decaying roll of toilet paper. For him there is no enchantment to be found in this land; only a vale of endless sorrows.

I feel that sorrow deeply myself—or perhaps I only seem to. When I can separate my own emotions from my husband’s, I’m reminded again of why I’ve come back to New Mexico. At times in Vermont, the tall green trees seem to strangle and alienate me with their engulfing narrowness. The cold in the air seals the cold in my heart. But here, the land seems to accept me, to nourish and enrich me. Someone once told me that what a Sagittarius craves most is to be able to look over a vast vista, unfettered by buildings, trees and other encumbrances—to see that the horizon is as expansive as the universe itself.

In Tajique, I stand in the middle of my ten acres and make a slow 360-degree turn. The mountains have turned dark as the sun begins to set, and the clouds sink below the horizon in soft tones of cotton candy pink. This pink is the color of my heart, now grown soft and tender from this unspeakable beauty, this magnificence that has no name. Except that it does have a name: grace. I am in the presence of God. In spite of everything—broken air conditioning, overdrawn accounts, bad bread, officious bank personnel, a four year old’s temper tantrums and a husband’s rancor, I have found peace.

I have come home.