There is something about the desert that celebrates solitude. There’s something about being in the middle of nowhere that turns the focus inward — toward the self, or toward love.
When I visit my grandparents in Phoenix, Arizona, it sometimes feels like they’re the only people who live there. Their house is the same one they’ve lived in since the ‘60s; one in a row of faded stucco beneath a wide, pale sky. The heat sizzles on the sidewalk and blows across the valley. There is never anyone outside.
Inside is an oasis. The air is artificially cool, the tile is ice against bare feet. Etchings of composers and French shipping docks hang on the walls. Shelves are filled with New York Times best sellers in hardcover and Oscar winners on DVD. The garage has been converted: half music studio with two Steinway pianos side-by-side for my grandfather, half office where my grandmother writes books with lesson plans for teachers. Photos of us — their three daughters, all seven cousins — are everywhere. The house is not large, but everything in it is, to them, luxurious. When we all visit, every seat is filled with someone who shares our sense of humor, our references, our mythology.
My cousins and I spend hours poring over family photos or gingerly removing our grandparents’ years-old love letters from their delicate envelopes, trying to decipher their cursive. Over fifty years ago, they wrote the stuff of modern-day text messages: I miss you. I love you. I can’t wait until we’re together again.
There is so much about their love story that is romantic. The way they met: at a music festival in Aspen when they were both 18. The way they were raised: she was a Westchester princess and he grew up in a tiny desert town. Their love was rebellious. The way they’ve always lived: when they got married, they moved to this house. My grandmother wanted nothing but love, unpretentious and uninterrupted by the specter of the city.
My cousins and I live in a state of near-constant distraction. The city, the phone, the bar. It’s all uniquely designed so our generation can avoid this — this simple being-together, this simple being-with-yourself. We spend money on getaway vacations and tech detoxes to manufacture what my grandparents have enjoyed for over 50 years of marriage: the joy of being together in the middle of nowhere.
Now this is the standard to which I hold love. When I drive alone past empty strip malls in Los Angeles, when I go on dates, when I think about finding someone to live out the rest of my life or even just the rest of my twenties with, this is what I want. Find that person you could be happy in the middle of nowhere with, I think. Find that person who wants to build a life in the desert with you.
This is a myth I believe in.
Follow Sarah on Twitter here.
Photo by John Dominis/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images.