Some of the things that come to mind first when I think of Phoenix are large well maintained highways and an intense dry heat. Such was the heat that it required me to wake for extra water in the middle of the night and left salt on my face after hiking rocky outcrops as my sweat dried so fast in the sun. The terrain on these rocky hills could have been from another planet – they were so dry and barren looking and looked like they’d be devoid of life. However, paradoxically they were full of wildlife such as snakes, javelinas and roadrunners as well as vegetation such as cacti and their unique flowers. I guess perhaps this is the reason why this city received the name of Phoenix. It is a place where life rises in abundance in what appears to be a place of death and desolation. For me that captures the essence of what Phoenix was for me for the time I spent there. I was leaving behind my old life and sparks of a new life began to flicker in the warm evenings and purple sunsets that painted Phoenix’s sky. I didn’t know what that new life would look like, but the liminal time spent there gave me a little space to adjust to how things operated in this new land.
A picture taken on one of our hikes
I first arrived in Phoenix after spending a week in Philadelphia with Matt where he was working on a consulting project at the time and then the following weekend in San Francisco visiting a Chinese business associate of his. Matt’s place was a very comfortable two bedroom unit. It was in a complex with a gym, several outdoor grills, two swimming pools and a hot tub. It felt like a resort and for all intents and purposes that is what it was for me for the next eight or so weeks.
It was a little odd that after moving to another country to determine whether this man was someone I would like to be with that after this first week together Matt flew off on the Monday morning for Philadelphia and I was left to my own devices for four days. However, although it felt strange being alone for four out of seven days in a strange place in a foreign country it was probably exactly what I needed at this time in my life.
Settling into rest
The death of my Dad only a few months beforehand had left me exhausted and I needed rest. The space away from Matt during the week also meant that I had a little distance from him that helped with the adjustment of hardly having spent any time together to being together pretty much all of the time. I perhaps did not appreciate that the time I had in Phoenix to rest, recover and reset was exactly what I needed at the time. I had anxieties, fears and frustrations that bubbled up about how it was that I was going to find work in this new country when I was located in a city which was not where I was targeting my search. Matt’s job was technically based in San Francisco. However, as soon as he had started he had been placed on a project in Philadelphia and had not had time to move.
Learning how to find work in the United States was also a whole new thing I was learning about and I did work on this task for at least half of my day of those four days of the week when Matt was away. The rest of the time I divided by working out the little things like how to use the Keurig and what a Keurig was, acquainting myself with the day time television hosts and unfamiliar television shows (my new found friends) and going to the gym (the one in the complex and then later the fancy one up the road called Lifetime Fitness). I also made several trips to Wholefoods for cooking and supplies. It took me a long time to work out that this supermarket was not a normal USA supermarket so for a time I marveled at the enormous cost of food in America buying food primarily from a supermarket that was colloquially known as whole pay check.
The people I met
In the afternoon before sundown sometimes I would go out to the shared areas of the complex and enjoy the luxury of the hot spa. I would sometimes meet various neighbours who would chat to me a little about their lives and ask me about my own. There were two ladies in their 50s and 60s that I met several times around one of the shared grills while we took turns to cook our dinner. The elder lady was caucasian, extremely well-groomed and fit. She talked to us about her exciting past including adventure filled and sometimes illicit love affairs as well as her current potential suitors. The younger lady was of Indian descent, a single mother of a teenager, and was keen to give me tips on how and where to find jobs.
There was also some other connections that all helped me on my journey. I had met a lady called Amber on the plane from San Francisco to Phoenix who was a family lawyer and also a marriage celebrant. She had started speaking to Matt as she had recently married a man who worked at the same company as Matt’s computer had given away that he worked for the same company as her husband. She was a lively vivacious and open spirit having struck up a conversation across the aisle with Matt after noticing the logo on his computer. She was in the process of relocating her family law practice to Scottsdale from California but also moving to Singapore to be with her husband. She was a lady with a lot of things going on!
Amber took me for a fun-filled jovial lunch at the local Gordon Biersch Brewery & Restaurant during her lunch break one day. She wore black dress that highlighted her svelte figure and pin barbie like legs while also being modest enough to be corporate attire appropriate. I would describer her as bouncy – liberal in mind-set, vivacious and lively. She was blonde and tanned and I got that impression that during her college years would have been a perfect fit for the sororities I was acquainted with through Hollywood movies.
I was keen to meet an attorney to understand a little about how that profession, my profession in Australia, worked stateside. Amber was kind to give me some insight into that as well as peppering out lunch with stories about interesting clients and those in her life that were not strictly clients but had consulted her for advice – such as her yoga instructor if, who I remember correctly, had got himself into a pickle by becoming intimately involved with someone who he did not know was underaged.
I later met Renee, an aunt of one of my good friend’s husband. She treated me to dinner a couple of times – once at local Scottsdale Mexican restaurant and another time we went to Italian. Renee expressed her thankfulness to me for having some connection to her beloved sister who had lived in Australia since moving there to on a teacher exchange several decades earlier. However, it was I who was the most indebted to Renee. She was a breath of fresh air. Being with her was like taking a vacation – she was someone who it was easy to be at rest with. She was extremely positive, caring and complimentary and someone with whom conversations came easily.
Renee wore loose relaxed comfortable clothing – slacks and a long sleeve coloured shirt. I remember the colours she wore as being friendly bright and happy; perhaps purple. She was vivid in personality, just like the colour of her dress. I remember her as being extremely positive but not pollyannaish or naive. and the lines on her face and light in her eyes reflected her joyous personality. She was grounded, practical but yet was philosophical and reflective. She’d had a varied life as a single woman and was generous to share about herself, expressed gratitude generously and exuded positivity. Spending time with her made me feel relaxed and like I had been on a holiday. She was someone that was easy to feel at ease and peaceful with. We discussed what it was like for her when her sister moved to Australia and her six months of backpacking adventures when she went to visit her with her mother and sister.
Milly was tall and skinny and liked to wear outdoorsy clothes like designer hiking shorts. She sat cross legged in the room provided at The Casa, A Franciscan Retreat Centre, for our chats. She was into health food and educated me about options for buying fruits and vegetables as well as what to bring to nourish myself properly on my hiking adventures with Matt. She shared her own experiences of having to find her own way while her husband was working in London and this provided comfort to me in the liminal space I was learning to navigate.
A video I took on a drive just out of Phoenix on one of our weekend adventures
The places we went
On Thursday nights Matt would return home. I would try to cook something special for his return and we would enjoy a chat and a wine. He would need to work on Fridays remotely so I would go about my usual routine and then we would go on a outdoor adventure in the evening – usually a local hike.
On the weekends we would explore a bit further afield or take a longer hike. We visited a nearby mining town set up with period buildings, with a fake shoot out play and themed dining. We also visited Roosevelt Lake, which uniquely lies amongst the desert hills and is popular with locals and tourists for boating and fishing.
My experience is that Phoenix is a place that offers rest. It was a place of pause. A place I really need. I was tired with my grief. In Phoenix I was rejuvenated my American self and adventure was born.
If you would like to read more about my American adventure you may like to read:
Los Angeles: A once in a lifetime trip to the Coffee Bean and two lives changed forever – White Waves
San Diego: A successful set-up by a mutual friend – White Waves
Remembering being loved by Philadelphia – the city of brotherly love – White Waves