This past October I returned back to El Paso, Texas for the first time since 1991, exactly 30 years since my last visit. It was an odd journey for many reasons. I was only there for 4 days and 3 nights and yet it was packed from the moment I got off the plane until I got right back on a flight to go back.
The trip meant a lot to me on so many levels that I can hardly express with words. That is why I made a video of so much, but not all, of what I was there for. I made the little video to try to convey what words cannot. I used my drone and the Osmo Pocket 4K and recorded the visuals. I didn’t record any real audio, no narrative. This was simply just a moment in time captured.
My parents used their points for airfare and rental car, so no one was out of pocket for that. I paid for my first AirBnB on the Eastside not far from the airport. My brother Doug died in 2016 and my parents have had his ashes sitting on a shelf for years, not sure what to do with them. I was considering going to a film festival in El Paso except I didn’t have the funds to go. When they mentioned they had the ashes still, I suggested we spread them at the fraternity house where he had been president in the 1990’s and where he was happiest. The entire family agreed to that and approved the idea.
It was a little tricky getting his ashes through on a carryon but luckily I flew on Delta which is one of the only airlines that doesn’t require a death certificate, although TSA did required I open the cardboard box with his ashes in it at the X-ray machines.
I got checked into the AirBnB and crashed. The next morning I was up and out. First I visited the old apartment we lived in for 6-7 months when our house was being built. It sat over Cielo Vista Mall, a shopping mall I spent every single day visiting over the summer. The reason Stranger Things season 3 resonated with me was because the whole first episode where the kids (of which I was the exact age of they were in the years of the show) going into the service halls and sneaking into the movies – I did that so many times I lost count. Seeing it in that show was shockingly precise to my time in El Paso and Cielo Vista Mall. Also, it’s the place where a deranged Trump supporter opened fire on Mexicans a few years ago.
What amazed me the most was how LITTLE things had changed in El Paso in 30 years. Most places you visit, all you can see is what is different and new. All I saw was familiarity and sense memory came flooding back into my soul and my blood.
Seeing Mexico from afar, yet all the closer than it has been in decades for me. I had renewed my passport but alas thanks to Covid-19, the border was still closed to me, as I missed the border opening back up to tourism by 11 days. It gives me a reason to return once more. There are still some ghosts in the past that I have to visit south of the border.
I had only had a license for a few short months before we moved from El Paso back to Ohio. And yet I remembered virtually everything. I only used the map app on the phone to get to the AirBnB and never once used to find anything I was looking for. I was able to find my way by memory to our old house, to my old school, to every haunt I ever spent time at.
I still know a few people in El Paso from that time, but not out of any disrespect, I didn’t want to see anyone. I barely spoke to a soul the entire time I was there. This was facing parts of my past and wrestling my own demons internally. I walked around the mountains. I drove around and stopped and watched the world I once knew a very long time ago. I still cannot put into words what this meant to me.
Over the decades, I had dreamed of this place, the city and the area. Sometimes nightmares, sometimes an idealized dreamscape. A part of me died in this place in 1984. The ignorant child from Wadsworth was crucified by this strange world and someone new was born in the sunfire of the desert. In all honesty, I don’t think I know who I had become for decades until these past 2-3 years. It was perfection to face this place and what all I had to do now, in my current form.
I visited more than one grave and the one thing I needed to see in Mexico, I saw by the air by flying my drone to that special place and see it as I had never seen it before. The cross on the mountain never looked so beautiful and I was able to put to rest a trouble deep in my soul, a wound so deep I never thought it could heal.
My relationship with my brother was complicated. Putting him to rest at that place was the easiest thing for me on the entire journey. Going back to White Sands and seeing the sand dunes was another story. The first time I went there in 1985, that was magical. Never before had my soul been touched in such a way. I wondered the entire drive there if it was going to be like trying to be struck by lightening twice. Seeing it now, as I am today, was still magical just different. Having seen the Sahara from Egypt all the way to Morocco changed the perspective but made it no less impressive. My lifelong love of the desert started here and nothing will ever change that. Returning to that source, to the origin point only made it more poignant.
These words all seem to inadequate for what being back meant and what this short journey did for me. With all that I have transformed into in the past 2-3 years, this seemed to be quite the demarcation of change I had not anticipated. Everything happens for a reason, right? This happened at the right time with me in the perfect mental headspace to handle it all.
I know in my heart that this was meant to be. I know this because my sleep and my dreams have become far more peaceful. I have no nightmares anymore. My literal dreams at night are more positive, more optimistic. My inner peace allows a serenity I didn’t know I needed until I got it.