When I moved to Oregon to attend graduate school, I managed to blow most of my savings just getting from Baltimore to Eugene; the trip, if I recall correctly, involved a lot of national forests and a lot of beer. By the time I arrived in Oregon, I could barely pay rent. Like most graduate students, I found some place cheap, bought all my furniture used, and ate a lot of Top Ramen. I did manage to luxuriate in one purchase: A desk. After all, I took writing pretty seriously in those days.
The one I chose was enormous, a Mack truck of a desk with a marble slab on the top, filing cabinets, drawers, the whole enchilada. If this desk had a voice, it would have been a deep baritone like James Earl Jones and would have said, “This is where you write. You hear?” And of course, I listened.
After graduate school, I actually paid movers to transport the desk (and not much else) back to Baltimore, where it sat in the basement for a while. Then I rented a giant U-Haul to reassign the desk (and not much else) to Albuquerque. This was five years ago, and I still remember the desk banging against the metal interior of the truck like a caged animal as I pushed through a wind storm somewhere outside Tucumcari. Upon my arrival, I rented a shack, and I do mean a shack, by the Rio Grande. I had no kitchen table, no living room chairs, no china hutch. I had a bed. I had my cat, but most importantly, I had my desk: that colossal magical beast. All I had to do was sit at it and write. And I did. I taught GED and literacy during the day and, at night, I sat down at my desk atop the shag carpet and looked out my warped windows and wrote. This lasted for about three months. Then I met a man.
In order to move into my boyfriend’s small apartment, a few sacrifices had to be made. One of these was my desk. I gave it to one of my students. He eyed it suspiciously, “Are you sure you want to get rid of it?” he asked. Oh. I was sure and watched it wiggle precariously in the back of his pick-up truck, tied down haphazardly with bungee cord and twine. Had it arms, it might have waved — or given me the finger. Who knows.
If somehow I could go back down to that apartment on the Rio Grande, (It is still there, though $400,000 condominiums abut it on both sides now) I would tap myself on the shoulder and say, “Hey you. It’s me. Whatever happens, don’t get rid of this desk.” Then I would let myself out and perhaps steal a cigarette from my former self because I do miss them nearly as much as the desk. My former self would have balked at the comment but would have definitely obeyed. She was superstitious about things and back then everything was marked with intense mystery.
Last month, my husband and I moved to an area that didn’t even exist five years ago. Certainly it was here in the traditional sense, but this noxious subdivision wasn’t, where every house is painted Brown #487656, and every car is parked in the driveway because every garage is teeming with stuff. My house backs up against the petroglyphs; should I crane my neck just past the vibrant view of my neighbor’s kitchen, I can see a spectacular sunset that probably would have inspired my former self to write.
I am on my fourth or fifth desk now, though now we have downsized from the “Wal-mart put it together yourself and risk divorce while doing so” desk to the “saw this advertised online, and it was less than $50 dollars and could fit into a station wagon” model. It fits in nicely with our suburban (read disposable) world. I can lift it with fingertips. I have accumulated a husband and a beautiful daughter. We have sofas and taupe carpet; our walls are beige. I have a behemoth house, moored in sacred land that doesn’t even belong to me. Yet somehow, my desks keep getting lighter. My former self wouldn’t have believed it.
So I go back to my old apartment on the Rio Grande. I don’t think I’d say anything to my former self. Instead, I’d take two cigarettes instead of one. My former self wouldn’t notice. She’d be typing. But when my former self went off the next morning to teach those GED kids, I would clear everything off that desk. I would take the marble slab and put it in the backseat of my car, opening up all the windows to accommodate it. Then I would push the lower part (with the cabinets and the drawers) outside and heave it on top of the Subaru. I would tie it down with chains and maybe even a rusty anchor, if I could find one. I would laugh the entire way home, as I heard the roof buckling and the metal whining. When I got out, the top of my car would, no doubt, bend like a crescent moon. This would be fine. I would roll it into my garage, mercilessly bypassing the mountainous terrain of baby toys and unpacked boxes and clothes that are too tight. I would shove it through my front door and leave it in the foyer. Then I’d sit down, breathless and sweaty, say, “Now where were we?” and go from there.