You Young Thing / by Lauren Steele

Just like you say, we are all on a journey, just making our way.

I made my way, on crutches, with a giant backpack strapped to my increasingly crutch-enlarged shoulders through the Albuquerque airport. After a 4-day fun binge in Las Vegas with four friends and doing things I never thought a little farm girl would do, being the only blonde female under the age of 30 wandering around a smelly airport on crutches didn’t seem surprising. It seemed to fit this trend of insanity that I had spun through whirlwind-style in the city of opulence and obscenity.

I hadn’t slept in over 24 hours. I couldn’t remember the last time I brushed my teeth. I was wearing a Steve Aoki tank top I had snagged from a private cabana pool party three days prior. I had thick eyeliner and too much mascara on my face that didn’t want to go away and a ponytail on top of my head that wouldn’t stay in place.

A woman named Cathy and her husband, Mark, saw me doing this laughable kick luggage-crutch a step-kick luggage-crutch a step process that was moving me towards my shuttle pickup at glacial speeds. I think that they saw me like a PETA activist sees one of those wolves caught in a bear trap who is so desperate to get out that they gnaw their own leg off for freedom.

Cathy pushed my bag along to the shuttle for me. She said I was a brave girl. She also told me that she loves New Mexico. There is no place like it.

She was damn skippy. I had already deciphered that there was no place like it when I looked out of the window of that Southwestern airplane and saw every color of khaki, red and brown splotching itself across sand, ravines, plateaus, mountains and generally harsh-looking environment.

No wonder people think that we could inhabit Mars. This basically is Mars and people are alive and kicking here.

But it is beautiful.

I boarded my Sandia shuttle, which was actually a giant white 8-seater van. People always think that the girl with the broken leg needs to ride shotgun for optimum comfort, so our Native American, 60-something-year-old driver, Mr. Bower, set me up right next to him. He then proceeded to tell me of the days when he owned four Dunkin’ Donuts franchises, had more money than he knew what to do with, watched his nephew Trevor pitch for the Diamondbacks. He continued on about his love for daydreaming, his amusement at people who “speed up for red lights,” and the new swimming stroke that he has been developing since ’85–the nautilus.

He wants me to do a big piece on it for the magazine. I just want to sleep.

By the time he drops me off, I don’t mind being the only person getting off of the bus. For a hot minute, I’m not even concerned that my phone is dead, that I am crippled and alone and young and female. I’m not worried about standing on a street corner in a place I have never been waiting for a coworker that I have never met to come scoop me up and take me to my house that I own but have never even seen.

She shows up. She asks me if I am Lauren. I said yes, I am the only blonde girl on crutches in all of Santa Fe, I do believe. I hate hugs, but I ask her for one anyway. She kind of just saved me. She was the first person in Mars-land to say my name. To recognize me. As we left the bus stop at Water and Sandoval Streets, I tried to be happy. And I was happy, but only for the fact that I was on my way to a bed. I needed to sleep like a wilted flower needs to be watered.

We are in the desert now, and there aren’t too many flowers, and there isn’t too much water.

But there are people who drive past you in 1991 Chevy S10 trucks that are painted two colors and somehow still peeling. And those people drive past you waving guns.

Welcome to your new home, you young thing.

Erin stayed over for about an hour and we spoke of many things. One of them being the fact that she had heard rumblings around the office that I was nearly 30 years old. I laughed for the first time since Las Vegas. When she left, I fell facedown in my bed and thanked God that I was too tired to be sad.

Then, 19 hours later, I had to wake up.

I woke up and cried. I was no longer sleep deprived. But I was still vulnerable, alone, and surrounded by all of the things that I love (my prints of africa, my grandma’s recipe box, my Florence And The Machine concert poster). But in a place that I had never seen them before.

They did not belong here, and neither did I. I couldn’t get my front door to unlock. I tripped on a ledge that I had forgotten existed in between the bathroom and kitchen because I had yet to even acknowledge its existence. This place was so tiny that I couldn’t even crutch through it. The big, clonky, black cast on my leg seemed larger than my casita’s square footage. I called my parents and cried with them on the other line saying that, “it’s only a plane ride away.” I virtually texted and emailed every minute for 3 hours straight until my phone was nearly dead again. I just wanted to pretend like I had company. I wanted to pretend that maybe this was temporary.

Then, I read this:

“No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.”

I brushed my teeth, washed my face, bathed, put on something that was actually clean/not EDM-inspired, loaded up my backpack and went to the Outside offices. My one and only friend and coworker who had somehow finagled me into this dream job, Whitney, met me at the door. That hug felt better than 19 hours of sleep. She gave me a tour of the offices. It felt like home. It was cozy and happy and I finally thought that maybe I do belong here. I shook hands and spoke of my farm-girl origins and laughed about my temporary handicap while Whitney called me an, “incredible runner.”

I remembered Hebrews and the fact that training myself to love a new life will be just as painful as training myself to run again when this cast comes off. But I can work through any pain. I have experienced those harvests of righteousness and peace before. I know they are coming again.

I said goodbye to Whitney, made plans to go grocery shopping together later in the evening, and I crutched my way to a coffee shop. I sat. I saw tanned-skinned, rugged locals walk by with their mutts on leashes. I felt my heart beat faster, maybe because of the altitude or maybe because of courage was finally working at top speeds to pump out all of the fear. I smelled air so dry that when tufts of cotton fell from trees I had never seen before, they seemed to float at zero-gravity. I tasted dust and the best damn iced coffee of my life. I heard a train chug along past me and echo off the Sandia Mountains.