Dear Las Vegas,
I despise cigarette smoke, don’t think I’ve ever put a quarter in a slot machine, and wouldn’t know a blackjack table if it hit me over the head. So what was I doing Labor Day weekend 2016 trekking over I-15 in my Volkswagen Passat, leaving the City of Angels for the City of Sin?
The ink on the judge’s stamp of approval was barely dry on my divorce decree, and I knew I needed to get away. I could’ve gone anywhere and while for some, a post-divorce Las Vegas trip is the obvious choice, it wasn’t for me.
My only memories of you at the time were from a girls’ trip ages ago, when I spent most of my time next to a pool larger than the Pacific herself—only confirming my perception of you as a gaudy, overblown—how dare you—cesspool of excess.
And one more with an ex-boyfriend who was, all-in-one, a recovering alcoholic, a trust fund baby, and a self-proclaimed cowboy. The top memory from that trip was sitting in a parking lot of traffic along the strip, Kid Rock’s country rap song “Cowboy” blaring as loud as the Dodge Ram speakers would allow.
Needless to say, you, Las Vegas, weren’t my go-to for good times. Yet you called to me in my broken-open-hearted post-divorce state of ruin. Life had proven me wrong about so many things; maybe I had been wrong about you, too.
At first chance, I detoured off the main thoroughfare and onto the world famous Route 66. A desolate, winding two-laner with nary a car to be found other than my own and open space on all sides, it was a perfect fit for my mood and need for self-reflection. Once back on the interstate, I sat amid the holiday traffic with fellow travelers on the way to your open-armed, modern-day mecca of sensual delights.
My excitement was twinged with skepticism. Had instinct steered me right? Trusting things that didn’t fit my old views was the lesson of the hour, so I assumed this was no exception.
As it turned out, that long weekend was the beginning of a delicious love affair with myself that was a long time in the making. And it was amid all the distraction—blinking lights, round the clock action, a simulation of the whole world compacted into one city, a larger-than-life-replica of everything—that I found the first hints of clarity.
From “Zumanity” by Cirque du Soleil, to the best rooftop dancing ever, to hours of walking along the strip appreciating the imagination, creativity, and ingenuity behind the things I once scoffed at as worldly and pretentious, I came to love and appreciate you. Or maybe I just came to love and appreciate—nevertheless, you were my catalyst and object of attention at the time.
When a tightly wound heart refuses to find the liberation it longs for, sometimes it takes a break to set it free. This was the gift my divorce brought me.
As I left your arms that weekend, though energized, the reality set in: my old life was gone and my new life was a single cell amoeba with no shape or form yet. I sobbed through the city of Barstow, then made a break away from the traffic only to find myself on a dirt road riding the divide between stretches of vast desert. Fear and doubt almost had me turn around. But faith told me to keep driving full speed ahead. So, blindly, off I went—digging deep for the trust that the road would find me on the other side. And it did!
By the time I hit Pasadena, Barstow’s sobbing was laughter accompanied by loud music.
I had taken the bounce. I could feel my resilience, and even in the absence of anything tangible to cling to, I knew everything was going to be alright.
This trip isn’t something I expected to write about, but last month, after I heard the news of the Las Vegas shooting, I wanted to feel and share my appreciation for you, a city reeling from the devastation of something hitherto unimaginable.
I don’t mean to suggest that what brought me to my metaphorical knees is in the same league as what happened to you and the individuals affected by the events that Sunday night.
I mean it as a meager offering—the only one I can make from my own embodied experience in the art of resilience. As I was writing this to you, I realized that the physics behind a bounce is when something resilient hits something hard. The object must have give or it breaks. And it’s the hard thing that gives the bounce.
No doubt, this is a hard time. Yet in all my experience thus far, I’ve found the human spirit to be both individually and collectively resilient—and that leads me to embrace you and your people in that knowing.
And I trust that any political or judicial changes that this experience evokes will be born out of unity and love rather than divisiveness and hate.
All my love,