Column: A Phoenix, Rising from the Ashes

By Susan Parker
Tuesday November 21, 2006

An old friend sent me a free plane ticket to Phoenix, Arizona, and I went. Pam lives in Lexington, Kentucky, but she was attending a veterinary-chiropractic meeting at the Scottsdale Chaparral Suites, located not on the chaparral but along a six-lane boulevard lined with imported palm trees and newly constructed strip malls. 

The plan was for me to hang out at one of the two hotel pools and explore downtown Scottsdale while Pam attended classes on equine yoga, proper saddle fit, and racehorse foot management. I would meet her at noon for the free lunch buffet provided by the American Veterinary Chiropractic Association, and again, at 6 p.m., for the hotel-hosted (and also free) happy hour.  

In addition to the AVCA convention, there was an Arizona Christian Family Prayer delegation staying at the hotel over the weekend, and also a large number of fans and participants of the Checker Auto Parts 500 NASCAR Race taking place at Avondale’s Phoenix International Raceway on Saturday. Sunday included a match-up between the Arizona Cardinals and Dallas Cowboys at the University of Phoenix Stadium.  

Chaparral Suites was filled to capacity with men in brightly checkered leather jackets sporting transmission fluid and engine oil logos, bible-carrying Christian parents and their well-behaved children, football fans lugging golf club bags, and the somewhat touchy-feely veterinarian-chiropractic folks. I was in a contingent composed of one: confused-and-possibly-destitute-newly-widowed-middle-age woman. There are probably worse groups to belong to.  

The reason I was confused was because, among other things, I haven’t been able to get the proper documents from several financial institutions in order to understand my changing fiscal situation. There have been multiple mix ups on how to acquire, complete, send-in, and process these forms. I’ve been operating on faith, and the advice of a lawyer, that the miscommunication and confusion will work out for the best. Perhaps it was the Christian influence at the hotel that led me to believe I was safe. Whatever the reasons, I did what everyone else in Scottsdale seems to do—I shopped.  

Retail therapy is Scottsdale’s raison d’etre. After shopping comes eating, and after eating comes golfing, football watching, racecar driving and plastic surgery. I didn’t need to shop but the power of suggestion was overwhelming. Hiking into the desert under a hot midday sun was not as appealing as schlepping to Fashion Square in order to wander through its fountains, food courts, and air-conditioned chain stores.  

It was kind of a girls gone wild weekend for the over-50 set. I spent money I didn’t have on things I didn’t need while Pam participated in seminars entitled “Dorsoventral Spinal Motion and Equine Rib Adjusting” and “Pain Neurophysiology, Neuroanatomy and More.” Our favorite time together was happy hour, when we were finally able to catch up on 26 years of friendship, 23 of them spent on opposite sides of the continent.  

There is something healing about spending time with an old friend after many years apart. Sharing memories of what we were like when we were in our late twenties made us feel and act younger. Being in Scottsdale, where we knew no one, allowed us to act as if we really were 25, not 50-plus. Maybe that’s why I returned to Oakland with a suitcase full of new clothes only a teenager could wear.  

My newfound happiness came to a screeching halt when I unlocked my front door and found myself alone in a house that felt cold and unfamiliar, a house that didn’t go with my new attire.  

Twelve and a half years ago, after Ralph’s Claremont Avenue bicycle accident, I had to reinvent myself. As his disabilities increased with age and the accumulating effects of powerful drugs, I had to evolve as well. Now he’s gone and I need to reinvent myself again. Either I’ll have to renovate the house to go with the new wardrobe or get some clothes that match-up with the empty house. I made a few false starts in the Juniors Department at Fashion Square. Maybe it’s time to look for something in the Over-the-Hill-But-Not-Out-for-Lunch section. I’ve been gone for a very long time; it feels good to be on my way back.