I almost didn’t go to Flagstaff.
My plan was to leave Sunday after I was finished working brunch at The Kitchen (roughly 5pm). But I sat down for a shifty-of-choice at the bar and one led to two and two led to three birthday shifties. And then I went home and had a glass of wine and let it all metabolize and thought about how much I loved Denver, and I told Lauren I’d be coming home because Denver feels like home now. This is not a lie and this is still true, which is important. But as I sat staring at the empty wine glass I knew that I had to go. If for no other reason, I was going to watch after Annie’s dogs for a few days. But I had more than that reason. I knew that. We all knew that. We all still know that. So I fled down the stairs to my basement and in true Kelsey fashion packed way too many clothes and not the clothes I actually wanted to take.
My original plan was to make it to Durango and stay the night, and continue on to Flag the next day. Durango is roughly halfway, if you go through Southern Colorado, which is my (read: everyone’s) preferred route. However it was now 8:30 and I didn’t really want to do the drive from Pagosa Springs to Durango at night, or Wolf Creek Pass, so I went west first and opted for the Moab/Utah route which I knew I would regret in the morning. I also knew I would have to stop and sleep because I am not a human that can drive all night. In fact, I can’t do any type of thing all night. In college I never pulled all-nighters. If I stayed up until 5am I slept until 2pm. I need my sleep. Drew Crittenden knows this well, because I let Denver start to know me.
I didn’t even make it to Grand Junction before I had to sleep. My plan was to sleep for 4.5 hours and I slept for 7, putting me a bit behind for my day the next morning. There is no surprise here – especially to Drew Crittenden. Driving through Moab is brutal. I know Moab is a cool playground and all, but everyone raves about it and every time I just end up shrugging and saying “I’d rather be in Sedona”. I missed the welcome sign into Arizona (How? No idea.) but I knew I was there in no time. That’s one of the beauties of true desert driving – you can legitimately drive 100 miles per hour.
Shut up, please.
There’s this moment, and everyone who has done this drive knows, you can see the Peaks on the horizon and you are so far away. I tried to take a snap (don’t snap and drive!) and you couldn’t even see them, though partially due to the bugs on my windshield that are still there. Dave Warner was also on his drive back to Flagstaff from far away during the same hours, and he texted me about an hour earlier with “I can see the fucking Peaks!” and my heart melted at just the thought. So when I saw them, I had an explosion of feelings that I did not think I would feel. I feel a lot, right, which I think is partly why I write so personally and so much, so to be surprised by the overwhelming mass of what was hitting my heart and my head and my tear ducts is really saying something.
When I drove in to Flagstaff I rode an odd wave of calm, and I wasn’t expecting that. I stopped at Fry’s on the corner of 66 and Switzer Canyon and took in the view of Agassiz that I know so well, because for what seemed like forever I lived off of Switzer Canyon. I was after a Naked Mighty Mango juice and I got the sale price because I still have the Fry’s card on my keys. I sat at the light on 66 and San Francisco and texted Andrew that it was “really fucking weird to be back” and I couldn’t answer why, but I know now that it’s because I felt home, and I was expecting to feel excited. I was giddy, for sure, and happy to be there, but for the first time in months months I felt still and known. And I sank into that, and it almost made me cry.
Annie and Billy were out of town, but I stayed at their house with their two Great Danes. In the middle of August Annie had randomly texted me and told me that her and Billy were renting out their guest bedroom, and to “Come home to Flagstaff, Kelsey.” I read those words and stopped in my tracks. I met Annie when she was my apartment manager at the place off Switzer Canyon. I had Cohen and had just moved and we bonded right away, as she had a Dane as well. She now has two, and the younger of the two is built and moves exactly like Cohen did.
It took me a few moments to add the word ‘did’ on the end of that sentence.
I took a much needed shower and headed straight to Dark Sky. For those of you who are reading and don’t know me, Dark Sky is the greatest brewery in the world and I used to work there, and I love the owners more than I love most people. I had plans to meet Nick and Andrew for beer but I went early and stopped abruptly as soon as I walked in the door. To my left was the new addition, which I knew and had seen plans for before I left, and pictures of after I left. The door was propped open and I remembered what a pain that was to do with the plant and it made me smile. There was a bartender that I don’t know behind the bar that carded me which took me by surprise, because sometimes you forget when you leave that the world keeps going. I sat down next to a guy who tried twice to make conversation with the bartender and got shrugged off, and I was about to ask him what he was drinking when he beat me to the question. I quickly learned his name is Billy and I asked him if he knew the story of Dark Sky and he said no, and I spilled my love for the brewery, with details from how I donated to it when I randomly saw it on indiegogo via Facebook when I first moved to Flagstaff, meeting Amanda on the mountain, not recognizing Nick at NPA, and my Sunday shifts that were great extra cash but really came from the love and wanting to support and sell such a wonderful product and story. Billy asked where I had moved to and I said “Denver”, and a smile spilled over his face as he exclaimed “No way! I just moved from there!” and I felt sick with jealousy. I looked him dead in the eyes as I assured him he made the right choice. He had been in town for three days.
I ran my hands over the bar that everyone comments on and looked over at the starry counter and became excited as I recalled all of the questions I used to answer for people regarding this place. I watched two people come in and taste one beer and leave without the bartender saying much and I wanted to grab their wrist and say “No! Wait! This is our story, this is what’s happening, try this beer instead, I think you’ll like it.” But I was on the wrong side of the bar for that. I remembered how the Dream Team (Anthony and I; self-proclaimed but true) would tend the shit out of that bar, and Alex and I have been all over Denver and Boulder this summer talking about Dark Sky and how people here “just have no idea”. Before Shift had opened, Joe and Dara did a collaboration dinner with DSB and Anthony and I worked it, and it was one of the best nights of my life. I love the service industry for several reasons, and one of them being the familial aspect. After all of the guests had left, me, Anthony, Nick, Ryan, Joe, Dara and two or three others (I’m so sorry I can’t remember your names) sat at the bar and got a bit sauced in celebration. And I was sitting in the seat two down from where I was, and I distinctly recall laughing so hard I might die at this incredible conversation that we all had going, and it was one of the most powerful senses that I have felt. Shift was about to open and it was going to be amazing, Dark Sky was taking off and going to reveal their addition, and we had just done our first wine collaboration which was fucking awesome. I never wanted that night to end. I used to wish I could go back to it, but now I want more like it. I also remembered one of my very last nights in Flagstaff, after I had put Cohen down, Anthony and I were closing together and I didn’t want to go home because I was so sick of going home and dealing with the fact that my dog was dead, and waking up from nightmares where the injections didn’t work and he didn’t end up dead in my arms on that Wednesday night. So we sat at the bar and listened to old Taking Back Sunday and Rebelution and talked about everything from life philosophies to fingernails. I don’t think anyone knew how badly I was hurting at that time in my life, and perhaps more on that later. But I sat at that bar and healed a little, because I really needed to. (Actually, I sat at the counter on a stool in front of the iPad, but, you know. Details.)
I was one half of a beer into the evening on 5 September and knew I was coming back, if for no other reason than to dedicate myself to the things I believe in – the first being Dark Sky and everything it encompasses, not just for my own reasons, but because it has a meaningful place in the world of beer, food and business – especially in that town.
I drank through the night with Andrew and Nick and talked a bit of business but mostly soaked in absolutely everything I had missed. I’ve been flirting with the idea of moving back to Flagstaff for a long time. We all know that. But I had been a bit worried I was just missing people and not the town, and Andrew knew this because between Whiskey Chai I told him “You can’t make homes out of humans, though, right? Because – who taught us that?” And I don’t know if either of us truly cited the source in conversation but it is Warsan Shire – a beautiful piece of writing that you all should read. It’s a moving quote, “You can’t make homes out of human beings/someone should have already told you that” for when you are sad after he breaks up with you. But I think it’s kind of bullshit. You can make homes out of whichever you want – mountains, people, breweries, train tracks, trails, snow days and monsoons.
My birthday was perfect and I wouldn’t change a thing about the day, except for perhaps my raging headache and I should’ve had dessert at dinner. Every person I spent time with means a significant amount to me, and I ended it at Dark Sky (shocking). I sat down to cheers away 27 and welcome 28 and noticed my new friend Billy was there as well, sitting with these wonderful people I get to call my friends. Sometimes the world is small and Flagstaff is even smaller, and I’m quite alright with that. The restaurant Shift opened right after I left Flagstaff, and after meeting Joe and Dara (and eating food they had prepared) I was stoked for them to open. I was super happy to see Joe on the night of my birthday, and having read and heard him talk about the concept(s) of Shift I was shocked but not shocked but jaw-dropping, coincidentally shocked to learn that he used to work where I currently work – The Kitchen. And just so we’re all on the same page: I absolutely love working at The Kitchen (Denver). I’m all about everything from their concepts to community actions to execution of service and knowledge, but more on that in my love letter to Denver.
I laid in bed for awhile the morning after my birthday because I didn’t want to leave. I was sandwiched between two Great Danes and in the town my heart pulls for. But I got up, packed my things, and went for a run. As I was leaving town I threw my hair in a side braid and tried to lift my eyelids that were already weighted. One of my (irrational?) fears I had voiced about moving back was that I wouldn’t fit in with the people I’d be going back to, and that was quickly met with “Make new friends.” And here I was, after not even 48 hours of a visit, leaving with two (of many) very different things: a new friend and missing one more person than I drove into town missing.
I was driving out 89A and was listening to the song “Arizona” by Frances Cone and it brought me to tears as I had the backside of the Peaks to my left and the sun to my right. There’s a line “I’m so sorry, I couldn’t speak,” and that’s how I feel when I reflect on leaving Flagstaff to move to Denver. I was in rough shape, and I know that next to no one really knew that. The only person I could ever speak one hundred percent of everything to was Giselle. She listened to me cry and be lost and wonder why my life had unfolded the way it had and what I did to make it to that. My life fucking sucked, and I’m sure some reader is thinking “You privileged, middle-class white girl, your life did not suck. There are tragedies happening every day.” and I hate when people make that argument. I think it is equivalent to saying “You can’t be that happy, because someone else is happier.” It is bullshit. You can feel however the fuck you want to feel all of the time, at any time. And I felt beat the fuck up on April 8th as I drove away from Flagstaff and I couldn’t wait to get to Denver, because I knew the front range was scattered with people I love and would make me laugh. I knew I would feel good here. And I do. I love my life here, it is a fantastic one, and it will have it’s own blog post in a bit.
Giselle and I had over an hour phone conversation on my way back to Denver as I drove through Colorado. Every time we have conversations they are of my favorite, and people like that are truly hard to find. We covered several areas of topic, but she said, “You sound so rejuvenated!” And she’s right. (…Again)
I think that people will say (have said) that all signs are pointing me to Flagstaff, and that it’s “obviously meant to be” with having everything fall into place as soon as I felt like I wanted to go back, but I don’t think that’s true. I don’t think things are predetermined at all, and I don’t believe in much of anything – not even karma. I think people make their own choices, and use phrases like “ it was/wasn’t mean to be” just to make them feel better about making the choice they made. I want to move back to Flagstaff so I’m making it work. (Except Annie telling me I can rent a room in her house and to “come home”, I’m simply chalking that one up to coincidence )
I propped my left elbow on my window and leaned my palm against my face to let my head rest a bit as the sun set in Colorado and I was 150 miles from Denver. Ocean Eyes (Astronomyy edit) by Billie Eilish was playing and I was overcome with sadness. Sadness to be leaving the life that I can’t wait to get back to, but a stillness with knowing I’m going to continue it soon.
At the end of October I’m going to on a climbing trip to Joshua Tree with Giselle for her birthday. En route to California I’ll stop in Flagstaff and drop my stuff off in my new bedroom, and on (or around) 1 November, I’ll be back in the 928.