But I did, I lived in Albuquerque for more than three years in my early twenties. I had an entire life there, friends, a job (retail - it was before I graduated college), restaurants I enjoyed, two different apartments and then a house, and it's where both of my babies were born - delivered by the same doctor in the same hospital just 9 1/2 months apart! Not far from there, in the mountains near Santa Fe, is where my son is buried.
And then, on my toddler's 2nd birthday, with nothing to offer her except only the hope that whatever was out there was better than where we were, I left my life in New Mexico..... and never looked back.
The reason it was time to go.
I am married to a Soldier now, he is stationed at Fort Bliss, Texas, and we live in El Paso, just 4 hours south of the city where I left a beloved piece of me up in the mountains forever. But even though we have been living here for more than a year now, I haven't felt any desire to go back to that piece, no matter the distance. There are ghosts in Albuquerque that I need to make peace with, and I'm just not sure yet if I have the energy to make it.
But, the Universe does all things for a reason and there has to be a reason why I am back in this area of the world long after I had walked away from the most awful part of my life. And if I was being honest with myself, I couldn't help but be just a teeny bit curious what it would be like to go back as the person I am now, in the place that I am now - a safe and loved place.
Of the very few pleasant memories I have of my time in Albuquerque, the Balloon Fiesta was one of them. Fall is my absolute most favorite time of year and I remember waking up every morning for one entire week in early October to hundreds of hot air balloons filling up the morning sky.
I remember it being a breathtaking sight.
But I never made it to the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta - the world's largest hot air balloon festival (and some even say the most photographed event on earth)! Other than watching the balloons from wherever I was in the city, I never made it to the fiesta to see them up close. I had always wanted to, but was always too busy navigating all of the things life was throwing at me at the time (and doing a terrible job of it). So when Eric, Isabelle, and I came back to this area of the world, I knew that eventually the Balloon Fiesta was something I would want to see before the Army sends us somewhere else. I knew that I especially wanted to see it now, with my daughter and husband by my side, and adventure in my soul.
Ghosts be damned, I was still going to seek adventure, even if that adventure was in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
The Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta is held in Albuquerque every October, and this year Eric's mom, step-dad, and sister made plans to attend. Since they were going to be just 4 hours away from us it was important for us to see them, and we knew it would make for the perfect weekend getaway. Except that for us, the Army was busy making plans, changing them, pulling Eric into work stuff for days at a time, scheduling other things for him to focus on, changing those things, and then all of that stuff changed completely and suddenly and we're still trying to get our bearings on it all and are currently adjusting to the new things. So we have been in a constant unknown for a couple of months now and had no way of committing to anything outside of Eric's work life, especially anything fun like spending time with family at The International Balloon Fiesta.
But any military family will tell you that when there is a gap in the Army's plans, no matter how tiny that gap, you take it! So that's what we did! When the sudden changes happened it allowed Eric a minute to take some time away from work, so at the very last second we headed out of town to see the world's largest hot air balloon festival and to spend time with our family!
The Fiesta is very weather-dependent and there really isn't a better day to attend than another during the week, just so long as you go on a good weather day. But the most popular event is the morning mass ascension - when all of the balloons go up at the same time - and that was what we all really wanted to see! So we all woke up before dawn on Saturday morning, only a few hours after we arrived to town late the night before, and headed out to the balloon park where we got to walk among the balloons, balloon crews and pilots.
I've never seen a hot air balloon up close before. I could assume that they're gigantic, I mean if you can make out their details from the ground then they must be humongous, and they are, but there is just something about being right next to them that is magical and so much more special than seeing them from a distance. I was surprised at how many balloons there were and how close they all were to each other, most even touching as they lifted off the ground. It was just the coolest thing ever! Like being in a balloon forest! And y'all know, my soul thrives on being in any sort of forest! (But I think a balloon forest might be my most favorite kind of forest!)
And what was surprising, too, was how fast they went from being a pile of fabric on the ground to being a giant poofy balloon a hundred feet in the air! It only took a matter of minutes to inflate and lift off! And since we were able to talk to the pilots and crew, we got to see the entire process! I couldn't really tell how intricate the inflation process was because let's be honest, what the hell do I know about inflating a hot air balloon, but it looked like it took a good number of people to make it all go smoothly and safely, and it sure went fast!
Then once they all lifted into the sky, the sky was just filled with all kinds of different shaped balloons with different colors in all directions! It was as if the sky itself turned into a massive piece of artwork which kept you looking upwards for hours! And there was nothing but balloons to look at - not a single cloud in the sky! We had totally lucked out with weather, not only were there not any clouds, but there wasn't any wind so all of the balloons were able to take off as planned for the mass ascension.
It really was breathtaking and just how I remembered!
A fishy wearing a top hat in balloon form.... I mean, c'mon! Soooo cuuuuute!
He was my favorite.
Van Gogh! (Except he had both his ear lobes)
We spent all morning at the Balloon Fiesta and it was incredible! And then when it was time to go I found myself in a bit of a dilemma: we had the rest of our day in Albuquerque to kill. My adventurous spirit wanted to take advantage of every second to explore the city with my daughter and husband, just like we would in any city we visit together, but the ghosts that I had long ago ran away from I feared were still waiting for me.... and as we were leaving the balloon park, I realized I wasn't ready to face them.
I couldn't help but wonder that if I didn't at least venture out towards those ghosts, if the Universe would find a way to keep me here. While I'm okay with being in El Paso for the time that the Army says we have to be, I don't want to stay for a minute longer than we need to. There has to be a reason the Universe brought me back to this part of the world after I walked away from the most awful part of my life so many years ago, but what that reason was I couldn't even begin to imagine. Yet, here I am. I don't believe in coincidences, so I know the Universe is up to something, and I make it a point never to question the Universe's design, only to listen and learn and absorb into my spirit the lessons it is trying to give me.
Ghosts be damned, I was going to have to do some absorbing.
I was not and am not ready to visit my son's grave. I don't know if I will ever be. I will decide when and if I am ready to go to his grave, not the Universe. But besides that, whether I liked it or not, I was in a place from my past that I had no intention of ever revisiting... and I was about to revisit it. So as long as the Universe understood that I had my limits on where we definitely would not be going, I thought that maybe a quick (very quick) walk around the mall I used to work at would appease the Universe, and then that way I could make my argument to go back to the hotel for a nap since I was exhausted and would have thoroughly done my part in whatever shenanigans the Universe was up to with steering my path backwards.
Sounded like a plan to me!
I thought I had blocked out a lot of my years in Albuquerque... until we were actually in Albuquerque and I realized I remembered my way around as if I had never left.... and it was... weird, and made me want to leave but then want to see more, which was weird too and then I started to feel all sorts of ways and I wasn't sure I liked it.
The mall I used to work at was updated and nicer than I remembered. Most of the stores and restaurants were the same and in the same place, but then the updated things made the mall seem newer and I was happy for that. Mostly I was happy that I no longer have to work in retail (I'm a much better dental hygienist), but thankful for the experience it brought me and the lessons I learned during that time. I wasn't sad walking around that mall and it was really neat being able to talk about some of the things that happened while I worked there with my daughter and husband - like that one time a man walked into the store I worked at wearing all black, black gloves that completely covered his hands, and a full face motorcycle helmet with a blacked-out face shield that he kept down and refused to take off or put the face shield up so we all thought we were about to get robbed. Eric, Isabelle, and I laughed at what an idiot he was and I'm guessing still is.
On the way back to the hotel we drove past the hospital where my babies were born. And that was all that I was ready to see from my past. But as I was quickly embracing those few parts from my past, I began to remember the life that I had there, and that there was more that I could have seen if I had been ready to, and that actually, I wouldn't have minded to see more if I could have taken my time. I still have dear friends that live there and have kept in touch with all these years that I DEFINITELY would like to make time to go back to see.
What my spirit absorbed from the Universe that weekend is that the ghosts that are in Albuquerque aren't there to hurt me; that what was there hurting me... can't anymore. And that the city deserves to be explored and visited just like I would any other city in this amazing world we live in.
I was so sweetly reminded that I am safe and loved, and that yes, I can go back. If I'm ready, when I'm ready.
For balloons, for friends, for adventure.