Tonight, watching celestial powers playing with the color wheel of the Arizona sky, a last sunset brought an end to a four year journey. The past few months have been a time of reflection both of the past and the future. As the sky put on an unforgettable light show once again, I thought about the first sunset I remember watching in its entirety. Fortunately for cloud storage, my words from four years after seeing the first sunset were preserved.
Reading those words almost a decade later, it seems oddly familiar and yet also strange. I was no longer the writer yet the writer had become me. I remember going to school the following Monday after that tennis match and trying to help a friend get over the loss (after an undefeated season). I tried to tell her how we should forget about it and move on. But our coach overheard the conversation and said, "You'll never forget this." I remember thinking how callous that was at the time. But I soon realized he was right. Years passed and the memory didn't fade. I guess at some point between that conversation in November 2006 and the memoir writing class at UCLA exactly four years later, I had tried to make sense of it. In that process, I, the writer, had narrated the first sunset as the end of a journey.
In some ways, with many more years behind me now, that first sunset hardly seems significant at all. Much of my life remained the same afterward. I continued to live with my parents in California (while occasionally moving away during the week for college and law school). I never worked full-time. I remained a student even a decade later. While facing various moral, ethical, and even philosophical contradictions throughout college and law school, the center did not give way. In a state long battling actual fires, I found shelter and safety. Life went on as it did before. Just with less tennis. After all, California had always protected me.
But in other ways, that first sunset had marked an end. There were no more bus rides with the team. No more uniforms. No more after-school practices. No more "undefeated" chants as the bus turned the corner and made its way up Diamond Avenue to park in front of the gym. No more cheering on teammates from the sidelines. No more sharing snacks and stories between matches. No more matches. No more competing. No more hiding on the tennis court because forehands were preferable to real life. When I met up with my coach last year, he remarked how our team was not only the most successful tennis team to have ever played at our high school, but we had attained a remarkable level of professional success as adults (with doctors, lawyers, teachers, and a range of other medical and scientific degrees and professions currently represented). The skewed demographic of the team considering the socioeconomic standing of our city probably made that somewhat inevitable. Yet, it is fascinating to think of those high schoolers dressed in orange and black who disembarked the bus that night to never board another as a team again. In that collective finality, individual lives would change. No matter how obviously, or trivially, it had been an end, the end of adolescence.
Perhaps it is only right then to say that this last sunset in Arizona marks a beginning. The last night in a now empty apartment, will bring the dawn of a new adventure. No longer under pressure to perform academically (since school is finally done), no longer under first-generation-immigrant driven expectations to succeed within a narrow definition of success (since I can't seem to grasp how capital accumulation leads to happiness), no longer under obligations to not rock the boat and play by the rules (since what is read can't be unread), the last sunset in Arizona seems to be the start of a new way to live. A new way to be.
In Arizona, I learned that even the sky can be set on fire. At some point during four years of incredible sunsets, amidst all those fires in the sky, a place that seemingly neither requires nor tolerates filters, intentionally or unintentionally, had also set me on fire.