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Tucson Opinion: A Navajo at the crossroads during the COVID-19 pandemic
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Tucson Opinion: A Navajo at the crossroads during the COVID-19 pandemic

The pull of home and family is hard to resist with death and illness all around

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The following is the opinion and analysis of the writer:

In August 2018, I moved to Tucson late at night during a thunderstorm. Lightning lit up the desert while I drove slowly through the rain along I-10. I was already homesick, and memories of living in Southern Arizona flooded back.

I’d left Tucson in July 2002. I was burned out and jaded from the world. I played Wilco’s “Yankee Hotel Foxtrot” album constantly that year to keep me sane.

The night before I left, I went to a small party with some friends. It wasn’t wild like some parties I attended. We just played board games and drank some beer while it rained outside. I was ready to leave town.

Now in 2020, I am moving away from Tucson again. I want to stay here, but COVID-19 lurks.

I had a good job at an elementary school. The principal and teachers were amazing with the budget they had. The kids were remarkable.

They cheered me up even if I woke up grumpy or sad. No matter how I felt when I came to school that morning, I always left in a good mood.

Then coronavirus happened. The news the week before Spring Break was bleak. I knew my favorite places like The Loft and 191 Toole were closing.

I did my best to put on a professional face at work, but I knew school would be shut down, too. I kept doing my job as I cleaned my workstation and washed my hands more.

Everyone looked forward to Spring Break. Some kids even made jokes about coronavirus.

I emphasized to them the importance of reading over the break, and, with the exception of some fifth graders at a drive-by graduation ceremony in May, I never saw them again. During the shutdown, I sat on my couch, gained weight and watched COVID-19 bring the world to a standstill. Then the Navajo Nation made international headlines as the virus hit my homeland.

The Navajo reservation exploded with high COVID-19 rates. Familiar landscapes and people were broadcast on TV. Sometimes I groaned when TV news would show a statue of a Plains Indian in their stories about Navajo people. Things got worse.

My relatives shared stories of those who were hospitalized or who died from the virus. My mother told me an acquaintance of hers lost a brother, a sister and an aunt to COVID-19. My sister’s mother-in-law got sick as well.

News from home can be pretty grim at times, but grim is nothing new to me. In the past 10 years, I have dealt with family members who died prematurely from disease, suicide and homicide. I’ve dealt with trying to help a man dying on the side a road after a carjacking near my mother’s home.

Now COVID-19 is in the mix. I found myself not sleeping, thinking about what I should do in this new world. I was just tired of thinking about death and how it impacted my family.

I thought of the caskets I helped carry, the cold, dry wind at cemeteries and the unfair ways people die. I get emotional when I hear a certain song that reminds me of that particular sadness.

Yet my family is important to me, and I have to make sure they are safe. I need to go home.

It’s tough saying goodbye to friends, especially when you don’t want to leave. My friend from the UA journalism school texted me about returning some books we lent each other, but the heat and social distancing measures prevented us from meeting up.

We probably won’t have a chance to say a proper goodbye since he is moving too. I found it strange that my friend mentioned how “Yankee Hotel Foxtrot” rocked via text that day.

That album still cheers me up. One day, when times are better, I will tell him in person how much that album meant to me 18 years ago.

Back in 2002, after my last party in Tucson, I returned to my apartment south of Fourth Avenue and Speedway. It rained all night, and the neighborhood streets were flooded.

I opened a can of beer and sipped it on the sidewalk.

I thought this was my last humid sunrise in this wasted town. When I finished my beer, I tossed the can in the flooded street and watched it float away. I needed to sleep and pack some more later.

Now I have to pack again.

In several days, I will travel in the unforgiving heat. I will drive close to the wildfires burning near the highways. I just need to focus on the road ahead and prepare for the task at hand when I get home.

Who knows? After the pandemic ends, maybe I’ll return some night with the monsoon.

Tyson Hudson has a master’s degree in journalism from the University of Arizona and was an apprentice at the Arizona Daily Star.

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