Chelle Summer

My Albuquerque Life

Michelle Rusk

I had always thought that my life experience at Ball State University– where I have my undergraduate degree in journalism from– was much more defining of my life than my two graduate degrees from the University of New Mexico– a masters in health education and a doctorate in family studies. However, over the past three weeks I began to realize might not be true.

While I will never downplay my experience at Ball State because I had so many opportunities and then because it was where I was going to school when my sister Denise died by suicide, what I have failed to acknowledge over the years– simply because I didn’t realize the importance of it– was that going to UNM changed my life in many ways.

I came to Albuquerque as a 22 year old in August 1994 whose sister had died just eighteen months before. I moved here because I knew I wasn’t supposed to live in the Midwest for the rest of my life and graduate school was the perfect way to escape (not that I realized it in those exact words at the time). I also forced myself to start over in a new place with new people and new experiences. And I relished experiencing a climate and culture unlike any other and one that I’ve been able to share with others.

Somewhere along the line though, I had a chance to spend more time back in Illinois and embraced the idea of a second home in my hometown with the blessing of my first husband. But after a divorce and spending a year and half there, I realized it wasn’t where I was supposed to be and longed for the clear skies and the open mesas of New Mexico. I had thought life had sent me to New Mexico to heal from my loss, but I then began to see it was much more than that. There was a piece of my soul that belonged here, something spiritual, something I needed for who I am supposed to be.

It was during those few months where I awaited the move back to Albuquerque that I talked to a priest I had known since before my sister died. No longer at Ball State but still at the area, I met up with Fr. Dave whenever I was in Muncie and he always said something wise and profound as we spent several hours together catching up.

That time he told me that he was surprised that I had moved back to Illinois because, essentially, I had spent my entire adult life in New Mexico. I was struck by this– how true it was– when I look at the influences on my life (right down to my cooking style) because of living in Albuquerque.

While life to takes me to Los Angeles– but not nearly as often as I would like– the place I call my “other home” and I tell people I am originally from the Midwest, I am who I am in many ways because of Albuquerque and that’s why this is home.