Life and Love in the Utah Desert

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In this immersive piece for Outside, Mark Sundeen writes about his last two decades spent living in a trailer in Moab, Utah. An English major from San Francisco, when he first arrives in the “sweltering hamlet” Sundeen finds himself in awe of the rugged characters he meets. Ashamed of his own bookishness, he seeks to hide it and emulate their qualities, to become “the sort of man who is competent with chains and repairs, rough roads and icy curves.” He also finds himself drawn to the new type of women he meets, none more so than Wendy. Sundeen develops an obsession for the former rancher that lasts for years, to the detriment of other relationships. Sundeen describes his romantic history with great self-awareness, painting a vivid picture of the women in his life, as well as the arid atmosphere of the Moab desert that forms a backdrop to his personal development.

The upshot of seeing Wendy was that when I moved back to Moab in that summer of 1999, age 28, she rented me the trailer for $300 a month. I wouldn’t trouble her with complaints but would do any repairs myself.

I woke each night at 3 A.M. with my lungs clenched and visions of Q in my head. She’d been seen in Moab with that snowboarder. Now and then I’d call and tell her how she betrayed me. I wallowed in the fantasy of my unrequited longing.

The story I told myself eventually unraveled. I replayed the memories. That night she offered herself to me: I hadn’t declined out of some sense of chivalry. It was because, even as every molecule burned to make a child with her, I couldn’t envision us raising the thing. All I could see us doing was smoking in bed and engineering increasingly innovative paroxysms. Which was what I thought love was.

Q already saw me more clearly than I did. I had shown her my heart, and she’d seen the cautious vanity I couldn’t hide. In the future I wouldn’t be so embarrassed to be a delicate writer, and I would treasure the exchange of ideas about literature and writing with a woman. But not yet. I still couldn’t see past my own delusion.

Read the essay