New Mexico Makes Me Sad: A Santa Fe Story

(CW: suicidal thoughts)


New Mexico makes me sad.


The billboards haven’t changed in 6 years. I wish they had. It’s too familiar.


I know the drive from Dallas to Santa Fe like the back of my hand. I know I’m close to the state border when I see the rocky landscape.


The hills breaking up the highway make me anxious. I worry about a rock sliding off the mountains and crushing my car. I had the same anxieties the first time I drove this route at 18.


I’m on the outskirts of Santa Fe, just off the highway to get groceries before finding my Airbnb. I barely visited this part of the city when I lived here, but it still feels so familiar.


The grocery store is near the hospital. I forgot I had been there at 2am about a month before I left. I took a friend to the psych ward. He was once one of my best friends, but when I left Santa Fe, I broke off contact with everyone, including him.


I forgot that I took him to the psych ward at 2am.


But everything comes flooding back when I see the hospital. He called his mom and dad in my car. The doctor let me bring him Taco Bell at 3am before sending him away. It was the first time I texted my ex since we had broken up a few months prior. I had to let him know what happened ---- ask if he could be on-call to pick our friend up after his mandatory hold.


My friend didn’t call either of us when he was released. He walked back to his apartment alone. I remember I was mad at him. He was suicidal. He shouldn’t have been by himself.


No one should be alone when they’re struggling. No one except me.



The campus is almost empty. A couple of security trucks, cars parked by the film studios, and, like me, a couple of former students wander the grounds.


The campus was poorly taken care of when I attended in 2015, but it’s even worse now. Light posts have fallen. Plants grow over the pathways. My feet sink into the hollow ground that the prairie dogs destroyed.


It’s exactly the same and entirely different. I think I’m alike in that way.


I don’t like to think of the person I was at 18. I was mean and insecure and desperate to be liked. I think a lot of me is still that person, but I like to believe that these past 6 years have made me kinder and more certain. It’s hard to know if that’s true because walking through the grounds, I just see who I was.


Who I still am.


Do people really change?



I avoid the cafeteria. That place holds a lot of memories. I got sick when I went here. I gained weight. In a school that had only 900 students, it was hard to avoid overhearing gossip about my body.


My boyfriend at the time binged on ice cream and french fries every night. He told me I needed to eat healthier.


He would drag me to the on-campus gym. I went because I loved him. He went because he hated how fat I was.


We would take turns standing on the scale after our workouts. It killed me inside.


I didn’t lose the weight. He lost 10 pounds without trying.


I developed obsessive behaviors over my body and food. Those stayed with me. I haven’t changed.


Apparently, the gym is one of the only buildings that won’t be destroyed at the end of the year. Maybe there’s a metaphor in that.



The Santa Fe University of Art and Design used to be a Catholic college, then a Catholic high school, and then a Catholic college again. In 1966 it became the College of Santa Fe. It almost went bankrupt in 2009, when it partnered with Laureate Education, Inc., changing its name once more. It was now the Santa Fe University of Art and Design (or SFUAD to the students).


The school only survived for 8 more years.



I left before the school announced they were going bankrupt. I said it was because I didn’t like the school (true) and that I didn’t trust the pending sale of SFUAD to a Singaporean company (also true). What I didn’t tell people is that I was also attempting to run away.

Art by Maddy Sutka

I suffered my first heartbreak. I wasn’t passionate about my film major. I felt like I didn’t have friends who cared. I was depressed and engaging in self-destructive behaviors.


I was hooking up with strangers. Going to parties. Drinking heavily when I could find an upper-classman to buy me liquor. I didn’t recognize who I was becoming. I’m afraid of becoming that person again. I like to think I’ve changed.


But can I change?



I was open when I was 18. I didn’t have secrets. I didn’t have walls up. I hadn’t been hurt yet.


The first heartbreak hurts the most.



When I’m in pain I internalize it.


I cried when I entered Santa Fe. I cried when I visited my old campus. I cried when I left New Mexico.


I only let myself cry for a minute, and then I called a friend. And then another friend. And another.


“It’s weird being back on campus.”


“I don’t like the energy here.”


“New Mexico makes me sad, but I’m good!”


Not lies, but not the full truth. I refuse to be sad with other people. I struggle alone.



Coming back to Santa Fe feels like a punch to the gut. My chest is tight. I can’t get enough air.


I suffered a romantic breakup. Friendship breakups. But nothing hurt more than breaking up with the first place I called home as an adult.


Is it weird to grieve 6 years later?


I hated who I was, but I miss her.


I know that version of myself is still inside me. I hate that she’s there. I love that she’s still a part of me.


I’m a walking contradiction, but I don’t know how to feel. I don’t know what I should feel.



I close my eyes to hide the campus, but the memories still play like a supercut in my head:


I fell in love.


I traveled to the mountains. I played in the snow.


I found a job that made me happy and an internship that didn’t.


I lost my virginity to a guy who promised me he was a virgin too. He wasn’t.


I got drunk off of a 6-pack of Modelo in a dorm room on Halloween.


I threw rotting jack o’lanterns onto the roof of the dorm. I watched them decompose for weeks.


I went to parties with friends.


I drove my boyfriend and his friends to smoke in a corner on campus. The weed smell didn’t leave the car for days.


I took my first medical-grade edibles snuck in from Colorado.


I shot bad student films on abandoned properties. I was usually the only girl on set.


I got my first (and only) C on a paper. I cried.


I suffered my first heartbreak.


I gained 70 pounds.


I had my first panic attack.


I slept with a guy who didn’t respect my boundaries. I don’t remember his name.


I got in a fight with my best friend. Nothing was the same between us after that.


I tried to be happy. I forgot how.


I left and cut ties with everyone.


I didn’t cry when I crossed the border into Texas. I held the tears back for 6 years.



New Mexico makes me sad, but it’s a part of who I am.



I take photos of the abandoned campus with a camera SFUAD gave to me when I was a film student. The irony is not lost on me.


In a couple of years, this camera will be older than SFUAD was.

Art by Maddy Sutka

I see a former student. He takes photos on his phone of the campus before turning to me:


“Looks different than when we took the admissions tour, huh?”


“They’ve maintained the grounds about the same”


He doesn’t understand my joke.


I try to put distance between us. This is my journey. I struggle alone.


But it isn’t just my journey. The school closing is a journey for all of those who came to SFUAD, graduated or not. It’s hard for me to see beyond myself. I haven’t changed.



The rose memorial garden is still on campus. The roses are dead. Why did they plant roses in the desert?


There is only one rock with a plaque dedicating it to Richard J. Petretti, an alumnus from 1967 when SFUAD was the College of Santa Fe. It’s in front of Benildus Hall, where they taught Ethics and Spanish and Math. They’re destroying this building. The memorial garden will be destroyed with it.


It doesn’t feel right.


I’m reminded no one will care about us when we die.



I stalk my ex on Instagram for the first time in years. He’s married. It makes sense for him. I’m glad he broke my heart.



After high school, I ran to New Mexico. I couldn’t be in Texas anymore. I ran away from New Mexico only a year and a half later.


I’ve never lived anywhere as an adult for longer than a couple of years. I’m scared running is part of who I am. I’m worried I’m not strong enough to fight for my happiness. Instead, I’ll just try to find it somewhere else. I don’t think I’ve changed.


Every time I run, I lose memories. I used to be grateful to forget.


I wish I remembered taking my friend to the hospital.


I wish I remembered what it felt like to say “I love you” for the first time.


I wish I remembered what being 18 and mean and insecure and desperate to be liked felt like.


I wish I hadn’t run.


I don’t want to forget anymore.



The mountains make me anxious, but I still think there is nothing prettier.


The billboards haven’t changed. Neither has the city. I’m learning to appreciate it.


New Mexico makes me sad, but I think I’m okay with that.


Maybe I have changed after all.


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