A young man wearing a protective black bandanna walks across the restaurant to take our order. My wife and I are in a once-bustling mining community in West Texas; now, a locally claimed ghost town.
A quick look at the chalk on your shoes and sun-blistered desert basin, and you easily extend the town the benefit of the doubt.
The waiter is polite and happy to see us come inside.
Brisket tacos served with a side of cold beer in an aluminum can are on the menu.
Life is hard on the desert — harder if you can’t come to terms with yourself and your surroundings.
The young man mentions he moved from Houston to this corner of the universe, where there are fewer residents than parking spots at a Walmart.
I ask how he picked Terlingua for his new home.
“You don’t pick Terlingua. Terlingua picks you.”
His words, intentionally or not, resonate with confidence.
“I moved out here about a year ago,” he said. “Best decision of my life.”
Pausing, words of love for his new home flow out like a bottomless bowl of chips and salsa.
“You learn to adjust out here. Things I thought I needed back there, I don’t need out here. I’ve friends back in the city, hustling and struggling. Here, we are a community where everyone knows and helps each other. I have everything I truly need.”
He tells me life was hard with the coronavirus impacting local businesses. But he’s learning to do with less and remains self-sufficient.
“I haven’t had to take a dime from the government,” he says.
The front door creaks open, flooding the room with blinding white. Instinctively, we look away as another couple comes inside.
“You learn to appreciate simple things — like water,” he says. “You recapture water, use it when you need — and not when you don’t.”
He tugs at his shirt.
“If you don’t need to shower each day, you don’t — and it makes a difference.”
The restaurant is quiet, and the tables spaced apart, allowing guests to dine within coronavirus restrictions guidelines. In years past, tables and guests were elbow to elbow both inside and out.
If life in this corner of the world was hard before the arrival of the pandemic, you don’t need to look too far past the now-silent businesses now representing a twisted version of modern ghosts.
“You learn to look at everything differently,” he says. “Like after you use something to take a moment and ask if there might be another way to use it afterward. You don’t just to toss things away.”
I think about his words and how he is learning — or unlearning — to adapt to his new world. The water here is regularly captured from the sky, abandoned auto parts welded into sculptures, and shards of shattered limestone become walls.
The waiter returns with brisket tacos and cold beer.
As he walks away, I can’t help but feel like he is, indeed, home.