The Last Place We Were Happy | TaraShea Nesbit | Granta

The Last Place We Were Happy

TaraShea Nesbit

Our hotel, Las Palomas, had an elm growing through the lobby, its roots in the dirt beneath the floor, as if the hotel had been built around something stronger and older than itself. We needed proximal strength.

Our daughter had been born one month early, unbreathing. My husband and I drove to the last place we were happy. We stayed in the same Santa Fe hotel we had stayed at a year before, when we were newlyweds. We had recently moved to Denver, and were visiting Santa Fe for a weekend trip, and so that I could do research for a book.

This time we were upgraded. Our hotel room was a small apartment. The stationery in the bedroom was outlined with doves. I wrote some of these notes there on that stationery.

As soon as we arrived, my husband went out to find the grocery store, the liquor store and the bookstore. I was still too sore from birthing our daughter to walk for long, and too sad to see anyone, especially a stranger asking me how I was doing in a checkout lane. I had overextended my pelvic floor earlier that week trying to run my grief away. When I wanted to stop, I chastised my body for failing me.

While he was gone, I opened the sliding glass door. Across from our apartment, diagonally, along a concrete pathway, was another apartment. I heard a man making a phone call.

How can I explain the stillness of that day, and yet its buoyancy? It was quiet, the sky cloudless, the air seventy-three degrees.

I walked around the apartment noting things, the fancier things we would not have paid for – the fireplace, the living room, the leather couch. It was April, shoulder season.

I registered a conversation happening in the other apartment. A man on his own, forty maybe, an actor. He was on the phone, talking to someone from years ago, catching them up on ten years of his life. Lonely, I felt then. He told the person on the phone he had at least three more weeks on set in Santa Fe.

I can’t explain it, but I felt in that moment that this actor was making final calls. I wondered if he was reaching through the years to a previous intimacy, checking to see if there was anything there to stay tethered to.


I lay down on the white duvet and waited. The man on the phone had a daughter. She lived with her mother in California.

My husband texted. He was at a bookstore, not the one in town but the chain bookstore.

Wolitzer? Ten Year Nap?

The Interestings, I texted, twice.

I felt insistent at this, at the idea that this novel would be a way to turn myself away from grief.

When he came back, he brought wine and fruit and The Ten Year Nap, which I frowned at. There must have been dinner, too. There must have been tacos, but this I don’t recall. Only the small bottles of hard liquor, the cut fruit, Meg Wolitzer and bright tumblers of sangria on the patio.

My husband read John McPhee. I laughed out loud reading the Wolitzer and he laughed hearing me. Neither of us was crying. We read silently but together on two Adirondack chairs beneath a vast blue New Mexico sky. In that certain light, one could almost feel the world tilting to a plane in time when our child was not dead.

Why did the conversation I overheard, the actor on the phone, move me so? Longing so close but separate from my own. The sangria swaying me. There would be more places where we would be happy, we would go on to have a child, but I did not know that then, and the rooms we lived in those days were tiled with the interminable. I was moved by this man, a shared connection he did not know we had. Loneliness, perhaps, but I could be wrong.

The actor, inside his apartment, saying to someone across the country, I’ll let you go. I’ll let you get to dinner with your family. Take care.


Artwork © Lorena Lohr, Untitled, 2021

TaraShea Nesbit

TaraShea Nesbit is an American novelist and essayist. Her second novel, Beheld, was a 2020 New York Times Notable Book of the Year. Her first novel, The Wives of Los Alamos, was a finalist for the PEN/Robert W. Bingham Prize and a New York Times Editors’ Choice. Her essays have been featured in the New York Times, Literary Hub, the Guardian and elsewhere.

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