I have been thinking about the desert. It comes about my memory, soft a first, like a mirage and I can feel the dry heat of it. I can see the brown and red of it like dirt and blood. I can see the cacti and tumble weeds, nature’s barbed wire: “STAY OUT!” And I want to. I want to. But memories resurface like bloated bodies and, helpless fools, we investigate the murder.
The earliest memory I have of the desert is driving to Idaho for a family member’s death. It seems like funerals are how my family has historically had reunions. You see, we are a bit like tumble weeds ourselves, all spread out—blown in whatever direction the wind takes. Anyway, I remember being struck by the stark contrast between this beautiful desolation, flat run distance of highway, and the verdant green valley and winding roads of my youth. It seemed harsher, more jagged about the edges. I had headphones on and my eyes stretched for miles in front of me, all horizon and blue sky. I could feel the profound loneliness of the place, all eight years of me.
On the way back, evening had descended upon the desert like god was holding a crystal prism above head, filtered light making mosaics out of emptiness. My mom said the desert always made her horny. We stopped for the night and my sisters and I got our own hotel room. I thought about this as a young adult some years later. I think it is the sparse landscape. Life is hidden in the cracks and crevices of the desert; it grows begrudgingly. If her tubes weren’t tied after having me, I have no doubt that desert would have created life that night. Even in arid climes things grow.
In later familial disasters, near deaths, and final deaths I traversed that same desert, my River Styx without the water. There the earth was opened like a scar to the heavens. On the way to my Nana’s funeral I looked down upon ravines and fissures spread out like arteries from a mile high and wondered at the idea of traveling toward death.
I am traveling to see my family for the first time in three and a half years in three short days. It is strange to be meeting life instead of death at the end of my journey. These tumble weeds have taken root; we’ve got our footholds in the crevasses, miles apart, growing at a distance.
*Illustration by Ralph Steadman, Bats Over Barstow