words by: Jo Edmondson
images by: Victor van keuren
We proceeded down a long dirt road about thirty-five miles. It was long before dawn. We parked the car, put on our headlamps, bundled up, and headed into the still, very dark, lonely desert. What I didn’t know then was that I would not emerge until three years later.
A cold chill brushed my face as I put on my hat. A heightened level of anxiety hit me: the unknown, lost in time kind of feeling. The feeling of a boa constrictor squeezing my heart. One foot in front of the other, we crossed endless washes and sandstone mounds in the pitch black.
I started playing that game with my hands where I rub my thumbs against one another with my fingers interlaced. When I was a kid I would rub my thumbs together so vigorously they would bleed. Mostly when I was sitting at my desk waiting to be the one to read out loud from a textbook.
Walking quickly, the night sky began to turn a dark blue. Small shadows from the creosote started to reveal themselves. The only sound was the sound of nothing. And in that sound, all I could hear was you preparing to disappear altogether.
Slowly, more light began to come up and the sky turned from a dark blue to a coral pink, into a bright orange and finally, a crimson red. A stained glass silhouette of the morning sky revealed itself over the soft baby pink sand. The rock was never-ending, twisting into spirals, sharp edges, and heaps of settled sand. Stripes like those of a zebra covered the rock revealing rainbow-like colors as the sun began to burn for the day.
For a moment I was brought forward in time. My pregnant sister was unwrapping my grandma Ella’s dishes. Each piece was wrapped aggressively in bubble wrap. My mom stood next to my sister as she stacked one dish on top of the next. My niece played under the table as a generational shift occurred above her. I laid on the couch, numb, curled in the tiniest ball. My heart and mind trying to catch up to reality.
Next, a memory of a young boy introducing himself to me saying, “It’s America, we are all free to do what we want, so as long as we don’t get in anyone’s way.” And when it was time for me to introduce myself, I simply said, “Now is not a good time for me to sit with my thoughts.”
And then there was the phone call where she said the word that best described my situation was: faltering. “I hate to tell you,” she said, “but this hasn’t been your highest and brightest my dear…”
And then finally the words from his deep voice: “Why don’t you just go cry yourself to sleep.” But I wasn’t sleeping. I was just breathing, in fact I couldn’t sleep, I kept waking up in the middle of the night with tears pouring down my face. I’ve never woken up like that. I didn’t know I could cry so much in my sleep.
As the sun rose back in the desert, I felt something watching me. Like that cougar I saw last December. She looked right into my eyes and all I could do was slap myself across the face. What do you have to show me, I wondered? As the cougar gazed into my soul, the message was clear: it was time to follow my heart to the treasure. It charged my nerves that night. I came home, took a hot bath, and then lay naked in the fresh snow as the Milky Way covered me like a blanket.
Today, though, I lay on the cold sandstone and felt the sun as it slowly crept up my body, warming my clothes and burning my eyelids. My spine undulating across the rock formation that was now my temporary resting place. My palms cradling my pounding heart.
As I disintegrated into the sandstone, I locked eyes with this cougar once again. I wondered how she even found me a year later. In desperation I pleaded with her. “What should I tell myself now?”
She said, “BRING IT ON.”