I’ve been trying to write in the hypothetical thought process of my dying grandmother in Los Angeles. I try to piece together what she may be thinking of. She is past being ready to get on with it, told me so last Christmas. I imagine how she must see my little sister at her bedside, thin white hands folded in her lap hoping nothing happens on her watch. And I think she must recognize in her her own sister who has been dead now for sometime, and she is envious of that. I imagine the past might pixilate in textures and shadows on the walls in the afternoon. And that the slow drip of morphine in her veins and the wisteria outside the window serve as tempo for time that no longer needs to be kept. And the television is on in the corner of the room. And I wonder if she can recall all the people she has been, and the love she has made and the dinners she has burnt, and the men she has seen, and the children she has raised and the drinks, and the sunrises, and the smell of new carpet.
My sister calls me and I hear in her voice a level of something, and it says to me, you are not here and I will have to carry this burden of memory alone. She and I, the same person split into two bodies. And I think carefully on how this will shape the woman she is becoming– how it will alter the way she feels about being alive, about falling in love, and perhaps one day how she will carry on with her own dying in a bedroom we do not yet know. I am lying on the floor of my attic bedroom on the other side of the country and watching crystals cast rainbows across the white walls and trying to make these connections– it is like pressing my tongue to the contacts of a nine-volt battery.
I am staying in a cheap motel outside Moab because I cannot afford the motels near the national parks. It’s the kind of place you see on the news, Green River. We talk about the serial killer in the nineties who dumped his bodies in a place that bares the same name. The pool outside my window is covered with plywood and the second floor is roped off. All the rooms open to a cracked parking lot with an abandoned Astro Van, the windows busted out. I have this rising tickling fear in my spine that seems to build upon itself, and that’s part of it. Because I have a thing for things like this–odd off places that used to mean something to someone, places that fall apart. I imagine rooms like this can collect impressions of who we are when we are there–Rorschach snapshots. I imagine a motel room like this could tell me things about myself I won’t be able to see until years from now.
A few days ago I had my photograph taken in a motel room. Every room at the motel had been turned into an exhibit, an art show. A woman and her husband were taking tintype portraits and I paid them forty dollars to do mine. I look sad and young, like a shadow of myself in the harsh lighting, my sun soaked skin a raw honey brown. I am not looking where I was supposed to–my eyes are caught on something always outside of the frame. The print itself is dense, they told me it would last forever if I took care of it. But, all I can think about when I look at the photograph is that this is something people will look at when I die. This is something people who do not really know me will look at and say, wow look at how young she was. And they will think they knew me, and cry when I die, and wear pleated skirts to my funeral. They are my own grandchildren. They will not know, even in the slightest of ways, the woman I was when I slept in old motel room outside Moab.
She told me once, we are made precisely from the things in which we wish not to happen to us. They collect on our soul and are the most form fitting to all our experiences. We get made by them. Maybe she knew how this would shake down, how broken open I would get by your hands. I see my life with you like a series of photographs shown to someone after an accident, of what they looked like, of who they were.
Sometimes the universe gives you a hard shove to the left, makes you untie everything you think you are. I am sitting at a slot machine in the Las Vegas airport in a moment equally an end as it is a beginning. Every slot machine rings in the key of C. I see on strangers loud thoughts of what I must look like to them– my thin frame all folded in on itself, the selfish nature of crying in public.
Sometimes we break open or get broken open. And along the seams of our self, the very places in which we think we are strong, we begin to unthread first. I start writing an essay on why I always cry in airports. You are a place I once visited, a vacation which tricked me into thinking life might always look like a certain way.
There should be a room in airports for crying. They still have them in some places, most certainly in Las Vegas, for those who still need a cigarette. People sit behind glassed in walls, sequestered like zoo animals. You don’t go in unless you need to, unless those are your people. There would be a sign near the door with brail and block lettering, For Breaking Open, it would say. And in there you could safely draw your knees to your chest and wheeze and sob and wonder where you went wrong.
I had a writing teacher who told me, no one cries nowhere. I always cry in airports.
Sometimes our getting going gets us nowhere. My grandmother told me, you just got to keep moving, if you can’t take a step forward at least step to the side, just keep moving. I repeat that to myself in the early mornings. I’ve got new theories on everything as the days pass. I got really broken open last month by bare hands and sharp words and then spent weeks wandering through my own wilderness and reading books about God and how to be better at being human. I’ve been sleeping in an attic for a year now and the skylights let in moonlight and in the morning cast long lines of shine across the red oriental rug. I wake up at seven fifteen every day because my dreams are scarier than being in this world. I’ve been talking lately to anyone who will listen, on the art of losing people and how humans cause fault lines in other humans– how being impacted by someone’s beating heart and the blood in their veins is the largest kind of experience we can have in this lifetime. When I think about this summer I will think about sleeping alone and waking sweat soaked, twisted in cheap white cotton sheets. I will think about letting go of things I once loved and burying someone who taught me a lot. I will think about how important it is to ask the good hard questions, to take a walk around the block, and to stand barefoot at the door of whomever it is you must be next.