Perhaps I need a new picture of myself as something other than a stupefied reptile.
My cue comes from whatever appears through the window blinds each morning. I shiver as if waking to a primeval dawn, a sluggish reptile that feels fear first before life. I am a poor reptile trapped between a star that comes and goes creating our days; we exist in that uncomfortable transition. Halfway alive; halfway dead, three dimensions bloom around me: clouds of color and scent, action whipping by.
Strong sunlight moves me up the evolutionary staircase, leaving slushy reptilian hydraulics behind, the thought that moves a limb taking forever to reach the tip of a distant nerve. Blood flows into four feet that break out in a sudden dance; a tongue finds food, emotion sloshes unevenly between stupor and aggression.
I drew an image of an isolated butte with a blue cloud directly above it, and gave it the name Red Temple. I’ve drawn it over and over throughout the years and it tells me that I need to picture myself as an ancient building, which despite time and disaster is a beloved ruin, like the Acropolis.
December comes in overhead, in narrow bands of blue between gray, as we walk the airstrip. My thought was that we would walk a short way then turn around, but I follow the dogs from the Caution Runway Drops Off 500 sign to the actual slope where dense shrub land resumes. The sign lies on the ground, shot full of holes. The view is wonderful on a clear day, with the distant mountain ranges pasted to the horizon. Can’t see them today.
We head back along the opposite side of the runway, which overlooks a winding canyon and steep buttes with long skirts. A silver sliver of what might be frozen water looks close enough to step on, but is miles away. The truck is parked a half mile off, posing under the remaining blue sky. A smear of pinkish gray cloud hovers over it exactly where an artist would place it.
Is there a friendly house left in the world? New sketches are taped to my walls; bright, interesting, and coming from inside a person plucked from home and culture, who has had to invent an individual culture. Uncivilized perhaps, but ecstatic, lively, rich, and mythic.
I have been a fish, navigating to a stream a world away, a flowing, changing slip of water that cannot be pictured or mapped, but which joins the ocean, mixes with it, but does not vanish. Maybe it’s not the water that the fish seeks, but its container: the rock and soil and life of all the creatures peculiar to that the specific land.
The details of last night’s dream escape me, but the point of the dream was that honesty is necessary for love. It may be honest to tell someone you hate them, but is that love? Or is the willingness to reveal that you feel hatred toward someone the very love that is necessary to replace hate with recognition of mutual humanity? Lies are never love.
It seems that I did not know my parents. What I know is how I reacted to what they presented to to the world and to me. Their characters, their actions and their life experiences were condensed to cartoons in my child mind. How else can it be? Children repeat what their parents tell them is important until it becomes trite. We were poor, my brothers beat me, my father drank too much, the world isn’t what I want it to be, and the myriad subtle cues over disappointment in being a parent.
I’m a typical American in that I grew up believing that life is open ended. One’s future is a graph of happiness and well-being that rises without end; the chief component and reward of such a life is money, but instinct asks, What kind of animal is man? Tragedy is the nature of existence, and by recognizing this truism I become more attuned to life, more sympathetic to others: it is the recognition of tragedy that makes me feel human. All species respond to their environment in complex ways, but what we know is the tragedy of experience lost; who we believe we are is destroyed every minute of every day. Other species live: we live knowing the price of knowing loss, which is the power behind our striving and discontent. Knowledge makes us securely human; to refuse knowledge is to choose victimhood.