The Earth on the Other Side
3 days after I closed my Mom’s estate I caught a 6:30 a.m. flight to San Diego. I told only the people that needed to know. I went alone and for the first several days, I felt alone. I cried and wallowed in my tent in a campground in Joshua Tree. No distractions between myself and my loss. My exhaustion was deep and I thought of my loneliness and my work and my intentions and my future and of my attempts at happiness. I thought of the attempts and the misses and hits. I was so sorry for myself in that moment and I fell into fretted sleep, my anxieties stirring me.
The next morning, I drove into the desert listening to tracks that howled from my windows and into the open, arid world. I felt my heart fully expanding into the vast landscape and then contracting inside of myself. My blood flowing fast through me. I drove through Vidal and saw the train tracks shoot into the horizon. A beat down house sat beside the tracks, I walked around it and the windows aligned and I saw the earth on the other side, mountains bordered by the faded window frame. I thought of all the snakes that must live in that place now.
I drove long straight stretches of pavement, the heat obscuring the furthest lengths in hazy waves. I passed washes and trailer parks and lonely intersections. I came to a gas station in Blythe and stepped out of my rental car like an alien walking on water. I pulled open the glass door, neon-lit, a blast of cool air hit my face, and the song “This Must Be the Place” by The Talking Heads played from the clunky speakers. This was her song for our home on Indian Fork, its melody content and unfussy.
I pulled out of the parking lot and blew past a lot of irrigated fields and muddy canals. The smell of the plants strange in this place.
I drove further to sand dunes and to big plats of poor, desolate homes needing things. I went to Slab City and to Salvation Mountain just like Christopher McCandless. There I read things painted and sculpted by a driven spiritual old man, “God is love. Gentleness. Meekness. Kindness. LOVE.” The word love was all over everything.
I went to the Salton Sea and was afraid to step out of my car alone. I drove through Anza-Borrego Desert State Park. The mountains resting on the hazy horizon behind the ocotillo plants, weird guys with long spindly, spiky limbs arranged in a splash from the sandy plane. My music played and the sun was muted by the heavy atmosphere.
I drove the Montezuma Highway and took pictures of the mountain-top plateau, bleary-eyed from the harsh wind pushing across. It got dark as I came through Romona and back to civilization. I checked into my hotel and stood in the shower for a long time before I used any soap, the water running over my filthy skin, breathing in the steam.
On the way to the airport the next day I gave a gas-station attendant the rest of my supplies; half a case of water, a bottle of Gatorade, 2 instant mashed potato cups, and 1 instant oatmeal cup. She said thank you and I was happy it wasn’t wasted. I put my sunglasses over my eyes and hit I-5 to the airport.
I relinquished my rental car keys and a little bit of my freedom and found a place that sold beer. Sitting at the bar I read my book and watched the winter Olympics play on the tv. The bartender flirted with a man from the kitchen in Spanish. They both giggled.
I looked across the bar, my buzz only beginning, and saw a woman in a rainbow patchwork sweater Mom would have worn. She wouldn’t have worn it out of the house. It would have been a little too much for Mom’s worldly persona but for her home, her sweet little nook on Indian Fork, she would have wrapped up in it to go out on the back porch and take a hit from her bowl. Sucking in the drag wrapped in all of the colors.
As I thought of the sweater and mom and how she would have made use of it, the song “Unsteady” by the X Ambassadors came on the airport PA system. This was her song for her lost childhood. She had played it for me one evening at the house, her voice wailing the lyrics as she wept.
Now, sitting in the San Diego airport, I closed my book and I stacked my phone neatly on top of it. I sipped my beer and listened to this heart-wrenching song and longed for the mother I had. I looked up at the tall stadium ceiling above me and I thought, Mom’s here, somehow. My heart grew heavy and achy, but I smiled because I knew then that my trip wasn’t wasted.