A Writer Returns to the Grand Canyon, This Time With His Mother’s Ashes

I cease to sit down on a big rock hanging over the canyon and eat my peanut butter sandwich. I dangle my toes over the lip, staring into the chasm of rock upon rock, my awe eclipsed by terror as I unintentionally dislodge just a few stones right into a free fall. I consider the Hopi, one of many 11 Indigenous tribes with ancestral claims to this land (the park administration has labored with these tribes on restoring their presence in latest a long time, however the horrifying displacement of lots of of 1000’s of Native Individuals haunts each facet of its historical past). The Hopi folks consider that the canyon is a passage to the underworld, a spot made sacred by its proximity to demise — a warning not all the time heeded by the almost 5 million annual guests to the park.

The Grand Canyon is a harmful place. There have been reportedly 828 search-and-rescue makes an attempt within the park between 2018 and 2020, and it averages 12 fatalities per 12 months. Three weeks earlier than I arrive, the physique of a 57-year-old hiker was discovered 200 toes beneath the Boucher Path close to Yuma Level, simply west of right here. It’s onerous to not contemplate his destiny as I watch a California condor divebomb the shadowy depths. Life and demise are twins, everyone knows that. However I’ve hardly ever stood so near the brink.

“Hold it in perspective,” my mother all the time stated; it was a relentless chorus all through my teenage years. I used to be a delicate baby. As if summoned, a sprightly lady in her 60s walks previous and calls out a warning to me: “Watch out, kiddo!” I again away from the rim.

As I stroll, I like the shifting mild illuminating the gradients of the canyon’s reverse partitions — differentiations that make manifest time itself, based on the geology museum I uncover farther alongside at Yavapai Level. The schist and granite on the backside of the canyon are virtually two billion years previous, with youthful and youthful layers of sandstone, shale and limestone stacked on prime in horizontal bands. Within the nineteenth century, expeditions to the Grand Canyon helped geologists to disprove creationist myths in regards to the planet’s age. The canyon is time embodied.

Like me. My physique is layered, my previous selves a basis my complete life is constructed on. I used to really feel otherwise — when my siblings and I cleaned out Mother’s house after her demise, there wasn’t a photograph of me in sight. This had been at my request — on the time, I discovered previous photographs dysphoric and inconceivable to reconcile. However I used to be later shaken by these empty squares of area, by the suggestion of erasure. I could also be totally different, however wasn’t I additionally the identical beaming baby at a karate event, the identical excessive schooler squinting into the solar on commencement day?

The query felt pressing as a result of it wasn’t nearly me. It’s onerous to reconcile my mom’s legacy — Westinghouse Science Expertise Search finalist, civil rights activist, lifelong feminist, insistent eccentric, devoted dad or mum — together with her speedy, horrible decline. We have been extremely shut. She inspired my writing. She beloved my queer pals. Our house grew to become a protected place for these with much less accepting mother and father. She knew what it was wish to be totally different and all the time fought for the underdog. After I informed her I used to be trans again in 2011, when lower than 10 % of Individuals reported understanding a transgender particular person, she responded with a easy, good “I really like you simply the best way you’re.” She was my finest pal.

I knew she drank, in fact — like all kids of alcoholics, I stored depend of her screwdrivers and seen how briskly she went by way of the wine within the fridge — however she was eminently practical, a lot in order that I didn’t notice how dangerous issues have been till it was too late. At the least, that’s the comforting lie I inform myself now. The reality is, within the final months of her life, because the ammonia broke by way of her blood-brain barrier, she started behaving erratically: calling in any respect hours, confused and paranoid. One thing horrible was occurring, and I did nothing to cease it. It was 2014, and Time journal had simply featured the actress Laverne Cox on its cowl, optimistically declaring a “trans tipping point” of visibility in widespread tradition that portended a sea change of social attitudes towards trans Individuals. I felt the declaration was untimely, as my very own lived expertise as an out trans particular person, at the same time as a cis-passing white one, was nonetheless largely outlined by worry. I used to be alone and felt decrease than ever, new to New York Metropolis and to being a person, contemporary off the painful breakup of a nine-year relationship, afraid my landlord would Google my identify and alter his thoughts, afraid of touchdown within the emergency room and being made a topic of ridicule, afraid of spending the remainder of my life alone. I used to be additionally offended — trapped, in what sociologists name the “man box,” the constrictions of masculinity that tightened round me as I tried, on daily basis, to show my proper to exist. I used to be unrecognizable — a indisputable fact that haunted me in my mom’s dwindling days when, in her confusion, she misplaced her short-term reminiscence and me together with it. I suppose I hoped that by bringing her right here, I’d have the ability to sew collectively the previous and current and discover a technique to maintain our complete historical past inside every.

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