A straight line.
My house, to the train, to the airport. To security, and through it. Down an escalator, a coffee – too bitter – board the plane.
I exhale then, in my seat, between two sleeping men, their chins raised – snores released. I close my eyes and cry. Straight line in the sky. Twenty-five thousand feet in the air.
We touch down in Phoenix, Arizona. It’s August and overcast. The pilot announces the temperature at forty-four degrees celsius. It’s my seventeenth trip to this steamy basin. Big sky country, where saguaro cactuses grow from the earth like open hands, reaching to heaven.
My friend Katherine picks me up in her borrowed Cadillac. It’s her birthday and why I’m here. She drives to the Wigwam Resort where ten other women join us. I have a room to myself. Starched sheets. Folded towels. Coffee maker. Balcony. I have a little bag of cookies I keep eating from. I lie sideways on the bed, my knees folded over the edge. Feet dangling. Another exhale. It’s not a small feat to peel away from my life these days.
Sleep. Swim. Talk to women. Touch my body. Dream. Swim. Sleep. Eat things. Shower. Cut my hair with a razor. Cut someone else’s hair with a razor. Lie in the sun. Forty-four degrees celsius, but I like saying one hundred and eleven better. Fahrenheit is more dramatic. No matter – it’s a blaze. I’m not supposed to lie out in it, my body knows this and goes into alarm. It’s an edge and I like it, I plunge into a cold pool when I reach it. This is what I do for three days, mostly in my new white bikini.
Day four: into the borrowed Cadillac. It’s a big beige oven. Four of us: me, Katherine, Aidan, Ella. Half of this quartet in our forties, the other half eighteen. The eighteens are new loves. They have playlists and know all the abbreviations for text messages. We stop at Whole Foods and buy too much food, like we’re headed somewhere for a month. Paper bags with handles fill the back of the beige oven. So many avocados and protein bars, Kombucha warming in the sun. We’re on a roadtrip now.
My feet on the dash, I face out the passenger window as we drive north out of Phoenix. I have something inside of me to give away, it’s also why I’m here. It’s a rock of things; the past two years, turned to mineral in my body, a witness of my life – ready to be let go.
We drive through Sedona and stop at Slide Rock. I jump off a cliff for the first time in my life but do it wrong and my ass hits the water first. Slap. Ouch. The burn. The laughter. That cold cold water. Everytime I feel fear these days, I step forward. Forward. It’s how I gain more of myself. The creek full of kids, parents, and teenagers, grandmas taking pictures from the rocks. We slide down the slippery rocks on our butts, into the swirling whirlpools, laugh hysterically.
We arrive at the airpark past dusk. Canvas tents, an almost full moon. Stars, so many. I wonder, if you clustered them all together, what would there be more of – star or sky? We go to our tents, drop the suitcases, and meet in the main tent. I order a Chimichanga thinking it will be something else (does anyone even know what a Chimichanga is?) I can’t eat it. Aidan, the eighteen year-old teenager, takes over for me, finishes it even though it has beef in it and he is a vegetarian. Kids these days, they don’t waste things.
I don’t sleep. Right. Left. Toss. Turn. Dream. Wake. Mad. Tired. Tell myself it’s okay. Breathe it all down. Golf carts and feet crunching on gravel starts so early in the morning. Irritates me. We eat breakfast out the back of the car. Granola and blueberries in compostable bowls.
Is everyone ready?
Highway eighty-nine north, two columns of pine forest. Sky, tree, burnt ground, the yellow line of a road divider. The park entrance.
Pay admission. Drive drive drive. This time we curve. Drive drive drive.
It’s sudden. My head turns to the left – “THERE!”
We all shriek or squeal. It is delight. It is awe.
Stop the car stop the car stop the car.
Pull over. Park. Out of the car, and run to it, the edge. I’m crying before I reach the rim.
The Grand Canyon. We all kneel down. You have to kneel down. Stare out. Stare out stare out. Layers and layers of rock, the depth. All the way down and across, from the south rim, more than I could ever see. I can’t make sense of it. I stop my mind as soon as it starts. I say no, please take this in. I feel my heart want to close, like it’s too much. I say to myself, no – take this in. Surrender.
We stay there for some time, the four of us, on the rim of that first view, then decide we should eat before our hike. We park in a picnic area. Canned tuna. Rice cakes. Snap peas. Avocado. Cherries and chips. It’s hard to eat. We are giddy, electric, laughing, out of our minds, high from this place. Delirious. Someone told me it would hit me in my body, being here. How visceral it is. I have to get bigger to be here.
“I think we need to nap or something” I say, and everyone agrees. We pile into the Cadillac and curl up tight like kittens. Funny that we came to the Grand Canyon to nap in the car. It’s deeply uncomfortable, yet we fall into an eight-minute sleep that is enough to restore us.
We fill our knapsacks with water and snacks. I have some beef jerky, an apple. I read that dehydration is the number one cause of death in the Grand Canyon, more than falling off of shit. I drink water like a fiend. Hats on, shoes tied. We walk down the road to the entry point for the Kaibab Trail. People are coming up off the hike soaked in sweat, their faces bright red, legs quavery.
We start. Back into that view of forever. Feet on it now, a downward momentum. Creamy gold-coloured stone. Terra cotta ridges – layers and layers – Juniper trees growing out of rock. Hawks fly overhead. There’s a quiet to it. Voices could never fill this place.
My feet. My sweat. My breath. My wet shirt. My eyes looking out, my heart feeling and feeling. Keep walking down down down. Feels like we could walk down forever, but we don’t. Every step down means a step back up, and the sun is hot, and what would my Gramma say if I died by dehydation in the Grand Canyon. But it’s like a fever, the urge to continue.
I’m expecting to feel small. Everyone said I’d feel small, and all my problems would feel small. Small. Small. Small.
I don’t feel small here.
I feel how big I am.
I talk to the canyon. I say – look at you, look at how you dreamed yourself, how you made this, how this river carved and carved and flowed and flowed, and the earth let it. The earth let itself break. I’m aware of my rock, the one inside me, and how I too have to break to become.
Climbing back up, even though we didn’t go very far, is like childbirth, I decide. The bottom of Ella’s Blundstone boot falls off and looks like a loose jaw hanging from a face. That makes us laugh. We stop so much to breathe, to sip. Katherine’s on some special diet and eats most of my jerky, I’m secretly seething but I give it to her anyway. I think we only walked two miles but it felt like a tiny hot eternity. Childbirth. One breath. One step. Bone and muscle. Mind over matter.
Straight line. Into the car, onto the highway, back to the canvas tents. I try to nap but can’t.
The night bleeds in, so soft and deep, the stars a million lights. There is live music outside the main tent. I order a plate of fish and vegetables, and it comes on a silver tray. There is only a small coffee table left to eat on so I pull a chair up to it. My travel mug clinks with rose on ice, and I eat my fish, and I’m happy. The musician starts playing folk classics, his beard so long and bushy I can’t see his face – just two eyes staring out as he sings – like two more stars. I’m so happy, I’m so so happy. The desert night on a bare shoulder is a feeling that can’t be beat.
Aidan and Ella join me at the coffee table with their burritos from the cooler. All our food on the table, bumped up like traffic, and it’s perfect. The musician, who I would come to call The Canyon Man, starts playing Heart of Gold, and the three of us sing along. I let my voice go where ever it wants, up high and low and curving all over the place.
It’s all in my body now. The canyon. The stars. The song. The voice. The dive off a cliff. I have cried every day for almost two years now. Would you believe that crying like that, from my courage, heartbreak, from love and loss and determination for joy, from asking for change and letting it rip right through me, letting myself really feel the pain – it’s the same as the river that made the canyon. It’s the same thing. I’m bigger than I’ve ever been. I’m that river, breaking to become.