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

I cease to sit on a big rock hanging over the canyon and eat my peanut butter sandwich. I dangle my ft over the lip, staring into the chasm of rock upon rock, my awe eclipsed by terror as I unintentionally dislodge a couple of stones right into a free fall. I consider the Hopi, one in all the 11 Indigenous tribes with ancestral claims to this land (the park administration has labored with these tribes on restoring their presence in latest many years, however the horrifying displacement of a whole bunch of hundreds of Native People haunts each side of its historical past). The Hopi individuals imagine that the canyon is a passage to the underworld, a spot made sacred by its proximity to loss of life — a warning not at all times heeded by the practically 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 in the park between 2018 and 2020, and it averages 12 fatalities per yr. Three weeks earlier than I arrive, the physique of a 57-year-old hiker was discovered 200 ft beneath the Boucher Path close to Yuma Level, simply west of right here. It’s exhausting not to contemplate his destiny as I watch a California condor divebomb the shadowy depths. Life and loss of life are twins, everyone knows that. However I’ve not often stood so shut to the brink.

“Maintain it in perspective,” my mother at all times mentioned; it was a continuing chorus all through my teenage years. I used to be a delicate youngster. As if summoned, a sprightly girl 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 gentle illuminating the gradients of the canyon’s reverse partitions — differentiations that make manifest time itself, in accordance to the geology museum I uncover farther alongside at Yavapai Level. The schist and granite at the backside of the canyon are nearly two billion years outdated, with youthful and youthful layers of sandstone, shale and limestone stacked on high in horizontal bands. In the nineteenth century, expeditions to the Grand Canyon helped geologists to disprove creationist myths about 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 in a different way — when my siblings and I cleaned out Mother’s residence after her loss of life, there wasn’t a photograph of me in sight. This had been at my request — at the time, I discovered outdated photographs dysphoric and unattainable to reconcile. However I used to be later shaken by these empty squares of area, by the suggestion of erasure. I could also be completely different, however wasn’t I additionally the identical beaming youngster 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 exhausting 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 cherished my queer associates. Our residence grew to become a protected place for these with much less accepting dad and mom. She knew what it was like to be completely different and at all times fought for the underdog. After I informed her I used to be trans again in 2011, when lower than 10 % of People reported understanding a transgender particular person, she responded with a easy, excellent “I like you simply the method you’re.” She was my greatest pal.

I knew she drank, after all — like all kids of alcoholics, I stored depend of her screwdrivers and seen how briskly she went by the wine in the fridge — however she was eminently practical, a lot in order that I didn’t notice how unhealthy issues have been till it was too late. Not less than, that’s the comforting lie I inform myself now. The reality is, in the final months of her life, as the ammonia broke by her blood-brain barrier, she started behaving erratically: calling in any respect hours, confused and paranoid. One thing horrible was taking place, 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 People. 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 principally outlined by concern. 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 in 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, day-after-day, 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 would have the option to sew collectively the previous and current and discover a method to maintain our complete historical past inside every.

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