by Chris Moore
Issue Two: May 23, 2019
You’ve got to learn to leave the table When love’s no longer being served To show everybody that you’re able To leave without saying a word -Nina Simone
A man working on a construction site right outside of my apartment window just had his hand crushed between several beams loaded on the back of a flatbed truck. I listened as he wailed in that way only a man in immediate pain and danger can wail. I watched as the other two scrambled around the truck, desperately trying to find positions that would allow them to lift the beams from their partner’s hand. Get on the hood!! Get it off of me!! he begged between anguished howls. The men finally lifted the beams, the injured hunched over on the side of the truck, sobbing.
Reminds me of the time in high school gym class when Keith jockeyed back and forth between two moving walls of a massive motorized room separator. The accordion walls had to have been 30 feet high, the whole mechanism heavy as hell. The walls barreled together on Keith’s chest with an echo. His torso smashed between the two walls of the operable partition, he wailed in that way only a young man in immediate pain and danger can wail. We looked on, hands to mouths, unable to do anything. When our teacher finally reversed the walls, Keith collapsed to the ground and the school nurse lifted his shirt. I saw bright red and purple, an indent in his sternum.
Stuck: unable to move from a particular position or place, or unable to change a situation.
Sometimes it’s not that we are actually unable to move, but that the sensation of being stuck becomes immobilizing. I’m talking about love, toxic love. Being corrected for years by my partner as though I were her child and not her lover. I stayed four years, never leaving of my own accord, just howling and wailing in that way only a 29-year-old-woman abandoned by her mother can howl and wail. This type of love kept my stripped voice stripped, even stripped it further by convincing me that it hadn’t been stripped; that I could take up space and I was crazy to think I couldn’t. The only time I’d ever experience this type of love came and went with T.
When the sensation becomes unbearable, I must go. I have learned that motion can be relief: I walk, I drive, I plan a trip abroad. When I drive, almost all else disappears. I am alone with the hum of rubber on road and Elton John’s Bennie and the Jets. But most of all, myself. It’s a startling solitude a la Beryl Markham: nothing to contemplate but the size of your small courage, nothing to wonder about but the beliefs, the faces, and the hopes rooted in your mind.
One time in particular, I drove far and alone for ten days at the end of November, camping along the way. I told some of my coworkers and family members ahead of time about my trip and took great satisfaction in the consistent response of others: By yourself? There I stood, in the teachers’ lounge at the elementary school where I teach, thirty years old and settling into my career and at the same time twelve years old and wanting to prove to everyone that I am as capable as any man. I giggled at the concerns of the middle-aged women I worked with, a far cry from the rage that welled up within me at Mom’s concerns. You’ve heard of the proverbial yes-man, Mom is the no-woman. She disagrees and pushes back on every request and idea, seemingly just to disagree and push back. Hers was the first thumb under which I was stuck. T’s would be the last.
As I made the quiet drive through downtown Denver before sunrise, city lights smiling back at me, and out to I-70 W, I felt closer to myself than I had in almost decades. I had just turned thirty, Saturn-returned, and my head started to rise above the raging waters of my separation from T. On this trip I would go exactly where I wanted to go, at exactly the pace I wanted to move, and would prove to myself in doing so that I, quite frankly, am one badass woman.
I stopped in Idaho Springs, Colorado for a breakfast burrito and to return a library book that was a couple of years overdue. Only about thirty minutes outside of the metro area I felt like a death row pardon. I strolled the main street of the tiny historic mining town; everything was shrouded in a heavy sheet of grey, but I swam in a luminous sea. Motion can be relief.
I merged back onto I-70 and ate breakfast as I drove towards Moab, Utah. The air was crisp and the Rocky Mountains splotched with leftover snow from the weeks before. I smoked cigarettes through my cracked window and sang at the top of my lungs. By noon, I stood in the visitor center at Arches National Park collecting my maps. I cruised through the park, the persistent bass of Glass Animals reverberating through my speakers, it felt as though the top of my head would open up and thousands of birds would fly out. Motion and its relief.
The sun set early that night and I rested content in my warm room at Inca Inn. I woke well before the sun and started the journey to the Mesa Arch Trailhead in the Island in the Sky district of Canyonlands National Park. The drive out of downtown Moab is flanked by the Moab Fault and Arches National Park. At that hour the towering sandstone is invisible. But once the light crept in above the horizon, my car and my heart were enveloped by the immutable spaces covered in petroglyphs.
I could only see as far as my headlights stretched out in front of me: blackness and yellow lines. That’s it. If I’d pulled over, I would have seen billions of stars pouring light down onto the cold expanse of wilderness. I turned into the parking lot and when I turned my car off I sat silent, gaping at the leftover stars. I wept: enveloped, encased, not like the man on the construction site and not like Keith in the high school gym. Held, instead, between the sky and the ground, the stars and the sand, and the sound of silence. Stillness and its relief.
The light of near-dawn illuminated my frozen breath and me on the narrow sand trail. I had been to Mesa Arch once, half a decade earlier, but now that was a blur. I was lovestruck then and on the tail-end of a different type of ten-day, cross-country road trip. By the time we’d made it to Mesa Arch, we had been in southern Utah for days and everything began to look the same, the way all of my lovers have looked the same before now.
Now I traveled alone, present for myself, face frozen on my body like winter dew on a blade of grass. I stumbled along the obscured path feeling like a kid in a corn maze with the promise of a reward. As the trail opened up into a sandy landing below that incredible arch, the sun began to unroll the landscape like the top of an old sardine can, bringing everything into view.
It was late November now and every night was a three-dog night in Moab. Only a handful of photographers were at the arch, unlike the hundreds of tourists that litter the area on milder days. We were quiet, almost solemn. They say you’re not supposed to climb on the arches. Five years prior, when I first saw the arch, I had my picture taken standing atop it like a Conquistador in a straw hat. I was naive then. Now I seemed to have understood that this place is sacred.
I climbed up on the ledge to the left of the arch and sat. My feet dangled over the rock wall that dropped off like the side of an enormous empty bowl, the void filled with a vast and holy silence. I gawked at a pair of ravens the size of eagles who seemed to have manifested out of nowhere. They were coming across the void beyond the arch and the ledge and the photographers; gracefully, measured, slow.
I left my body at that moment, no longer stuck, rubbernecking the ravens’ path. I learned later that they were ravens and not crows because ravens travel in pairs. I learned that they are characters of many myths and that early European cultures considered ravens and crows to be evil, cloaked.
But as the ravens sailed toward me and then above my head, I heard something: the entire power of the universe embodied in the sound of their wings pummeling a song into the air. I didn’t know this sound existed. It’s not the sound you usually hear of wings flapping. No, it’s the sound of the air holding birds up, rushing beneath them like a river in flux. The antithetical sound of a bird slamming into a window and dropping to the ground. The sound of who I used to be becoming who I am. A rush of air left my mouth through an o-shaped smile; almost a laugh, more so a forceful sigh, loaded with a reckoning: I am okay. I am okay. I am okay.
Chris Moore is an elementary school teacher and poet-turned-essayist residing in downtown Denver. She is currently completing her MFA in Creative Nonfiction in the Mile High MFA Program at Regis University. Her work has been featured in the 2018 Punch Drunk Press Anthology, Naropa’s 2019 Vagina Monologues Zine, South Broadway Ghost Society, and Allegory Ridge Magazine. She is currently working on a memoir and traveling whenever possible.
Mesa Arch, Photo credit: Chris Moore