The ground was mahogany interspersed with shocks of mud as my highlander flew across the desert floor, rain more like sheets on millions of clotheslines hammering my window as we drove threw them, past the juniper trees emitting their strange acidic and savory-sweet scent. Lightning cracked and thunder rolled, as my partner gave his own cry in response; I wanted to be enveloped in the storm’s energy, swept away and cleansed.
I stopped the car and ran outside, towards the canyon rim, screaming and feeling thousands of raindrops over my whole body, my senses engaged in a way that only the electric energy and sounds and colors of a microburst could.
It was the end of one of the hardest weeks any of us had experienced.
My body ached from the constant construction; Ella had given herself time by going back to California for a week, after overseeing the men who helped us, nonstop, for a marathon build. Everyone was exhausted, physically and mentally.
In a way, it was fitting that we started the week with a thunderstorm.
It left myself, Graeme, and Magdalena cleansed of the stresses and anxieties of the week prior, re-energized and ready for some self-care and a healthy dose of urban adventures.
My grandmother is 93 years old and living in a care facility in Mesa, AZ.
She is tiny; at 90 pounds, with a cloud of white hair surrounding her face framed with enormous glasses.
When she speaks, there’s a familiarity and a warmth. It doesn’t matter if you’re a complete stranger, her child, her brother, her grand-child---the same crinkled smile, the surprisingly energized laugh and the signature clapping of hands awaits whenever we get to see her again.
And her stories.
She mostly remembers when she was a little girl, going through the boarding school system; the arc of the narrative can be hard to follow, but it always ends with her favorite story of her performing her favorite song to a school full of church-goers sometime in the 1940’s.
I watched my partner lean down and take her hand; two people who had never met each other before in their lives, but were so comfortable together. We listened to her sing Amazing Grace to the entire room.
I closed my eyes and tried to wipe away a tear before it had a chance to steal down my cheek. She doesn’t remember who I am. She does, however, hold this beautiful universal love for all people, and the warmth and genuine kindness is the same as I remember it from when I was little, when she would walk out and greet our car at the gate, oftentimes at midnight after the 12-hour car ride from Los Angeles.
The gate is the same as it has always been. My grandmother is the only way to see the passing of time.
We get up to leave, and my grandmother takes Graeme’s hand.
“I remember you when you were just this big!”
She holds her hand about two feet from the floor.
“You’ve become so handsome.”
We sat on the floor, side by side, in a Holiday Inn Express in Scottsdale, AZ. Taking turns to apply tubes of gold glitter to each other’s faces, my cousin Savannah and I couldn’t help but crack up.
On the other side of the bathroom, her fiance applied rainbow stickers across his face, painting his lips and cheeks with lipstick and rouge while Graeme helped Magdalena decorate her body with gold paint.
An hour later, we were crammed amongst a crowd of an equally be-glittered crowd while PWR BTTM from Brooklyn, a queer-punk rock duo with anthems about otherness, queerness and the lonely joy of self expression, set fire to the stage with guitar rifs and energy that matched the crowd’s. I closed my eyes and felt the music carry me out of my body, over the terra-cotta roofs of Phoenix, AZ, into the home that exists beyond the self, shared by every human.
After the show, Ben Hopkins (guitar, drums, vocals) came up to us and volunteered to give us access to whatever music from PWR BTTM, to use for our documentary and project. They’re my favorite band. I lost my sh_t.
We went to Phoenix twice that week. The car-ride back down was a sorrowful experience; we knew we had to say goodbye to Magdalena, who was leaving for the czech republic and didn’t know if she was coming back to complete her 2nd year in our MFA program. In the same Holiday Inn in scottsdale, where, days before, we decorated each other with glitter and stickers, we sat on the bed and said our goodbyes.
It was a great week. We all needed that mental break, a time to come back to ourselves, into our bodies after giving so much of ourselves to the Boarding School buildings, to Navajo Mountain.
As we drove Magdalena to the Airport, I truly hoped that the change that was coming would be good. I quickly said a prayer as the sun set, and asked for its blessings.
Nizhónígo jooba' diits'a'
Yóó'ííyáá nít'éé,' k'ad shénáhoosdzin
Doo eesh'íi da nít'éé.'
Jooba' shijéí shá neineeztáá'
T'áá bí shá ak'eh deesdlíí'
Ílíigo bijooba' yiitsá
T'óó yisisdlaad yéedáá'
Walk in Beauty