I wake gasping for air most nights. Not out of fear or stress but acknowledgement of the weight of it all. That's how it goes sometimes in a life well lived. That's how it goes sometimes when memory and the will to do different intertwine to fight forward.
The chapter I'm writing this week is titled "Exile: Fugitives and Refugees." It's about the menagerie of characters who flowed through my dad's desert junkyard in the mid-to-late 1980s. Or at least, that's what it was originally about. The deeper the contemplation, their stories are twisting and turning as well as how we co-existed with them. Us versus them, until the us began to change sides and the consequences began to stack up. I begin my mornings mentally walking through the landscapes of this time period: the aisles of the junkyard, the kitchen of our home, opening cupboards, closing closets, smelling laundry, petting the dog, driving to school, sitting in my honors English class, back to the junkyard after school and on Saturdays, listening to the one-sided conversations of a people always in danger of falling into the abyss. The edge of our very existence in this high desert town sat on a precipice. Will we step? Will they step? What will break our fall?
We once had a bulldozer--its scoop outfitted with a several ton weight used to crush cars to a quarter of their shape. One day when I was about 12 or 13, I was goofing around and climbed into the scoop as my dad drove forward. In my little perch, we marched powerfully across the asphalt to his row of car victims awaiting a smashing. Me and machine and dad. We were one. Giddy. Ready to tackle anything.
Until something even more powerful clutched at my chest. "Something is wrong. Very wrong," the sensation growled. "MOVE!" I shot out of the scoop clamoring back on top as the weight shifted below me, smashing into where I had been perched. A cold sweat eclipsed the growl. I choked back the sob that wanted to console and reprimand me for being so dumb and waved to my dad to lower me.
I have thought about this incident almost every single day since it happened. Each time, I remember a detail more clearly. My sweat, racing heart, light blue shirt with a "Robyn" badge, the shade of bulldozer yellow, the absolute certainty of love for my dad and not wanting to hurt him by getting hurt, the smell of oil, gasoline, and grit rising from the hot asphalt. In some memories, I can only fixate on the heft of that huge iron ball tucked into the scoop, while in others, I remember the lightness of escape as I slipped through the body sized crack and hoisted my body to freedom, the weight shifting and trembling below me.
Such is the lesson of weight as it pushes its solidness around. Can we bulldoze forward, or will we allow the monstrosity to crush us? I was shown how expendable life can be from a very young age, which I suspect has shaped how precious I consider this life of mine. I watched how cars once whole could be halved and then quartered. I listened as people fled horrors or created them--their minds and bodies trapped in time and consequence. I felt the crushing weight of it all. And yet, I have also successfully wiggled my way free. And that lightness of being, of choosing differently again and again and again may very well be more powerful than a ball of iron.
I remember this when I gasp for air in the middle of the night. I remember this as I hold myself tight, willing my body to go back to sleep. "Listen," the weight whispers, "you know what to do."