Bareback

The day before yesterday, I got my second COVID shot. This one hit a little harder than the first, so after struggling though a few hours at work, I drove home and put on a pair of pajamas, laid a heating pad in the bed and crawled on top. Rarely have I stalled out this way. My body seemed pressed by a heavy weight, flattened to the bed, while my mind remained in a curious state during which the act of moving seemed quaint, as if walking across the room were an activity from a bygone era. At the same time I had a sense of lightness, a cleaving. My body and mind had for the moment parted ways.

I don’t remember much of what I thought about during those hours. Usually I spend my free time plotting my next move. But with movement now a mere notion, my mind drifted into nostalgic realms. I considered the color palette of my junk journal, which is filled with old William Morris wallpaper patterns in the shades of my childhood: olive, golden ochre, peacock blue, orange—all with the patina of ten thousand cigarettes. Recently I uncovered a black and white photo of me in my crib with my sister looking over the rail. On the wall is a tiny picture floating high above us. A painted bear, perhaps. No one decorates that way anymore, but I find the naivety of the room almost glamorous. We were free then, remarkably unconcerned about the luxuries or hazards of life. No seatbelts, no 9-1-1. In another meme-ready photo, my mother is bathing me in the kitchen sink, a lamp arranged on a slender hook with its cord dangling perilously close to the water. My mom, coiffed and chic in her sleeveless blouse, is clearly in a state of blissed-out motherhood, though risk is hanging literally over our heads.

What a shift to our present state of mind, motoring through each day with this low-level state of anxiety. People think there’s something wrong if you say, I just don’t care about that, I’m not going to sweat it, I reject the call to concern. Worry has become de rigueur, and it’s a rare conversation that can arrive at its end without at least one party voicing the anxiety of the moment. I’m as guilty of this as the next Concerned Citizen. I’m nervous as hell.

But yesterday, for a few disconnected hours, I lay in bed and thought about Vegas and how it felt at twelve years old to ride a few miles on my bike, then lose myself on horseback within the dunes and gullies of the desert, totally alone and unaccounted for. No cell phone in those days, and no one thought of a helmet. I rode bareback, in cowboy boots and terrycloth shorts. I remember the gritty crunch of my horse’s hooves, wind rushing across the sand, a bright blue dome overhead crossed with the vapor trails of people moving faster than me, and at a higher altitude. It was okay then to be small. It felt good to clutch this living animal between my knees, weave its mane through my fingers, and feel the sun on my back without caring whether it burned me. I didn’t mind that a horse can’t run as fast as a plane can fly, and I didn’t mind circling the desert to wind up where I’d started. I had nowhere else to be.

This blog post is likewise circling the sand, but the topic of quitting came up recently on Betsy’s site, and it made me wonder what matters to us in writing and in life. I know what I feel about publication. But does it take more courage to demand to matter or admit that you don’t? How alone do I want to be? How long can I go without water? I’m here, so there must be some part of me still wishing for that tribal connection—and finding myself, at times, with something to say. Maybe echoes are not enough. Maybe I missed you. Or maybe I’m just a thirsty bitch after all.

Where are you, really? What do you want?