I cease to take a seat on a big rock hanging over the canyon and eat my peanut butter sandwich. I dangle my toes over the lip, staring into the chasm of rock upon rock, my awe eclipsed by terror as I by chance dislodge a couple of stones right into a free fall. I consider the Hopi, one of many 11 Indigenous tribes with ancestral claims to this land (the park administration has labored with these tribes on restoring their presence in current a long time, however the horrifying displacement of a whole lot of hundreds of Native People haunts each facet of its historical past). The Hopi individuals consider that the canyon is a passage to the underworld, a spot made sacred by its proximity to dying — a warning not all the time 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 within 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 toes under the Boucher Path close to Yuma Level, simply west of right here. It’s laborious to not contemplate his destiny as I watch a California condor divebomb the shadowy depths. Life and dying are twins, everyone knows that. However I’ve hardly ever stood so near the brink.
“Maintain it in perspective,” my mother all the time mentioned; it was a continuing chorus all through my teenage years. I used to be a delicate little one. As if summoned, a sprightly lady 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 love the shifting mild illuminating the gradients of the canyon’s reverse partitions — differentiations that make manifest time itself, in accordance with the geology museum I uncover farther alongside at Yavapai Level. The schist and granite on the backside of the canyon are nearly two billion years outdated, with youthful and youthful layers of sandstone, shale and limestone stacked on prime in horizontal bands. Within the nineteenth century, expeditions to the Grand Canyon helped geologists to disprove creationist myths in regards to the planet’s age. The canyon is time embodied.
Like me. My physique is layered, my previous selves a basis my entire life is constructed on. I used to really feel in another way — when my siblings and I cleaned out Mother’s dwelling after her dying, there wasn’t a photograph of me in sight. This had been at my request — on the time, I discovered outdated pictures dysphoric and unimaginable to reconcile. However I used to be later shaken by these empty squares of house, by the suggestion of erasure. I could also be totally different, however wasn’t I additionally the identical beaming little one 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 laborious to reconcile my mom’s legacy — Westinghouse Science Expertise Search finalist, civil rights activist, lifelong feminist, insistent eccentric, devoted father or mother — along with her speedy, horrible decline. We had been extremely shut. She inspired my writing. She cherished my queer associates. Our dwelling grew to become a secure place for these with much less accepting dad and mom. She knew what it was prefer to be totally different and all the time fought for the underdog. After I advised her I used to be trans again in 2011, when lower than 10 p.c of People reported understanding a transgender individual, she responded with a easy, good “I really like you simply the way in which you might be.” She was my finest buddy.
I knew she drank, in fact — like all youngsters of alcoholics, I saved rely of her screwdrivers and seen how briskly she went by way of the wine within the fridge — however she was eminently purposeful, a lot in order that I didn’t notice how unhealthy issues had been till it was too late. Not less than, that’s the comforting lie I inform myself now. The reality is, within the final months of her life, because the ammonia broke by way of 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 level” of visibility in common 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 individual, 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 title and alter his thoughts, afraid of touchdown within the emergency room and being made a topic of ridicule, afraid of spending the remainder of my life alone. I used to be additionally indignant — trapped, in what sociologists name the “man field,” the constrictions of masculinity that tightened round me as I tried, each day, to show my proper to exist. I used to be unrecognizable — a proven 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 be capable to sew collectively the previous and current and discover a option to maintain our entire historical past inside every.