My grandma’s small, white and green A-frame house was connected to the old Highway 118 in the middle of the semi-desert landscape that was Utah. The dark dust surrounded her home like a perverse infinite ocean. The closest neighbors were about four miles away, and having no one close for neighbors meant the acres of land and garden could flourish into the green oasis that it now was. A child’s perfect idea of a playground. Knowing the rules my grandma had set in place in the beginning of our long visit, my brother and I had crept away from the spacious backyard. Neat, except for the pile of last year’s leaves and cut grass browned and pushed up against the fence from where the wind had decided to leave them.
Nate was two years my junior and barefoot. Like me, his feet were covered from heel to toe in a fine dust of hot, dark earth. He would scrunch up his toes together, feeling the grit scratch between them. He was always digging his heel into the ground. Ready to run. Wearing an oversized T-shirt from DI and cuffed jeans, there was a random assortment of holes and rips in them where his knees had worn through. The material was frayed and his skin was slightly cracked and had been bleeding, now it had dried and started to flake away every time he would lift his leg. His hair was cut short on the sides and coal colored; it would’ve been as curly as mine if he let it grow out enough. “I don’t want to deal with it,” he’d blow his nose in his hand and wipe his palm on the inside of his pants pocket, “I don’t know how you do.” He wore the same assortment of freckles on his face as I wore mine on my cheeks, his more prominent across his forehead. “Hershey kisses, her she kisses!” And Mom would pepper our faces with her lips, menthol and flowers.
I could still see the raised skin underneath his eyebrow; the scarred line was now a faint pink and wrinkled, but always there. We had been spinning in circles in the living room; my grandma’s rock fireplace was warm. Our arms stretched out wide, smacking into one another. One smack too hard and Nate had fallen onto one of the jutted rocks, pointed out and away from the fireplace, gouging the top of his eye. He stood and started to cry, reaching up to his face, the blood running down his hand and arm. “Only a couple of centimeters over, and he would have lost it,” the doctor had said, stitching his delicate skin. “‘The light of the body,’” Grandma kept saying, repeating it over and over as she held him down. Nate slept in my grandma’s lap that night.
The Trail of Mental Illness
Amber Celelaith Tawen Rossi
It’s a cool July morning and I was supposed to be at work three hours ago, but I called out. I can’t go in. I’m sick today, though if I told my boss what with he’d probably tell me to suck it up and come in anyway. That’s what they told me last time, but they don’t get it. I really can’t come in.
So, instead, I’m a hundred miles away at the edge of a residential area on the southern edge of Kanab. Through the muddy sludge of a parking lot lies the base of the Bunting Trail. It’s about a mile and a half of steep, rocky inclines that gouge their way up the mountain-side. Common sagebrush lizards dart between bushes of their namesake, birds chirp and flutter over thin, twisted trees and squirrels watch at a wary distance, waiting for hikers to drop bits of food they can devour. The air is clear and fresh from yesterday’s rain, and it will be a while before the heat becomes unbearable. This is what I need right now. The peace, the quiet, far away from other people and their problems complicating my own. Supposedly, the view at the end is a breath-taking panorama of Kanab, the Vermillion Cliffs, and the fields into Arizona, but most importantly, it’s very high up and a very long drop back down. I start climbing the trail. I do not know if I’ll be coming back.
I’ve heard a lot of people spout that mental illness is an issue made up by our generation; that for thousands of years, we have not suffered from it, and now it’s coming up because we’re just whiny brats who want everything on a jewel-studded pedestal of pure gold. I know better. It’s run in my family for generations. My great aunt suffered. So did my great grandma. And it goes even farther back than that. Many summers ago, my cousin and I visited Hebron Cemetery, an abandoned graveyard from the 1800s. It sits, forgotten by most, at the end of an old dirt road west of Enterprise. We know it though, because we have a family history in Hebron. Back then, people didn’t know what mental illness was. They blamed demonic possession and fits of insanity, but even back then, our family had it.
It was my milk.
I’ll admit that much. It was definitely my milk.
It came from my lunchbox that my mom packed me each morning before school. It came from my red-and-black-checkered Thermos bottle. It came from the red plastic lid.
It was my milk, and it slowly spread across the Formica top of the school cafeteria table.
The lunchbox wasn’t my idea, wasn’t my mom or my dad’s… it was the school’s.
They made me bring my own lunch to school every day.
The boy can’t hold down a hot school lunch, they told my parents. He throws up every afternoon after lunch. All over his desk, and the floor, and the person sitting in front of him. Can’t have kids throwing up on each other… not in my school. Fix the boy a sack lunch. See if that’ll help.
My milk spreading across the table and momentarily clinging to the little lip along the edge, before it drips to the cold synthetic floor.
David Dearing laughing at me, big David Dearing, the sixth-grade teacher’s son.
Each afternoon after I threw up, the custodian and my teacher, would clean up the mess and spread some kind of antiseptic powder on the floor where the remnants of the rejected hot school lunch had come to rest. The powder was course and brown. Some sort of human kitty litter used to bend the odor of the area into something less than real. A sharp sterile smell that was even more offensive. I can still taste it.
My milk dripping to the floor. The red plastic lid from my Thermos jug lying on its side at the head of the white cascade. David still laughing; a big man’s laugh for a kid. The headwaters of the white water trickling out and leaving the plastic lid standing up in the middle of the table like the marker of some historic event. Another “Lewis and Clark slept here.”