015 ☼ Motel Chronicles
Skipping ahead to Kelso Dunes
Note: Today’s dispatch is chronologically out of order because time is elastic.
We could’ve gone to Ivanpah but I turned west for the dunes. What were my excuses? “It’d be too hot,” and “What if we melt?” and “Birds literally singe out of the air,” I said, rattling off a list of informed if not paranoid takes. I thought of all the dead bodies in the Mojave. Why was I so scared today? Then I saw the Joshua Trees and felt the ocean and I pulled left.
We passed a “ghost town”: Kelso Depot is boring and manicured, devoid of ghosts and polished by the National Park Service. It might be a good place to park in the middle of nowhere but I wouldn’t know because we didn’t stop.
The dunes. Another Mac OS wallpaper image. A potholed road. Dark sky and a shifting landscape that erased our sense of direction. On the way up we passed three young women loping down the sand in tie dye and ponytails. I wanted to leave with them. They were made of the air around us, pastel pink and apricot, feather blue and glass green. N was complementary colors of burgundy and rust, goldenrods. Grass.
The air was cold in my chest. Have you walked up vertical piles of sand before? It's illogical, Sisyphean. The ground constantly slides under your feet so you never gain traction. We stumbled like rodeo clowns knee deep in the dust we came from and were closer to returning to. And at the top? We sat and watched the sunset. When I saw strangers, I pretended to go for my mask but the sky is so big so who cares? Let me melt into the sunset, shit is rotten here on earth and this is free. A college student appeared and volunteered to take our picture. We looked like a Christmas card, adorable but ill-fated. We were living skeletons in search of another sunset, clapping when it was done and then rolling our bones down the slope alongside the jackrabbit paw prints. Disintegrated, gone but laughing.
Pitch black dark save for the glow from car windows and campfires. I can see the Milky Way. Big deal. Can’t find the car and we cannot judge our proximal distance to the horizon in the dark. The dune moved and I am panicked. I snapped at N, I want to be warm and wrapped in a bed as soon as possible. I’m hungry but won’t eat. I’m inconsolable but saying nothing. Here we are in the middle of the desert. I want a bath tub, he thinks we could just camp here. "We'll freeze," I said. "It'll be too cold," and “They call it Death Valley for a reason!” The opposite arguments I made for avoiding Ivanpah.
During a panic attack, my body seeks immediate relief while my brain struggles to manage my environment. All I can think about is hunkering in place, sitting on the ground and covering my eyes. N recalls that I was hostile, so hostile. "Why?" I ask. "You were scared," he said. I could no longer take the lead, couldn't talk to strangers. We saw a van filled with blankets and tapestries glowing in the distance, hippies! He ran to the windows then approached with caution. It's the 20-something girls in tie dye. I want to crawl into their van and cry. Can I stay with them? They point us to our car and I fall silent while N drives us to Barstow and buys us snacks. I was embarrassed I saw death in the skyline and fell apart and not in a poetic way.
No review again, going out of order. That’s life, baby. Above images: Vintage postcard of Death Valley, N running with his funny camera (2), scene from Zabriskie Point (1970). ☼ The psychic was right but it doesn’t change anything. My heart is closed and I still don’t care. You wrote again but said nothing, are you there? xx