I straddle rock on the peak of a cliff, shielding eyes from the glare of a momentarily absent sun. Salt burns my tongue, coated in a sticky sunscreen film. There’s dirt under my nails, dust caked into the delicate lines on the palm of my hand. My ankles feel like wooden wheels subjected to a poorly cobbled road, and my heart pounds an unsteady rhythm against a ribcage aching from exertion and altitude.
Five thousand six hundred feet in the air, I can see through a blue skylight haze for miles and miles. If I stretch the fingers of one hand wide and lean ever so precariously over the peak, I think I can cross borders and touch the foreign lands of Mexico. The other fingers, sprawled open, could twist into the sand and rock of New Mexico. Under my feet lies the great sprawl of Texas, the soil in which I intended to bury myself, the rock on which I now preside like a mythic goddess over her kingdom.
It was impossible: Texas, the mountain, the voice next to me pleading I be careful, pleading I not fall. An unreality somehow painted into fruition on the stark El Paso landscape with four years of blood, sweat, bile, and tears. I doused myself in gasoline, burned and burned and burned and smoldered and cooled so that I could rise from the ashes, a phoenix, in brilliant reds and golds, here, atop the stone of the state in which I was reborn.
Memories that had tucked themselves away in the tiniest recesses of my mind have slowly been leaking out like poison in the days that precede this moment. Times when I was not my own. Times when I did not want to be my own. Times when I rejected myself because that is what I had been taught to do, because I had no idea how to build anything but broken monuments out of the broken pieces of myself.
I had been robbed. A dark hand reached into my tiny stomach before I knew what was happening and tore my organs from me, one by one, leaving them splayed out for all to see and criticize. That dark hand filled the void until it feared it could no longer. Without its bile-burn bubbling deep inside me, I had no idea how to fill my void. I tried to outgrow it, but it grew with me. I tried to shrink, but my body shrank around it. I filled the void with everything I knew I could hurt me and had enjoyed the idea that I might one day fall into the abyss of myself to be swallowed up by the loss of things I hadn’t even known were gone.
Somehow, I didn’t.
Somehow, instead, I chose to climb back up, at first with weak arms and a heavy heart and an attachment to the slow burn ache I always knew. I groped in the dark for footholds, I fell and stumbled, but I tried to follow the voices that called to me to be careful, pleading I not fall. I climbed until there was light in the darkess and continued to drag myself forward as the finally-visible strands of my memories began to weave themselves together into an intricate quilt. Suddenly, I began to understand. Suddenly, I grew, I was stronger, I could climb faster and harder.
And I climbed all the way to the top of this exact mountain. The world is spread out before me like a buffet, and I am finally able to reach out with greedy hands to snatch up the things that make my mouth water: sickly sweet ice cream that sits heavily on my tongue after a day at the beach; a hand to hold, precious and tight in my own, whenever I stand peering over the edge; joy, pure and complete and once-thought unattainable, from the simplest of life’s pleasures; the beginnings of pride and I-am-better-than-that when I look in the mirror.
I wonder what it would be like to take off my shoes and feel the dirt between my toes, the cool rock pressing against my heels, pressing me up into the sky. The wind whips my hair back. I close my eyes and let it bring with it a sense of renewal and life. I feel whole again. I feel complete. I’ll never regain what I was missing, but now that I know it’s gone, I can flood that hole with love unrepentant until my belly swells along with my heart. I can take the reins again and lead myself back onto a path, because now I can finally see where I’m going. I can and I can and I can.
When I open my eyes, the barren beauty of the southwest lies sprawled out before me.
This body is mine. This body can climb mountains.