I stand atop the Sand Dunes at the foot of the Sangre de Cristo, the blood of Christ, my back to the wind. The sand swirls around me, my pockets fill with it, and my feet sink in it till I am buried up to my ankles. There are grains of sand in my teeth and I try not to smile. I try not to smile but it is hard. I am remembering, my thoughts swirling.
Now I am at the shore, at the beach in New Jersey, and my mother is handing out sandwiches from a Styrofoam cooler. My choices are egg salad or ham and cheese with mustard. Can I have half of each? Yes, of course, I can. The wind is blowing and the sand is swirling, it attaches itself to the food. With every bite, I can feel the crunch and the crackle of each grain that has attached itself to each slice of bread. Why do you think they call them sand-witches? my mother says and I laugh. And somehow they taste sweeter with the smell of salt and the sound of surf all around. No one has been able to make a better meal than my mother at the beach. I look up and the gulls have gathered. They are circling and crying. I throw a bit of bread at them. Don’t do that, my mother says, they’ll shit all over you. But I don’t eat the crust, so why not the birds?
The scene changes, and now I am in a large hall. I am eating soggy sandwiches from a plastic tray. I am not hungry but I eat, there is nothing else to do, so I eat. I am wearing a suit. It is my size but it does not fit. A white flower hangs limply from my lapel. In another room is a casket. The casket is open and my grandmother lay inside. It is my grandmother on my father’s side, I did not know her when she was alive. At least I didn’t remember. I eat unwanted sandwiches and stare at the body.
Suddenly I am ushered into the room by large hands. Say goodbye to your grandmother, a deep voice says. I don’t turn around to see who the voice belongs to, my attention focused upon the body getting closer as I am pushed along. Go on, the deep voice says, give your grandmother a kiss goodbye. I stand by the casket, there is a sickening smell of perfume and cleaning products. I am afraid. She is cold and her makeup is too bright. A person doesn’t look like this, I think. On tiptoe I lean in to kiss her forehead, her skin is waxy and hard. A person does not feel like that, I think.
That night I did not sleep. If I closed my eyes I might not wake up. I might become a wax figure in a casket with people eating sandwiches around me.
The scene changes, I am in my grandfather’s house. My mother’s side, I know them. I am comfortable there. There is floral wallpaper on every wall. The paper has changed every few years for as long as I can remember. My mother says that the rooms are a square inch smaller than they once were. I am told to go to bed but I don’t want to go. The staircase seems so long and it is dark up there. And at the top, on the wall is a crucifix – the savior in white marble on a black cross. This has always frightened me. It scares me more than the dark. Don’t be afraid, my mother tells me, God is in the hallway. But God is dead in the hallway, bruised and broken and nailed to the wall. This does not bring comfort. After a time I close my eyes and run. Through the darkness, past the death, to my bed. It is a long time before I sleep.
The scene changes. I am older and I am staring at the crucifix on the wall. It no longer scares me. No, now all I feel is anger. How dare you, oh God of compassion, how dare you do this to your son. I know parents like you. Bullies and brutes. Oh, but I know, you’ll tell me you had no choice. You’ll tell me that there was no other way, it had to be done. You stayed Abraham’s hand with Issac, didn’t you? Why could you not take the cup away at Gethsemane? You have the power, you are in control, and yet you still allow this horror to happen. To your own son. If heaven is your household why should I look forward to it? I turn my back on you. I leave you behind.
Time passes. Feelings change. Anger fades. So many years have gone by and I have known love and regret. I have learned patience and I have learned forgiveness. I look to the sky, blue and endless and I forgive. There is so much that I do not understand. There is so much that can not be described, only felt. Passing by, swirling like grains of sand.
So now, I stand atop the Sand Dunes at the foot of the Sangre de Cristo, the blood of Christ, my back to the wind. And I run. I run forward fast to jump. I hover for just a moment, suspended in the air free and floating, before falling down a sandy embankment. I allow the soft earth and the grains of sand to envelope me, surround my body, and embrace me. This is how I live.
originally published June 13, 2013