When I was sixteen, I lived on an isolated ranch in Southwest Utah, thumb-pressed into a wide valley situated within Kolob Canyon. I lived in a three-bedroom house with eleven other girls, sharing a teal-and-pink comforter set with three roommates. At night, Lucy would climb up from the bottom bunk and rest her chin at the foot of my bed.
‘I see Cole in the corner again.’
A couple nights a week, and eventually throughout each day, Lucy came to me with an odd pride that she was hallucinating her very much alive ex-boyfriend watching us sleep. It became almost comforting, the routine of this, and the fear she so clearly lacked. I couldn’t tell if she was really seeing Cole, or if this was a twisted pity ploy she was maneuvering to seduce me; when she wasn’t peeping over my feet to warn me of her ghost, Lucy was slipping notes under the comforter, pinching my big toe, that expressed her infatuation with me;
‘I wish I could kiss you.’
I hadn’t been back in Chicago since I was fifteen, and it felt like years longer. I had given up on the idea of reuniting with my people, finishing out high school, watching my old dog get older. I was in a dry valley, neighborhood by Mormon polygamists whose children kicked up orange dirt on the trail playing the hoop and stick game, staring slackly with blank faces of Dust Bowl victims.
That April, I snapped my hiking boot laces tripping up the porous rocks at Arches. It felt like I hadn’t been alone in a long time, not in the way I liked to be. Back at the ranch, I fed the horses at dawn – in the colder months, frost hardened the ground leading to the stables, and the wind whipped my stomach directly, sucking all the air from my chest. It was during those times that I recognized the difference between two lonesome existences – one was mental, and malleable, while the other was from the Earth and ones placement on it. The lack of control there felt draining. In a ten-person tent at Arches, I felt in control. Two bodies away, Fowler, the woman who could break my balls and mail them back to my folks in Chicago, slept. I held Carmen’s hand, and we watched each other’s lips silently speak from two inches away – hers were busted in stitches, bruised and puffy, from falling from the fucking bunk bed back on the ranch. She slept on the third floor, but the wider sink was in the hall on the first. Just outside my room, at four o’clock in the morning, Carmen came busting into the hall with Amanda. They didn’t let us close the doors, so I sat upright and watched Amanda hold her head over the sink, blood dripping down her chin. I couldn’t see her face. I didn’t really know if it was her. I don’t remember if we had doors at all.
When we fucked up in Utah, the dry bitch choked us out. I wasn’t allowed within 10 feet of Carmen for a long while. That was pretty difficult, as we lived in the same house. The eyes were on us, would snap when we made eye contact. We tested our limits over time, and Amanda proved to be the warp – we spoke through her. We stared at each other a lot. I hadn’t been so comfortable as to hold eye contact before I knew her – there were a lot of mountains surrounding our Courage the Cowardly Dog home, orange and red ones that tricked you into thinking you were standing alone on Mars, and I held myself back longer and longer to watch her. She’s one to make the eyes go soft. I can’t remember the landscape nearly as well as I can close my eyes and see what I saw ten feet away. Which is a fucking joke.
I tell this story – when I remember – to further comedize the hell-hole trip Utah was; as if saying that alone weren’t enough. I gained twenty pounds in Utah, as they force fed a five-foot-nothing blip with a two-inch torso the same as every other lady in there — yet, the fattening collapsed with the ‘dessert’ we were offered each Saturday. ‘Ice Milk’, as it was, held fond favor in the stomachs of the sugar-deprived birds. Three cups of 2% milk, 4 tablespoons of Domino cane sugar in a rectangle tupperware, frozen for three hours, and ‘scooped’ (stabbed) out was Utah.
I needed a blood draw that April, and made a pit stop at Amanda’s apartment in the white van. The abductor van. Amanda and I were cool at that point, she wasn’t as homophobic as you’d expect her to be. I think I was chill – at the time – when she showed me all of the hiding spots for her guns. I felt numb. I had never seen a gun before. My blood tested positive for some genetic thyroid issue.
One girl tried to run away on the dirt (dust?) road that led to nowhere. She threw a stick at a staff, and they put her friend in a straightjacket. They watched me pee, and I squat and coughed every time I came back from off-ranch. When they first took me in, they made a list of every freckle, scar and baby tattoo I had. They took my string bracelet, and probably crucified me in their pea heads. I feel that might’ve been too harsh. Yet, my roommate drank off-brand bleach to escape them.
I don’t remember any sunsets or rises, but I remember just before them. I remember that with sadness. I don’t think I ever got to see one. I didn’t think as much to appreciate the beauty that was clearly in front of me at the time – I quite clearly became small-minded, small-big-bodied in Utah.
When I was fifteen, I wanted to go to residential treatment. I had been scaring my family too many times. I didn’t want to deal with myself anymore. I can’t remember if it was a lapse in my judgment, or if I truly believed it was what was best for myself. I regretted that choice every moment of every day for one year, with anger so painful it made my hairs go white. I froze in time, and came home to a high-speed fucking AmTrak that had left without me.
I held pain for another year. I fought the internal change, which I always had – coming home felt like drying off in a dirty, mildewy towel after scrubbing clean in the shower. Chicago winter, leaving the two-flat home on a morning after snowfall made my heart sink into my gut as the Utah dusks, frozen canyon too large to visually consume.
I left home one summer. I didn’t think about fifteen or sixteen. I didn’t think about Vermont, or Utah, or Wisconsin. I left home the next spring. I left that summer. And then I just didn’t go back.
I write screenplays for film. I am disposed toward surrealistic writing, and, some of the fictional scapes I write feel all the more real to me than Utah. I imagine myself there, just floating over the terrain, raised up two inches – but never there.
I lived on a ranch in Southwest Utah, but I never really lived linearly.
I think about it sometimes, and wonder what the image I’ve painted in everyone’s eyes looks like – I wonder if I’ve accurately described the sinking in my chest. I think about it sometimes, but the memories feel like someone else’s. I think about it sometimes. Not all of the time.