The sun splashed into my cabin that morning and heated it up rather quickly. I got out of there as soon as I could. The outside felt just as hot, no breeze, just the searing sun upon my dark skin, burning my black hair to the touch. I didn’t know where my sunscreen had gone. I drove the thirty-four minutes to the office in the other town just to keep cool. I read several things while there. I read one about a pioneering surfing photographer in the 1960s, one about climbers from the 1970s, “A Temple of the Holy Ghost” by Flannery O’Connor, and an article about silence.
In 1971, this brilliantly talented surfing photographer, Ron Stoner, simply disappeared. Stoner heavily used LSD, which may have exacerbated his undiagnosed mental health condition. They put him in a straitjacket, institutionalized him, and put him through electroshock therapy for becoming suddenly obsessed with the Bible, repeating verses over and over and carrying a huge cross that he made down the street. I imagine his hands strapped to the chair, the electricity tingling every cell of the brain and changing its mitochondria, preventing some improper energy. They diagnosed him with schizophrenia. Stoner may have dealt with his condition before the heavy drug use because he clearly had talent, he just didn’t say much. Perhaps Christ’s Word gave him purpose but had become corrupted by the drugs so that Stoner’s mental escape caused him to escape the world entirely.
I know about escape. Not surface-level knowing about it in the third person, but knowing as in having gone through it before. Everyday. And resisting. Attempting to stay in the present moment. I struggled with my mental health unknowingly in the past. Always wondering what was wrong with me, but being told by everyone I just needed more discipline. Unable, incapable of achieving it. I know now my condition. Doesn’t make it easier. I just know. Christ.
The early morning cooled off. It got hot again later, but it was still early. Unbearable. I woke up dehydrated already. I wearied the morning, looking for the Gatorade.
I’ve read about climbers before and always felt awed by their dreams. Climber deaths cut into the flesh like a dull knife, intending not to kill but to ease the burden of pain on the heart. In the 1970s, mountain climbers Guy and Laura Waterman stepped away from their climbs to launch a movement of mountain stewardship and ethics that influenced generations. As an older man, Guy died by suicide alone on top of a snowy mountain, frozen and badly burned. The mention of his death filled only a couple of sentences of the article. Laura mentioned that the snow had been coming down while she spoke with the interviewer. I imagined above me a gray and overcast sky, the sun out of sight for now, except for the vague light of the evening. Chilled and absent, the snow a hazy blue that bore that man for the last time. A tear filled my eye, but I couldn’t let it drop.
Last night the heat suffocated me as I lay in bed; sweat flowed from my forehead down over my ears. My chest seized as I gasped for air even with the fan on full blast. I felt the pang of death coming for me in the dark. Let me die and escape this torture, I thought. But I don’t want to die. Not like this. I whispered into the night, let go of me.
I don’t much remember myself as a twelve-year-old, except for a photo of me with glasses, wavy, short hair, and a white, green, and red flowery dress with a blue jean-jacket vest on top of it, my hands clasped in front of me. The teenage years that made me a self-conscious, quiet girl hadn’t yet settled in. I was a rambunctious and rowdy child. The child in O’Connor’s short story, “A Temple of the Holy Ghost,” seemed to secretly pride herself over the older girls, seeing herself as better than them. I felt that. I recalled her innocence. And I felt that too. The story lingered. I recognized the innocent child in me. The body is a temple. This one I know destroyed, but on the third day raised up. And she repeated it, not knowing for sure, but felt it deep in her heart. I dwelled on it and yet I wanted to escape it.
I closed my eyes and fell asleep with the standing fan blowing hot air out the window and woke in the predawn early morning with the covers over me in the chilled air of the desert morning. I pulled my blanket up higher and fell back asleep, content to shiver in the cold.
I went to a beach on the coast some time back. I heard nothing but the sound of children running around playing, carrying rocks, jumping over streams that led into the ocean, yelling at each other and their parents to come see. I found a spot that seemed closer to quiet, but someone found the same spot and joined me in my bubble. Even the waves couldn’t cover the sound of this person quietly standing nearby. I could smell his cologne and shuddered. In the article about silence, someone describes it as “the think tank of the soul.” I couldn’t think. The quote stood opposite a photo of an elephant walking among the trees and dirt in the golden light of Liwonde National Park, Malawi. Turning to the next page, opposite a smooth photo of golden sand dunes in the Namib Desert, the author writes that silence is “key for learning, memory, and emotion . . . also therapeutic for depression and dementia.” I wonder how blissful that elephant could have felt in its peaceful evening, strolling about that protected dry African savanna, not looking for a way out.
I opened my eyes in the dark of my mind, wondering where I could go. I contemplated my escape from a world that held no meaning for me. I contemplated an escape from my world full of mental afflictions that haunted the dark lining of the inside of my skull. I could not seem to bear it anymore. But I cooled off in the office air. For another day I resisted. I took a breath.
He prayed it would pass from him, an unbearable pain of mind. He could escape in the dark of the silent morning for just a moment. Yet he resisted, and the Temple drank from the cup. The heat of the day bore upon him, seared into his hands and feet, upon that crown. The sweat must have rushed over his eyes and dripped over his nose. Crowds laughed and spit as he suffocated until his lungs contained no more air. Given to me.