At a roadside crystal shop, I meet with an aura reader who tells me my “male and female sides” are the most balanced she’s ever seen. I feel it again, that sense of passing and then transcending passing — and, since I know that being seen is a choice, I take a risk and tell her what I’m here to do. Does she have any ideas about where I can scatter my mom’s ashes?
She closes her eyes, telling me to close mine, too. After a moment, she asks: “Your mom liked views, right? Perspective?” That word — Mom’s endless refrain — shivers through me. Later, when I call up the babysitter who accompanied us on that first trip, a woman I’d not spoken to since I was 10 years old — who knew me in another body, and yet this same body — she will tell me that we had, in fact, stopped in Sedona. Mom had loved it there, she will say.
The body remembers, even when the mind does not. When the aura reader suggests the Airport Mesa hiking loop, also known as Table Top Mountain, I don’t hesitate. I’m to look for the trees with knotted roots. They’re a sign of being near a vortex, the reader says, powerful places where the earth’s energy swirls like a tornado. Sedona, like Cairo and Stonehenge, is known for them. People describe feeling a sense of peace, goose bumps, tingling — even toothaches. She tells me to listen to my intuition, my “feminine side.” I’ll know what to do. “You’re well balanced,” she reminds me. Am I ever.
I arrive near sunset and climb a rocky trail with extraordinary views of the red rocks and desert below. There is a warmth to this place, a feeling of expanse and joy, a sensation of shedding skin. I’m mostly alone and, as I walk along the side of the mountain, I breathe. The air is soft on my face, the wind grazes my arms. I make my way to a juniper tree. “You only live twice,” I think.
I pour the ash into my hands. The bone is cool. I no longer feel squeamish as I throw big palmfuls of the ashes around the tree, until the branches and roots are white with them, until they’re lodged deep into the crevices of my knuckles and nail beds, painting my hands chalky white. For an hour, I sit and look out over the landscape until I feel ready to leave.
I think about what led me to this place — my intuition, a pure and felt sense of history that defies the neat, backward-looking narrative of linear memory. My instincts animated by the lives I’ve lived, all still present, all still within me.
As I drive back through the forest, heading north in the gathering dark, I brake for a doe standing in the middle of a mountain road. I breathe hard as she stares at me peacefully, then bounds back off into the red rocks. It hits me: My body, this miracle, had remembered. As I throw the car into gear, I notice that my hands are no longer white. The ashes have disappeared, as if they were never there. My mother was here, and now she is gone — absorbed into my body, this body she knew even if she could not remember, this body she gave me, this body I gave myself, this body that will also return to the earth in its own perfect time.
Set design by Piers Hanmer. Photo assistants: Xavier Muñiz, TK Kim. Set assistants: Neda Mouzayanni, Joseph Bell, Louis Sarowsky. Production assistant: Ryan Riley