Screw you, Depeche Mode!
I took my first step toward the summit of Piestewa Peak walking like an Egyptian. By the time I got up there— 1,180 feet, a quart of water and 35 minutes later — Depeche Mode was screaming in my ear, telling me to enjoy the silence. Screw you, Depeche Mode! Have you any idea what happens when I “enjoy” the silence? (Those were sarcastic quotation marks, by the way.) My mind darts straight to that place I fight so hard to avoid every day, that little dark hole where I buried the loneliness, guilt and self-doubt I’ve carried since the day I decided I’d leave my country behind and make this country mine.
These are perverse emotions. They mock me. They’ve manifested themselves in many iterations over the 17 years I’ve lived in the United States and every time I felt I had them under control, they’d swallow me again. I’m like that woman struggling against the waves that keep crashing over her on shallow water. As hard as I try, I can’t get away.
Today is a holiday and I woke up determined to allow myself to enjoy it as such. My husband was away on a business trip. Our 6-year-old daughter was a champ this morning, helping me get her snacks ready, then brushing her teeth and combing her hair while I brushed my teeth and combed my hair so I could look presentable. I had to drive her to summer camp.
Summers are tough in Phoenix, where we’ve lived for three years. It gets very hot, like someone-opened-the-gates-of-hell hot. But it wasn’t bad when we walked outside, my daughter and I. She held my hand; I felt so loved, so complete. I was happy.
Wait! I AM happy. (Oh, yeah, here comes Guilt — “You ingrate, how can you possibly be sad? Look at the life you have!”) But I have moments of profound sadness, and they often come when I’m alone. When I am “enjoying” the silence. Gosh, I hate Depeche Mode! Well, I hate them … sometimes. I mostly love them, but, today, they get no love from me.
I decided that this cloudy and relatively cool summer day was a perfect day for a hike; it was only 91F at 9:30 a.m., when I got back from camp drop-off. I live very close to Piestewa Peak. (It used to be called Squaw Peak, but now it has a much nicer name. It honors Lori Piestewa, the first American Indian woman in the history of this country to die in a war while serving the United States military.) I filled up a quart-sized thermal water bottle. I grabbed my headphones. I fired up my “Nanda’s Rocking 80s” list on Spotify, which also has some songs from the 90s and a lot of Depeche Mode. I locked the door and hid the key in my daughter’s Radio Flyer Pathfinder, parked on our front yard.
I reached the trailhead after a few minutes. I clicked on my e-mail — no urgent messages. I scrolled through Twitter — the world had not ended. I browsed through Facebook — like, like, like. I opened Whatsapp. My family in Brazil has a pretty active group on Whatsapp. Rogério, who’s married to my cousin Mariana, who’s one of my godmother Tania’s two daughters, shares funny videos. Tania and Riso, who’s married to my uncle Tinho, who’s one of my mother’s two brothers, share prayers. My brother Daniel talks a lot about politics. The rest of us share mostly pictures of ourselves, our kids and, occasionally, some beautiful text we come across. My mother, Vera, shared a poem this morning — “Almas Perfumadas,” by Carlos Drummond de Andrade. It talks about the comforting, soothing smell that some people have. The poem is in Portuguese, though, and I’m really not equipped to translate it. (And heeere’s Self-Doubt: “I hope you let an editor look at this before you post it on Medium. I bet they’ll tell you they have some thoughts on how you can ‘elevate’ the piece.)
I closed my eyes and tried to remember my mother’s smell, but couldn’t. I could see her face and hear her voice. I could almost feel her scratching my head, caressing it. But I could not remember her smell.
My eyes filled with tears. I pushed the thought aside — leavemealoneleavemealoneleavemealone! SHAKE THE DISEASE, I said, probably out loud. I will NOT let you, Sweet Memories of My Past, bring me down. Not today. Today is a holiday and I’m going on a hike.
The Bangles made me want to dance my Egyptian dance as I navigated the rocky, rugged trail, a path that gets narrower and narrower as it approaches the peak. I rocked the Casbah. I learned from Tears for Fears what I already knew: Everybody wants to rule the world. I huffed and puffed as I climbed, drank some water, and said good morning to the few people I walked past.
The views are pretty from Piestewa Peak. You see the flat cities of Phoenix and Scottsdale speckled by mountains of rock, red dirt and cactuses. (“Cactuses” are an accepted plural of cactus, per New York Times style, so I’ll stick to that.) Cactuses are pretty, too. And they’re resilient, survivors.
Some weeks ago, my daughter went to a weeklong summer camp at the Desert Botanical Garden here in Phoenix and she learned a lot of things I didn’t know about cactuses. She told me their thorns are called spines and that spines help protect a cactus from plants and people.
I wished I had special spines to keep some memories away when they sneak up on me as I’m enjoying the silence. But I don’t. So when I got up there, all the way to the tippy-top of Piestewa Peak, and Depeche Mode screamed at me to enjoy the silence, I didn’t stop them. There was hardly anyone around, so I listened, sang along and unafraid, let myself cry.