"Up in the Air" by WH Patterson
There are these moments. I think everyone has experienced them. They come without warning. And when they walk into your life, there’s no going back. It’s the moment you see something that’s been in front of your eyes the whole time. But you’ve been blind to it. There’s no flash, no changing in the soundtrack, no narrator telling you that this was important. There’s just an understanding, a shift. And a new way forward.
They’ll say it was because of the accident. They’ll say it was because of the girl. Or that I just couldn’t hash it. Some people have even made jokes about my complexion. My melanin to be exact. They’ll say a lot of things when you ask. Because life is answering questions you have no right answering. About people who are no longer with us. We watch them go and then write their whole stories as they walk away. It always starts with leaving, of an absence. I’m not vain enough to think that I am important to anything but my own path. But, I’m not blind enough to see the ripples when I left. I mean there was a children’s book written about it. So, I assume there’s a lesson in it. For whom is still up in the air.
It happened after the accident. After they denied me painkillers in the ER. After I watched the PA with the green sunburst eyes over her mask stitch the chunks of meat that were my leg back into the semblance of human anatomy. After the hours I sat next to the man begging to die, using his pleas to cling to my consciousness. Alone against the darkness.
It happened after they changed the police report to implicate me. It wasn’t me losing faith in the system. It was a blow. A moment of growing up. But not my moment of clarity. I just learned that the only difference between children and adults is faith in some greater system.
It happened after I met the Iranian Doctor. The man who so believed in this country that he betrayed his own. Put his whole life on the line for an ideal of a democracy where all are equal. He was an up-and-coming Lieutenant in the army, a freshly minted doctor, a man who wanted something better for his child. He had to flee. Had to rebuild. Had to hide. He did all these things and more. Whether or not he was right is not my place to say. It’s just my story to tell.
But not now.
It had happened to him, and he lost a part of himself. And that’s where we met. Him looking for what he had lost in the tatters of my flesh. I can’t say that I helped him find it, but I know that our talks about books while he pored over my stitches helped stoke the fire fading in my heart. Threatening to die. We were both desperately doing everything in our power to return to who we were.
This was not when my moment happened, but I have to acknowledge that it primed my mind for it. My eyes open the widest in the moments after I am sent to the darkness. Trauma seems to either open you or close you forever. I have always hoped for the former whenever I found myself bloodied in the street. It’s an opportunity to transform.
They say there’s no growth without sacrifice. You can’t gain without giving. The only thing is: We often don’t know just what we’re sacrificing in pursuit of something that has caught our fancy. And it’s worse when we chase things that instantly gratify. I like to think that the accident was the biggest blessing of my life. It gave me back my love by taking everything else away from me. When you lose it all, you really have to consider what’s the most important thing to get back.
And that was the start of everything. I realize that now.
It started with a walk to a hill. People called it a foothill. It’s a pile of dirt. But it was the best I had. When you summit something, it’s as mental as it is physical. Most people only focus on the physical, the calories, the size of fro-yo they can get on the drive home. So, there I walked. Limped, rather. Over and Over. Up and down.
Living in the tropics makes you weak. I was learning this. The sun bakes your brain, the lack of seasons makes you lethargic, the main culture of the climate is sitting in some sand listening to waves. A lot of nothing. It’s a good way to waste your days, weeks, months, years, lifetime. It’s a hole. I understand why old folks relocate to these locales. They’re practicing sitting in their hole. But, the bottom of a hole is the best place to start climbing.
It happened under those palms. That balmy breeze. It’s the perfect place to transform. Repair the body. Reorder the mind. After all, butterflies are born ugly in the beautiful nothing of the tropics.
So the limping turned into walking, which in turn turned into jogging, which turned into running, which turned into sprint intervals. I work better when my feet are moving, churning, taking me somewhere else. Not in my body but in my mind.
It happened after an evening at the hill.
I noticed it when I stepped out of the shower: Sludge sweating from the walls. It oozed in rivulets slowing dripping down the garish seahorse wallpaper that covered my bathroom. The ocean walls of my shitter were being poisoned by the air. From the pollution. From the guy who had to have the sports car, from the girl who wants to drive her Malibu Barbie Jeep along the PCH, from the Prius-driving wank who doesn’t realize that the distance they had to ship his little four seat planet-saver already polluted the world far worse than if he had just gotten that truck. Then multiply that by 15 million. Give or take.
And all of it was sweating down my walls. Not salt and sacrifice, but oil-powered listlessness. It was sweating into my lungs. In, what I assumed to be, the same dark streaks that were covering my bathroom’s seahorses like a daily BP oil spill.
After it had happened, I knew I had to leave. I had to get above the smog warnings. The increased cancer risk. The eternal sepia filter. I had to get up in the air.
I’m a firm believer we were put on this earth to wander. It’s the meaning of life. The more we walk the more we grow. It’s what led me here in the first place. It’s what leads me lots of places. It’s what keeps me from ever being content. I have to go somewhere and place a cairn.
And to do that, we have to live. Long full lives of exploring, of chasing, of climbing. Lungs full of the frontier, not soot. If they ever read this, they’ll say they already knew why I left. They’ll say they knew all the reasons.
But it really comes down to only one thing: Your walls shouldn’t sweat black.
The only way we can develop a distinct point of view is the live a life untethered. Through travel and the immersion into different cultures and perspectives, we, as artists, can capture moments and make them larger than ourselves, larger than those whose realities we are sharing. And only then will our work transcend art and become something shared between us all.
Will Patterson. Will-Patterson.com