Suicide in the desert

All this time I had thought that the land was something other than me, something I sensed as if I had feelers dancing across it. Now I could see. We had the same command, driven by the same fundamental longing. I had never been a separate creature from it, not once. All this time I believed that, I had my own desires, my own hands. Laughable, now. I have always been the land.

My pen hovered above the paper and I could not remember my thoughts. It was hunger and thirst, I figured, stealing what was left of my mind. The words I’d written seemed vain and fleeting now that they were in black ink. Perhaps this was what people who once lived here understood: there can be nothing but desire, otherwise a person might sit in this black infinity and never move again.

Enough clever thinking. I felt angry for trying to capture the sensation of this illimitable desert. It was as if I were suspicious, trying to detect words where there were none. This sense of longing that I tried to write about, even using the word desire, tore it from me, rendering its power, turning it into a thought, a weapon, something other than what it is. There is a greater sense in this desert that I could never write. It is the very root of existence, the thing that is beyond beauty and safety, beyond need.

I closed the notebook and set it on the ground, pen marking the spot where I had left off. Then I pulled the pen out, losing my place, withdrawing the temptation to write. I tossed it and it landed ten feet away, clattering mechanically among the rocks. That is how a pen should write, I thought, with no fingers touching it.
I stared at where it had landed, rubbing the smooth, hard callus from the pen on my middle-right finger.

Closer to me I saw a lighter. It was within reach. I should use it, I thought, and set fire to this useless notebook. It would ignite easily, starting at its flimsy cardboard cover, burning through 150 pages, leaving only the tight metal spiral discolored from the heat. Then my words would no longer be bound and inadequate. Thousands of verbs and adjectives would finally be free, flying away with the smoke.

When I looked at the ground even nearer, I saw the knife I had used on the coconut. I picked it up, studying its blade. I brought it flat to my lips. The steel was not cold.

Fire could free the words in my notebook just like this knife could free me. If I were to cut my tongue, I thought, sever it completely, then I would silence the weaknesses of my voice. Without my tongue I would never speak, never try to reduce this landscape to something conceivable. I would close off this avenue of escape from the desert, becoming even more a creature of the land.

A warning signal fired from within my head. I would claw the ground in pain if I did this. I would bleed to death. But even that seemed acceptable in these dazzling stages of thirst and hunger. I would no longer be mortal, I thought. I would lie dead, a feast for the wind. This must be the madness that overtakes people who die in the desert, the strange final acts of suicides, the last precious water poured deliriously onto the ground. I touched the edge of the blade with my tongue. My fatigue will act as anesthesia, I thought.

The sharpness of the knife slid to the base of my tongue, still curious, not yet cutting flesh. I should take one more step, I thought. The land pulled on me, a magnet to steel, the poison of a snake entering the blood of a small animal. Come, it said. Yes, come.

— from Craig Childs, ‘Suicide in the Desert‘,

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