Preludes and Nocturnes

I took my eyes off the road to glance at my phone and skip a song when traffic skidded to a halt. I swerved left, caught the bumper of the truck in front of me, and pulled to the shoulder. The loud crunch of detuned guitars and painful wails started blaring from my speakers. Hey you, hey you, devil’s little sister, listening to your twisted transistor.

The other driver and I stepped out of our cars at the crest of what Utahns call “Point of the Mountain” to survey the damage. On a clear day, we would’ve been able to see Utah Valley to one side of us and Salt Lake Valley to the other. But the inversion — that thick fog of pollution that hangs complacent in the valleys — kept us from seeing more than twenty feet in any direction. We were trapped together in pollution of our own making.  

I could’ve said, “I know, it’s embarrassing, but I’m still a fan of the band Korn, and I was busy skipping through their songs when I hit you,” but instead, I said, “I’m sorry, I wasn’t paying attention.”

He looked at his bumper and said, “I don’t see any damage. We good?”

A deep gash ran through my headlight and down the side of my car. “Yeah, it was my fault,” I admitted again, “we’re good.”

He got in his car and drove away. I stood on my toes in the doorstep of my car and squinted through the fog to find the sun. The beams of light that crept through the unnatural darkness did little to ease my growing anxiety.

Even in the nineteenth century, Utahns referred to the foothills separating Utah and Salt Lake valleys as “Point of the Mountain.” Back then, the road that weaved its way from one valley to the other acted as a gateway between two colonized spaces that supposedly operated according to the same Mormon ethic. But everyone everywhere always adapts their ethics to regional peculiarities. Indigenous people did not have as much luck preventing “development” in Salt Lake Valley as they did in Utah Valley. So some Mormons adapted to life alongside their indigenous neighbors through cooperation when it worked and violence when it didn’t. Trauma, indeed, has a long history out West.

Standing there at the Point, where the highway now cuts its way through a gravel pit to one side and an industrial waste dump on the other, I considered the separate lives I led in Utah and Salt Lake Valleys. In one, I was an academic and an activist interested in the history of medicine and the end of the so-called “War on Drugs.” In the other, I was a parent and teacher devoted to my kids and my students. In both, I witnessed the memetic poisons of white supremacy, imperialism, capitalism, and patriarchy cloud minds like thick complacent fog.  

Since the accident, I have travelled the Point almost everyday, continued to contribute to the inversion, and persisted in doing so despite cognitive transistors that remain twisted and dissonant. Hey you, hey you, finally you get it. The world it can eat you if you let it. Trapped in the unnatural darkness, I reached out, found comrades with whom I could lock arms and asked, “isn’t there some way for us to light this shit up?” Only storms clear out the inversion. Could we ignite a storm, I wondered?

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