Flying over the nighttime geometry of Tokyo, en route to rejoin my boyfriend across the ocean, I turn my face to the view below, feeling the 20,000-foot chill as intensely as an ice cube in my mouth. My bodily senses are five stallions chomping at the bit, caught in an eternal race across an immense desert under an orange sky, the sand whipping at their legs and eyes—but now, my limbs arranged against the hard cushioned seat, my eyes trained on the moving landscape, I feel them slow from a sprint to a crawl as I redirect my mind toward the splendor of the vista, shrouded in cloud or anointed in light, and the theater of my breath, a three-act show that plays wetly over the cold acrylic airplane windows.
Every thought coursing through my flesh, every belief in my pantheon has been stunned into silence by the sensation of being run off the ground and buoyed into the air, momentarily ceasing their hydraulic crush of me. The end of this pressure is an invitation to abandon, at least for the next eight hours, the threats of the future, and I feel the frisson of a thrill as perfect as a first kiss.
Tokyo Bay is a prism of light. The Atlantic Ocean is a black hole. The snow over Minnesota is a blank page crisscrossed by lines that are indecipherable to my eye though I also harbor the suspicion that they are perfectly legible to those with the right gifts. What meaning is made in the flourishes of a foreign language, the eddies of water, and the flurries of snow, symbols gusting far below me, caught up in the currents that will travel far beyond me?
In Miami, the sky is preternaturally huge and fierce. It exerts a kind of force that communicates intransigence, total command, and the possibility of wildness, like the stare of a monarch framed in the doorway, or a tiger appearing between trees, tail thumping against the bark as it vanishes into the darkness. In the late evening, I sit on the old dock, legs swinging, with the sky looming behind me, its bath of purple tones, scattered clouds, and rays of light dancing over the river. You are not alone here, it seems to be saying, transmitting both comfort and danger. The sky recalls the ancient primacy of the natural gods, the divine personalities of the clouds, the sun, the stars, the firmament, and their roles in birthing, shaping, and consuming the world. “Buildings block the sky in Tokyo,” Strawberry reminds me, when I say that I can’t believe how big the sky is here, and I laugh because he is right, and because his pragmatism presents such advantages versus the blurry fantasy of my sky-as-tiger or sky-as-king. Later, I wonder what else blocks my vision there, at home in Tokyo.
Cloudbursts in Strawberry’s hometown are like something out of a fairy tale. The tension in the air breaks open and the rain pours down, hotly, wetly, heavily, like blood. The weather wields its powers with the clumsiness of a child, but with the grace of an artist. Gemstones sparkle in the air and glance off the water. Under the gray shadow of clouds, Strawberry’s family car hums nervously on the highway. I try to assist by navigating with my phone, zooming into the knot of roads on the map and getting lost, for a moment, in exploration as my finger undoes the strands and follows it into the fields of New England. I graze there, on distant heather in a land unseen, like a lamb, before I am called back by Strawberry asking me about the next exit. He looks younger than ever behind the wheel, like a boy magician handling levers and buttons behind a velvet curtain that opens onto a vast world. The captain of the ark, he leads us down a path littered in raindrops and flower petals.
Anxieties are sticky. They hold fast to my skin, drying down not just to a stain, but to a tattoo. I am praised for my kindness by the people who know me best but I never feel kind. I have never felt kind once in my life. In fact, I feel my own cruelty all the time. It has its own beating heart, embedded right next to mine. I feel it propelling me forward. I feel it holding me back. What’s more likely—that they have misread me, or that I have misread myself? Which would be more painful?