The Stuff of Fairy Dust
A Memoir by Karen Wright
I am utterly alone, in Taos, New Mexico, in a barren, dusty field off the back porch of a motel where I’ve stayed on previous trips. Alone, I am home, asleep and dreaming. The sun shines in a cloudless, transparent blue sky. Sagebrush dots the landscape. The land is dry, dusty, the dirt devoid of nutrients. This is typical southwestern soil. Take any paint of a bold, primary color, add enough dry, southwestern dirt, and the result is a muted color–cozy, warm, welcoming, safe, secure. These are the colors of Taos. These are the colors that summoned and inspired numerous artists, including Ernest Blumenschein, Andrew Dasburg, Nicolai Fechin, and Georgia O’Keeffe. These are the colors that keep me coming back in my waking life. These are the colors, thick with the stuff of antiquity and primal dust, that beckon me in this dream state.
Dreaming in Taos colors and drawn to its soil, glistening with energies felt and unseen, I think about my husband Alan, the love of my lifetimes. I etch memories of our time together in the dust, my impromptu canvas. When I finish, I kneel down and gently gather each stroke, each memory, placing the collection in a locked chest of golden memories, and tuck it away for another day. In waking life, Alan is in the final stages of Alzheimer’s disease. He was diagnosed nine months after we were married, six short years ago. It was the second marriage for both of us, but the glue uniting us has an other-worldly strength that cured the moment we met.
I have been Alan’s caregiver from the beginning, and I will be his caregiver to the end and beyond, if such a thing is possible. Still, watching this gentle, sweet man being robbed of his life, of our new life together, is the most difficult thing I have ever done. Holding his hand and whispering tales of love, surrender, and gratitude, watching him slip away, has taken its toll on me, has brought me to remember and cherish each shining jewel of our life together. I can do nothing to stop this transition, his passage. His remaining time here is short, and I am coming undone.
In this dream, I notice now only the dirt, the dry dust all around me. The dust is fine, like twice-sifted powdered sugar sprinkled over a delicate and decadent fudge brownie, the finishing touch on perfection. The dust lies in a thick layer on the ground, about six or seven inches thick. I walk deep into the field, barefoot, removing pieces of clothing as I go. I pull my long-sleeved, turquoise-colored shirt over my head. I drop it as I move forward, enjoying the delicate texture of the dirt between my toes, and move forward. After a few more steps, I pause to slip out of my silky, flowing white skirt. I let it lie in the dust as I continue to walk toward…toward what, I don’t know. All I know is that I must continue into the field of dust. Undergarments come off next, and I am free.
I lie down in the frailness of this dirt and am motionless for a time. I feel the warmth of the sun seeping into my bones, my body oddly supported by the wispiness beneath me. I watch as my fingers trace random patterns in the dust. Its smooth texture and ultrafine consistency lure me to draw larger patterns, merely to enjoy the silky quality of the dust. I don’t remember feeling anything as soft as this dirt. I roll onto my right side and daintily spread dust onto my arm, neatly burying it then and unburying it. It feels good to be covered by the warm/cool dust. I sprinkle it on the creamy, sensitive inside of my forearm and uncover it again, soothed by the touch of it. Some of the dust clings to me, and I let it stay there. I roll onto my left side and perform the same ablution. Balance. Must have blessed balance.
I close my eyes and in my mind’s eye watch a raven, the mediator between life and death, fly past quickly and with purpose, as if he had an urgent message to deliver. Silently, I say hello to him and then return to my beloved dust. With eyes wide open, I coax mounds of this therapeutic dirt onto my stomach and spread it around. I heap more soil around my torso, gently tamping it to my sides. I take hands full of it and let it run through my fingers, funnel-like, and direct it onto my chest, spreading it around with the palms of my hands. I sit up, legs straight in front of me. They look like they could use a dirt washing as well, so I splash the fine dust onto them, from thighs to ankles, as if I were sitting in a child’s wading pool spattering myself with the cleansing properties of water. I notice tiny specs of mica in the dust and celebrate its presence as the glittery, divine minerals sprinkle curative joyfulness into my dirt bath.
I move again, rising to my knees. I feel the dust on my legs, the backs of my feet, my toes. I swing my hands behind me, scooping more dirt as they swing in front of me. I lift my arms and let the dirt spill onto me, all over my kneeling body, splashing as if the dust were water. I lift some to my head and release my fingers and feel the healing powers of it trickle over me.
I fall forward into the soft dust and welcome its warming touch. I am being cleansed by the dust. I move my arms and my legs, making a dust angel–but I am not on my back, the way a child would make a snow angel. Instead, the front of my body touches the ground, this amazing dust, this purifying dust. I roll around in the dirt, and it clings to my skin and my long hair, tainting it a shade darker. The mica glitters in it. It is fairy dust, the spark of divinity, the flicker of love.
I stand, feet planted shoulder width, firmly in the dirt, as if it were a foundation recently built to support me and the grief of losing my soul mate. I blink, startled at the restorative power of dust, the stuff we’re made of, the stuff of our flesh.
My body will not return to dust just yet. I will not, cannot, accompany my husband to the next step on his current path, but I can accompany him symbolically via this bath of dirt in which I luxuriate. The dirt clings to me–all over me–and it is good. I raise my head to the sky and smile. I let my arms drop gently to my sides, palms out, fingers spread, beckoning to the Universe. If life without Alan must be, I am ready to face it. My eyes open and I am awake. Whatever happens today, I am ready for it. Bring it on.