Ariane Buckenmeyer '19
Environmental Charter High School, Lawndale, California

Joshua Tree National Park is a place of contradictions.

It is dry, and barren to the naked eye. You see seldom more than Joshua trees and Cholla cacti, with the spare sandy escarpment in the distance, eternally convulsing in the arid climate, the heat making the distances move with the finesse of a seasoned danseur. You spot the leftover trails of a Mojave desert sidewinder, his tail winding off into the distance, taunting in the lingering October fire.

Ensconced between two crags of rock, I sit alone. Coyote yips pierce the air, the distance between homo sapien sapien and Canis latrans ochropus narrowing.

This week was the one year anniversary of my abuela's passing.

My mother was likely at home, face illuminated by lit candles scattered around the apartment. My abue, hopefully somewhere in the sky. She, after all, was the one to teach me about the stars.

She taught me how to see.

I had forgotten how to after she passed, so enveloped in the choking grief that my mother suffered that I forgot how. But now, sitting here, in the middle of nowhere... and everywhere, and this very point on this planet, at this exact coordinate in the universe, I see everything. You look around, among the craggy rocks laid few and far between, the sun's scorching incandescence cascading downward on all that moves and all that doesn't, creating dancing shadows, an homage to the sky. At night, the stars pepper the sky in such numbers that you wonder if they could spell out the entirety of Sartre's works in braille, contesting the theories of existentialism without an audience to read them. I can see Ursa Major, the bear of gods, hiding herself for no one among the constellations of old. The Milky Way is a smear upon the sky, a fortunate accident that none on this earth can recall. This is a land of introspection, and one that helped me come to terms with my own life when I most needed it.

I came to the realization that I was queer when I was twelve.

No one knew.

I hadn't known, comfortable in the concrete labels I had adhered myself to, like an unsuspecting fly on tape. Four years after, I came out to my friends as non-binary. They learned that I was a they instead of a she, but also everything in between. I was the infinite hyphen, a number of options not taken, limitless words on a set page, the expanse of the sky confined in cardboard.

Espera unos años mas, my mother told me. Te vas a dar te cuenta cuando te madures. Wait a few more years. You'll know when you're older.

Wait.

Wait.

Wait.

I'm SICK of waiting.

As if my identity was anything I was ever given the chance to decide on.

Humankind was never meant to be fit into a box.

When our lives seem the most overwhelming, the stars will still remain as they always have been, blinking in the sky in that comforting morse code of all that they have witnessed. The suspended lights that others gazed upon in their own respective times and places are the same ones that I observe as I write this, encompassed in welcoming darkness. We have to accept that our own trials and tribulations are only a minor madness when compared to the vastness of our skies, the strange immenseness of our universe. The urgent fever long replaced by a familiar chill, this nook between mountain peaks, two and a half thousand feet above sea level, is surely a place of contradictions. We are a people of contradictions, and for whatever hardships we will face in the future, whatever lingering ache in our souls that will seemingly never be extinguished, we need only look up to the stars and see - we are not alone.

Huq p'unchaykama, abue.

I see everything now.

I understand.