The Boiler

Heather Gemmen Wilson

DIVINE TANTRUMS

As I travel the long stretch of highway, I listen to Ovid’s Metamorphoses. There must be fields of blotched cows outside my windows, and semi-trucks and minivans; there must be whole cities I’m passing through. But I see only the yellow line that leads me home. When he, whoever of the gods it was, had thus arranged in order and resolved that chaotic mass, and reduced it, thus resolved, to cosmic parts, he first moulded the Earth into the form of a mighty ball so that it might be of like form on every side.

I’m heading home today, and not tomorrow as planned, because my seventeen-year-old daughter is missing. Again. The myth that chaos can be resolved comforts me, and, even as I rush forward, I want to linger in this promise. In a rare space of silence and solitude, in a place between here and there, I want to wrap the confinement of my car around me like a blanket. I increase the volume of the car stereo, and the disembodied voice booms around me.

The gods of ancient Greece, indomitable in their legends, don’t provide comfort for long. They were capricious, vain, and violent—like the park named after them where I used to take my family when we lived in Colorado: The Garden of the Gods. We would stare up at the slab of red rock tilted upright from the earth at ninety degrees and be chastened by our smallness. “You wind among rocks of every conceivable and inconceivable shape and size,” Helen Hunt Jackson writes of this place, “all bright red, all motionless and silent, with a strange look of having been just stopped and held back in the very climax of some supernatural catastrophe.” The park was named for its beauty, as if to imply that this was the one place on earth worthy to host the divine. But I wonder if the surveyors of the park also pictured it as the backyard of Zeus and Apollo, where three hundred million years ago their mighty temper tantrums splintered the earth.

Rachael’s tantrums, when we were first discovering her personality disorder, forced my own emotions and beliefs to pivot, tilt—as layers seemed to break through my flesh and jut out at sharp angles. Now, as I huddle in my hurtling car, with no idea how to resolve the chaos of Rachael’s life, I am strangely unmoved. I’m responding but not feeling. My layers have settled into new positions and no longer wait to burst out. That’s good, I tell myself. This is progress.

At the Garden of the Gods, as my four children played on mounds of rock below the formations we would hear laughter ring out from professional climbers conquering the routes above. The danger, it seemed, had passed. The epic battles, whether divine or geological, were over.

One of the most famous formations at the park is Balanced Rock. This rock is five or six times the height of an adult and as wide as the base of a water tower—except where it roots itself into the ground. In that spot it narrows and appears to be just barely holding on. A newspaper article in the Colorado Springs Gazette once challenged readers to guess the date the rock will become unbalanced. My guess is a thousand years from now, or a thousand thousand years—a time beyond imagination. It doesn’t seem possible that movement of any kind can occur in this rocky, desert wasteland.

A year from now, after my daughter graduates from high school, I will happen upon an old photograph of myself standing beneath Balanced Rock, reaching up to touch the place where it seems most likely to wobble, pretending to single-handedly support the weight of this massive stalwart. A year from now, I will feel that weight. I will wonder if the composure of the Garden is more brittle than strong. I will imagine that rock becoming unbalanced and rolling free. And something will break in me. I will want to live again—even if that creates new layers, even if the brutal pain of those ruptures makes me gasp. A year from now, I’ll quit huddling.

But now, as the stories of the ancients wrap around me, I see only the yellow line that leads me home.

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Heather Gemmen Wilson earned her MA in Creative Writing, and her thesis was selected as the Outstanding Creative Project. She’s also earned her MFA in Creative Nonfiction. Her memoir, Startling Beauty, sold over 20,000 copies and has been translated into 9 languages. She has over 20 children’s and youth books, including one bestseller. She enjoyed a 20-year career in publishing as a book editor before teaching writing courses to undergrads.