I am a cactus. I could say that the rejection of my childhood peers has made this so, but I had spikes as a zygote. I kicked at my mother from the inside, simultaneously pushing away my father and anyone else who dared draw near eyes that could not yet see them. “You never wanted to be held,” my mother told me once. “You always ran away.” Present tense. From everybody.
Cacti grow together in tight clutches and yet stand alone. I am tempted to pet them but something tells me they are not huggers. The spines protect their tender innards, where lives the water they soak from the air. The life.
In the West, where the cacti grow, the barbed wire takes its cue. It cuts off one piece of land from another—we don’t see this in the Midwest, where we cut our divides with curlicued gates and and well-mended wide mesh shaped like diamonds, false gems. They are thin hexagons, sometimes painted green to blend into the grass, pretend they aren’t there at all. Cacti and barbed wire, on the other hand, don’t give a damn.
In the mornings I cast my myself out into the desert, which sounds dramatic and all considering I come upon paved road within ten minutes of brisk walking, but I heard howling and this one jackrabbit was scary and once a fighter jet zoomed overhead in chase of the curvature of the planet. It was chilly and like the airplane I chased this off too, eating the Earth in wide strides to reduce the chronic tightness in my right hip, opening, opening. The sun rested on me—it did not beat down, it did not seek to conquer. The air, light and dry, was a companion instead of a turgid, humid enemy pressing against each limb.
In the Midwest, everything is dying, the trees refusing to go without a fight, the yellows and reds and oranges not a color show but a struggle, a final blaze of light, a refusal to go softly into bare branches. Here in the desert, where there is green, you can trust that it stays. It has won. It’s eternal. It isn’t going anywhere. The deal the barbed wire has struck with the West is that the wire will lay low, but it won’t choke off the land. It won’t pretend to be what it is not. And neither will a cactus.
There are fuzzy cacti, too, and even though these seem to announce themselves a safer companion, upon further inspection they reveal themselves to be no more touchable than their spiked counter parts. Fuzzy cacti have more spines, closer together—if you’re careful, if you make a dedicated effort of it, you can rest a couple fingertips against the cool exterior of a saguaro by choosing your spot. The fuzzy ones—no way. They’re not to be touched, anywhere, at all, and they’re frantic about it, their hair blocking the green inside. I looked up the name of one of these: “Old Man Cactus.” Get off its lawn, its lawn of sand and rattlesnakes.
These cacti are also called “Persian cat cactus” or “bunny cactus.” Unworthy. Who runs away from a bunny? The bunny does the running, and so do I—in wide, planet-eating strides, opening, opening.