Sixty million years ago, this part of the Gobi desert called
Yet, I love these two tiny words: Flame and Cliff.
Both so inherently dangerous.
Flame conjures up images of things set ablaze, things that burst into strident blasts of angry red and hues of passionate orange.
The word flame makes me think of my middle school years when girls used to remove the hair on their arms by passing a candle rapidly over them. They burned the hair off their arms to make them caressable, to offer them naked and soft to boys with clumsy hands and sticky fingers. They singed the fuzz on their arms out of love. So that they were welcomed and accepted and kept.
But only little girls do such silly things. When they grow up so do their pain, the caliber of their offerings, and their boldness. Some of them favor self-immolation over singeing. They offer themselves in sacrifice by setting their whole bodies ablaze. They do it as a form of protest, of martyrdom, out of scorn. They sacrifice their flesh and bones in the name of love. Afghan women wishing to escape abusive marriages, Tibetan nuns protesting Chinese rule, Indian widows seeking eternal love throw themselves into their husbands’ funeral pyres.
Think heat, your skin peeling off, first crispy then waxy like a candle left out in the sun. Think pain, the fat of your body coloring the flames with traces of bleeding green and tender yellow, turning your midriff into a volcanic blow torch.
Flames. Kisses. Passion. That short-of-breathness, the giddiness of a torrid affair, the first love, the first kiss, the first time. Consuming flames that devour and destroy, leaving nothing behind but a mound of smoldering twigs.
I once loved a boy who loved alcohol more than he loved me.
“Why do you drink so much?” I asked him one day.
“Because I like how it burns my throat,” he said. “It’s like a flame rushing down my windpipe all the way to my belly. You wouldn’t understand.”
Cliff. That's the word that comes to my mind when I think of roller coasters, paragliding, bungee-jumping, sky-diving and gravity-defying stunts, a list that comprises my worst fears. I’m afraid of free-falls, of losing control, of letting myself go. I imagine how splendidly irrevocable the pull of gravity must be as one goes off a cliff. The word cliff evokes memories of that last scene in the movie Thelma and Louise when the women are cornered by police only 100 yards from the edge of the Grand Canyon. They weigh out their options and rather than to be captured and spend the rest of their lives in jail they decide to keep going. Thelma steps on the accelerator and drives the 1966 Ford Thunderbird convertible over the cliff.
I once loved a boy who loved his mother very much. On one mother’s day, after a weekend out in the country with pals and cheap booze, he drove to his mother's house. He was too drunk and drove too fast. He missed a bend and his car flew off a cliff. It was a difficult rescue, the firefighters later said. The boy was tall and skinny, he wasn’t wearing a seat belt; the car catapulted his body into the air first, and later into the belly of the cliff.
The casket was sealed.
No one was allowed to see his mangled body.
A gaping abysm swallowed him whole.