Saturday, July 5, 2014

Boneyard Justice

Hot dust stings the camera as a soundless helicopter bears the lens lower into the valley. Twin ridges of yellow stone flank a winding path through the crumbling mountainsides. At the edges of the path, stacks of rusted-out cars struggle to hold back the slow press from the yellow hills. Here at the entrance, the way is broad, warm, and easy--dozens of abandoned cars, decades old, have mastery over the boundaries. Only a few small rockslides have sneaked between the compressed metal frames to litter themselves across the path, and in turn, they have been ground to dust underfoot by walkers that came before.

Bobbing in gentle time with soundless steps, the camera moves forward. Not many steps in, a turn around the path passes a picnic table. A family of fresh skeletons clusters around a picnic basket half-spread; mom's dark brown tresses are still fresh, like a wig atop the skull, and the white polka dots on her dress are just beginning to gain their coating of dust, like everything else here. A wriggling white something crawls out of baby's eye socket, down the chin, and onto the table.

Another few turns around the bend leaves the picnic table behind. For long minutes the walk is calm. Overwarm, yes; scorching, perhaps; yet, bearable, in its own way, like a walk through the dusty flats where unwanted airplane parts go to die. Stoic commuter cars and buried half-tons hold back the mountains to either side, keeping the pathway alive. Yet the mountain has a life of its own, too. From the most distant peaks to either side comes a constant, nigh-indecipherable rustling. It is as though the gods are dropping new rocks onto the tops of the ancient geography, a few every minute. Sometimes, the trickle is spaced out, merely tickling the ears; others, there is a sudden lurch, as a great load comes at once, starting small avalanches on slopes unseen.

Farther in, the cars begin to lose their battle: the weight from the rocky yellow bones grows too mighty to hold back. Rusted vehicles crumple and lean, bowing inward under the mountains' endless oppression. Tireless steel hubs, covered in years of grit, crease under the sustained pressure.

The path gets narrower. It continues winding its way through, but always with less space. Sometimes, a car or two has fallen, unable to hold back the press of bones. Others have bent inward until their frames can no longer handle it. They become part of the mountain, inching minutely forward, compromising the way through. Bones of all sizes and shapes fill their windowless enclosures. Bones scar their roofs and hoods. Bones burst from their trunks. Bones leak from their glassless upper frames like jaundiced tears.

Even narrower, now, until it brushes the camera's sides; until you can only squeeze through. The cars are gone, swallowed. The bones make their own walls. Somehow, there is just enough space to walk. Somehow, with nudges and tugs at your t-shirt and personal brushing against splintered ends, you can get through.

Here, four dozen short femurs scatter the path; there, a river of craggy skulls has overrun the wall, flooding overtop a stack of three old sedans and spilling out, knee-high, onto the ground. The camera wades across.

why?

~s so scary when the~

...no!

want'd'a be a firema~!

~ked it when my daddy hugged me~

why?

sad when gramma died in the bombing last

NOO!!!!

~doctor just like my mommy and know howta fix peo~

why?

Peaks that crest in the stratosphere, or merely a hundred feet up? Valleys the size of how many Olympic pools stitched together end-to-end?

In our application of resources, we're humbled by the Boneyard. Objectively, mandatorily, necessarily humbled. It's a problem of such size that we're staggered by its immensity; rendered impotent by a whisper of a suggestion of a ghost of things so much more important than what we think of as our concerns. Occupying that walk, where the last traces of gristle still rot in the dry wind, we must lie to ourselves about being powerless, or else accept the commensurate blame.

Pick your game. The mountains on the left are all males, on the right, females. Do you want to number the pieces, were they assembled, in the hundreds of thousands, or in the millions? This year's? Last year plus this year? Past ten? Past fifty? How long does the walk last? Does it matter?

As each set of hopes, dreams, pride and personhood goes by, can you hear anything, or do you not give a damn because it doesn't matter? Once you get to the other side, do you think anything differently about your own life and its concerns?

"I'm sorry, but I look out for my own." That's what builds places like these. "I wish I could do something, but it's all just so big." Skulls crunching under your feet. "It's the way the world works." Blood on your hands.

Look left, to the yellow components that once held all those XY pairings. Dreams caught in a rancid updraft. If we care about men, do we ignore that, walk on by, and focus on inappropriate ADD diagnoses and reverse discrimination lawsuits?

Look right, to the yellow components that once held all those XX pairings. Dreams dissipating into the threadbare clouds that cloak the scarred plain of tomorrow. If we care about women, do we ignore that, walk on by, and focus on salary ranges and field hockey team access policies?

Those were real people. Real human beings. Real emotions, real siblings under Mitochondrial Eve, real earning potential, and real lost opportunity cost. Four limbs and a torso and a brain and feelings and hurt and joy and amygdalae now inaccessible, forever hiding from this place the depth of their secrets. Real vaginas and testes long gone. How many were lgbtq? How many lost a pet, or several, before they went? How many wages and careers and legal unions and family planning decisions were irrevocably stolen? Try this: at least half as many as there are intact femurs...and that's just getting started.

The Boneyard pales any cause. Those piles marginalize almost everything you do into the equivalent of a little dog yapping at your guests' ankles. We still eat, we still move, we still care, but our greater concern--our shock, our hurt, our offense, our indignation--needs to be governed by this full and constant disclosure. How many of them "did it"? How many of them were "worth it"? Does the fact that we neither know, nor care enough to adjust our daily routines, say something about us?

If we actually had to walk the walk of even a decade's worth, would it be enough to shock us out of our behavior? Perspective shift?

We protect ourselves by impotence. Oh yes, we paid for it, and we supported it on contingency, and we'd prefer it not have happened--all that. What is life's greatest illusion? Innocence. Maybe we really are as weak, pure, and naive as we pretend. Society, and the government, are big, powerful things beyond our influence.

And yet, at what point do we begin to protest? If we take a maximum action in response to anything at all in the entire world, it should be the Boneyard. Every issue is encapsulated therein, and magnified a thousandfold. Every face could have been ours. We'll never know, in a different world, which one might've made our life tick such that we didn't want to go back to this one. Maybe they moved closer and you liked them. Maybe they made your penultimate art. Maybe they cured something important to you. Any of that.

You only have the attention and space to care about things personal to you. Fine, close it all off. But the instant you cross that line--the instant you get socially upset, and criticize that same government or media or society that you said was too powerful to challenge before--that's when you've crossed the line. That's when you've spit on the rotting bones; seared the floating voices; admitted that you cared so much about pet issues you could challenge that government or media or society, could ostracize friends and relatives over it, but that you didn't give enough of a damn about the Boneyard and everything lost there, to do the same thing.

And it's getting bigger every day. It's not just the greatest injustice of the past. It's the greatest injustice right now, and the greatest injustice of next week and next year. It is bigger than everything else.

Killing. Life and death. Every single thing you can imagine to care about. Freedom of expression. Right to bear arms. Right to choose a sexual partner and retire with dignity and die with dignity and right to be treated well as a patient and right to own property and right to disbelieve in or worship God in your own way and to assemble and love and let love and choose a profession and be respected in it and breathe unpolluted air and appreciate the rainforest and equal housing purchase opportunity and to drive whatever car you prefer in whatever color you prefer and to get a degree as high as your intellect affords you while getting legal sanction and equal justice and liberty for all while pursuing happiness and paying the same cover charge as everyone else and self-identifying with your own culture or blended cultures via the terms that you yourself choose. All stolen, each and every one, from each and every bone in that pile. Every disrespect has been done by those unjust killings. Every single one of those wrongs and a million more, blasted to nothingness forever.

Cold. Hypocritical. Hyperselfish. When we come back to those three words later, the Boneyard is what they mean. Cold. Hypocritical. Hyperselfish.

Remember.

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