First morning on the playa. Toy Box, Fox, and Ice Pick are the names of a few of my neighbors. When I arrived yesterday at sunset, I knew deep in my heart that this is where I need to be. “The playa heals my heart,” were the words that came to me in that moment. Waiting at gate, seeing the Calico Mountains, I felt a deep sense of peace, of being where I belong. As overused as the phrase is out here, I am home.
“Two people have been hit, please put your van in park,” our greeter said, “People are being pulled over, ticketed and searched, at least one for not using their turn signal.” Wednesday evening, and the playa had been partying for days. Cops on full alert, filling their coffers at their annual fundraiser. Everything is built and ready. I have a few volunteer shifts at Arctica selling ice to participants, but there are no big projects that need help. Everything is now done weeks and months before the event, allowing participants to simply party and enjoy themselves.
“Hey, how’s your burn?” I was asked countless times during my solo walkabout. I knew they were expecting happy answers, so I obliged. I had a hard time connecting, feeling weird and sad instead of happy and outgoing like they were. I was home, but surrounded by strangers. It didn’t help that I lied in response to their first question. Starting out from camp after setting up Ludwig, the camper van (Beethoven) Rupert built us, I’d been to visit a few nearby friends who weren’t home, so I walked through Center Camp and out to the Man. I met a burgin (burner virgin) couple on the koi pond bridge, deer in the headlight eyes, minds completely blown. I looked at the Temple from afar and sighed. I wasn’t ready. I walked the magical Catacomb of Veils. I hitched a ride on an art car to the Light House, waited in line and wandered up and down the stairs. I wasn’t expecting it, but my feet next led me to the Temple.
I stopped a hundred feet away to just look and breath and feel before I entered the sacred space. I asked Rupert to do this with me, and we held hands as I entered, his engraved cremains necklace around my neck. Atheist that we both are, it helped to summon him. I couldn’t enter the Temple alone. So many beautiful faces in pain, the grief palpable, pictures and flowers and notes everywhere. I wrote, “RIP Rupert” on a piece of wood, and I wept. I wept for the future he won’t have, I wept for my loneliness, and I wept for everyone there mourning, aware that someday, we will be mourned. Every single one of us.
Hours later, slowly walking back to camp, a guy rode by and asked the question on everyone’s mind. “Good burn?” I didn’t have the energy to lie. “Okay,” I answered, my voice soft and sad. He whipped his bike around, and asked me if I wanted to talk.
Of all the people I interacted with that night, that bicyclist was the only random with whom I had a real interaction. He took the time to stop and listen and share a hug. I told him stories about the old days, and he told me the history behind this year’s Man and the real event it is based on that Da Vinci and the Medici’s created. Another playa virgin, he was 19 years younger than me; I was only two years younger than him at my first burn. Talking to him helped, and I was able to finish my walk home feeling held and heard.
For many participants, Burning Man is just a party in shitty weather that other people build. It was a relief to meet a young man who gets that there is so much more. Someone who cared to see deeper than the party.
I stay far away from the word why, and sometimes I have a hard time understanding what it means that my partner is dead. Nothing seems to make sense when a wave overtakes me. “Let many beautiful things come from it,” was one of the things he told me last night.
Thank you, stranger, for the few minutes of your time. A beautiful thing. I’m trying to let beautiful things come through my pain, my grief, and my growth.