my mother tells this story to anyone who hasn't heard it. at age eleven, we stepped out of the beijing international airport, and i screamed, dropping the handle of my suitcase to whip my hands over my face.

'what is this? what's this stuff getting into my eyes? i can't see!'

my aunts and uncles who came out to meet me for the first time, they laughed. 'is this what an american is? it's just wind, child.'

i remember a dry heat blasting me, sand that the wind dragged across the continent burrowing relentlessly against my skin. everything sought water, the moisture of my breath, my mouth, my eyelids; dry things stuck to wet things. that's how it worked. i put on sunglasses. decades later, i'd learn about desertification, china's massive terraforming projects that drained rivers and crumbled landscapes. later, i'd stand on a spit of land protruding from the empty quarter, marveling at how it could be simultaneously humid from the arabian sea and arid from a chalky earth that resisted water.

my mother, who grew up between the dirty dense crush of humanity within beijing's walls and the desolate northern steppes, still laughs when she tells this story to her friends, of a child she raised in a land so lush and clean that being blinded by a summer windstorm caused an existential crisis.

16 March 2018 20:02

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