By Maza Guzmán
While in denial about my bipolar disorder, I decided, maniacally, to drive from Los Angeles to San Antonio with three baby chickens in the back of my blue Chevy Cruze. I had agreed to adopt them before my then-girlfriend put me in the hospital, and my conviction was, when I emerged a week later no less manic and much more fearful, that I could not abandon my babies, no matter what happened.
At every gas station, every motel, everywhere I could, I would crack the back windows open so that I could show off my babies to passersby, ideally children whose mothers’ eyes would widen as they pointed out one, two, three of my darlings. Once, in the parking lot of a gas station, I fully opened the door to replace their water jug, and they escaped, running under a neighboring car. I enlisted a small family, apparently familiar with chickens, in wrangling them back to my passenger side, but the adolescent chicks refused to return to the blanketed backseat, their nest, where I had poured hemp bedding in the footwells. Eventually, I developed a technique with my walking stick, using a sweeping motion to scare them back into the familiar.
The most beautiful effect of mania, I found, is the certainty, how everything makes sense. Destiny is the day’s return each and every day, until you find yourself penniless on the side of the road. It took six weeks, my mind and the wheels of a rented Tesla running fatally fast–so fast I couldn’t remember all of it. I had abandoned the Chevy in Alhambra before taking the road north to Seattle, but I did not abandon the chickens. They lasted until the end of those weeks, in the middle of the desert in Apple Valley, probably eaten and enjoyed by coyotes.
I wailed, pleading with the gods I had espoused concurrently with the chickens. These gods were neutral clowns armed with cruel jokes, ever ready to bestow lessons harshly. I had allowed my babies their freedom from the car for just one day as I attempted to purvey my clairvoyance at a cannabis convention. They had never before roamed far from their assigned bush where I set their food and water jug. But the bush proved insufficient defense against the desert’s will.
Throughout my mania, I invested my faith into a single coin–heads yes, tails no–and braced myself for the truth: were they dead? Heads–yes. Still I pleaded. I could not have guessed that just a month into the future I would be pleading for my own life, at the mercy of my own hands, as I fought suicidal instincts. But I spent that day hiking over sandy hills blooming with tiny desert flowers, searching for signs of my chicken babies and not finding even one feather.
I called the woman from La Quinta who had babysat my chickens one afternoon as I stewed in the hot tub. She had gushed about my chickens as much as I did, once a chicken mother herself. They were adorable. She assured me that coyotes would have left a mess. “Someone must have taken them,” she reassured me. “There’s no need to cry. Someone must have picked them up.”
Now when I hear the word “desert,” my heart shrinks. I think of the road, the strangers I grew attached to in my loneliness, the wild bravery desiccated and replaced by shame. A world without destiny, without a holy mandate to keep my babies alive and well, leaves me shaken with confusion over those cruel gods, now fully abandoned. How can chemicals in the brain so thoroughly change the material of your soul? I marvel at the life I led before the mania, before the chickens, when our shared reality held enough weight, enough purpose, to keep me moving through my days without hitting 106 miles per hour.
Maza Guzmán is a non-binary, multi-genre artist and writer currently living in the Chicago area while aspiring to return to Los Angeles. In 2020, they were featured in the documentary film The Art of Protest. In 2021, one of their needle-felted originals played a role in an award-winning stop-motion short. They’re currently working on a surrealist memoir, finding inspiration in space, science, queerness, and the bittersweet. They studied creative nonfiction writing at Northwestern University. This is their first publication.