marble reunion by Alex Johnatakis

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Mountain or martian blueberries are two other names for moqui marbles. I don’t know where the name moqui comes from, just that I always want to spell it like the Japanese ice cream, mochi. They’re pretty boring rocks, going by looks alone. Grayish blue, round, and without as much heft as you would expect. But it’s not their looks that make them interesting, so says my mom. She discovered a cluster of them on the mountain behind her house. Mom has never done anything by halves, so before long she had several five gallon buckets of them in her basement.

The rocks grow in pairs, eternally monogamous in a way humans never could be. If a pair is left alone, the energy between them will cause the rocks to reorient themselves to each other. Through landslides, wildfires, and human stupidity, the marbles will turn to each other. I don’t know if I find that romantic or unhealthily codependent.

As with all good New Age Science, these marbles were significant to a group of First Nation people, the ascribed tribe depends on the source. When a relative died, you’d place their marbles outside the tent. Apparently, people are so bonded to their rocks that they will come to play with them, even in death.

Also, they’ve only ever been found in two places – Utah and Mars.

Naturally, my theory is that a UFO landed in the Ocher mountains, and their landing gear affected the local geography in a way that caused the marbles to form. Obviously this alien family also stopped by Mars.

I don’t know what came first, my mom’s discovery of the moqui marbles or her obsession with rock hounding. Either way, the years of rockhounding marked some of the worst for my mom’s bipolar disorder.

My mom’s never been officially diagnosed with bipolar disorder. Her sister has, and so has my brother. When she was in her late thirties, she was diagnosed with ADHD. Honestly, none of us were too surprised at that diagnosis. Our house was always spotless and mom busy at some new extravagant project. Recently, people have started using the word “extra” to describe someone who goes the extra mile and then some. The type of person that posts their child’s birthday parties to Pinterest. Everything my mom does is extra. I don’t think she ever just sits, and can’t half-ass something if she wanted to.

The doctor prescribed Aderall. Side note: Aderall is used to treat attention-deficit disorders, and also happens to be an appetite suppressant. When she first started on it, she exclaimed “Oh, so this is what it feels like to be normal.” A few months later, she confided that while she loved the Aderall and the way it conferred on her the ability to think linear thoughts, it let her anxiety catch up to her. The ADHD had kept her a few steps ahead of the demons that followed her around since childhood. When she reached her goal weight, she went back off Aderall.

My mom is a natural story teller. When we were kids she would regale us with tales of the condemned home in Central Point that they lived in, or how she’d catch crawfish with her dad along the river in Hell’s Canyon so they’d have enough to eat. There was the time her mom discovered portraits in the attic and conducted a seance to rid the house of the evil spirits in the portraits. These stories were interwoven into my own childhood, along with Johnny Cash and Hank Williams.

It wasn’t until I reached adulthood that I began to comprehend the level of poverty my mom grew up in. We got the glossed-over highlight reel of a childhood that was nothing short of traumatic. Her half-brother Mike left home at fourteen rather than live with a step-father who’d beat him senseless. He embarked on an interesting journey of drugs, arrests, halfway houses, and repeat. My mom left at sixteen, ending up in a foster home with a sexual predator.

The more I learn of my mom’s childhood the more I understand her drive to stay ahead of it and think only of the future. I’ve heard that PTSD and bipolar disorder often present the same way.

During manic periods my mom sets off on month-long road trips with her brother, Mike. He can not legally hold a driver’s license anymore, so he’ll take a Greyhound bus to meet my mom somewhere halfway between Salt Lake City and Eugene, Oregon. These trips result in more stories added to my mom’s arsenal. Storytelling has been her saving grace, letting her hide the trauma beneath the excitement.

Her depressive periods mean that my siblings who are still at home text each other mood updates. My youngest sister is the worst at walking on egg shells, so she usually gets the brunt of the moods. I wonder if my mom’s temper tantrums have caused PTSD for any of us, and if we’ll act bipolar because of it.

Sometimes I think interesting stuff happens to my mom just because she’s open to it. Or maybe she seeks it out. Maybe she could make the phone book into a riveting tale. Her latest trip took her and Mike to a small town in the middle of nowhere, Idaho. The exact location was never relevant to the story. I can imagine my mom’s ivory SUV rolling into a town with nothing more than a gas station, a hardware store, and a hair salon. Her and Mike will stroll into the gas station, and start chatting up the cashier. Mike will buy a pack of Camel Blues, the same cigarette that killed his mother. My mom will find a way to strike up a lively conversation with the cashier. Maybe it will be politics or weather, but most likely, she’ll make a self-deprecating or crude joke. Instantly, she’ll have a friend. Soon, the conversation will turn to rock hounding. The best locations for rare gems still haven’t made it to the internet. Try searching moqui marbles. You’ll find plenty of information on locations you CAN’T gather them, but not a single mention of that spot near my parent’s house.

My mom gifted me a pair of moqui marbles a year after my divorce, telling me the legend of eternal pairs. At the time, it felt like a condemnation of my single state. It wasn’t until she took me out to the mountain with my children to find our own that I realized that the rocks grew in colonies. They weren’t just pairs, they were whole families that were always reorienting to each other as the earth shifted around them.


Alex Johnatakis is a writer and a (lower-case) librarian living in Idaho. She is also on the board for Indigo Idaho, a nonprofit that creates events for artists of all kinds to talk about mental health and illness. Her writing has appeared in Idaho Life Magazines, Idaho Virtual Reality Council, and Bella Mia Magazine.

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