Monday, 27 February 2012

About My Neck: Two

When I was five we lived in a duplex. There was chartreuse carpet on the living room floors and pears on kitchen wallpaper. The landlady, a Mrs. Morningstar,  lived in the top floor of the other half of the duplex. She rented out the bottom of half. A lady snake lived under our back stoop. Across the street, two sisters added solar panels to their roof, and down the road, a woman named Fritzi built dioramas inside styrofoam Big Mac containers. I still thought that everyone had sisters who came over on the weekends, that the mild grade in our driveway was a giant hill, and that if I asked the boy down the road to be my boyfriend I'd have to kiss him and marry him.

I wasn't sure I was ready to make that kind of commitment.

I went to afternoon kindergarten. I had the whole morning to play with that boy or to hop off the stoop or to run my fingers across Holly Hobby's face on my pillowcase. Before going to school, I had cheese sandwiches and tomato. Or maybe that just happened once, and it is all I can remember. School had monkey bars, an elephant slide, and part of the child-kidnapping hysteria that was engulfing America. 

Each night my mother checked that the windows were closed, and my father locked the doors. Mostly I dreamed about Muppet-like monsters driving around in wooden racing cars. They never had good intentions. When I woke desperate to urinate, I had to hold my breath so the witch who occupied the front room wouldn't reach out and grab me.

And so, even in sleep, I must have been quite relieved to find myself sitting in my yellow pajamas on the our front stoop--the stoop that wasn't occupied by a snake--in broad daylight with no sign of racing cars or Muppets. I knew that Mom was in the kitchen and any minute she'd tell me to it was time to shut the door and go to bed.

I wasn't surprised to see the Easter Bunny wandering down the street, complete with mesh mouth and colorful suit vest. I knew he wasn't the real Easter Rabbit because the real Easter Rabbit couldn't leave the mall. And I knew, because I'd been told, that I should run inside and lock the door. But my legs had gone numb, and he was half-way up the driveway. I knew, because I'd been told, that I should scream for my mother, but the rabbit had raised his white-mitten hand to his lips. With that gesture, he'd taken away my voice. I knew that it was inevitable, that he'd planned on taking me, and by not running or screaming I'd been complicit in my own undoing. Still I tried to find more screaming voice. The rabbit took his gun and shot me in the right shoulder. I don't remember waking up, only that feeling that I was being suffocated and couldn't unfreeze enough to fight.

I still sometimes dream that I'm sitting on the front stoop in my yellow nightgown waiting for the inevitable. I always know that it's the shock of the thing that will keep me from running. But I have never since dreamed the Easter Rabbit coming up our driveway.

It's the anticipation that most of my nightmares are made of, the knowledge of what will happen if I let my guard down.

I expect that's why I don't worry so much about the rattlesnake simply biting me. It's the length of time, the enforced patience of waiting for her to climb my body, before she struck my neck. It's the knowledge that my hands, like my voice, would lose all usefulness and fail to act before the snake truly stuck.

There are six whole months before September 1st, and I am trying hard to keep my wits about me. I'm trying hard to see more that an arrival in the US without job, without healthcare, without savings. I am trying hard to remember to shake off the snake rather than, in my own inaction, offering it my neck.

Sunday, 26 February 2012

About the Serpent: One

There must have been a sale at Sears.

September is whispering at my heels. Not so much a dog as a great rattle snake, threatening to work its way up to my throat before biting. I'm not sure why it is the idea of  bite to throat that I find so horrifying.

I've lived my life in fear of rattlers--those and bull snakes. They're both fears learned while tracing my fingers through the hunter-green patterns that wound their way--yes, like serpents--through the chartreuse carpet of my first ten years. The carpet was the same chartreuse carpet all writers in their mid-thirties will tell you about. It must have been a Sears' special mid-1977 or so. Or maybe I still have the mistaken thinking of all those years ago, the belief that the world began with me.

Can of beer in his left hand and a cigarette burning down in the ashtray, my dad used talk about the rattlers he'd killed while guiding rich folks about on horseback or the ones he'd found making babies in the brush. My once-rich-folk mother could tell more than a few stories of her own. Add to that the stories of three sisters and a slew of great aunts and the one uncle, and my fear of all snakes met and bred a whole new monster in my small mind.

I revered all those grown-up folks who knew how not to get bitten.

I know it's the sort of pissing contest folks from the Great Plains engage in. In Alaska, it was how nearly the moose had crushed my car or how low the thermostat sat. In Oregon, it was the number of sunless days one had lived through.Here it's the drought of '76 when this small island saw so little rain, or for those in their mid-thirties, the hurricane in the Channel.

The first time I saw a snake, any snake, we were living out in Lakewood in the house on Twenty-Fifth Place. I was big enough to sit out in the backyard on the concrete stoop by myself; though, I wasn't so big that my mother was taken with telling me to pick one, in or out. She wasn't watching me out the kitchen window that day. I'm sure of it because I can still taste the grapevine I was holding in between my molars and my left cheek. I hopped up and down those three steps, two feet at a time. And there she was, a snake as long as my own chubby arm, and moving as fast as her body would take her. And now I think, of all things under the sun, why was she in such a hurry to get through the cracked cement and under the steps. Surely, she wouldn't have headed for the piece of ground on which I was making an unseemly racket. That was the last time that I went down those steps without trepidation.

I learned to leap from the bottom step and well over the crack in the pavement. This despite my mother's reassurance that garter snakes were good: they ate mice, her own deepest fear.  I hadn't even started school, but I was sure my mother was wrong about the snake, and sure she was right about the god I prayed would keep me from harm each time I leapt across the crevice.

I wonder when it is that we stop believing our parents, and start making truths out of our own fairy stories.
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