Summer/Autumn

     We lived for that intersection of seasons — the brief moment when summer and autumn coexisted, much like an eclipse of sun and moon. We were happy in that interim.

     And it was so quick. Fast like snapping your fingers. If only it were infinite, maybe then we’d be happy all the time.

     But its brevity made it what it was — a short respite from the oppressive heat of summer and the increasingly frosty mornings of fall. That temporal nature could not be stretched — no matter how much we wished for it to do so — because of the short stay, for that very base reason, it made us as happy as we could possibly be. We would surely not have known this kind of joy had it been one second longer.

Snapshot of Adolescence V

I have a birthmark on my back that has always looked like the beginnings of a gnarly bruise. After every running practice that I pull off my jersey someone else tells me I have a sick skin contusion near where my left kidney resides. And the fervor with which they exclaim it makes me almost need to check twice to be certain. But it’s always been there. Since birth — like a smear of raspberry-colored dye that cannot be washed clean. During those practices, I run like I am being chased. My entire form extends and my feet skip over the rubbery track surface, barely touching down. Tendons, ligaments, and muscles lengthen and contract. A dead sprint every time. I can hear the shoes of those girls just behind me. Can feel their panting breath on my shoulders and neck. Each is vying for my place at the front of the pack. But every time one is about to catch up and pass, I simply push the sprint til the finish line.

Snapshot of Adolescence IV

There are moments on the basketball court when everything is very still. And my mind is blank, save the movements before me — the ball slicing through air, the bodies next to me, the angle of an open teammate’s hands in my direction. And I become the breath passing through me, and I can feel the gym floor through the bottom of my sneakers. Extraneous sounds fall away, and what I hear distinctly is only that thump of rubber on wooden floorboards, the call of my teammates, the reverb of the backboard, and the hiss of net.

It is like swimming — it is like I am swimming again as a small child. In this environment, it all feels natural and correct. And I can sense the world tight and close around me, like water — where I know exactly what to do and where I have to go. It is just like that.

Then there are moments on the court when I can not locate an individual thought in my head. And everything — the murmuring crowd, the directive-shouting coaches, the clacking of the scoreboard, the calls of teammates and opponents, the thudding floorboards — are loud, blurring together, deafening in my ears and reverb-ing against the inner walls of my skull. And my breath is a shallow memory of oxygen, unable to inflate the filaments and cavities of the lungs I know were there at some point.

And I become a creature who has forgotten how to behave, to exist, to survive. It is an alien sensation that has — somehow — become all too familiar. I have lost the knowledge of how to swim in this world. And I thrash furiously through the foreign and frightening sights and sounds, rush through movements that were once instinctual. I am gasping and voiceless — frantically searching for the shore.

Snapshot of Adolescence III

When we drove home through the cornfields and the dark of evening had descended, there were deer that crossed the road. We had to drive slowly because one never knew when they would leap across the bridge of concrete traversing through the farms. They’d bound wildly in the headlights, surprised, caught off guard, fear in their bellies as they tried to avoid the bumpers coming at them through the darkness. Then they would turn on the gravel shoulder and in the grass lining the road to stare as the vehicle plugged forward, their eyes aglow in the fading beam of the taillights. I always shifted in my seat to watch them as we moved on, waiting for their nimble bodies to vanish back into the night.  Some nights we would catch them just before they threatened to cross, and they’d stand, hooves on the edge of the concrete as we swerved across the centerline. There’d always be more than one animal, each of them gaping in the shadows suddenly cast by the vehicle. They’d toe the road, and we’d drive on.

Every time my father drove me home after those practices it would be slowly, due to those deer. We would cruise through the fields and connecting strips of trees like a small boat through the night. My quads would ache and sometimes I’d still be breathing hard from all the wind sprints.

It always felt good being in the car with him after basketball. I knew that I could go take a shower and read, then go to sleep. The only respite I felt I had during those years of continuous practices. My back hurt sometimes still since I’d sprained it, but I could take a long, hot shower, turn my back towards the water and let it roll down the curve of my spine and over my aching legs. Then I could curl myself up on my side, hold my knees to my chest and fall asleep after swallowing a couple of ibuprofen. Sleep was the time I lived for. If I could have only slept and eaten, then those would have been the only things I would ever have done. No more practices, no more school, no more anything but unconsciousness and a finally satiated stomach.

One evening as we puttered home, my father swerved to the other side of the road due to a red pickup that was pulled over haphazardly in our lane. As we passed, a man in a worn cap and Carhartts was pulling a shotgun from the back of the truck. In the headlights of the vehicle, we could see the mangled mess of horn and bone and pelt and insides, hooves and legs twisted into the air — that used to be deer. It was still breathing; you could see its short, raspy exhalations in the cold air above where its mouth would be. My father paused the car for a moment, a little too long, before pressing the gas. There was muffled thunder from the discharge of the gun behind us, and he said something about venison and burgers for the winter, along with a short mention of suffering and mercy. We rode in silence after that, our tiny ship honed towards home.

Snapshot of Adolescence II

The school bus drops me off at the barn after school, and I clean stalls and horses until it is time for my lesson. The manuals and experts measure each animal hand over hand from ground to the tips of its ears. But I measure each creature by how close to flying it feels to ride atop its back. How fast we can go without me screaming, as I cling to the scratchy wisps of mane that run up the horse’s neck. When I find myself gliding through the air and coming into contact with the dirt for the first time, I lie still for a long moment. The gray gelding that tossed me bends his head in my direction. His large, soft nostrils flaring to take in my scent. Then I am laughing, sucking air, and the other young riders stare like I’m crazy. Later, when I am cleaning stalls again, an old mare will step on my foot. And all 1200 pounds of her will press into the bones that make up my toes, snapping those of the longest one. Later, my father will tape it to the others, and I’ll slip my boot on the following day. Sit astride that same mare and clutch her withers as we glide through the dust of a mild October evening.

Snapshot of Adolescence I

During the summers, we canoe in the lakes, rivers, and streams of Ontario — just above those boundary waters of Minnesota. We campers exist without electricity or running water, air conditioning or toilets, televisions or the internet. It is something like dreaming, or so I feel as I carry the food pack on my shoulders. Hike the winding, rock-strewed trail between where one lake ends and another begins. We play euchre in the tents on the days it rains and thunders. And paddle our way across the waters lined with cliffs and firs on the days when skies are clear. Keep course on a blue and green map that I lay across my thighs as we drift, finger forever tracing across the expanse of miles and miles and miles of wilderness. Full-grown bull moose wade in the shallows, dipping their heads in and out of the water which drips from the massive rack of antlers perched atop their skulls. Their hardy jaws work, lake grasses and weeds between their teeth and watching us guardedly as we glide by in our canoes, quiet and still as hunted mice. A great northern pike is slick in my hands as I try to grab the hook sticking out from its lips. But he bends and strikes, his long serrated teeth clamping down on the fleshy place between my thumb and index finger. Moments later I watch one of the boys fillet that pike, slicing the blade of his knife into its belly. And the fish will still be alive, gills gaping open and closed, large liquid eye rolling in its head. I do not look away, as blood runs through the bandage I press into the open wound of my skin, dripping through the fabric and my fingers like rain.

Exploration

“A man is asleep in the next room
     We are his dreams
     We have the heads and breasts of women
     the bodies of birds of prey
     Sometimes we turn into silver serpents”
                                                                   – Adrienne Rich in Diving Into The Wreck                                      
    I remember times when I have laughed at certain jokes and seemingly random aside comments of casual misogyny. I think back on those moments and wonder how I could have chuckled so easily? How readily these blatant suggestions and hints of gender/sexuality based violence have risen from some individuals’ throats and out their mouths, falling upon the ears of those who know better. How could these persons be so cad about veiled but handy threats against others — those who are their friends, their coworkers, their lovers, and family? How could we, me, giggle as though these threats are never carried out, that there are those among us — men and women — who suffer beneath the weight of their constant shadow? Why do we titter about what is a reality as though it were not? How is it that I myself can giggle when I could easily be made victim of such suggested acts? And, perhaps, be made yet another survivor or simple statistic, of the misogyny that dominates our culture, but that so many — possible victims and probable perpetrators — have willed themselves to believe is just innocent fodder, guiltless fuel for laughs over drinks and dinner.
    The hair on my skin stands on end every time, no matter how I may grin and chuckle, allow these moments to pass without raising objections. Because, I have now begun to understand, there was silent objection, muted query and closemouthed protest. And I can guess that it wasn’t just my own disapproval. There are those around me whose hair also stands up in the same mum manner. They might not have a clear notion of why this is happening, but it’s there — the cloudy idea that what is being said isn’t funny, is too true to ever be simple, or simply humorous.
     Every one loses in a misogynistic culture. Men and women and those innumerable individuals who do not/choose not to fall into that limiting, culturally-constructed binary of identity. Even those who would be labeled perpetrators — they are losing out too…on the better options, actions, and identities possible for themselves and for those with whom they come into contact and affect/are affected by.
    The current political and cultural climate of our nation and world is in my brain as I both skim and sink into Adrienne Rich’s seventh volume of poetry, Diving Into The Wreck: Poems 1971 – 1972. The precision of her language across such a range of experiences yields images so delicately personal yet, also, so revelatory in their universal nature. Rich renders clearly identifiable feelings and notions that were once foggy — shrouded in cloud, floating along the edges of conscious thought. She writes of loss, love, intent, despair. And of those horrible things that one person can do to another. This includes acts of terrifying violence, rape, and homicide, events that seem so hard to imagine at more innocent moments but are so present all around, all the time, are reality for so many.   
     I grapple with my distance from/proximity to the events that swirl around and surround me. I fumble to make sense of the tectonic-plate-like shifting of roles for men and women throughout the world. I sometimes weep over what it feels like I owe to others because of those roles that I have been forced/willingly stepped into. And I despair over what others find their spines bending and splintering under the weight of. 
     So, in my struggle forward, treading — sometimes weakly, other times fiercely and with such great purpose — through the murk, I will discover a buoy at my fingertips and grab hold. Call it a romantic, silly mirage. Call it a privilege afforded to so few. Call it whatever you wish. But I will continue to reach for those small islands of respite and re-invigoration, like Rich’s transcendent, gloriously fortifying poems. We all find our strength where we can.
  
   
“I came to explore the wreck.
The words are purposes.
The words are maps.
I came to see the damage that was done
and the treasures that prevail.”
                                                                – Adrienne Rich in Diving Into The Wreck