Sunday, April 29, 2012

What I Remember

I remember having an ultrasound when I was pregnant with my first child. I was so nervous. The technician asked us if we wanted to know the sex (we did) and then told us it was a girl. I cried. I was so happy. And he cried too. He had always wanted a girl.

I remember one day, when our daughter was just a baby, he showed me a book. The book had photographs of nudes. Some of the photos were of young women, many were of children, a few were of whole families. He admired the photographer, whom he called an artist. I remember feeling an uncomfortable sensation in the pit of my stomach. It didn't feel like art to me. I asked where he got the book. He told me his mother gave it to him.

I remember one day, when our kids were toddlers, some girls from down the street were in our backyard. Kids would often come to our yard when we were out because he liked kids and would stop what he was doing and play with them. He started giving airplane rides to the two girls, swinging them around by their feet. The older girl was wearing a dress and when he swung her it bunched down around her armpits. She was trying to pull it back up, she was telling him to stop, but he just kept swinging her. I didn’t understand why he didn't stop. Afterward, I asked him why he didn't stop. He acted like it was nothing.

I remember the internet used to go down all the time when I worked on my computer. My computer was hooked up to the computer in his home office, which was part of a complicated set up with a router and home server. I could never get into his computer to re-set it because he had everything password protected. I would just have to wait until he got home.

I remember him telling me that he didn't understand why men liked big breasts. He said he found small breasts to be much more attractive, even very small breasts.

I remember the door bell ringing and ignoring it, because I had a migraine. I assumed it was solicitors. And then it rang again and I walked downstairs and opened the door and there were three detectives standing there. One showed me his badge and said they had a search warrant.

Later, as they were searching the house, I remember one of the detectives stopping me in the hallway and telling me they would need a picture of my children. I was confused. My kids? Why would they need a picture of my kids? He paused for a long moment, and during that pause it still didn't hit me. Then he said they needed it for comparison. I felt the walls close in upon me. I nodded, and then I went into the bathroom and vomited.

I remember a domestic violence counselor telling me that I needed to go into his office, that I needed to know what was in there. I didn't want to. But I went in and stood among the pulled-out computer wires and stacks of CD's. I found a disc with his handwriting on it. I wondered why the detectives hadn't taken it.

I put the disc into my computer. There were hundreds of images on it. I opened one up. I caught my breath. It was a young girl, maybe nine. Our daughter's age. She was kneeling on some pillows. She wore makeup and a pearl necklace, but other than that she was naked. I called the lead detective and he was at the house in ten minutes.

I remember my aunt and brother flying out to help me pack up his office. Because I couldn't go back in there. Every time I thought of going in there, I felt ill. As they were packing, they kept finding more stuff. The detective came back out to the house several times. Finally, he said to set everything aside and then call him when we were done packing.

That little girl, she looked so much like my daughter. The same round face. I can still see her face. I can never un-see her face. She was just a girl. She had a mother. Where was her mother? For god's sake, she was just a little girl.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

The Wild

The road to Denver is a good ten hours of steady driving. I've barely begun and already the strip malls and subdivisions are thinning out, giving way to miles of rolling field.

When I hit the open spaces my body exhales and relaxes. All the tight places in me unwind. My mind clears, the walls come down, my heart expands. I am wide awake. It's the emptiness and silence, the purity of a simple landscape. I could drive on like this forever.

I make the trip a couple of times a year. The city itself is a blur. It's all big buildings and fast cars. It's not about Denver, it's about the spaces in between.

I wonder at the irony of this, that a rich experience of nature is had by driving through it.

As I travel west, there are fewer signs of habitation. The rows of wheat and milo disappear, the distance between exits stretches out, and soon I'm on the open prairie. The Flint Hills. Just the road and miles of pale golden grass fanning out to the horizon. If I squint just right, I don't even see the road.

Herds of buffalo used to blanket the plains. They thundered across the prairie, hundreds of thousands of them, bellowing their buffalo songs and sending vast clouds of dust to the heavens. They are gone now, for the most part. Just a handful of solemn beasts circling the boundaries of their enclosures, turning their heads into the wind to catch the scent of something they almost remember.

There is an animal farm just off the highway in western Kansas. I guess you would call it a roadside attraction. As you get close, wooden signs announce, Prairie Dog Town! and 5-legged cow! I stopped there once, years ago. Why did I do that? I don't know why. As soon as I got there, I regretted it.

Nonetheless, I ventured onto the grounds. There was a large barn that had been converted into a gift shop, and outside a series of pens which held an odd assortment of domestic and wild animals. It was summer and the heat was oppressive. In one pen was a cow with a shriveled appendage protruding from it's shoulder. In another, a wild boar nosed the ground with his snout. There was no shade.

Towards the far end I walked up to a cage with a concrete floor. As I drew near, I caught my breath. Inside was a wolf. He was large, his coat a brilliant auburn with flecks of gray. When I approached, he didn't flinch.

I guessed he had been in that cage for a long time, years perhaps. The sign on the cage was weathered. It told me his name. I don't remember his name, only that it was something ridiculous. I stood there and looked at this wolf until I couldn't look at him any more. I turned and walked back to my car.

Every time I drive to Denver I pass those signs. Every time I pass them I look away.

* * *

About fifteen years ago I moved from Seattle to the Midwest. On the drive out I took a detour through Yellowstone Park. My car was crammed with books and clothes. My two cats rode shotgun. It was fall and the aspen were turning. The long grass glinted gold in the sunlight.

I took a wrong turn at some point, without realizing it, and ended up on a road that was closed to the public. I wound slowly through the park, mesmerized, wondering where all the other cars were. I realized my mistake when I came to a dead-end.

I turned my car around and headed back, only to stop after a hundred feet. A full-grown male bison had wandered onto the road and was standing in my path. I looked at him and he looked directly at me. My cat hissed.

He was huge, as big as my car. He huffed in the cool autumn air. A long spit of saliva hung from his mouth. He was the most magnificent thing I'd ever seen.

We sat there and regarded each other for several minutes and I wondered if I should be afraid. He could crush my car if the whim took him. But I wasn't afraid.

I wondered what it would be like to stand next to him and touch him. To feel the quiver of muscle beneath his skin, the expansion and release of his breath. I knew better than to go near a wild animal. But I wanted to touch him precisely because he was wild. I wanted to slip inside him for a moment, and know him from the inside out.

After a long time he turned and wandered back off the road. I sat and watched him retreat. I thought to myself, if you took that animal and placed him in a land without fences, that would be my religion.

* * *

I live in a beige house in a beige subdivision that sits on the edge of the prairie. To the east of me are more subdivisions. To the west, open fields. I straddle the boundary between civilization and the wild.

At night I sit in bed and listen to the cars go by, until it gets late, and then I listen to the crickets and the soft whoosh of bat wings. If I listen long enough, there is only the sound of the wind.

Later, when the world is asleep, I close my eyes and slip out of my body and through the window and glide low over the fields. If I wanted to, I could reach down and touch the tops of the tall grass. If I wanted to, I could shift into the earth herself and be perfectly content.


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