After the nightmare, or, parenting when the worst has already happened
(for Bhanu Kapil, who taught me to place my body on the ground)
Last night my child screamed in his sleep, a blood-curdling scream. He doesn’t remember the bad things that happened to him, and he doesn’t remember these dreams.
This morning I went hiking on the prairie.
Ridged backs of gators and spindly bird legs. I thought about getting a bird book and learning to identify them, but I probably won’t. The hum of insects, bright clouds and a hazy sky. I ducked under a chain to walk out on the ranger’s dock. A solar panel caked in cobwebs. Half-submerged rowboat. I think they are cranes, the birds; down from up north.
I’ve developed a fear of being gang-raped in the woods by rednecks. Maybe it’s not okay to say rednecks but I mean bigoted white boys with guns.
I could step on a gator and get my leg bitten off and nobody would hear me scream. I am too soft, too suburban to fashion a tourniquet with a sock or my pink bra.
The trail was closed due to dangerous conditions.
I was tired. Motherhood is a perpetual motion machine.
I laid down in the dirt. I wanted to be cradled but I did not feel cradled but I did feel something. Momentarily still. Something itched me and something else made my eyes close, the sun.
I did not want to get up but I got up when I heard people approach. A mom and a little girl in the middle distance. They giggled as I stood up, my spindly boy body. We were trying to figure out what kind of animal you were.
I just laid down to—look at the clouds.
It’s an inadequate response but she says of course, why not. Modeling a carefree appreciation for nature to the toddler in the jean skirt.
Get up and go, girl.
I got up and went. I gave directions to another family. A grandma and more toddlers. The boardwalk is closed but you can go about half a mile along the path. Yeah there’s gators, on the edge of the lake.
At the staff meeting yesterday there was barbeque for lunch. A big metal tray of chicken quarters, coated in dry rub and cooked over an open fire in the parking lot. The layers of broken bodies. I believe in eating meat but when I saw those broken birds I had to look away. (Life takes life.)
Hippies stop calling your children feral. It’s okay to love the wild, to encourage it in our children. To send them out to play. But that’s not feral. It takes violence to make the edge where the hungry cats are.
One time my son asked me: when our power goes out are we going to eat dog food?
Tell me again that your child is feral. Your beautiful tan babies with their amber necklaces, building forts in the woods behind your home- your insulated house with a well-stocked pantry. Your children won’t go hungry. They won’t be afraid to cross through the door.
I still am trying to figure out what kind of animal you are.