There was the squirrel my mom killed while in Colorado with my dad, before my brother and I were born. She slowed down to let it cross the road and then a dart and a run and a realization that sometimes we are the hands used to suck life out of other bodies. My mom had to pull over on the mountain pass, stumble out of the car, dry heave into the bushes.
The instinct to curl in on oneself is a desire to protect that part of you that is most vulnerable and also keeps you alive. In water, I am the same as when I was in my mother’s womb, able to move around through water and blood, draw my knees up to my chest, wrap my arms around my legs, another barrier of flesh and bone around the beating muscle sheltered behind my sternum.
The turtles were a cruel trick of nature, their mother having crossed the road of our newly developed neighborhood to lay her eggs in the pond behind the house of a boy I thought one day I might decide to have a crush on, and then the babies getting flattened by cars on the trek back across the road to their home, shells crushed like the walnuts my brother would smash with his heel whenever we found them on bike trails. We started rescuing them when we saw them, taking them to our backyard where our dad waited with the kiddie pool he had filled with water and minnows he had gotten for food. The first two we brought home we named Paint and Pint, Pint being my favorite as the smaller of the two.
As I child I imagined myself to be a pharaoh each night in bed, my arms crossed against my chest. King Tut never made it to adulthood and yet the world wouldn’t let him die, evidenced by the National Geographics my brother and I would page through.
There was the day, then, when Pint went missing, and although we searched every inch of our yard, roping in the neighbor kids to help, we never found him. Precarious, searching for a tiny living creature in a kingdom of grasses being flattened by the feet and knees of my brother and our friends, the tires of my wheelchair. Later, my brother sat on the back of our van crying as my dad explained to us both that God gives and God takes.
There was the opossum on our way home from my grandparents, angry eyes flashing in the light reflected from our headlights, made mirrors by our machine. It writhed and snarled and frothed in the dark that night afforded it, and to this day I thank the forces that kept me buckled in the middle of the van, unable to crane my neck and look out the window, witnessing the half of the opossum’s body that had been mangled beyond recognition, plastered to the cement of the road. My dad said we had to hit the rest of it, that it was mercy, that we couldn’t let it stay there, stuck to the road and in pain and not knowing why it couldn’t move. My mom put her face in her hands and I could see the image burned on the back of her eyelids.
I would later have paintings of mermaids hung in my apartment, each woman curled around her tail. A fetus beginning. I still don’t know if mermaids bleed. I still don’t know if mermaids fuck. The instinct to curl in on oneself is a desire to protect that part of you that is most vulnerable and also keeps you alive.
There was the grasshopper that flew the wrong way into the path of my brother’s bike as we rode up and down up and down my neighbor’s driveway. This evisceration I saw. Wings crushed, insides oozing, legs twitching as the insect tried to free itself from the force binding it to that hot, sun-splattered pavement. My brother pressed down on the breaks, skidded to a halt. We have to kill it, he said. I don’t remember if we did.
My mother collected arrowheads before she met my dad, carefully formed flint that could pierce through the skin of any intruder, perhaps the most solid thing for her to latch onto during family camping trips with my park ranger grandfather and the woman who trailed behind him, thinking of the career as a music teacher she had traded in for this life. This was after my grandpa’s brother burned down the family farm. I don’t know if my mother’s own brother had yet to shave his eyebrows off and hitchhike across the country. I now have an image of an arrowhead tattooed into the skin on my breastplate, a mermaid carved into my shoulder. What barriers of flesh and bone did my mother forge around her own heart? Which did I inherit?
Hannah Soyer is a queer disabled creative writer and artist interested in perceptions and representations of what we consider ‘other.’ She is the creator of the This Body is Worthy project, which aims to celebrate bodies outside of mainstream societal ideals, and the founder of Freedom Words, a program to design and implement creative writing workshops specifically for students with disabilities. She has been published in Cosmopolitan, InkLit magazine, Mikrokosmos Journal, Hot Metal Bridge, and Rooted in Rights. Her piece, ‘what do i know about consent anyway’ was the winner of Brain Mill Press’s Break Poetry Open National Poetry Month Contest, and she is a finalist for Tolsun Books ‘Memoir’ Chapbook Contest.
Featured Image: From W.R. Wilde’s ‘A Descriptive Catalogue of The Antiquities of Stone, Earthen, and Vegetable’ from the Museum of the Royal Irish Academy (1857)