I was a desert creature for so many years. Solitary, feral.
Sometimes when people get to know me a little, when they get close enough to begin to smell the wildness, they ask me how it is that I’ve been married for so long. All I can say is that my husband is very stubborn. He also travels a lot, which gives me some much-needed space. But he always comes back. That’s how.
Once upon a time, I opened a drawer in my desk and found a mouse in it. A wild mouse. I picked her up by her tail and put her in a bucket. Then I went to the pet store and bought a cage and bedding and food.
For the rest of her life, she lived in a corner of my office behind the door. Sometimes I’d hear her back there, running and running on her little wheel. When I tried to peek at her, she’d cling to the wheel and tap it frantically with one of her front paws. I took to crocheting little nests for her from leftover yarn. Then when I needed to clean the cage, when my giant hand invaded her space, she could dive into the nest. And I could pick up the nest and put it in the bucket while I attacked the cage with warm soapy water.
I called her “The Poopsmith” because of what she’d done in my desk. She never did become tame. That would have been too much to ask. I didn’t need her to be tame, though. All I wanted was for her to stop shitting on my pens.
When I was nine, we had a cat who hunted chipmunks in the old stone wall behind our house. Sometimes she’d corner them against the side of the house and watch them for what seemed like hours. Once, I scooped up a quivering little beastie and carried it around in the kangaroo pocket of my red sweatshirt until my father noticed what I was doing and gave me a chilling lecture about rabies shots.
When I ran away from home, I wore that same sweatshirt. Instead of a chipmunk, I had in my pocket: my small red and silver flashlight, my little green pocket knife, and my life savings (two dollars and sixty three cents).
Twenty years later, I tried to tell Dad about what had happened to me when he’d been gone. “I’m sorry,” he said, which was a good start. But then he ruined it by doing an exaggerated double take. “Wait, what?” he said, “Your mother had hepatitis?”
For a long time – maybe ten years – those words rattled in the rock tumbler of my mind. Had he really not known? How could that be? And then one day I was driving to work, to the same office where the Poopsmith lived in her cage behind the door, and a smooth hard shiny fact-rock emerged. I remembered him taking me and my sister to the doctor to get gamma globulin shots. So we wouldn’t get hepatitis. We were whining, as children do, about having to get shots. And he said he wanted his shot in his nose. He was always such a smartass.
I had to pull over and scream and pound the steering wheel.
I had a therapist, but she wasn’t very good. Sometimes when I’d complain about how hard it was to sleep, she’d ask me “Are you taking your Klonopin?” One day I told her I felt like I had a wire cage inside my chest. She looked at me like I had suddenly sprouted a second head. I made a sculpture as a visual aid, and I showed her a photograph of it. She said maybe I’d be better off working with someone else. It was a relief to hear that.
Several years later, several sculptures later, it occurred to me that maybe I had a little problem with the Klonopin. It was a tiny dose, but I found myself craving it. So stopped taking it, and I got sick. Yup, definitely a problem. I made some phone calls and found another therapist. Let’s call her E. “I need help,” I told her. It was a Friday. She said she could see me on Monday.
She was a Class A Weirdo.
For a long time, I could barely stand to be in the same room with her. The only way I could do it was to sit behind the chair instead of in it. Even then, I wanted to crawl out of my own skin. Sometimes I’d try to sit in the chair, but I always went back to the floor. It just felt safer.
One day she sat on the floor with me, and we played a game with rocks and string. I had made an E-Proof Fence and brought it with me. I had crocheted myself a little nest from leftover yarn. I arranged it around me and willed it to keep me safe. It didn’t work. She put one of her fucking rocks on my side of the string.
For the rest of the week I was livid. I actually growled at someone for standing too close to me in the checkout line at the hardware store.
For the next three sessions, I sat behind the chair and mostly refused to talk to her. It was awful, and finally she reached the end of her rope. And I won’t tell you exactly what she said, but I will say that she used the word “hurts” three times in a row and I could hear that she was almost crying.
There should be a word for the pain of finally getting something you really need, after going years without it.
I came out from behind the chair.
The Poopsmith didn’t need me, but I needed E. I needed her to show me how to be human.
Sometimes she asks me why I kept coming back. I always shrug and say that I wanted to try something different, and that she was one of the most different people I had ever met.
Maybe my husband isn’t the only stubborn one in this marriage.
Since then I’ve been learning, slowly, how to live in the forest. It’s hard. I grind my teeth in my sleep, wondering if this is the night that love will actually kill me. Things are too close: so many noises, the constant shifting shadows of leaves. The growing knowledge that I was lied to for years, that I was never meant to live my whole life in the desert.