I live in a small town. I remember when we incorporated and we are still not big enough to merit our own post office. Mom’s family has been a part of this community since before I was born, my grandfather owned a small grocery store here for years. It’s a rural Southern town with its share of rednecks.It’s also been predominantly white, a place where nonwhite people just don’t settle.I was pleasantly surprised when I went to the library over the weekend and saw that one of the librarians was a black woman about my age. I didn’t ask her but since libraries usually respect the people who work there to live within the area they serve I can infer that she lives here.
One of Oz’s friends who grew up in Alabama described his town by saying, “they give out KKK membership cards at the same time as they issue you a Social Security card.” My town is not quite that bad but it is not much better. I have a friend whose mother came from Pakistan as a teenager she and her sister both take after their mother. In spite of the fact that she had been going to the same church long before the attacks on the World Trade Center, I remember defending her repeatedly when someone from here hurled abuse at her just because of her skin color. I’m glad to see my town become even a little less hidebound in its acceptance of people. I don’t usually go to the library on the weekends because of the shorter hours but I think it is worth going every once in a while in hopes of getting to know her.
Nowadays we often tell our kids the sanitized, easy, version of fairy tales. We don’t tell them that Sleeping Beauty was raped while she slept and woke up to find herself the mother of twins or that Cinderella’s step-sisters cut off their heel and toe (one each) to try and fit into the glass slipper. We certainly don’t tell them that birds came down to peck their eyes out at the wedding reception. We don’t want the stories we tell at bed time to cause nightmares, I get it. I wonder though if we aren’t doing kids a disservice by not introducing them to the grittier stories at a later point. I love Disney but I grew up knowing that Snow White and Sleeping Beauty and all the rest of the Disney Princesses were not technically created by Disney. Whenever she could she read or told my sister and I the earlier stories as well. In several of them, consequences for the villain are far more severe than being left to seethe with jealousy while the good person they hurt finally gets everything they deserve. Sometimes happily ever after doesn’t happen. Ever heard of The Little Match Girl? It’s one of the lesser known Grimm fairy tales, she freezes to death. As I mentioned earlier, Sleeping Beauty does awake and is forced to marry the prince who raped her, hearing the older stories cured what tiny desire I might have had to grow up to be one, princesses had it rough! Fairy tales were meant to be cautionary because as every pagan worth their salt, casting circle, or crystals will tell you, there is a light and dark to everything, even fairies.
The wind scatters the autumn leaves around her feet. Red, gold, and brown covering her rainbow laces. The stitches across her chest are sloppy but they will hold. Blood seeps around the edges with each breath. As she scuffs through the leaves blood drips amid the ground cover. The sky above is pewter, and snow begins to fall silently. Shrugging into her jacket even though doing so tugs painfully at the stitching, she turns and walks out, tears forming tiny icecles. Soon the only signs that she was ever in the woods are a set of half filled footprints and a bloody heart, the kind someone might carve in a tree..
Apparently, I dislocated my hip sometime this week. My joints pop fairly frequently so I didn’t even really notice that the first couple of days and this morning it’s back in place, of course, the day I was going to see the doctor. When I was a kid I used to tell people assumed I was fragile because of my disability, “I’m not a dozen eggs,” I just wanted to be treated like a normal kid so I’m sure I was a broken record. As much as I hate to admit it, normal 32-year-olds do not dislocate their hips simply by going to bed or getting up in the morning.I’m not a dozen eggs. My mind is sharp. I don’t have an eidetic memory but it’s pretty close. There is only one person I know who can clean the floor with me at Scrabble, everyone else is always playing catch-up. I remember people’s faces for years. I am tough and I am driven once I have decided to sink my teeth into something. I’ve been chasing normal my whole life, and belonging somewhere for almost the same amount of time. Here’s what I know. Normal is a fallacy I will never enjoy. Belonging is a construct that is tissue paper thin that can be torn apart in a blink. The only person I can trust is me.
Standing beside the freshly dug grave tears and blood that isn’t hers streak her face. Instead of the Christian marker of a cross, her lover’s sword marks where his head lies, a piece of both their tartans wrapped and tied around the hilt. She turns away, red eyes that have no more tears a mirror of the sphere in the sky. The wind picks up as she walks unflinchingly into the spreading shadows. The dying light of the sun outline a raven watching her from a nearby tree “no matter how far you fly from me I will find you, always.” The bird flies away, leaving a single feather at the base of the tree. She picks up the feather and tucks it into the pouch at her waist and runs after the raven or maybe to the flickering hearths of home, somehow colder because he’s not there. One of the older women has left an extra blanket for her so she won’t miss him when she sleeps, at least that’s the idea.
The sun chases the moon. The seasons fold into each other warmer than colder than warm again and so on, over and over until the grave on the hill is joined by a second, this one marked not by a sword but a simple carving of a bird. The sun chases the moon again and the seasons fold in on themselves until there is a town where the village used to stand and it hums with electricity. The town is bigger than the village and there are paved roads where once there was dirt. The two graves are still on the hill overlooking the town, one of the few things untouched by the passage of progress. Nothing escapes time though. The blade of the sword disappeared into rust long ago, leaving only the tiniest bit of boiled leather from the hilt and even that will be gone soon enough. The carved bird fares little better, it’s weathered features almost indecipherable. Curiously, there is a small pile of ravens feathers underneath a nearby tree. The feathers have all been left there by women. Some have come purposely, others found the place by chance but all compelled to leave the same single token. The feathers remain immutable by the forces of time and weather in spite of everything science says should have happened to them. A man and woman stand on this hill, shadowed by the sun setting at their backs. She takes the ravens feather that she has carried in her hat band for several years and places it with the others. She leans against the man in the setting sun, “I told you that no matter how far you flew from me I will find you.”
Authors note: I do indeed have a hat with a raven’s feather in the band. A raven gave it to me on my last day in Colorado, as far as the rest of the story…
When I was growing up watching Bill Nye The Science Guy was obligatory, almost the way church attendance was for other families.I’m sure part of the reason was because we were homeschooled for several years and my parents wanted to make sure our understanding of science was not neglected because they felt unequal to the task of creating a science lab in our home. Another reason is that we have the unfortunate problem of living smack in the middle of the Bible Belt where many people * teach their children to learn just enough science to complete a required course and then encourage them to disregard it immediately after passing the test because their faith holds the true answer and the only reason for learning the scientific answer was so you didn’t fail a test. I have known people who actually said that.My parents didn’t want us becoming the 18-year-old recent high school graduate shocked to discover that the sun actually has gravity. I am not joking my dad and mom actually ran into an 18-year-old who didn’t know the sun has its own gravitational pull.
Bill Nye has a new show on Netflix, Bill Nye Saves the World. He talks frankly about the scientific things that are making a lot of people squeamish right now, like climate change and GMO food(let me tell you that is going to spark debate in my house when my mom sees that episode), and he manages to navigate these subjects without placing blame or using fear tactics. As someone who grew up watching his kids show this feels like a natural continuation even though there is 15 years or more between the two. A lot of people are slamming his credibility, saying that he is not qualified enough to be taken seriously, as a meme I saw on Facebook the other day pointed out, people have no problem when Mike Rowe steps into the shoes of the blue-collar working class, something he has never been but we slam Bill Nye, who has been a scientist of one form or another a large portion of life, because we don’t agree with him, because he might be right, because he at the very least makes us actually consider why we believe the things we do with a certain level of objectivity? If that’s why you don’t like him I call you a coward. Sit down, shut up, and let the rest of us get on with the business of leaving the world better than we found it.
*I am aware that not everyone in the deep South has a distrust of science that was just the prevalent attitude in my high school.