I contemplate the deer. Their soft orbs of brown. Their pause. A twitch of the ear, head held high. Alert. Assessing danger with a stillness that moves. And then they rush toward it. Blind fear? Because it seems to me they always head toward danger and never away. As if a cacophony of noise and motion will disperse any threat.
Looking back on childhood, I think of yard as babysitter. The iris (have I written of this before? Do I repeat myself?) and its mottled hues of bruise, soft curves and many folds that tell of things that only bloom in spring. Swinging from vines of ivy my sisters and I let loose with Tarzan screams. Did we realize then those vines choked the tree? A free roaming kind of suffocation.
We were told the square of forest behind our house was dangerous. My sister and I had been charged by bucks from those ranks of Redwood sentries. Rattlesnakes could lay in wait. A sign warned of an Oracle Oak that my sisters and I made stories about to no end. It was in this warning we found refuge. Soft beds of needles. Strange light permeated through branches in a half glow. A place of ambient noise big enough to hold three kid’s imaginations. We would hear our parents call and, like the deer, pause. Heads held high, before running toward things we didn’t understand.
We only noticed the strangeness at a remove. Years later. While friends reminisced about childhood we’d shuffle at the edges of those conversations and only listen. Never share. Wide eyed, we’d hear of childhoods beyond the scope of our reality and wonder what normal meant. The childhood cage we called the kid kennel: not normal. Being chased with a fire poker for refusing to go to school: not normal. Alcoholic rages with torn books and broken screen doors: not normal. Navigating our father’s anger and our mother’s crippling depression like barometers of risk assessment: not normal.
Sometimes I think up gentler imaginings for sisters and myself. Of not getting locked in a giant cage in the side yard with my sisters and Spike, our neglected family dog, when our parents didn’t want to watch us. In these gentler imaginings we did not find Spike decaying, almost a corpse. Maggots did not eat him alive while no one noticed. Their white bodies wiggling in a hole under his ribs while he lay belly up and barely able to move. In these gentler imaginings no one suffered inattention. In these gentler imaginings my mom never chased me with a fire poker. My sisters and I never thought about calling child protective services on ourselves. We never locked ourselves in my sister’s room and waited for the calm. Here my mom never locked herself in the bathroom for a couple of days when my dad and her briefly split. We never tried to call her therapist and her therapist was never out of town. We never called our aunt and pretended that she called just to get our mom to stick her thin boned wrist in that small void between the door and the frame and take the phone, her voice round like a sob. We never ate Kraft mac with canned chili and floated about the house like ghosts waiting for her to emerge.
In these gentler imaginings we are allowed in the delicate envelope of my mother’s solitude. My father’s anger exists in mild reproach instead of steady buffets, belt to butt, keys jangling in warning. Here, trauma is not hereditary. In these gentler imaginings kids are allowed to be kids. Allowed to make kid noises. Here, the kids do not worry. The kids do not wait out the storm in the eye of the hurricane. Here, the parents are kind shepherds. Here, a book is not escapism; Music, not a reprieve. Here, words fall with a soft landing. Here, a deer knows which way to run.
Angela Youngblood lives and writes in a small northern California town. She holds a B.A. in English Literature from CSU Chico. Her non-fiction essays have been published in Entropy, The Boiler Journal, and The Doctor T.J. Eckleburg Review. Amateur plant enthusiast, but not-as-vigilant-a-plant-caretaker-as-she-would-like-to-be, she tries to nourish things to grow. She sporadically posts on her nebulous blog youngofblood.wordpress.com.