That Easter

by Leonore Wilson

I remember how cold it was that Easter, a bitter cold that kept us in as if it were winter, but the sun was out; the sun was a big deception in the sky. We were all at dinner — picture the ham, mashed potatoes, dyed eggs, the jelly beans. Then the phone rang. My mother answered. The dispatcher said people saw a naked woman running through traffic, she was running like a scared doe in headlights. They couldn’t shout her down or weave her in. They asked us if we had seen her, that she was last spotted running into the open field in back of the house. The police wanted to know if they could come up to the ranch and find her. A naked girl? Or was it a woman? My mother said it didn’t matter, no we hadn’t seen her. Then my husband left the table as if he were a doctor and this was his call. He ran out of the house and so did our boys. I was left with my mother at the table. We were the women. The food like a big accident before us. We ate the ham, the salad, drank our milk in silence to the sirens.

My husband came back. He said something about her wearing only underwear, big panties, nothing fancy, and that she had lived in the field for three days. He said she was nothing to look at really. In fact she looked like a dog, dog-ugly. He asked if I would give her a sweatshirt, some pants. I went to the laundry room, picked out the pink ones I hated, the color of peonies. Later I saw her at a distance. They had her handcuffed. They were taking her down the mountain. It was starting to rain. She had her head down, the way Jesus had his head hung, ready for the crucifixion; she was that scrawny. I put my body in her body. She was wearing my clothes. My husband told me she kept telling the cops that she was a mother, that no mother should be treated with handcuffs, that she was no danger. The cop said she was covered with bruises, that her husband had beaten her and left her on the highway, that she wanted to die in the field where she first met him, her lover. The cop said she was on drugs and loony. He said she’d probably go back to her husband. That they always do. These strays, these losers.

That was ten years ago, but I still think of her. This woman, not the only inconsolable stray I’ve found on my rural road, in this paradise called Napa, this manna of land fluted by canyons, sharpened by cliffs. Wappo territory where wild irises bloom their white flags from the portholes of meadows. There’s been others. Other women. The woman with purple welts around her neck, scourged neck of the black and blue, weeping near her stalled U-Haul and the oversized drunken tattoo of a man. Or the woman whose husband drove his black sedan behind her as she walked the dotted line, the mean bumper of his souped-up car butting up against her like a bull. But it was she, the woman discovered on Easter, who remains in my center like the blue throat of the owl in the center of moonlight. She the vixen’s red breath coming out of the garden and into the pitch. She emerging from the earth-bed like Persephone released from Hades, but returning to Hades. She, the matted camellia, the numbed apostrophe of the killdeer stirred from the cinders. Who is she, whose handiwork? Whose heat did she trigger? What ownership? Who was she, that threadbare girl of skin and ribs, feeling invisible, that field witch? Did anyone ask her; what are you feeling, do you feel anything, as they cuffed her bare feet, stuffed her in back of that cop car? Was she bound and flogged before he, her lover, her spouse, tossed her out like rotten trash? Is there any way to explain her naked body? Her naked fingers? Her fallen legs collapsing under her like unplayed cards?

I think of her, of all the women I have found in my country, their shadows writhe within me. I who have stayed silent. They with their loosened hair, stained with soil and blood, drugged eyes glazed forever on the black chart of amnesia. There have been many in these hills, this valley. Wild, hard women. Endangered sisters. Their heaped colors suddenly gone ashen like the cloudiness that forms over winter blacktop. They who scratch themselves, who urinate, who stay in unspeakable loneliness, their feminine power routed backward like miles of barbwire. They are homeless cursed women, naughty women, the words stolen out of their teeth like bread. They who would rather choke than be vulgar.

How can I wrap my house in sleep thinking of them, thinking of her making a fire of wet wood, telling stories to herself, singing lullabies, nursing the tragedy of her sex. I pace the floor thinking of her. I poke my spade into the dry loam and think of her. I find her everywhere. I have learned her by heart. I have worn her close to my body. For she is my body. She is the foundling of the woods, the one slip of tongue, the liquid mist that burns off the highway as the new day forms.

I want to know who touched the match to her flesh, who left her blanketless in the frost as I stoked and blazed my stove. I know she was there in the twilight and thorns. I’ve felt her mouth on mine like a lump of bitter jelly all those times alcohol was fire on my breath. The times I starved myself with pills in my pocket, wanting love, wanting the brisk taste of airports and ferries, I’ve been her. The times I wanted the impermissible. I’ve been her. Discontent as a cormorant that pokes around the corpses of roses, wanting to be fractured, exiled under the floss of many petals, I’ve been her. Wanting to be seduced by that floral nard. Me, in the snowstorm of unimaginable longing while the hangman’s noose rose inside my chest, taunting, taunting. I too tried on death too many times. I who wore my own bruises like badges around my jaw. I of steely posture.

Why?

I lowered myself in the chaparral, afraid, my breasts full of milk, my hair disheveled. I thought I could stand betrayal, that I could spill myself like purple vetch, like legend down the lush gametrails into drink. What soothed me? Sometimes mint in the mouth, sometimes the pearl-gray mist. I wanted to be like my ancestors. I wanted to be strong as shattered rock, as basalt mortars. I didn’t think it right that a woman go off like a kettle full boil. But I was proud and half-blind. I was a stuttering tadpole. A spectacle. An odd empty thing.

I was a master of nothing. I wrestled with the serpent inside me, the female totem of melancholy. Me with my teacups and miniature cakes. I sucked in my midnights, my howls and my whelps. Why? How many dead girls like me smelled of old lunatic lies?

My sentence was mine: my well-piped breeding, my pilgrim dreams. Guardian of chandeliers, when my heart was always squawking like an interior swan.

Be damned the well-scrubbed house, the family snapshots. Be damned the flowers of Hell, the ostracized penance, the lowermost regions, Lethe’s spell where Eurydice wastes away with Persephone. Be damned if the dark snake of Eden flew out of my mouth. I want the Easter woman at my table, I want her story. I want to take her groggy hand, lead her away from the fettered ring, the life of sacrifice, of thick-scented curses. My tongue dips into the chewed meat of thistled honey when I say this. Mothering is the dilation of feathers. Forget the flower-pressed face concealing its failures, bleeding its kindness like a parasite. Inside our smile is the knife-grind, the winged lion. What abscesses in our flesh — not our humiliation, nor our quarrel, but our rising.

grain

About the author

Leonore Wilson is the mother of three sons in their early twenties. Her husband is a scientist. She lives in the wilds of Northern California. Like it or not, she comes from generations of rugged females keeping nature both fertile and sacred. She has won awards as well as fellowships for her work and has published in Poets Against the War, Madison Review, Sing Heavenly Muse, Rattle, Quarterly West, Third Coast, Pedestal, Laurel Review, Pif, DMQ Review, and Unlikely Stories.

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To My Sixteen-Year-Old Self

by Shelbie Davis

Editor’s note: The following letter, which accompanied the author’s submission, is reprinted below with her permission.

Hello there!
My name is Shelbie Davis, a 21 year old and lifelong, imperfect Christian.
In the last year of my life, my family and the church I attended for 8 years has chosen not to speak to me. This happened right after I left the man who abused me, and yet no one believes me. So I had to move on.
I attend a wonderful, healthy church now, and the last year has given me a lot of time to reflect on what went wrong. What even HAPPENED, honestly. And this concept keeps coming into my head over and over again…almost like God is knocking on the door of my heart and giving me a message to myself at 16, and a million other teenagers as well.
My biggest regret is never turning in my abuser to the police, and God knows that. I’ve always asked him if there was a way to spread my message, and I feel this is what he has in mind.
Thank you for your time, and I hope you see this letter below fit enough to be used in your publications. If not, I still graciously thank you for your time and feedback.
Shelbie Davis

***

The author at age 16

The author at age 16

To My 16 Year Old Self –

What I’m about to tell you goes against everything you’ve been taught in the church, and everything you will be taught at the same place, for the next four years until you figure things out for yourself.

God doesn’t hate sex.

You heard me right. God doesn’t hate sex.

I know between the two to three days a week you spend in church, it’s brought up at least twice how much God hates sexual immorality. (Whatever that means, right?) It’s dirty. It’s the elephant in the room. You and everyone your age has it on their minds, but good luck finding someone to explain that to you. You even admitting you think about it is gonna get you in the doghouse with God. Because it’s a bad thing, right?

So, naturally, you should save this dirty-oh no-hush hush-bad thing for your soulmate, your spouse, your other half.

Uh, what?

That’s confusing.

I know right now you’re on your way to dating a guy who will spend the bulk of your following two years hammering into you that sex and everything associated with it is a really bad thing, and we shouldn’t do it, or even discuss why we’re not going to do it.The church will back him up — sorry, no time alone. You might have sex. Don’t have adult discussions about the future, you might say the S-word. It will be assumed that YOURE the risky one here, since you’re not white and pristine like he is. You’ll start to focus on this value set so hard, your tunnel vision will prevent you from seeing what’s lacking.

Like respect.

And love.

Loyalty.

Trust.

Above all, friendship.

You’ll hear about those five things above about 50 percent less than you’ll hear about sex, and all the ways to avoid it or anything relatively close.

And then later, when that boy you thought you had to spend your life with starts hitting you, and shoving you, and dragging you around by your ponytail, you’ll stick around and think you’re doing alright because, well, “at least we’re not having sex. God and all our friends would be SO mad about that.”

Oh, sweetie. How you will be mislead.

At the end, you’ll leave him. Thanks be to Jesus, your Father, you will leave him. And at the end, a huge chunk of you will be gone. I’m so sorry to tell you that.

Don’t get me wrong, you’ll always be relieved that you two never physically connected in that way (even though right towards the end, he comes close to taking it anyway). But was it the most important thing? Was focusing on abstinence and pretty much only abstinence for two years really worth sacrificing those actual foundations of a healthy relationship?

The answer is no.

And God would back me up on that.

Sweet girl, I want to remind you that your God is a God of pleasure. Of happiness. Of sanctuary. Of health. Four  words that will later apply to your sex life as an adult in a fully committed and forever relationship.

And by the way, he’s okay with being associated with sex. Because he created it.

Re-read Song of Solomon. It got skipped over in church, but it’s so important.

Read it as a love note from your future spouse to you, and be excited.

Read the part where God tells the new couple to “drink their fill of love.”

You’ll be 21 years old one day and be so frustrated that no one ever sat you down and had “the talk.” And not the talk that a thousand Christian parents have with their daughters at 12 or 13, and hand them a pretty silver ring to wear until their wedding night. But the talk that says:

“Wait for the man who loves you. Respects you. Adores you. Treats you like a daughter of the King. Is your very best friend. Then, if God sees fit, marry him and do the things that married people do. God will LOVE that.”

Because it’s true, and most parents, pastors, and leaders dance around it.

Save yourself for that man. And don’t be so worried about sex that you forget about the thousand other things you deserve.

By the way, 2014 shapes up to be one of the best years of your life. Just wait, and trust in Him.

-Me.

The author today.

The author today.

About the author

My name is Shelbie, and my world consists of working at Starbucks, my cat, the love of my life, and being Loved unconditionally. I am the big sister of two sisters and four brothers. Also, I’m a crazy good cook.