After Naima Coster's "Subjunctive"Let’s say your name is Ashley. But you never liked it, so you were always Ash. We met at a high school, a shitty one, in our hometown. And let’s say we loved each other from the start, and we decided when we were 14 that we would be together forever, and we knew this was reckless and improbable but we decided anyways. Let’s say we wanted to get married, but at that time we couldn’t, so we settled for lifelong love. Let’s say once we graduated from high school we moved out of the suburbs and into the woods. Let’s say we adopted a cat and then another cat and then a dog and that all these animals made us want babies to kiss and hold close to our chests. Let’s say I knocked you up when we were both 19 and we were so foolish we thought it would be fun. Let’s say I got a job in town while you stayed home with our baby and I started to hate working nights so when I got pregnant the next year, I proposed that we switch. And let’s say you took to being the breadwinner with ease and confidence, enjoying your independent days and coming home with a sense of excitement to see us.
You are beautiful—this is not a metaphor—and you grew up in a cold place. Let’s say you still learned darkness and lightness. Let’s say your mother emptied her pill bottle and you opened the door to her bedroom and your sister found her on the bed and you took the cordless phone from her bedside table and called for help. Let’s say you were ten. Let’s say your father was at work, if work is another word for gone.
I thought I was broken and hid away. I didn’t know then that nothing about me was broken. My mother was full and didn’t empty any bottles. She took up all the space our house contained. My father was smaller, more my size. They loved me so fiercely I felt guilty that it wasn’t enough, that I wasn’t enough. When I was ten nothing bad happened to me.
Let’s say we are happy together with our family in the woods, a sense that feels unfamiliar to us both. Let’s say we are the type of moms who go hiking with their babies in backpacks, panting up the side of a hill. Let’s say we are so wholesome we bake pies together on Sunday. Once our kids are old enough, they help us measure out the butter and lard, the flour and salt. You build a stool for them to stand on so they can reach the kitchen counters. You find miniature rolling pins, light enough for small child hands to grasp and roll tiny circles of dough. We fill the dough circles with apples and cinnamon and sugar and sing while we wash the dishes. We eat our miniature pies with a scoop of vanilla ice cream and watch the leaves drop outside our kitchen window.
It is in our cabin in the woods that my nervous system (and yours) can finally release. I journal in the mornings and weep while our children play in the dirt. We bury seeds in the ground and watch them sprout. Our children show you our daily progress when you arrive home in the evening. You call your sister and tell her to come visit. You want to share with her our hideaway.
There are daily mistakes in our daily love. We are women but that doesn’t mean we know how to communicate with each other. You hide away your sadness until it bubbles up and drowns us both. I tell you about my sadness until you press your fingers into your ears. I coddle the children and you let them light things on fire.
When she was ten, your mother’s mother cut off her long blond hair with her mother’s sewing scissors. Her grin, triumphant, as she admired her new look in the dirty bathroom mirror. Now, she could pass for a boy. When your great-grandmother returned from the store, she held the sewing scissors by the closed blades and struck your grandmother across the face with the hard metal handles. Your mother’s mother tried not cry. Your mother’s mother learned how to be a woman.
My mother showed me how to shave my armpits when I was 13 with a plastic pink razor with only two blades. When I attempted to shave my legs, I sliced off a two-inch hunk of flesh. Like slicing a milky block of mozzarella before the blood appeared. I had smooth legs covered in plastic bandages. I had long blond hair that hung from my head and bare armpits coated in chalky deodorant. I learned how to be a woman.
A cousin who took her husband’s name and moved from her father’s house to her husband’s house. She loved her husband and wanted to be with him and they had children right away. She also hid from herself a deep inner knowing that although she loved her husband she had also kissed her best girlfriend when they were both 15 and she couldn’t stop thinking about that drunken kiss despite 10 years passing. And it was so much effort for her to suppress this knowing, to hide it from her very self—
An uncle who wore his mother’s clothes when he was home alone and finally felt like himself—
A grandfather who bloodied his son’s face when he found the son wearing his wife’s clothes—
The uncle who bloodied his daughter’s face when he found her kissing her best girlfriend in the basement—
Your mother’s empty pill bottle and my mother’s fullness—
The sunflowers we grew together in the woods.
The road to our house is long and dusty, and the tall trees cover us. Here, we are protected by the sounds of the forest. The flapping of a crow overhead, rattle of branches against our single-pane windows. We stack logs and collect kindling for winter. We gather around the fire pit in our backyard. Fire spits and hisses as rain collides with it. Rain on my face when I look up, it soaks into me—fills me. I look over to your face and it’s wet too. Our babies are protected in their rain jackets and they pounce on every puddle. We wanted to escape and we deadbolt our front door, close the storm shutters. We’re safe here, in our cabin in the woods, with our babies and cats and dog. No one knows we’re here. In the back yard, surrounded by tall trees, gathered around a fire. Even now the dog is in the yard, running circles around us.
Mieke de Vries is a queer, neurodivergent writer and editor of Dutch and Danish descent. She currently lives as a settler on the unceded, traditional territory of the Cowichan First Nation. She has a BFA in Creative Writing from the University of Victoria and during her time there was a student intern on the fiction editorial board at The Malahat Review. She writes in the genres of fiction and creative nonfiction. Find her on Twitter @miekeleigh.