Have you ever been hunted? The feeling that someone is watching you? Anticipating your every move? The slightest touch stiffens and curdles your insides? Instincts screaming fight and flight? That which gives you goosebumps and raises the hair on your arms and the back of your neck? Like static electricity moving through your body? Looking over your shoulder and around every corner constantly awaiting an attack? When you’re asleep, the smallest noises wake and alerts you, heart racing, that threats are near? The churning in your stomach along with the sour taste in your mouth? The cold clammy touch? The stiffening of the body? The dread? The shame? The anger? The loathing? The nausea? The waiting for it to happen again?
We are girls and women in a den of predators. We weigh imminent threats near and far—evermore. Every choice made with that in mind. Every breath taken challenged by a status quo hindering life and liberties predicated on the dangers faced in every minute of every day. Women learn this early and often in our lives.
The strum of banjos, guitars, fiddles, mandolins, and the slapping of hands played pleasantly and melodically mixed with the beat of feet—cloggers dancing and twirling; the smell of cheap liquor and beer and sweaty unwashed bodies; barbecued aroma of half-priced red meat and pork over crimson hot coals; sticky summer nights in the holler next to the swimming hole; silver stars dot and dim across the heavens like big white flakes evaporating lazily on a dark cloth; a red orb settles in the sky like a dying torch; kids frolic and scream in delight curling into a ball from high above, bouncing into the water, disappearing deep beneath its murky brown surface; women groped by inebriated assholes while other predators search dark corners for innocence—those afraid to speak about the violation of body and mind. Families wrapped in the facade of happiness and the golden spotty glow of muddy headlights, lanterns, and a bonfire casting mythical shadows on rocks while Rocky Top vocalizes in the background.
The sun sinks lower still burnishing black onto everything enchanting. I walk out of the inky swimming hole picking up a ratty towel shaking the dirt from it while the other kids—mostly my cousins—scatter, like puppies, leaving me alone in search of food. I swaddle myself tightly shivering in my child’s one piece navy blue bathing suit with a shiny red plastic belt—a Kmart original; hair dripping wet down my back like a tail; the sound of my teeth chatter loudly in my ears like the tap-dance of crickets; my fingers and toes wrinkled white from hours in the dirty creek water. I eyeball my surroundings scanning the crowd for the villains in my tale, avoiding the shadows and standing tall, plucky, and protected in the light.
I am ten—or eleven.
My belly grumbles. I make my way towards the smell of charred barbecue sitting on the shadowed tailgate of a small muddy truck with large thick tires. I squeeze the generic yellow bottle smothering the half-blackened wiener on a white hot dog bun with bright yellow mustard. I take a big bite feeling the mustard smear across my face and the leathery overcooked pork with the tang and tart of condiment hitting my tongue and taste buds. I choke on the wholeness as I swallow the large bite in haste and hunger. Coughing, I stick my hand in the cold ice-chunky waters of a white Styrofoam cooler searching for something to unclog the food stuck in my gullet. I pull out a red and white can of Old Milwaukee and quickly drop it diving back into the cache to discover a cold can of grape soda. I clutch my hot dog and damp towel wrapped around me in one hand while efficiently maneuvering to open the grape soda in the other. Snapping open the top, I take a large gulp. The bite of sugar and carbonation plunders my breath as I suck in another large drink coughing and sputtering soda out my nose and mouth. I’m hacking away when a hand starts pounding me on my young back. I cough till I’ve expelled all the soda and bits of food from my lungs. The hand starts to slide across my back like a serpent. My gut tells me to run just as the sugar hits my bloodstream like rocket fuel. I move swiftly away in search of allies looking back over my shoulder at the faceless male foe and his beady blue eyes, greasy blonde hair, pale skeletal fingers, and vile thoughts.
Never get caught in the shadows with the monsters.
I sit with two older family members, women—I can’t remember all their names, there are so many. Their bodies—rank with alcohol and cigarette smoke, covered inadequately with cheap dime store perfume—worn and wearied. They smoke an unending supply of cigarettes and tap their feet to the family band and beats of Foggy Mountain Breakdown and Rolling In My Sweet Baby’s Arms while drinking from a stinky brown bag covered bottle they pass expertly between them.
Tired of the smoke infested circle of doom, I remove myself, sneaking away, side-eyeing evils lurking in most matters male. Making myself invisible, I escape in the dark up the rock where just earlier we threw ourselves off into the small watery hole below, now an inky disguised passage and reflection to the stars above. I feel the pull of fantasy encircling my scary abnormal world for want of an escape if turpitude returns. I plop down along the edge beyond the entrance, my feet dangling into the black and look up for liberation while the camp, overflowing with fickle family and friends, sits in the insulation and blaze of the bonfire and the hillbilly musicale. The light and sounds to the far right diminish as I further detach pulling away. They get smaller like a planet shrinking in the distance as I get closer to the sky.
I hear childlike wishes in my small body but large imagination for friendly aliens on distant planets in hopes of rescue from this tedious and odious place until the sound of grunting and groping crash my interstellar wishxistence. I flatten myself on my stomach scooting to peer over the ledge down below and there, in the dark, fucking like dogs against a boulder, are two gangly men, distant cousins in their early twenties unknown to me. The adult and the child within me watch fascinated. Soft and intense, callous and inexact in their fumbling raw sensuality, the gentle stroke followed by the carnal slap and the final push and sigh is one of complete capitulation. I hear the faint mumbles between them while one drops to his knees in front of the other. Illumination from the floating red orb paints the face of the one standing; his head thrown back in pain and pleasure and another emotion I cannot quite place: anger? hate? shame? love? passion? It’s too dark and the emotions, fleeting, hang in the air before disappearing in a shelter of bliss.
As short lived as the encounter is, the younger me feels the pang of sexuality in her small body and turns over on her back working to ease the ache between her legs while staring at the stars. The bubbles grow bigger until they pop in a pleasure of heightened and mixed emotions. Following the freedom of release, the emotional disarray, and the day’s activities, I feel overcome by exhaustion and my eyes, heavy with sleep, flutter open and close, fixating on the stars till final shutter with a whisper of a wish on my lips: rescue me, please?
© 2020 Pamela Gay Mullins