April 29th, 2010 - Holly Dunlap
The dogs were trained to herd – but never hurt – the goats on the farm I lived on. I was watching them whenever I heard my phone ring, the number coming from the town in Florida where D was working. D was a welder who traveled with a contracting company. It was spring, and I was about two months pregnant. We found out in week two, early. I knew a lot I didn’t want to admit.
A stranger on the other end asked for D. I tossed options around in my mouth, gargling ideas—it must be a friend, a coworker. How did they get my number? D wouldn’t give it out, except maybe as an emergency number. The whisper kept popping up in my throat, but I wouldn’t let it out. Crack dealer? Or maybe just pot? He’s had to have given up those ways for me and his child.
I was so sick, only eating the tiniest portions for nine months. I opened my door at stop signs, leaned over, and threw up what little food I had eaten. Days that I waited for D made me even more nauseous. I never knew where he was. I’d wait, call his roommate at the hotel, my stomach weighted with more worry. I’d watch the phone for hours. He stole a lot more from me than time, but that was the beginning.
When he finally came to visit that night, driving hours when the job was over, I asked him about the call, the stranger in Florida. He said he didn’t know, the lie floating in between his relaxed lips and pretty teeth (still rotten in the back where I couldn’t see). His eyes were the bluest, and long lashes. He even believed himself.
Always a breath of denial, at the ready. Breathe out the truth. Blow it away. Bite the lion’s teeth. What else is there to do? When trauma bites, denial comes chopping, biting its own teeth.
On our bike outing today, Izzy pretends to buy gas at the station when riding by. She acts out the whole scenario, pretending to push buttons, pick up the pump. She never actually touches anything. Her sense of humor is needed right now. I think about how I haven’t had to buy gas in almost a month. No need for driving, but I did every day before quarantine.
For dinner a steak comes, delivered to our door, still hot. Today, that’s one of the only options from restaurants: delivery or carry-out. I’ll use my lion teeth, call it beef instead of cow, try to forget the pandemic, the outbreak, eat fries and steak with my hands. And a beer. I read recently that alcohol sales are up 55 percent. I wolf the meal down, who needs utensils in quarantine?
When wolves “wolf-down" it’s because they don’t know when they will get their next meal. What’s my excuse? If I’d made it last longer, I could have focused on the taste, slow bites, saliva breaking down the food, swallowing, proper digestion.
As we eat, we hear a low-breathing man on the screen, spitting words at reporters donning them “horrible, fake, nasty.” He unfailingly believes himself. The red hats with white letters believe him too, watching the man make fun of anyone he abhors, anyone who used their bodies and voices gone hoarse from trying to whisper their truth. His voice hits the valleys of the indigenous, fighting for the space they were allotted that keeps getting smaller. It hits the broken, the scads of underappreciated and underprivileged, fighting for a bit of clean water and a modicum of justice. He’ll send the Guard to watch you freeze, starve in protest, die of tainted water, dragging out deaths over years and miles. He will have you shot with rubber bullets, gassed for tears, carted off to jails. Prisons are overflowing with men coughing to death in cells while cell mates and neighbor prisoners can only listen, with no safe place, no quarantine.
The man’s voice carries across airwaves into poor, innocent, once-silent space.
The audience wolfs it down.
They take all they want.
But this virus has a voice of its own, and lies make it more powerful, like the bite of
a shark: 4,000 pounds per square inch
a lion: 1,000 psi
a wolf: 400 psi
But even more dangerous? Denial. It bites harder than all those teeth combined. What we bite into, and what we bite back at, matters.
Holly hails from the Deep South in Auburn, Alabama. She is an only parent of a ridiculously cool 9-year-old daughter. She has 2 degrees in poetry, and her debut poetry book, Feet to Water, was published by New Plains Press in 2015. She teaches at Auburn University, and is indeed a strange fish in her pond. She spends her "extra" time doing art and making jewelry, and she loves to play with her daughter, but her daughter indeed doesn't really want to play with her much anymore. She likes to be in the sun, in the woods, and in the water.