I like fighting
and getting what I want.
those are the only two things
I live for: the battle,
the reward.

“Justice reversed”

“to approach with song every object we meet.”

–pawnee shaman from A making of a counter culture.

Today is a two walk day. It started at 930 and I got coffee and a croissant somewhere near my house. The croissant was stale. I think I ate a banana.  I am wearing my tallest shoes. Every man that passes, I brush with my fingertips. They are sincere with their eyes.  A few even seem like they could give me dalliance. Faithful, I maintain.  I laugh openly in the street somewhere around 19 and Walnut thinking of what you would say if you knew how many I touched and several men turn to look. I walk a few more miles to sit quietly at Independence hall and feel the brush of dead dogs against my ankles. This is a good spot. The horses begin to come too. Pressing my hands into the cold bench, I send them radiating white. I leave that spot and walk to another park. I see rats run across.

“Rats, leave my ankles be.”

I put my legs up in the air when I sit on the bench. I can hold this position for a while but because I hear them in the bushes, I move on. I can feel the dead dogs walk behind me. I think to myself: 

I cried for five seconds this morning which is one more second than usual. 

I laugh again. I grab two cups of coffee on the way back but I am carrying my mug so when Diana comes to the counter I am ready. smile. And I don’t say this out loud. It is 30 degrees today. The snow is coming. I decide to take the bridge back. I walk on the other side though. The one that doesn’t make me want to jump. I laugh and sip my coffee and ask if xxx can hear my thoughts. The spine says yes. I believe my spine.  I get home at 6:15 with three new crystals in my pocket. 

“Make lunch.”

That’s what the note on my hand says. I sit in front of my altar for another two hours with the lights off. Feel comfortable in devotion. I feel comfortable being devout. I sit there til about 8:45 and then I run the bath. I cry for three seconds in the tub and then I begin laughing. My cats sit in separate corners of the room watching me. 

I do not make lunch. I wake up in the middle of the night to one of the cats sitting on a dresser staring at me. I am completely sideways and tangled in blankets as if I have been wrestling. I laugh.  I was having a dream that I was about to float away again. My spine started to tingle but instead I grounded by masturbating. I fell back asleep and had a dream of publishing five consecutive books. 

I wake up an hour and a half before my alarm and make lunch. As I drink my coffee, I think to myself:

I’ve never been like that.

And I don’t know what I meant. 

1/14/2017

 

Work was stressful. I have been falling behind on my paperwork and I have felt scrutinized. Not for being incompetent but the muttering. We all are behind on our paperwork. It’s the holidays. More that I stopped wearing dresses and wear the same black pants everyday. More that I sit at my desk on my downtime staring intently at my telephone where I used to exchange gossip. Could be described as garrulous to the point of disturbance. Could be described as social. Used to get moved in every class type chatter. I put chapstick on today and it was a stretch of capability. I said “hello” every morning but 

“I think they notice,” I was caught saying coming out of the bathroom.

T followed. “You good?”  he asked at my desk.

“Sure!”

“You seem…distracted?”

“Oh, yeah,” I flipped my phone over. I had been re reading the titles on my Discover Weekly. “I just have a lot of paperwork, you know.”

Smile.

“Definitely,” he said. “I feel that.”
 

My boss called him and I turned and faced the pinned picture of the group of us at the AIDS walk on my bulletin board. Saved again by the Lord. I laughed out loud. Denise looked over at me from her cubicle. Stop sharing. I decided the best course of action was to list things. I was back in the bath, not wanting to walk, wanting to nest. Attempting to nest.  It was only 5:10 pm and there was a bit of light peeking through the window. The window smudged from years of neglect and the side room of the house obscured the orange glow, but it was there.  Like a globe and I watched it. Going down. Keep my mind focused. The lists unravel, sort of tangle together first and then unravel. Looking for causality, connection, pattern. It starts slow, things I like:

Earl Gray tea
Dreaming
Learning about the mystic past
Pictures
Candles
Baths
Being right.
Then sometimes I am taken right there. Examples and execution. 

 

In 12th grade, I set out to make straight As so I could graduate in honors with my friends. I have always dicked off for a couple years before getting serious.

“Ms. Lancaster,” I began. And I could remember her exact lipstick, the way it rubbed off a bit so it was half red half cream where her bare lip showed.. How I visited her years later and she didn’t remember me. .“I noticed you gave me a 96 on my most recent paper.”

“A 96 is a good score, dear,” she was always reading a newspaper

I nodded, withholding, “Yes, but I re read it a few times and I am confused as to why you took four points off. I mean, I answered all of the questions correctly, typed my paper in the correct format, and I checked the answers against the key and…”

“You want a one hundred?” she interrupted.

“Well yes…”

She didn’t snatch the paper but gently took it from my hand and put a line through the 96 and changed it to 100 with a green pen, instead of her red pen.

“Are you happy now?”

“Well, yes.”

“You are very smart, Catarina. There is more to life than hundreds on papers.”

I walked back to talk to my friend Mariam, pleased with myself, licking the red off my lips.She went back to her newspaper.  She would tell her husband over dinner I was smarmy and 

“insistent on taking up every second of class by speaking her opinion on any and every piece of literature presented solely, not just to spite me in my age with her innovation but to make sure every boy in class could describe  her matching color scheme for the day, from her red lipstick to her matching painted red toenails if interrogated by anyone about her. She gets up at least once every class and pulls her shorts back up, walks to the front to get a tissue or the bathroom pass, and I have to publicly ask her to roll them down. Every day, Ted.”

“I have an idea! I know what we can do,” I said to the little girl, sitting up.I sat back against the tile.“Let’s scare him.” I splashed the tub to provoke the action. “Just a little.”

I could tell she was nodding even though I could only feel her.

“And, yes, you can feel happy with one piece of your heart,” I recite from a poem suddenly. 

Staring at the residue build up on the glass, the orange glow almost out of sight. A gray is coming over me. And only one candle lit on my shower’s mantle,  it will be dark soon. This will not be my first dark bath. I sometimes get in with no lights on and see how long I can sit without seeing anything. Then I recite another line.

 

“Since there’s no help, come let us kiss and part.

Nay, I have done, you get no more of me;

And I am glad, yea glad with all my heart,

That thus so cleanly I myself can free.”

 

But I couldn’t remember the rest.  I used to memorize sonnets for Ms Lancaster’s class for extra credit. I would have to recite them in front of the whole class which was unnerving but I wanted to make up for any 97s I had gotten on tests.  Squinting, I try now but the room falls black save the one light above my head and I am stuck.  In an act of devotion, I write the entire script on my piece of cardstock when I am dry. I use my new watercolores to drape the purple flowers around it:

Since there’s no help, come let us kiss and part.

Nay, I have done, you get no more of me;

And I am glad, yea glad with all my heart,

That thus so cleanly I myself can free.

Shake hands for ever, cancel all our vows,

And when we meet at any time again,

Be it not seen in either of our brows

That we one jot of former love retain.

Now at the last gasp of Love’s latest breath,

When, his pulse failing, Passion speechless lies;

When Faith is kneeling by his bed of death,

And Innocence is closing up his eyes—

Now, if thou wouldst, when all have given him over,

From death to life thou might’st him yet recover!”

 

I throw the paper across the hassock and onto the floor when I am done. More for the memory of what it held then and less for what it held now as I said it again. How easy it was to memorize the sonnets every week. How easy it was to stand in front of class and share them.  The night my lover’s wife called me on the phone to ask how old I was,  I re-read that sonnet before curling into a ball on my tiny twin bed. I think to myself: I cried for seven seconds yesterday and that is two seconds longer than any other day.  The timid younger cat, the one I ignore for the older whom I favor, places her paw on my thigh to test my stillness. My devotion.  I do not know how and when a miracle occurs only that I didn’t leave the house that night. Woke up at 9:30 to the baby on my legs and Genevieve, my older, wrapped around my neck like a stole.  

 

1/15/2017

Today is a two walk day. It started at 930 and I got coffee and a croissant somewhere near my house. The croissant was stale. I think I ate a banana.  I am wearing my tallest shoes. Every man that passes, I brush with my fingertips. They are sincere with their eyes.  A few even seem like they could give me dalliance. Faithful, I maintain.  I laugh openly in the street somewhere around 19 and Walnut thinking of what you would say if you knew how many I touched and several men turn to look. I walk a few more miles to sit quietly at Independence hall and feel the brush of dead dogs against my ankles. This is a good spot. The horses begin to come too. Pressing my hands into the cold bench, I send them radiating white. I leave that spot and walk to another park. I see rats run across.

“Rats, leave my ankles be.”

I put my legs up in the air when I sit on the bench. I can hold this position for a while but because I hear them in the bushes, I move on. I can feel the dead dogs walk behind me. I think to myself: 

I cried for five seconds this morning which is one more second than usual. 

I laugh again. I grab two cups of coffee on the way back but I am carrying my mug so when Diana comes to the counter I am ready. smile. And I don’t say this out loud. It is 30 degrees today. The snow is coming. I decide to take the bridge back. I walk on the other side though. The one that doesn’t make me want to jump. I laugh and sip my coffee and ask if xxx can hear my thoughts. The spine says yes. I believe my spine.  I get home at 6:15 with three new crystals in my pocket. 

“Make lunch.”

That’s what the note on my hand says. I sit in front of my altar for another two hours with the lights off. Feel comfortable in devotion. I feel comfortable being devout. I sit there til about 8:45 and then I run the bath. I cry for three seconds in the tub and then I begin laughing. My cats sit in separate corners of the room watching me. 

I do not make lunch. I wake up in the middle of the night to one of the cats sitting on a dresser staring at me. I am completely sideways and tangled in blankets as if I have been wrestling. I laugh.  I was having a dream that I was about to float away again. My spine started to tingle but instead I grounded by masturbating. I fell back asleep and had a dream of publishing five consecutive books. 

I wake up an hour and a half before my alarm and make lunch. As I drink my coffee, I think to myself:

I’ve never been like that.

And I don’t know what I meant. 

1/14/2017

dream I was being pulled out of my body. I ran downstairs. My neighbors were watching their old vacation videos and I asked them to come upstairs. I made the sign of the cross the whole way up. When we got back to my apartment, I saw myself next to a Christmas tree, like I was hanging decorations. I had cat eyes. I said “out demon out demon get out of my house.” My house was the same as it is in waking life except for the Christmas tree. I looked like I did when I was 22 and living with xxx. It was the same tree. Later I went to (redacted) and told her what happened. My face was beat up and I was crying. I also attended a Modest Mouse show for free. A cat was being circulated in the crowd and I pet it. I was alone but genuinely having a good time.

Morning was short today. I got to sleep in. Til about ten. I couldn’t believe it. Normally, I am up by 6 am and I can’t stop it. It’s rare if I go to bed later than 11. I am usually sleeping from 10-5 or 11-6 and no more. It’s not the sun that wakes me up but a distance. I can’t explain it. I feel like I am rising with someone who is also rising. 

Today I practice the spine game. It starts with an affirmative statement to test. Same with the pendulum. IT started with the pendulum actually. I would practice a few times and determine yes was right and no was left. However, I noticed the same thing happened inside of me when I played with the pendulum. I began to make statements. Not questions. I would walk around making statements and feel the energy in my body shift one way or another depending. Now, it’s hard. The stasis. Finding what’s true. So I began to test it.

I sit centered in front of living room altar. I can see two candles on top and a picture of my brother and I. I am a woman. I feel the tingle of my spine rise up and to the right. I am a man. I feel the tingle of my spine drop and hit the lowest point of my back. I am 31 years old. I feel it rise again and sometimes my heart will burst too. I attend Temple Social Work school. It’s like a light vibration up and down. Here is the tricky part. xxx is thinking about me. and it shoots like that, up and towards the heart. 

I’m giggling. We know not to bet on anything that talks. We also discovered the spine game. 

“Ok,” I say out loud. “I am going to begin the name game.”

I turn over one card and start laughing.

“It’s the King of Swords again.”

My cat is on the window staring at me and I am legs crossed, becoming floor. Or rather, becoming the name game. That is, I begin to list them. And here is the tricky part. Be careful what you say. I turn over the next card.

“It’s the Magician Reversed again, Genevieve!”

I look to my right but she has gone somewhere else. 

“Isis.”

And a slow, overpowering wind moves up my back and I am grinning like I’ve been eating shit and spitting it. 

1/3/2017

I agree the weed is complicating things. This is why I tell no one of my habits. Avoidance is key. 

“I’ll sort this out,” I say cheerily, passing a family of five. 

Smile. I smile at the young girl and her mother looks me up and down. The streets are crowded. I keep my hood up and try to lay low. Anytime someone on the street taps me for something, I am startled. If anyone asks for anything, I just poise like I’ve been shot and they retreat, alarmed by my dramatic shock at their intrusion. I’ve been known to gasp or shriek. We back away from each other. I have started to wear my old wigs sometimes.

“Just to get into character,” I say, waving my hands.

A woman with two children passes me and I don’t think she knows I am wearing a wig! I’m delighted and smile big at her children and she veers around me, her eyebrows furrowed.  I am what you call “full momentum.” If I go on two walks a day, I call that “a failure.” Three has happened but I am usually upset by something. I can walk from my house to 2nd and South on a bright day. That’s about an hour and a half and then an hour and a half back. The snow has started. Generally, it’s getting snowy. I think I’ll take the bridge but then I can’t possibly muster it. Today is a one day walk but I am at 2nd and South. I don’t buy anything. I just look at all the windows. Think. 

“I should buy something.”

I go in the crystal shop and touch everything I see. I pocket things sure. Who doesn’t? I say out loud and a clerk turns her head to look at me. I buy a little round black obsidian to assuage her suspicion.

“Any plans for the weekend?” a man with many facial tattoos asks me.

It’s 8:18 pm, Friday night, 31 degrees and dropping.

“Oh, just gonna get some rest.”

I hand him a five dollar bill and put the change in my pocket. This is a good exchange because I am loose. The wig helps. I feel unrecognizable. Begin the hour and a half walk back. Sometimes I stop and stare into windows so it can take two hours instead. I receive many texts. I think to myself avoidance is key but I say it out loud as a group of couples pass me and one smiles. I reach out and touch his elbow. 

1/12/2017

dream I was being sent to hell. when I asked how to get to purgatory, someone said “pray.”

After work, I head out. Almost immediately. I pack thebowl. Smoke. Repack the bowl. Make a cup of tea. Head out. I get my papers done, generally. I get my paperwork in. I have a mounting to do list that keeps me functioning. Today it says:

–read syllabi
–look for lightbulbs in storage closet.
–sign up  outreach.
–read texts for class
–begin sw series

I love being packed to the brim with ideas to keep me occupied.  I devolve into an automatic writing session as I am distracted before my walk. I do this sometimes. Close my eyes pick up a pen, ask God to talk through me and I write it. Sometimes with my left hand. TOday it says:

God moves through me like water. I am everything. I feel everything. I am an angel. There is no time. 

I am wrapped in a blue cool light and my purple peacoat. I am on the street by 6:45 pm and moving away from the bridge. I am not prepared to cross the bridge today. I take the University side again. I am at Market and 32nd with a blink of an eye when someone asks me how to get to the train station. I have no earthly idea what’s going on and can say this firmly, as I keep walking. I sometimes pretend I don’t speak English in these situations. Shake my head and throw my hands up. I have no earthly idea what’s going on, I say and keep walking towards the train station. 

It’s not that I don’t want to help, it’s that I have no idea where I am.  Better to pray they find a more unshakeable scout than me. Someone who may just lead them there, arm in arm, on their nightly walk around the town. I am at the train station and laughing uproariously in five minutes. I am pushing along, suddenly looking up at a sign that reads 22 and Walnut. I am wrapped in a blue cool light, breath condensing on a window near Chestnut St. saying out loud, there is no time.

 

1/9/2017

Jake had trepidation but allowed me to take the kayak out without him a couple weeks later. We were having what people say “an Indian Summer.” It was sixty nine degrees and he was busy with his new girlfriend and I desperately wanted the respite away from my parents house.  I come home to visit them every other month and some days I curl up inside myself in my dead brother’s room. But today, I was strong: rested, full (I had eaten a bowl of oatmeal and two cups of blueberries in the morning and snacked on Cliff bars throughout the trip) and rowing. I was also separated from everyone else, alone on the river. Also four hours in. Also not sure where I was.  Also left my phone in the car so it wouldn’t get wet. I marked the passing time with a pink Sharpie; drew a line on my forearm every time I thought an hour passed. Four pink lines. Petrified would be downplaying what I was feeling.  When something knocked the boat the first time, I ignored it. I brushed it off as anxiety. You make things up, Lion. Convincing myself it was a current, I paddled on. Keeping my eyes on the tops of trees for sunbathing snakes, I hadn’t looked down to see the depth of the lake or that I was in the middle of a lake or I was so far from everyone and in open water until. I wanted to get away from the snakes.
“You’re obsessed with this drama of a snake falling into your kayak and murdering you.”
“Snakes don’t murder, Jake,” I interrupted again. “They just kill. Don’t be dramatic.”
“Oh, I’m being dramatic, Cat? I’m being dramatic???” he laughed
I was remembering the first time we talked about my phobias near the shore.
“How do you convince someone their house isn’t haunted?”
I was talking to him about the fine line art of “reality testing.”
“Or that they are not haunted?”
I was explaining how to hold two things at once without favor.
“Or that people aren’t watching them?”
It was windy and chilly. We both had bathing suits but sweatpants over them.
“Reality testing is a common practice for people experiencing psychosis in which they talk to another person about the delusion and most people do it with a psychiatrist. BUT,” I suddenly project my voice, eager to keep the attention, “You can also try to test with the person you are having the delusion about but it only works with the person if you get an affirmative answer.”
He was gazing at the waves but engrossed.
“You mean you only believe them if they say yes?”
“YES.”
I dig my toe into the sand.
“Imagine deliberately asking someone if they were stalking you or watching you. You would only believe them if they say yes because otherwise you would always think they are protecting themselves.”
He nodded, looking at me, “That makes sense.”
“So  I had a ton of clients that believed their neighbors were spying on them. I could tell them they weren’t but only their neighbors could admit it. And no one would do that. And if they did, then what?  Probably exacerbate everything. And in our world, people are being stalked online. So people kind of spiral,” I make that perpetual motion with my hands, “And you don’t get any definitive answers because the truth is we are all being spied on.”
I watch a wave crash.
“It’s not just in our heads. Some people are just really sensitive.”
“Hmm,” he started. “So how would you ever reality test?”
“You don’t. I mean, you try. Bring statistics and probability into it. The likelihood of the TV being directed at you is high because of the way advertising works now, but it’s also not sentient so to break the pattern of thinking electronics are talking to you, you first have to accept they were programmed to cater to your desires, and then to ignore them. But the likelihood of your neighbors watching you is less. Your crush, maybe. An abusive ex, probably. The mailman, unlikely. And the internet is father: always watching.”
“The algorithm,” he said.
I was always talking about the algorithm.
“So anyway, you can’t actually tell me that I don’t owe these ghosts a favor because you can’t tell me that my house isn’t haunted, that I didn’t invite them, that I didn’t communicate with them and ask them for help. Only the ghosts can tell me I don’t owe them anything. Only years can tell me. Only no one can tell me because I would only believe the affirmative. You can’t say no.
“I can’t.”
“No, you can’t.”
We both watched my feet in the sand.
“But I can teach you how to kayak down Alligator River.”
“Yeah.”
We both watched the waves crash and I started guessing with a 98.3% accuracy rate.

We stopped at the pier on the way back to my room, saltwater taffy stuck to our lips and miles to go.
“Remember when we used to race,” he suddenly said.
“Don’t you fucking dare.”
But he was already running.

“I’m obsessed with snakes but not bitten by any snakes so there is that,” I said out loud.
I was in the middle of a lake, far from the  bank and I had just felt a bump against the bottom of my kayak. The boat rocked a little to the right but not much and Jake, was right, I am dramatic. It is probably the current. It was probably the current.
“But alligators are moving north through the intercoastal waterway and with climate change they could start settling. We are not far from North Carolina..”
“Ok where did you read that?”
“I Googled it.”
“You purposely Googled it!I told you not to Google anything…”
“Oh, I should just plug my ears and cover my eyes and trust you during alligator season.”
“WHAT? What did you Google?” “Are alligators moving north on…”
“No,” I splashed him with my oar. “I did google that, yes, but I Googled “are there alligators in Virginia?”
“And it said they are moving north.”
“Yep.”
“Lion cub,” he always called me lion cub. “The only thing you have to look out for are snakes falling from the trees.”
He pointed up to show me: a little black rat snake hanging from a cypress just to the right of us. I turned to him and smiled: big with all teeth.
“Cool.”
“Very cool,” he affirmed.

My arms are tired and I am not sure why I didn’t take his advice. He told me not to go out alone and definitely to stick to the route with people.
“I won’t.”
“You drift.”
“I don’t.”
He stared flatly.
“How will you get there? You don’t have a rack.”
“YOUR car. Trade. I just got it detailed and your car smells like dead fish.”
“True.”
He stared again.
“You drift.”
“What else is there to do but drift down No Alligator River?”
He relunctantly handed me his keys and took my freshly cleaned Honda into his driveway. But his intuition was right. I daydreamed, became so obsessed with finding rat snakes in the trees that I lost all sense of direction. I don’t even know what direction I came from. Whimsical. They call me whimsical. And I was whimsically carried downstream and now had to row back to the sides of the lake with the trees while both watching out for snakes and trying to find my path which I felt was behind me, but I’d been wrong before. As I rowed to turn around, I felt my biceps tearing and my calves had already cramped long ago.
“Fuck. I’m tired”
No, I was exhausted. Smiling through exhaustion. My arms were growing and so was my hunger, my impatience, my budding fit of panic trapped in miles of water surrounded by miles of swamp. I felt a push at the bottom of my canoe like a sudden strong current. It’s just the current. Looking to the sides, I tried to calculate if (and only if) I was literally too exhausted to row, could  climb up the bank and rest keeping my canoe (borrow, lion cub, I will let you borrow the kayak some days) safely secure at the bottom? It’s hard to tell with the swamp.  The bank could contain solid ground or dense thick marsh. I would have to abandon my kayak anyway to climb it and there was no telling what  I would fall into. I had nothing to tie it with. Truly, I had no choice but to paddle back, back to where I had seen the three couples earlier getting ready to venture out. I was concerned about my father. No, brush that from your mind.
“I will make it.”
I had eaten everything. It’s true. I have very little impulse control and when I am anxious, my stomach grips itself but when I am hungry, I am voracious and my salivation drives me. The bag next to me was empty and my canteen (I brought two) was down to a quarter of the bottle.
“It’s ok,” I let myself float.
I could not row anymore. I deserved and needed the rest. That’s what started this. It was only three pm. I had a few more hours before it got dark. It was hard for me to relax. In a state of constant hyper vigilance, I tensed every muscle in my body and constantly.
“So everything hurts,” I told him on that first trip.
“Yeah,” he rowed ahead a bit.
“I just want to be prepared.”
“How do you feel today?”
“Oh, fine,” I cheerily responded.
It was easier with him. He had packed extra; extra things that I may not have remembered or ever even thought of at all: peanuts and water and a sweatshirt. My arms hurt. I had goosebumps. I wore loose-fitting pants but a sleeveless top. The sun would go down. My knees were sore. My legs were shaking, the muscles clamping and unclamping slowly but Jake and I laughed a lot. That’s what I’ll remember.
“What will you remember?”
“What the alligator from the dream means.”
“Ah, the alligator dream again. Always the alligator dream.”
He turned around and smiled at me, leading me.
“What does it all mean?”
I let my mind wander.
“You always ask me about it.”
He rowed so he could face me and float backwards while I floated forward.
“And what does it all mean?”
“Sometimes an alligator is just an alligator.”

He caught me gazing up at the trees.
“A lot of times, they won’t even bother you. You may not even notice them.”
I’ll notice them.”
“Yeah, of course, Cat.”
Jake showed me four snakes that day and I showed him two.
“See?”
“See? I am beating you.”
“Whatever, when I look up I see them. I don’t always look up, sometimes I look down. You can’t always look up. You have to focus”
“True but. Maybe you should look up more.
When it dropped from the branch, I reacted as I always thought I would. With swiftness, I gracefully tumbled over the side leaving my bag but taking the oar. I tumbled. Mildly disoriented, I felt  young, the way I felt when I visited the beach with Leana or Alex.
“Look! Look!”
I would jump the small waves in the water to crash into the big waves. I had zero fear as a child, none. In fact, I played in the surf all summer long enjoying the pull; the way a wave will pull you back like the fletching of the arrow to the bow. I was being plucked, ready to launch. I was gliding forward like a seal. I was riding it, one long wave and then above water and thenI was suddenly in the river, wading, the water at my waist. My oar floating gently away and I peeked in the canoe to confirm it was a rat snake. My bag was next to it, placid, both my pack emptied of all food, only a quarter of a canteen of water and it was gray. It was not black like a rat snake but gray like a tree trunk lying lifeless, defenseless and not full of venom. Dead, or never alive, the branch that had scared me right out of the boat. Sometimes an alligator is just an alligator. Sometimes a branch is just a branch.
“What was the last thing you said?”
“When?”
Jake coughed, “In your dream. I remember you saying sometimes you were trying to figure out if it was a crocodile or an alligator but you said something too.”
I turned slowly to see it’s two eyes and briefly it’s wide open even-toothed smile before it ducked.
“In the dream?”
Before I was pulled.
“No, just now.”
“Oh.”
I was twisted over and over like the way a wave will catch you in the surf and tumble you, keep it’s watery fingers on you.
“I told you the alligators were moving North.”
My lungs were full of water and just freshly out of breath.
“No, what was the last thing you said, Cat. Before you saw its jaws?”
I was feeling perpetual motion. 
I said, “Oh, I said it would be either be a snake or an alligator.”
I was feeling my left hip disconnect from my waist. 

 

 “The Dream of Alligator River”

We met up a few weeks later when I was back in town. Able to borrow his ex’s old kayak and oar we headed to the dismal swamp.
“ I released my alligator snapping turtle here,” I remind him.
“You never had an alligator snapping turtle.”
“We do this every time. Yes I did!”
“Ok, pay attention,” he said.
The name made it sounde desolate but it was lush, full of sycamores and bald cypress, my favorite, I loved watching the spanish moss hang. I had a hard time focusing once I got around a lot of plants. I couldn’t retain all I learned but was mezmerized by their foliage, the green, the light glinting through branches, the sun hitting water, a large stone, a magpie darting, the scurry of a chipmunk.
“Pay attention.”
“Ok. I did have an alligator snapping turtle though. His name was Michaelangelo.”
“Cute.”
We started slow. He led my boat to the shore and steadied it so I could hop in.
“Put your paddle behind you. When you are alone, you will do it this same way but get more in the water. Because I am here, I can push you off a little.
“What about cottonmouths?”
He just shook his head. Then he placed his paddle above his head.
“Take your paddle and find the center like this.” He made his thumb and index finger wrap around it. “You can change it as you go but see what feels comfortable and balanced. Even. Find a place that feels like the weight is balanced on one side.”
I bit my tongue a little so my tongue poked out and mimicked him, looking up at him through my sunglasses for approval. He nodded and twirled his paddle like a baton but dropped it on the ground.
“Yeah, “ I said. “You’ll get the cottonmouths.”
He pushed me a bit more in the water but I waited for him to get in his boat before doing anything. We only went out for about an  hour and Jacob showed me the basics of paddling, or forward stroke and told me to focus on my core not my arms. That was easy. Dip one blade forward and then the other falls back.  Then draw stroke and rudder stroke to move sideways and back to shore. He told to me swivel my body to face the blade when I wanted to turn. We had some speed  so he showed me that I could set the blade in the water, lean my body slightly one way when I want to turn but and rely on the momentum to keep it up.
“See.”
“No,” but I managed.
“You can also do this when you get a nice wind.”
He was a bit ahead of me and I was placing one paddle in the water and letting the other stand up like he was. I could feel it. I could feel it turn I mean.  It was quite easy. While I didn’t understand everything he explained, you can attune to the water fast. A rudder stroke was just a way to will water. If you asked me to explain the mechanism, I couldn’t but I did it several times. It reminded me of the perpetual motion game I played as a kid except without as much movement. My dad used would roll his fists one on top of the other and just repeat: it’s perpetual motion, lion, you can’t stop it. I would jump on top of him and put all of my weight on him and laugh. He was very strong. Perpetual motion, he would say over and over turning his fists and I couldn’t stop it. Grab them, claw them, sometimes bite them. I couldn’t stop him.  Until he needed a sip of wine. We let our kayaks float for a bit.
“You can look up and try to find snakes.”
I had been looking up but hadn’t seen anything.
“Or down to see cottonmouths. Or Michaelangelo.”
“I’ve been doing push ups,” I beamed and formed my left arm into a right angle to show him my bicep.
“No, you haven’t. But they look great.”
I laughed.
“My arms hurt,” I said. “Let’s go back.”
I looked up at the pines lining the shore; still green, some browning. Warm fall. I didn’t see any snakes but I saw a few ripples in the water as a school of fish swam by.
“You can see bats here sometimes,”  he said.
“Cool,” I was looking down again.
I saw more ripples around my boat.
“Pickerel you said, Jake?”
“Yeah, or catfish. Lots of catfish.”
Back on the bank, he extended his hand and helped me out. Jacob was right. It was easy, relaxing. My arms were toned and fit  and ready for this. I could see my right tricep bulging in the sun as I rowed back to shore.  Growing, pulsing, moving towards something bigger with each stroke of the oar, I smiled. Smiling while tired, that is the women’s armor. We surprise you being continually broken and rowing.
“I want to be prepared,” I told Jacob.
“You don’t have to go out that often. I’m telling you,” he rested his hand on my back as we I got out of the boat.  “The trip I want to take you on is easy.”
“I’m not strong enough, Jake. I want to get stronger.”
“It’s only going to be about three hours.”
“Jake.”
“Yeah.”
“I also heard that the alligators are moving north.”
He laughed.
“Stop googling things.”

 

Jake took me out the next day as well and we went a little further down Lake Drummond, staying out an extra hour so I can practice turns.
“There is a legend of the swamp, Jake. A bride died just before her wedding. She stays out here in her white canoe and holds a lamp looking for her husband.”
“Was she killed by an alligator?”
“Didn’t say. Will have to check when we get back.”
Jake was paddling backwards and facing me.
“Isn’t that hard?”
He shrugged.
“Next time, I am going to bring my camera,” I said. I squinted. The sun was bright and today I forgot my sunglasses. We were in the middle of the lake, far from the bank. I felt safe with him there. “I can’t believe I haven’t seen a single moccasin.”
“Or lamented bride.”
“Or bat.”
“Well maybe tonight.”
“Or Michaelangelo.”
I dipped my index finger in the water, smiling. It was the end of September, 71 degrees and sunny.

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