My mother once fought a ravine and two strange men, and only a woman could tell you which was scarier. The dusk settling in on a rural New York night, a 30-something woman trying to maintain her health with a long walk, and a pickup truck.
Doesn’t every American nightmare begin and end with a pickup truck?
You can feel the humidity in your mouth. As thick as gnats, as thick as a cloud of mosquitoes fighting for blood. Hovering in the clouds that are the sky of the upstate, the Finger-Lake country, the I-can-get-away-with-this country. Choking you.
Telling you just what your mother told you—that you should have stayed home. That you shouldn’t have gone to college. That you should have been a housewife. That education and careers are for penises. That you aren’t really a woman if you aren’t surrounded by a cartload of kids.
And you. She. Didn’t listen. You took that 2.5-mile walk in the dusk, running your long and delicate fingernails along the cattails. Feeling that soft moisture in the air, filling your lungs with droplets as golden as the fire from the sun. Feeling your freedom of marrying a man who would never in a million years tell you not to be who you are. Just letting you.
Walk that walk. Walk all the way around the “block”, the upstate block that stretched between a cemetery, an elementary school, houses built two hundred years back, and cornfields flooded with the life of early summer, ready to burst with golden morsels of joy.
She will tell you this story later (not much later). You are nine years old, sitting in your stone-floor kitchen, listening to her tell it.
It is the same story she told you years ago, about her mother writing the letter to the college and telling them that her daughter shouldn’t go, that women are housewives, and why would she waste her life on an education rather than raising babies?
But there’s a ravine in this story.
A ravine. Resting above Flint Creek, the creek with the black snakes in summer, the creek that freezes so hard in winter that we bring our toboggan and sled right down over its ice, the creek that is a mystery and a blessing and a danger all wrapped in a childhood built upon the backbones of exploration.
In case you were wondering, this far along… the ravine saved her.
She clung to the vines, the grass, the weeds, the green growth along the banks of that creek as if her life depended on it.
Her life depended on it.
Because on her 2.5-mile walk, at dusk, in midsummer, two men followed her and did all the things two men in a pickup truck do.
They drove forward and circled back. They blasted their radio and their diesel. They shouted and slurred.
And my mother won a full-ride scholarship for that nasty letter her mother wrote in 1972. It was the Women’s Liberation Movement, and goddamn it if someone was going to tell her or anyone that she wasn’t going to get her degree. Even if it was her mother.
And she clung to the side of that ravine, hiding her waist-length auburn curls and her 120-pound soul and her fear, until she heard that diesel drive away.
And she didn’t call the cops or cry or call my father.
She walked home and told us, my sister and father and me, the story.
And that is why I am here today, writing this.
Because she clung to the terror and came out on the other side and didn’t get raped.
And how fucking sad and amazing and heartbreaking is that ravine, that ravenous victory?
How fucking sad is that ravine?