These days, the neighbors are pedophiles:
peeking in my windows,
watching my daughter play in the front lawn, watching her white
knuckles bend and unbend as she pulls roots.
They wait for the slight chance that I’ll leave her alone;
that I’ll go inside and wash the dishes or grab a jacket or tea,
disappearing for a few seconds, so they can snatch her and launch
their escape plan: slip through the neighbor’s gate, hopping over
their back fence, ending up on the street behind us where a car
awaits, the motor humming, ready to sputter off, leaving a cloud of
smoke. I see them standing in their lawns, pretending to water their
gardens. But I know their secrets: I can hear their pencils
sketching into notebooks late at night, devising their plan, making
blueprints. I won’t let them take her.
I want to believe this is normal behavior.
A friend confirms this: Of course, now that
you’re a mother, everything is heightened.
Sounds are heightened:
I cover my ears as she writes her name in chalk on the
I’m thinking of the four-year-old girl on
the news, the one who was snatched from the front of her house while
writing with chalk on the sidewalk, the one with curly locks, a
round face, the one who screamed, Noooo!
Her mother said:
she did everything I taught her—kicked, screamed,
bit skin, but nobody could reach her in time. Her grandmother
washed dishes inside, glancing up occasionally through the window
above the sink. The sound of water and clanking dishes drowned out
There was a witness who claimed:
It was a robust man with
ruddy cheeks, blue flannel, wavy hair; might have been a neighbor,
yes he was a neighbor; he lived right over there.
An aunt calls to tell me she had a dream about
me: You were
shielding your daughter from a vulture that kept swooping in over
She always does this—calls me with a dream that’s
eerily similar to something that’s happening in my life.
I tell her that her dream confirms my
fears—pedophiles are swarming our lawn, trying to swap my daughter;
that I’m obsessing—closing blinds, shunning neighbors.
Not to the point of paralysis. It sounds more
like a defense mechanism.
you scanned the area for pedophiles?
My mother asks when
I explain my nightmares. I had—I pulled and noted several houses in
the area, nabbed with red dots: sexual assault against a minor;
lewd and lascivious behavior. Their faces stuck in my head; some
looked like nice grandfathers, unsuspecting.
Of course, my daughter is unsuspecting. She waves
at the mailman; asks him if he wants to blow bubbles.
I tell her no—don’t trust
anyone. I tell her the
world is dangerous, filled with dangerous people who want to do
dangerous things to unsuspecting children.
That’s going too
husband says. You’re going to raise her to be scared of the
reoccurring dream: In a lake I see my reflection:
a fish—bony flesh. It turns its eye toward me—piercing blue.
I want to hold it but it swims through my fingers, its scales sharp
as the edges of feathers, its flesh like wet hair.
At the Monterey
Bay Aquarium, my daughter is obsessed with jellyfish. She loves
their bodies, curved like bells. I tell her that they act similar to
the brain—malleable, flexible. She wants to hold their tentacles.
It’s like hair, she says. She presses her hand against the
glass: They’re staring at me, she says. I, too, am amazed at
how they perceive their world using small organs that function as
eyes attached to their threadlike tentacles. They can sense
variations of light with a heightened sensitivity to red. Unable to
communicate with each other because they lack a brain, they use
senses in their tentacles to detect danger and sting their prey.
it turns out, there’s a fish inside all of us.
Or in the words of paleontologist, Neil Shubin:
If we follow the gill arches from an embryo to an
adult, we can trace the origins of jaws, ears, larynx, and throat.
Bones, muscles, nerves, and arteries all develop inside these gill
arches. Our skulls lose all evidence of their segmental origins as
we go from embryo to adult.
The plate like bones of our skulls form over gill arches.
In other words, follow the patterns:
I’m teaching her to write the letters of the
alphabet. Trace the lines, follow the patterns. I hold her hand in
mine as we make the arch of a U—it looks like a mouth, she
Or an upside
down bell, I
My mother’s reoccurring dream:
she’s chasing after my dead sister in woods, but each time
she gets closer, my sister’s face turns into my mother’s dead
But, the weird
thing is that I never met that brother,
It’s the truth—my mother had once told me how her
mother was expecting twins, but one had died before reaching air;
how the other had smothered it on the way out.
duality: One comes out red and alive, and the other comes out blue
She can’t get the texture out of her head: As she
reached for my sister’s hair, she pulled a piece that was coarse and
salty as seaweed.
Sometimes, my mother stares hard into the
distance; her eyes become pearls as if she’s left this place. I
wonder if she’s chasing a dead or alive child as her body sways
between lines of light.
What it comes down to
is this: Memories and
stories are circling around our brains as we speak, shaping us, and
redefining our narratives. I have to believe this: I’ve died many
times before—once as a fish, once as a bird, once as my mother, once
as my sister. This much is
certain: there’s an animal inside all of us—the instinct that drives
us toward death is the same instinct that drives us toward life. Our
desires change. Our brains are malleable. This is how we survive—how
we protect and adapt. I’m choosing to be afraid to protect what’s
mine because there’s nothing so as uncertain as time, collapsing and
folding toward us; what’s in front of me is vanishing as we speak.