I don’t have a lot of memories from my childhood… I feel as though my peers remember their childhoods more fully and with more clarity than I do. I remember the name of one of my teachers, ever, and I remember the first name of one of my high school friends. I am baffled by the fact that people my age go to reunions and actually remember the people that they meet there. I don’t remember books that I read as a child, or favorite movies from when I was at that Disney age.
I do have a few things that I remember. They are like color photographs, precise but completely still; some are not accompanied by stories… they are images with people in them that I recognize, but I don’t know what was happening or what was said. These spring into my mind unbidden from the recesses of my brain, and since I don’t know the feelings or actions associated with them, I have no idea what prompts them. I have others that have stories attached to them; I don’t know if these are stories that I have repeated to myself or heard from family members over and over again, and I don’t know if that matters.
I remember our old cat Jenny… she was an outdoor cat, a one-time mother (I have no memory of the kittens, but there is a photo somewhere of me at that age between toddlerhood and kidhood sitting on a kitchen turntable with them), and a hunter. My dad told a story about her killing a rattlesnake when we lived in Wyoming and bringing it back to the house. “And I told you kids, don’t you tell your mother about this…” he would say. But he couldn’t have meant me, I would’ve been a tiny infant if I’d even been born at all in Wyoming. I remember she came home one time from a night out hunting and fighting with a lump like half a golf ball on her back. It was an abscess where she’d been bitten or scratched by something, and the vet cut it open to let the filth drain from it. My parents told me that she couldn’t sleep under the covers with me while the wound was draining, and so I’d move her to the top of the bedspread. After that she never slept under the covers with me again… cats are here-and-now creatures and not great at understanding context. I was sitting by a round, rock-rimmed little garden in the backyard one day, and it was a bright and mild summer day that we had so often in Anchorage. The garden was one that my mother had surrendered to the weeds and her burgeoning alcoholism, but it still harbored plants that were many generations descended from the tame bedding plants that had once lived there… little pansies and snapdragons with smaller, wilder flowers. I loved them for reverting to their ancestral hardiness and I loved them for their unexpectedness, and Jenny the cat appeared from nowhere and sauntered across the garden toward me for a pet. She had a black stripe down her back and when I pet that long fur she felt so hot. I remember teasing a couple of burrs from her fur with my fingers, before she reasserted her independence and bounded to the other side of the yard.
I remember that there were several wooded vacant lots in our neighborhood that we used to play in, and I was in one of them with two friends whose names I no longer remember. I don’t even recall what we were doing there; maybe we were gathering spare lumber and building a tree fort, I don’t know. What I do remember is that we were set upon by a small tribe of boys about our same age (I think I was somewhere between nine and twelve years old), who wanted to keep us prisoner and make us do things for them. The tool that they would use to so coerce us was a spray bottle full of piss. It was one of those one-or-two-dollar spray bottles that you buy at the grocery store for gardening or for containing home cleaners, with the generic and geometric tulips crudely printed on the side. We ran and hid in some bushes, but I got angry and went after those boys. One of them brandished the bottle at me and I took it from his wavering hand. At the top, where the sprayer screwed into the bottle, it leaked slightly, and I felt the liquid slosh out and it burned as it ran over the back of my palm.
“It really is full of piss, ma’am,” one of the boys stammered. I lifted my eyebrows and jutted my chin, and in what was my first strident feminist act, I said, “I know,” and pointed it at them once, just to see what it felt like, before throwing it off into the woods. “Go home,” I said to the boys, and they ran off.
I don’t think there was malice in those boys; I don’t think that they really meant to hurt us or imprison us, or even to drench us with their piss, except in some freudian mockery of territorial marking. I think that they were just playing out the centuries old game of dominance between men and women; a game they had almost certainly seen played out on television and in movies and in their own homes. I hope they learned a lesson about treating women and girls that way, but they probably didn’t.