Excerpt from my memoir:
Dusk. When the days grew longer, when dark was not yet creeping up on the seven hills of Cincinnati, I escaped to the farmer's field behind our house. There, I studied skies.
There were more hidden pictures in the clouds than I could imagine. Backside to the ground, at 9 years old, I sank into the tall grass.
The farmer's field was the only wild, green space left around. Our subdivision was taking over the other land, killing trees, replacing them with houses. But to me, this land wasn't the farmer's at all. There, I shut everything out — even the sound of Mom's voice calling me inside. I studied all things like crickets and clouds, because gestures and movements told me more than speech ever could.
Dad was a quiet man. I read his moods by studying his poses and expressions. Each night, when he came home from work, he smoked, drank some gin, ate, then crashed for the night in his den lazy boy chair. I was an expert at reading him. That's what my family did — we watched each other, stayed quiet and moved. Then we went our separate ways.
My favorite dress was blue with red and yellow flowers sewn across my non-existent kid breasts. My favorite, not because of the color but because I thought it made me look thin. And to look thin, to feel thin, was what I thought about, stretched out in the field, imagining a herd of horses surrounding me, welcoming me into their family. Even if they trampled me, I thought it'd be a good way to die.
Then I blinked, and the clouds became wolves. Then deer. Then motorcycles, old men smoking pipes, a glass of milk, a child jumping rope, a snake, an apple, a chicken.
I tried again, blinking hard enough to push out tears, looking deep into the white clouds, so deep that for a moment everything faded and I saw cloud people. Their faces were made of cotton. Their cheeks puckered in kisses meant for me.
I looked harder, hoping the clouds would lead me to touch. In my silent world of clouds, I received my first secret messages. Back then, harmless daydreaming. Later, more real than I would ever imagine.
I told no one about my skills of deciphering willows, clouds and words. I didn't tell Mom that I knew how she was feeling by the way she pulled the curling iron through the tail ends of her hair. Big curls meant that she would be late.
I could decipher Mom's mood from the slightest change in her fingers or skin. And when Dad pushed his quick hand across a legal pad, his study was off limits.
But something was burning in my chest. I wanted to move, to ride. I wanted to ride horses. I wanted to feel rhythm, live with them in a silent home, crawl inside the blacks of their eyes. I wanted to die within a horse pupil.
In the farmer's field, there were real horses, and I could always hear them coming, grazing slowly through the tall grass. Listening to them move, hidden in the bars of green blades, no one could touch me. No sound but horses reached me in my lone world. Not Mom's voice, not the boys playing kickball in the street. I was immune to reality, dreaming there, listening to hooves push through the grass.
Something fascinated me about horse eyes — the depth, darkness and the sideways placement on the head. The black holes seemed to speak of secrets. A strange and interesting secret, so much hidden behind such a small, dark space.
I knew all about secrets. Inside my head, I held constant secrets like this: If only I were thin, my family would like me. I'd look good in family pictures then. I wouldn't feel like dying.
In this field, sometimes I had a break from the thoughts. And sometimes I didn't. Sometimes, I wished the horses would crush me thin. Like I could shut my eyes and wish myself into a beanpole girl made of grass.
Deep down, hidden under my blue dress and pink Irish skin, I had a feeling. I thought that if I could hang on to the sight of horses long enough, one day I would feel a release from myself, and maybe then I would turn into a cloud person. Anything other than heavy me, my tough body that felt so hard to move.
Maybe I could turn into a boy, turn taller. Maybe if my legs weren't so thick.
Maybe if I could wear my blue dress every single day and never have to worry about fitting into anything else again. Yeah. Barefoot, blue dress.
But at some point, Mom would have to wash it, and then what would I do? I would rather stop breathing than have to try and fit into another dress.
The clouds were on wind time. I knew when it was time to go inside by the sound of the horses out there, grazing; they bent their necks down and relaxed when it was time to go in.
If it rained, they let the drops roll down their coats. I stood still with them, my breath even, feeling the drops on my own skin. I liked swallowing rain.
Contact C.A. MacConnell: [email protected]