Wild Things

By

My daughters and I walk home from the park, crows warbling, bugs zipping, men spitting where they lay cement. There must be rabbits here, and they must be hiding between blades of grass. I tell my five-year-old daughter, Lise, to look for them while we walk, but we see only bugs and plants and the wide, bright sky. Lise asks me if there are even any rabbits in real life, at all. I tell her they’re real and everywhere, but, “Maybe they’re asleep in their burrows.”

“Burrows?” she asks, and I explain: Find a patch of dirt, hard and cool and near a tree to throw shade over your home. The patch must be mostly bald; too many plants will reach deep, stubborn roots, like a web to dig through.

Now dig. Dig deep. Not so deep that you hit water. The tunnel should be as thin as possible, just enough space for your body to travel down. The cave itself can be wider, a small house, but still tight enough to touch your sides when you sleep. Like blankets. Like a bed. Like the body you came from.

When we arrive home, Lise piles her stuffed animals into a hill in the middle of her bedroom carpet. She burrows in. Her younger sister, Margot, follows her. Hidden, they kick their feet and laugh.

To them, rabbits are still silly, magical creatures. Bugs Bunny or the soft bunny Alice follows into Wonderland. I want to crawl into those animals, too. It looks comfortable there, and safe, but I’ve lived twenty-something years longer than my daughters. Twenty-something years of slamming into rabbits while driving down the Florida highways at night, watching them twitch in the grass at a state park,Rabbit their long, yellowed teeth unpeeling when they yawn, finding their stretched bodies dead in the sand of a baseball field, chopping their skinned bodies into quarters, roasting them, and stirring them into stew.

I’ve served this stew to my daughters. I’ve called it “rabbit stew.” They chewed the meat, but I’m not sure they understood. When I was a kid, my dad served me deer chili. For years, I assumed the “deer” was just a funny name. Like Mickey Mouse pancakes or lion’s toast. When I was ten, sitting around the coffee table with my family, eating dinner and watching Flubber, Dad picked up my empty bowl to dish up a second serving. As he dumped a ladle full of the reddish soup, he said, “That Bambi is damn delicious,” and the body of the deer fell into my bowl.

Dad chuckled and scratched his belly. I looked up at him then at my mom beside me. We caught eyes. I fled. Found myself in my own room, my own animals lined up across the pillows of my bed. I wrapped myself in my comforter and thought about the bang of mother death on Bambie. I wondered how many bodies had been dropped into my bowl. How many families ground up and served to other families. Was any family safe?

I watch my daughters’ feet sticking out of their stuffed animal hill, their giggles shaking the burrow, monkeys and elephants tumbling down. I breathe in this small moment of their awe, their own bodies wrapped in the wings of their imaginations.

Theirs is the kind of awe it would require for me to follow a rabbit underground. I want to be there, with them.

I want to forget that it doesn’t matter how deep you dig, you’re still there, still inside the world you’re running from.

*

“Danger baby!” Lise calls from her bedroom, my cue to come check, and when I do, I find Margot climbing up the bookcase. I lift her off and tell her that climbing the bookcase can hurt her body. She nods and asks me to read her Where the Wild Things Are, her favorite book. It’s one of my favorites, too. When Max, the boy in the wolf-suit, is sent to his room without dinner, he imagines vines climbing across his bedroom ceiling, the walls of his room dissolving into a forest of trees. The trees open to reveal a shoreline, then the ocean. Max finds a boat and sails it to an island inhabited by wild things, like him. One of the most beautiful, empowering messages of the book: Your thoughts are your world.

The first time my younger daughter, Margot, had to go under general anesthesia for foot surgery, to reshape the bones she was born with so they’d be easier to walk upon, she laid on a narrow hospital bed, a pale yellow gown tied loosely around her body. She squirmed slowly, her body submitting to the medicated euphoria before the anesthesia mask was held lightly over her nose and mouth. I watched the hand that held the mask lower it toward her skin. I watched her eyes close slowly, her mouth moving in the shape of my name, soundless, while she tried to fight the medicine. When her body relaxed into sleep, I watched one of the surgical nurses pour brown liquid across Margot’s feet. She pulled a single, large cotton ball from a sealed plastic bag and spread the liquid across Margot’s skin. The cotton ball dipped in brown liquid: tail of a rabbit, darkening. Another surgical nurse touched my wrist and led me out of the room.

I waited for Margot for five hours, staring out a wall-sized window at the Philadelphia skyline, clouds moving, rain coming in and leaving. I thought of nothing. I felt nothing. It was like I had followed her into sleep. I believed that I was still with her. A kind of magical thinking, the metaphorical umbilicus. My heart pumping, her breath connected to every bloodbeat. Safe.

When I received the call confirming the end of surgery, the voice of a nurse told me Margot was starting to wake up. I rushed toward her. I don’t remember the halls between my window and her hospital bed. My fear didn’t allow me to capture those memories until her eyes opened, one at a time. When she woke up, I picked her up, her IV line bobbing against her forehead. I pressed her body into my chest. Margot was not fully awake when she wrapped her fingers around her forehead IV and yanked it down. A line of dark red blood streamed down the side of her head, across her temple. I pressed the button on the remote attached to Margot’s hospital crib, told the nurses what happened, and they rushed in. One of them said, “The forehead IVs always bleed the most. Nothing to worry about. She’s safe.”

Before the nurses came in, Margot had rubbed her eyes and scratched her head, smearing blood across her face. While the nurses reinserted her IV, the blood on her face began to turn brown. After the IV had been reinserted and affixed to her head with a cloth bandage, I asked one of the nurses for a wet rag to clean Margot’s face. The nurse pulled one of the cotton balls out of the pocket of her scrubs, unpeeled its plastic packaging, ran it under the faucet across the room, bent over my daughter, and cleared the stain from her skin.

*

After my oldest daughter, Lise, was born, I was afraid of the knife drawer in our kitchen. Every time I passed the drawer, I imagined a series of horrific scenes: A steak knife slipping from my hand, flying across the kitchen, landing in my daughter’s bassinet, impaling her. Or, in a moment of unexpected strength, she could pull away from the sling that wrapped her body to my chest, fall out of the sling, onto my knife, and impale herself, like a body falling out of a window and onto an iron fence. Or the baby could accidentally grab the knife. She could grab the knife and impale me.

I knew that the scenes I imagined were absurd. Lise could barely hold her own head up, she dropped every toy I handed to her, and she spent most of the day sleeping in the sling or nursing. The impossibility of these scenarios didn’t matter. After a few weeks, I couldn’t open the knife drawer. I couldn’t walk on that side of the kitchen. I asked my husband to come home on his lunch breaks to cook all of our meals. Or, we ate fruit and vegetables, biting them whole.

I believed that if I avoided the knives altogether, I was in control, and if I was in control, my daughter would survive. I could protect her.

*

Seven pregnant ladies and I sat around a long, rectangle table, listening to the midwife sitting at the head. On the first class, the subject was managing the prenatal diet. She said, “Right now, you’re inundated with information about what you can and cannot eat during pregnancy. Are you overwhelmed? Have you eaten anything recently before realizing that it is contraindicated for pregnancy?”

Each woman spoke about how they were unsure if there was a real risk of listeria in lunch meat or how they hadn’t completely quit caffeine and soft cheeses. One woman confessed that she had had many alcoholic drinks during the first trimester, before realizing she was pregnant. One of the women’s partners, a professor of statistics at a local college, pointed out the statistical risks of all of these consumptions were rather low. “Statistics help me feel safe,” he said. His wife nodded.

I was the only mother in the group who had been pregnant before. When it was my turn to speak, I told the group about my last pregnancy, when Margot was a fetus. My husband, Ken was deployed for all but one month at either end of the pregnancy. I was alone, taking care of Lise, and pregnant. For those eight months parenting solo, I convinced myself that if I followed the rules and stayed extraordinarily healthy, I could minimize my risk of something going wrong inside my body. I stopped eating sugar and caffeine and processed foods. I practiced yoga and went on two-mile walks each day, pushing Lise in her stroller. At the end of my pregnancy, I showed up at the hospital fifteen minutes before Margot was born, delivered her on my hands and knees, in two minutes, two pushes. A midwife caught Margot and slid her under me, so that she and I were face-to-face. I reached down, lifted Margot to my chest. The delivery midwife came over to cut Margot’s umbilical cord. She told me,That’s my idea of a perfect birth!”

Minutes later, Margot’s hands and feet began to turn blue. The blue spread up her legs, her torso, to her mouth.

She was taken to the nursery, her body placed under a plastic bubble filled with oxygen. Thirty hours later, her respiratory distress resolved. Still, she spent a week in the NICU because the doctors noticed that the shape of her feet could be indicative of a fatal genetic condition. Tests revealed that Margot’s genes were typical, no anomalies. At the end of our NICU stay, the perinatologist hypothesized, “Most likely, an asymptomatic virus passed through your body in early pregnancy, halting Margot’s physical development for a short period of time.”

I stopped the story there. I looked around the table, the seven pregnant women, their eyes wide. I said, “None of this is scary. Margot is incredible, and I know now that I am not in control. There are so many variables that we can’t see.”

After the class, the statistician said, “Your story is so improbable. Impossible really.”

I told him about my best friend who recently gave birth to identical twins just one month after her sister-in-law also gave birth to identical twins. Both sets of twins were conceived without medication or added hormones. The statistician crossed his arms and shook his head, “Impossible.”

I blinked and smiled, remembering my own body from a decade before standing outside of the hospital the night my father died. I was sweating under a thin hoodie, even though it was late December, four days before Christmas. On the way home, the dashboard of my grandmother’s car showed the temperature: 72 degrees. “Impossible, impossible, impossible,” I whispered, to myself.

*

When I visited Japan with my ex-husband, we spent time with a couple he knew from high school, Taku and Yuki. Yuki was five months pregnant. She sat beside me in the backseat of Taku’s car. A few months before our visit, my first baby had been stillborn. I watched Yuki’s hand resting on her belly for the whole hour while Taku drove us to a fertility temple on the top of a mountain.

In a cave on top of the mountain, we wrote wishes on little slips of white paper and tied them to a bare tree. Yuki asked me if I wished for another baby. I nodded, but I was lying. I had really wished to find the words to tell my husband I wanted to leave him, even though I would have preferred to stay, to try to have another baby with him. I believed that I had to leave him. I believed that if I wished for a baby—or tried to become pregnant again with my husband—the baby would die.

On the way home from the temple, the four of us stopped at a sushi bar. Yuki and I both ordered a platter of raw tuna. I turned to my ex-husband and asked in English, “Does she know how dangerous that is?”

He didn’t know what I was talking about. After I explained the dangers of eating raw fish while pregnant, he and Taku and Yuki all laughed. “In Japan, pregnant women drink green tea and eat raw fish the whole pregnancy. The women here are safe.”

*

When Lise was three months old, I carried her into a psychologist’s office. I told the psychologist about the knife drawer. She asked me if there was anything else I avoided, to protect my daughter from unlikely accidents. “The car,” I told her. “I try not to drive anywhere. Auto accidents are a leading cause of death.”

I told her I avoided standing water, stairs, and dark places, like garages, where brown recluse spiders might live. If I walked past a web at the wrong time, a brown recluse could drop down on Lise’s head, bite her, and kill her. I avoided train tracks, in case I tripped and fell in front of an oncoming train. I avoided stairs and balconies and large crowds during flu season. But all of these were manageable, I insisted. My fear of the knife drawer was keeping me from preparing food in my own kitchen; it was the only real problem I could see.

The therapist diagnosed me with postpartum OCD and handed me a workbook. “The dangerous thing isn’t the knife drawer,” she said. “It’s the fact that you’re avoiding the knife drawer.”

KnivesShe told me my homework was to fill out the first three pages of the workbook and to cook a meal every day that required the use of a very sharp knife, to desensitize myself, to prove that I was actually safe. That night, I filled out the workbook.

OBJECT OR EXPERIENCE YOU ARE AVOIDING: The knife drawer.
FEAR: That my daughter will get cut. That I will accidentally cut her.
WHAT WOULD HAPPEN IF YOUR FEAR IS REALIZED: She might die or get hurt.
THEN WHAT WOULD HAPPEN TO YOU: I would lose her. I would no longer be a mother.

As soon as I wrote the words, I remembered my first baby, stillborn. The slump of the nurse’s shoulders while she cradled my baby and left the room. I was on morphine during the birth, in and out of consciousness due to blood loss. I forgot to ask whether the baby was a son or a daughter. The nurse forgot to write it on the chart. The baby was placed in a medical waste bin. The marker on that bin: three black scythes.

Sharp. Like knives.

*

When Lise was a toddler, “Danger baby” became a sort of shorthand, a way I would call her to attention. I’d see her standing on the edge of the big-kid park structure, run toward her, and the word that fell out of my mouth was, “Danger, danger!”

Lise would freeze and look around, assessing her surroundings. Or, she would look at me, a small frown between her eyebrows, waiting for me to tell her what was dangerous, what was safe.

After Margot was born, Lise referred to Margot as “baby” for the first year of her life. When Margot was one, she wore casts before and after her foot surgery, which kept her from learning to crawl and walk. Instead, she learned how to roll around the house, often finding herself stuck between the dining room chair and table legs. Margot was quiet; she hardly cried even when she was stuck. If I didn’t notice her begin to roll toward the dining room, Lise would alert me, “Danger, baby!”

Now that Margot is older, the words work as both a warning to Margot and a call for intervention from me. A finger on the nurse’s call button. A shot through a quiet forest. Lise will catch her sister with a bead hidden in the palm of her hand, or she’ll notice that Margot seems to be heading toward the kitchen while the oven is on and hot. I watch Margot react to Lise’s warnings. Margot evaluates her environment or looks up at Lise, waiting for Lise to point out the risk. These interactions between children are so uncomplicated, so feral, but we all do this: rely on each other’s investigations of the world, the way we categorize risk. We rely on each other’s truths, our beliefs about what is dangerous and what is safe.

*

Because my father died in a hospital, largely due to the neglect of his primary physician, I often believe that doctors and hospitals are dangerous. I am not particularly worried about childhood illnesses because I survived them easily. When Lise was three, she scraped her knee deeply while running down a grassy hill. She believes that grassy hills are dangerous, but she has never seen a small, domestic animal hit by a car or experienced the hot stench of roadkill. She is not particularly wary of cars zooming down the street.

Shortly after Margot was born, I took an introductory undergraduate statistics class. In the class I learned the macro nature of statistics; that in mathematics, statistics is usually applied to a large group of people. In everyday life, we use these macro evaluations to evaluate risk on an individual level, but when we do that, we are missing the true power of statistics: to evaluate a population. On the individual level, we have to consider the intersections of a variety of factors, intersections that we need to understand our own safety, how close we are to an unexpected outcome.

Statistics make us feel safe, but most of the time, they can’t predict what’s really going to happen in our life. We believe in them anyway, though. Belief in statistics, like survival, is an act of faith. We have faith in the information we’ve learned. We reside in the belief that most of the time, we are relatively safe. Most people avoid situations that challenge that belief. We avoid danger. But first, like children, we have to learn where the danger lives.

*

When we were children, the adults in my family called my younger brother a daredevil. He climbed to the top of the magnolia tree in our front yard, throwing husks at me while I called up to him, begging him to come down. I believed he would fall. I imagined the sounds his bones would make when his body connected with the dry grass beneath the tree. I imagined screaming, running inside to get my parents, driving to the hospital, listening to him wail the way I had when he had to have stitches on his face from running into a sharp dresser knob or the way he screeched when he tripped and broke his arm while running with the family Doberman in our backyard.

My brother never fell off of the magnolia tree or any other tree. He was good at climbing, and he wasn’t afraid to fall. There are reality TV shows filled with people like my brother. Fear Factor and Survivor and even COPS. Most people are unwilling to bungee jump off of bridges, sky dive, eat scorpions and worms, try to survive isolated on an island, or stand-off in the street with a person who is armed and high on drugs. We watch these shows because they allow us to experience the danger from far away. We maintain our distance from the chaos. We believe that big actions like these are the most dangerous events in which we could engage.

The top five causes of death in the United States, in order, are:

Heart disease
Cancer
Lower respiratory disease
Stroke
Accidents

Each of these causes is presented with a list of common risk factors: fatty, sugary diet, lack of exercise, alcohol and drug consumption, living in a toxic environment.

All of the top five causes of death could happen to any one, any day, without much warning. Viruses could be caught, blood vessels could burst, a quiet cancer could become apparent, a heart could become overloaded and arrest.

The five most common fears in the United States are:

Social phobia – the fear of being embarrassed in public
Aerophobia – the fear of flying
Acrophobia – the fear of heights
Claustrophobia – the fear of being trapped
Agoraphobia – the fear of a situation from which escape would be impossible or the fear of being helpless

Helpless, embarrassed, flying, being in a high place, and being trapped are extremely uncommon causes of death, statistically improbable. The outcome of any of these situations is almost always survival, moving on to the next moment, the next day. But none of those truths matter. These are still the fears from which we suffer the most.

I suffer from all of them. Once, my therapist told me, “OCD occurs because of the fear of something we cannot control. In response to this fear, we develop habits to make us feel safe, but eventually, the habits become the true source of disruption in our lives.”

This mental illness works inside me as a parent. It is that wing of my brain curling around my vulnerabilities. It is me, trying to protect myself.

*

When I was pregnant with Margot, my biggest fear was that something would happen to my body because of the pregnancy, rendering me incapable of taking care of Lise while my husband was deployed. My second fear: that something would happen to Margot while she was inside my body. I had given birth to a still baby before, and I knew the wilderness of the grief that followed. In the whirl of that grief, every time I saw a baby in the arms of another mother, I grew angry and resentful. I thought, “In what world is it fair for her to have a living baby, for my baby to be dead?”

It was an ugly series of questions, based on a belief I didn’t even know I had: that misfortunes only happened to people who deserved them. That I deserved any pain that came my way or that I could have done something to prevent it, to protect myself, to stay safe. These beliefs followed me into my pregnancy with Lise and Margot, creating a constant panic in my skin.

When I was in high school, I attended a weekend meditation retreat with an older friend. We sat on a wooden floor, cross-legged and silent, for an hour straight. “Life is pain,” the meditation leader kept saying. “Do not be afraid of it. Breathe into your pain. Let your pain dissolve.”

BreakingAfter the meditation he told us, “The most frightening thing is the moment when pain disappears. In that moment, you are enlightened. Or, you are about to die.”

After Margot was born and rushed to the nursery to receive oxygen, the doctors told me that her body was shivering on the blade between life and death. There was nothing anyone could do. Just wait. My husband went home to take care of Lise, and I lay alone in my quiet hospital room. The air conditioner kicked on, hummed. The orangish lights were dimmed, low. Every couple of hours, a nurse entered the room, taking my vitals and massaging my empty uterus, encouraging it to shrink back to its pre-pregnancy size. She spoke quietly, updating me on Margot’s progress: Nothing had changed.

Before the birth, I had toured the birthing center at the hospital. The midwife who led the tour said, “These rooms were created to resemble the environment of the womb.”

Peace, they had told me, was the intention of the golden lights, the white noise, the solitude. I still wake up from nightmares that embody the quiet chaos of that room.

When Margot was released from her oxygen bubble and sent to the NICU for genetic testing, the NICU room hummed with machines, low lights, respirators. A row of premature babies gained weight in plastic cribs. Occasionally one of the babies coded and the nurses and doctors ran to her side, trying to save her. I sat in the waiting room during one of these code blues, talking to my husband on the phone. I told him, “One of the babies might be dying right now. No, not Margot. Not today.”

When we left the NICU, Margot had two hearing tests. At her pediatrician appointment a week later, she had another hearing test, even though she had passed the first two. “If babies stay in the NICU for five or more days, their risk of hearing loss is increased by up to fifty percent. But don’t worry,” he said. “That statistic is based on the fact that most babies who spend that much time in the NICU are premature, and there are factors about premature birth that increase the risk for hearing loss.”

“So the test isn’t relevant to Margot, since she was born full term?”

“I have to follow regulations,” the doctor said. “Just in case.”

On the way home, my husband complained that medicine is just as bad as religion when it comes to assessing risk. Medicine presents generalized truths based on evidence supplied by the statistical majority of a certain population. Those truths may or may not apply to a particular person or a particular life. But doctors must treat actual patients based on those truths.

I remembered my father’s primary physician standing over Dad’s body a week before he died. Dad was lying on an exam table, his shirt unbuttoned, his skin bright yellow, jaundiced from liver failure. Dad told his doctor that the pain in his body had increased significantly over the last few weeks, that he was having trouble functioning, had lapses in memory, and perhaps he needed a stronger pain medication or another evaluation of the state of his liver. “Based on your previous labs, it’s improbable that your hepatitis has progressed very far. I don’t think a new prescription is necessary.”

The doctor also refused to authorize new labs, which would have put Dad on the top of the liver transplant list. On the way to the parking lot, my father began to shake from pain and nausea. He vomited and passed out. He was walking beside me. I wasn’t looking when he fell straight down onto the gravel. Two nurses saw him fall through the waiting room windows. They ran out to treat him. When Dad woke up, he sat on an exam table with his flip-flops falling off of his feet. His hair was messy, like a toddler. One of the nurses gave him an over-the-counter pain med and let him sip grape juice, until he could drive me home.

A week later, Dad’s liver failed, filling his body with toxins and his brain with seizures.

Three months later, I stood in my grandmother’s hospice room, my hands on her feet, telling her goodbye. Weeks before, Grandma had been recovering from heart surgery in the hospital. The nurses didn’t change her socks for three days. On the third day, her temperature spiked. A nurse took off her socks and found that one of her feet had swollen around a small scratch. A staph infection had invaded it. Soon, the infection spread to the incisions in her heart. When Grandma found out that she was not expected to survive the infections, she decided to starve herself. She wanted to die quickly. It was the suffering she was afraid of, the pain. While trying to convince Grandma to eat, my mother told her, “The doctors will stop the pain if it comes.” 

Grandma said, “When they talk about me, they’re always looking at my chart instead of my body.”

*

Once something unexpected or overwhelming occurs, our inclination is to find out why. There is something soothing about creating a narrative, telling ourselves a story. If we can track a series of events leading up to the scary situation, we can find the root, someone to blame. If we can position blame away from our own bodies, we can make ourselves kings of the wild things in our lives.

When someone dies in the hospital, it’s easy to blame the doctors who stood beside them while they seized. When a child gets hurt or appears to be different than other children, it’s easy to blame their caregiver—the one who was supposed to protect them, the mother who built the fetal body in the first place.

When Margot was a baby, her legs had to be casted for about a year before surgery, to reform her muscles so that her feet could stand flat. The casts were quite large and covered in bright fiberglass, bright pink or purple or pale blue. Because casts are often associated with broken bones, when Margot’s legs were casted, strangers often approached me at the grocery store or park or post office, asking me to explain the casts. I told them about Margot’s condition, that it happened in the womb, and that doctors do not know why. I told them the casts were a good thing; they were helping her, not indicative of something broken. The people who approached me often asked me a series of questions about pregnancy. “Could they tell on the ultrasound? Did you smoke or drink? What was your diet like? Have you had genetic testing? Does this run in your family?”

“There has to be a reason,” one grandmother said, in a grocery store check out line.

“If there is,” I said, “Doctors haven’t found it yet.”

“Well,” she said, “It’s probably not your fault.”

I nodded, a little relieved that she had come to that conclusion. But her assertion also made me uncomfortable. The series of questions she had asked felt like she was trying to investigate the cause of Margot’s appearance so that she could make sure it wouldn’t happen to someone she loved. It seemed like these small conversations were a performance of the Just-World Hypothesis, a belief that good things happen to good people and bad things happen to bad people. It is a belief in a cosmic justice to everything that happens to the world, a belief that we can investigate and often find the cause of both the wonderful and the unfortunate things that happen in our lives, that whatever happens to us, we deserve it.

When we evaluate each other in this way, we distance ourselves from each other’s experiences. We create the dichotomy of us and them. Our investigations lead us to a series of illogical conclusions: that if we refrain from making the same choices as someone else, their misfortune will not befall us. We distance ourselves from one-another’s misfortunes, treating each other like the knife drawer in my kitchen. We believe we are reducing our risks. We believe this distance keeps us safe. Uncut. Whole.

Since Margot was born, I’ve noticed when I engage in this behavior, too. It usually happens when I’m afraid.

I have always tried to gather as much information as possible, distancing myself from the elements in my life that frighten me, trying to protect myself from the experience rather than closing the gap between bodies, between experiences. But if asking questions, gathering information, assessing risk and finding out why misfortunes happen isn’t a way to empathize, then how do we move closer to each other? It seems that the only truly dangerous thing in life is distance, estrangement, feeling like we are alone in our experiences of the world, that we have nobody to reach toward, to call to, to live beside us. I am suffering. I am scared, I might say.

I hear you, you would respond. A kind of umbilicus unwinds between us. Let me help you face this danger. Let me help you feel safe.

*

In Where the Wild Things Are, Max runs through his mother’s house, wreaking havoc on her laundry, on the family dog, the walls. He is sent to bed without dinner. To rescue himself from his empty room, he imagines his room becoming a forest near an ocean. He finds a boat and sails to another land, where he meets a group of enormous monsters. The Wild Things.

These monsters roar and roll their eyes and gnash their teeth. Max copies their behavior, and they are immediately intimidated by him, even though he is tiny. Even though he is only dressed like a monster. Even though he is really just a little boy.

They crown him king, but being king of the wilderness isn’t what Max really wants; it isn’t what he needs. He is still alone.

BabyMax plays with the wild things until he smells his mother’s dinner on the wind. He decides to go home, and the wild things sob and roar and moan. They are already so committed to his authority. Maybe they love him. Maybe they are afraid of him. They call him “the wildest one of all.” They want Max to tell them when to eat, when to fight, when to play.

Lise and I look up pictures of rabbits online. We find a photo of newborn rabbits at the bottom of a nest.

Max’s bedroom turns back into a bedroom. His dinner is waiting for him.

I stand in the doorway of Margot’s bedroom, watching her move toward the bookshelf, imagining all the ways she could fall, believing it will happen but knowing that when she does fall, I will be there, not to rescue her, but to sit with her. With you. To evaluate your bumps and bruises. To tell you that it’s okay to feel it. To listen to you while you tell me what was scary and how it hurts.

***

Rumpus original art by Clare Nauman.


Asha Dore is a writer and artist living in the Pacific Northwest. Her writing has recently appeared in Hobart, Word Riot, Volume 1 Brooklyn, and elsewhere. More from this author →