I notably lack empathy for humans, but roadkill makes me cry. I mean, that opossum has a mother, and that raccoon has a family. I’m told that humans also have these relationships, but I suspect that’s fake news.
We lived in the woods when I was little. Well, that’s not entirely true. I was born in Oregon, but then we went to South Carolina until I was nearly four. There, I was friends with Andrew. He just acted like I was me. Amazing! I barely remember him, but I remember him fondly.
I don’t have other substantial memories before I was five. In kindergarten, back in Oregon, at Catholic school, nobody liked me, except for the teacher. The kids weren’t mean to me. They just thought I was weird and ignored me. I was weird, I’m sure. I didn’t notice that I didn’t have child friends. I had a lot of animals at home. The teacher left, a couple of months before the year ended.
I cried and cried. I loved her. She loved me; I was sure of it. She loved me unconditionally. It never occurred to me that she’d left of her own free will. Obviously, she’d been somehow taken from me.
We lived in the mill house then. I’ve written about it before. Up the long, gravel hill, to the left, there were five houses. We were the last one. A lilac grew in front of the front window. Across the gravel road, deer regularly sought blackberries. I told my brother about monsters there, past the gravel, in the woods beyond. Hideous, terrifying monsters, that only big, bad, butches could combat. He was so lucky to have me there (ask him, he admits it). It’s funny now. Of all the places we’ve lived, that was the one with the fewest real monsters.
We kept animals. We kept all the animals: rats, gerbils, opossums, cats, dogs, skunks, moles, salamanders. We had them all. They were all my friends. My dad’s buddy at the paper mill hit the opossum mom, and pulled the babies out of her pouch. He handed them out at work. That wasn’t weird in that place.
I went to first and second grade in that community, with the other mill kids. They thought I was weird, but it was a small community. We played a game: April and Amy, the pretty girls, who were cousins, and their somewhat less pretty cousin Tanya, would chase me around, and if they caught me, they could slap me as much as they wanted. I basked in their attention.
I loved my best friend Shawn, and he loved me. He didn’t care how weird I was. Or maybe he liked it. I’ve never quite gotten over his family’s vineyard. Grapes still make me feel safe. Shawn, and his silly Star Wars sheets made me feel safe.
There was a quiet stability to his family that wasn’t present in mine.
We moved four times the year I was eight. My cat and my dog came with me. In Seattle, it was similar, but people weren’t as close. They didn’t slap me anymore, they didn’t know one another, and they slammed me in doors. The teachers made announcements about new immigrant kids from Venezuela, and Vietnam, and the USSR. Ultimately, those were my friends, but none of the other kids liked us.
At home, I had a duck, and snakes, and anoles, and lovebirds, and another cat that I rescued from an abandoned house, shoved into a box, and gifted to my dad on father’s day. Happy Father’s Day! Your kid is antisocial and likes cats more than humans! Demonstrate your acceptance by taking in this cat! He did of course. My dad loves his weird kids. (Technically, I gave him two other cats in similar ways, after that. He now says that he won’t accept another gift cat. We’ll see…).
Samantha Lang rode her bike around, when I was nine, shouting ‘queer bait’ at me and throwing lit firecrackers. I had no idea what ‘queer bait’ meant (I’m honestly still not sure). But even then, I knew a threat when I saw one. My brother was friends with her brother, and he said that when he took a piss at their house, there was a stack of Penthouse magazines on the back of the toilet. That’s not something that would ever happen in my parents’ house. Then, I hated Samantha Lang, and when she joined the Army, like I’d planned to do, but couldn’t, because I was queer, I hoped she’d die in some explosion that was like a metaphor for the firecrackers she threw at me. She didn’t, and later, I was okay with that.
Girls should not have to grow up with porn in the toilet. I’d rather have my dad and firecrackers thrown at me, then her nasty-ass dad and her life.
When I wasn’t with my cat, I’d go to the duck pond and swing on the swings. I don’t love ducks, but I had raised one. And people chased them a lot. I think we understood each other.
Point is, humans were not kind to me, and animals were always there. I’m aware that I lack ‘normal’ human empathy, but I also experience an exaggerated (relative to other humans, who are assholes) empathy toward non-human animals. For awhile, I thought that I had a proper personality disorder. Now, I think that whatever I am, was created by humans. It’s all you, Frankenstein. Welcome your monster.