Nonfiction from Shayleene MacReynolds

Photo: Ron Whitaker

A Steady Rush

In the beginning, there is the steady rush of quiet natures. There are the waters, winding, snaking, layering themselves across the skin of earth. In the waters, I get lost and wonder if I really want discovery. It would be lovely for the all of me to float away.

I wish that I had known Virginia Woolf. The way she drifts beneath the waters of the Ouse River. Near Sussex, her pockets full of stones. I would have liked to hold her hand and smell her hair. That glorious mane of woman hair, strong and maternal. Safe. I would have liked to wrap my fingers in it, to tangle my body inside and around her own.

I know a body drowned is not romantic, but I always think of them like mermaids. A soft creamy blue like frosting, sea foam green. With seaweed all wrapped up within the dark black tangled webs of hair. The nails, white. The lips like crystals. Rock candy that my father bought for us as children.

When they pulled out Virginia Woolf, she must have been so beautiful. Translucent skin and river weeds. A long white dressing gown, gossamer against her legs. Have you ever seen a thing so lovely in all your life?

When my uncle killed himself a few months back, I asked my mother how. She told me that it would not bring me closure to know. I think, however, she is wrong. The way that we go out must mean something for how we felt about the world. How angry we were with it.

When I had to let my baby go, some years ago, I spent hours inside the bathtub. The pills they made me take were violent in the way they quaked my womb, but I wanted her release to be quiet. I wanted for the water in the tub to catch her. The little fish child that I had to throw away.

My grandfather, he shot himself. Imagine all that blood he left for someone to clean up. He must have been furious. They said that he was planning it for months, but I’m not sure. I hope not. What a sad ending to be carrying about for so much time.

My mermaid was conceived in violence. Not violence, per se, but I was sleeping when she came to be inside my womb, and so it feels like violence when there wasn’t my consent. I couldn’t keep her. I couldn’t keep a product of deceit. Of cruelty. Of the way entitled boys will claim women’s bodies in the night. I do miss her, though. I light candles for her all the time, and save a space for her beside my pillow. It wasn’t her fault, my little fish child.

My cousin hung himself. His mind, confused, could not quite grasp what living was. He could not see what it would mean for him. The wiring in his brain, how it was all wrong. How fiercely he loved despite it. I miss my best friend.

I let my baby slip away in water. It hurt, far greater than any hurt that I have ever felt before. Like things inside me tearing their way out. The way the organs of the flesh began to twist and turn, convulse, move clockwise and then counter and then back to order yet again. I wish she would have come out whole, so that I could have held her. Little mermaid girl, born of sleeping ladies in the night.

After she left me, I couldn’t let her go. I didn’t wash my hair for days. I left the ring around the bathtub for weeks, and nearly months. I let her linger, hanging from my back, my shoulders, all the doorknobs in my house. Everything I touched seeped with all the grief that was her leaving. The sadness was overwhelming. I missed Virginia Woolf.

I started keeping stones inside my pocket. I’d press them in deeply, down into the space beside my womb. The place where, for women, pain originates. Lining my shelves upon my bedside table in the doorway on the counter. Stones, everywhere. On the dashboard of my car, inside my kitchen sink, one of them I place into my mouth and let it roll about beneath my tongue. I carried it there for days. I didn’t eat. Instead I turned the stone to seaglass there between my teeth. When my brother and I go to Alaska, I find a massive rock he has to carry for me, all the way back down the mountain. He doesn’t understand, but he sees how much I need it. Shrugging, it goes into the bottom of his pack. He carries all this weight for me, and then I put it in my luggage, and carry it back home.

On my shelves now are oddities. Large acorns I found along a lakeside. Pieces of wood carved with little worming patterns. Feathers from my goose, my ducks, my chickens. The quill of a porcupine; the wingbone of a bird. Lots of quartz and amethyst and calcite and halite and so many things the way they sparkle in the sun. I collect the earth. It is how I bring me back to self.

My brother does not believe in the stars. In astrology. The way that they align and influence all the nature of our beings. I’m not certain I do, either. But I don’t believe in coincidence, and so that makes things challenging for me. Searching for the meaning in all things, he tells me just to let it all exist.

My brother is earth. Or air. It depends on the year and our position in accordance with the sun and all the other things I’m not meant to put my stock in. I am air, but I wish that I were water. Water is a bit louder, more visible. If I were water, then perhaps I would have found my voice before, well, before I had to make my baby swim away.

I wish my brother could see things the way I do. In colors and patterns. Everything so vague—almost opaque. The stones that I collect, they give me grounding. Sometimes, I lie down on my floor and arrange them all around my body. Lay them out from small to large. Sometimes I count them all, walk around the house and add the numbers in my head. Some of them, I put in small clay pots and burn beside the sage. Others I give away, because it is important to share the things that tie us back to time and place.

For years, I collected rocks so that I would not find a way to slip away. Like my cousin, or my grandfather, or my little baby fish. Now, like my uncle. I have never stepped on so much grave dirt in my life. I save that too. And dead flowers. Roses from a funeral, the way they flake and crumble in my hands.

It is a miracle that any of us are still alive. Perhaps you have never heard that call—the deep, ancestral voices that sing to you and beg for all of you to float away. My brother calls it depression, but he is far more clinical than I. I think that it is rather all the sadness of the ones who came before. How it trickles through our veins. A midnight blue.

Or maybe we are all just cursed.

The thought came to my mind, after my uncle’s passing. Improperly medicated, I sat and stared at water for hours and hours each day, putting rocks into my pocket. I’d lie down beside the hose bib in my yard and dig deep into the soil to see the water pool. I’d wash the windows just to trace the pattern that the rivers cut through glass. Now my skin is bad, but my hormones are in order, and so I’m finding things that make me happy once again. But there was a time I wanted to fulfill the legacy. All this grave dirt on my shoes and I was sinking down to my own death. It’s hard when there’s a long-gone part of your own womb that beckons forth from just beyond the deep. Little mermaid child, the rainbow fish—giving all the scales away until there’s nothing left of one’s own self.

Since my uncle’s passing, I have moved. I packed my stones away in boxes that are waiting to be loaded onto shelves and doorways and countertops. There is a pool and so sometimes I dive and do this little move beneath the water with my feet. My long hair all about me, how it floats and hovers. I hold my breath and see if I can make it to the other side. When I emerge, I dive back in and meditate beneath the surface. I’ll stay beneath the pool for hours, until my skin gets pruned and wrinkled like a raisin in the sun. My goose, sometimes she’ll float beside me. She’ll give me feathers from her wings. I wind them in my hair and then I find them later, quite surprised that they are there. How could I have forgotten?

I should have been born water. Wind almost never makes a sound, except for when she’s angry. Water, though, she’s always carrying on with babbles. Little exclamations. Perhaps I would have had a stronger voice. Can things like this become transmitted through the womb? I want to blame my mother, as daughters do. I want some of it to be her fault. She should have spoken more fire into the womb-kiln; rubbed more vigor on my translucent baby skin.

It isn’t her fault though.

Mother, can you hear me? It isn’t your fault.

We women, how we carry all the burdens of our men. How a curse becomes a family secret, and how we stoke the fires. How we pretend and we protect. There is a mother out there, who loves a darling boy as mothers do. Who love their secrets, despite the cruel things that they’ve done. Poor little girl, and how she swirled away inside a bathtub.

Poor man, with his gun. Poor boy, with a rope. Poor uncle, with his grief. What am I to do with all this legacy of anger?

Virginia Woolf, in her suicide note, said that she was so afraid of being overcome by all her madness. Hearing voices yet again, she could not live through what she knew would come. Poor gentle little dove. I have never known a single thing as hard as being human.

There is a hike I often take, when I am feeling all the heaviness of life pour in. It leads down the back of a mountain, to a steady rush of quiet nature. If you can make it so far, and at the right time, it is often peaceful and uninhabited by others. The waters layer themselves across the face of earth. You can watch the pattern that they carve, and how they move across the landscape. Someone tells me that they cannot do this without the wind, but I am not so sure. I’ve never known the wind to be so strong.

But I’ve been wrong before, and so I’ll wait to see it out.
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Shayleene MacReynolds has her Master’s Degree in Creative Writing from Cal State Northridge. Her writings have appeared in Fredericksburg Literary and Art Review, Foliate Oak Literary Magazine, and California’s Emerging Writers, amongst others. Shayleene is concerned with all things human, both enamored and intrigued by the emotional relationships forged between us. Her writings explore the capacity for connection that we maintain as human beings, and the vast responsibility we owe to one another to connect better, to love better, and to be better.

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