I’ve been thinking about the day you shot the cow in the yard.
I had a Fisher Price tape recorder as a child, all primary colors and thick, chunky plastic parts. It was my favorite toy when I was little. I would constantly record everything around me, a tapestry of sounds woven by the people in my life. My mother, brushing our hair, yelling at us to turn the tv off. My sister & I playing house & fighting. My dad working on the house. Just aural landscapes of minutiae. Daily journals of sound.
But that day I recorded you. And your friend.
As I waited on the warped wooden steps up to your trailer, I pressed record. I wasn’t trying to gather evidence against you. I was just taping my day-to-day routine and you were part of it. I can still hear what would be on the playback if I listened to it now….3 raps. Bumblebees buzzing in the orange flowered weeds we call Touch-Me-Nots that surround your trailer. Your distinctive limp and the heavy thudding of your cane. The creak of the door opening. The haphazard tick of the tips of my shoelaces on the steps as I climb inside.
You take the tape player out of my sweaty hands & place it on the table. At first it just records you playing with me. You have a magnifying glass. You put it in front of your eye. “My, what big eyes you have,” I say. The better to see you with. We are Red and the Wolf, playing unchaperoned, granny already deep in the belly. We follow the script till the woodcutter shows up at the door. In this version, he drives a pickup truck, his pores are sweating day old booze and, unfortunately for me, the woodcutter is in league with the wolf.
Soon, the wheels of black satin still spooling round and round in the machine record the soundtrack of my abuse.
Tracklist for The Ruining of Young Girls’ Lives:
Track 1: Kisses from a Man Who Doesn’t Understand No
Track 2: The Sounds of a Six Year Old’s Struggle to Prevent a Breaking and Entering
Track 3: My Useless, Bruised Little Fists
Track 4: Your Laughter Could Write Nightmares
Track 5: Panic, Panic, Panic
Track 6: The Twisting of Wrists
Track 7: The Bending of Will
Track 8: Prayers for Mercy to a God with No Ears
Track 9: The Inevitable Taking of a Girl Without Heroes
Track 10: The Unnatural Silence Found in the Immediate Aftermath of Natural Disasters
It is around this time that you realize the tape recorder is recording an album of this fucked up score. Guessing at my intentions, you are furious. You pull the tape out of the machine & rip it apart, ribbons of black bleeding from it…you drop the uncoiled magnetic tapeworm on your table and tell your friend that you’ll “show this bitch what happens to little girls who run their mouths.” You tell your friend to get the cow that he was supposed to help you put down & to grab the gun. You scream at me to get dressed. Because I’m still dazed with dissociation, all my fingers have turned to thumbs frozen with palsy. When I finally re-dress, you take me outside, where your friend has the cow down on the ground. He hands you the gun and then your friend stands behind me. He puts his hands on my trembling shoulders, fingers digging into me, “Watch.”
With your first shot, you shoot the cow in the neck. The cow jolts with the violent electricity of the bullet. It makes a godawful groan and its legs kick out as it tries to get up, get away. It can no more escape than I can. You & your friend laugh at its clumsy ballet of suffering. Your friend whispers, “This is what will happen to you if you ever tell.” I try to turn away, but your friend holds me there. You take aim and shoot the cow again. And again. Purposely prolonging the torture, you both laugh as it flops around on the ground. My mom finally comes outside, realizing what the loud noises are. Your friend lets go at the sight of her and she calls me inside the house—but not before I watch you take aim and put one final slug in the poor animal’s forehead. Finally, the cow is still… bloodied & dead.
My mom doesn’t once ask me about what was happening outside. Of course, she also never appears to question what her 6 year old might be doing when alone in a trailer with 2 grown men. I sit with a thousand mile stare. She makes no attempts to comfort me. She says nothing at all about what she pulled me away from, but she also doesn’t allow us to go outside for the rest of the day. Later, when I finally work up the nerve to ask her what happened to the cow they shot, she tells me that none of it happened, that I made it up. But the next morning when we go out to play, next to our swing set, there is a spot in the dirt the color of Indian Paintbrush.
For some reason, the grass never grows there again–poetic in its refusal to thrive on a path where the devil once walked.
In a way, I guess I have done the same, lived my life refusing to thrive…all while humming the tune to my own destruction from a song you wrote for me. You destroyed the recording, but I can never unhear a melody like that. It just begs to be sung by my sad, sullen mouth.