coyote, sunrise

Woke to the sound of coyotes before dawn. Instinctively, I tried to curl around Roo, and instinctively, he flung himself from the bed and pointed his snout to the ceiling, sniffing. He’s from the city, he’s never heard coyotes. I wonder what it was like for him to hear this wild shriek that was all at once alien and yet somehow perfectly familiar. If he tried with his mysterious dog language to unravel the doggish thing being said and came up blank, was stupefied. It’s not hard to stupefy Roo. He twists his head almost completely off his body when you make a strange noise.

Roo twisting his head off because someone whistled.

I couldn’t go back to sleep with him jingling his tags up and down the small house like Jacob Marley’s ghost. I threw the covers off and tap-danced across the chilly concrete floor to look out the window at the blue-gray sleeping desert. Quick movements between the bushes: the panicked black eyes of rabbits. Again a coyote whooped. Stay low, guys, I told them, and scooped up Roo and tumbled both of us back into the still-warm bed. He carouseled himself into a ball against my stomach and we lay there dreaming of wilderness.

There is a stillness and simplicity to my life now that’s completely absurd; something they tried to capture in 1980s comedies where, weary of the rat race, a high-powered executive/famous writer/whathaveyou moves from the big city to the country and finds everything so derned hokey!

I now watch the sun’s entire journey across the sky. The passing of a day becomes its own event. We are in a bowl with hills on all sides and stern blue mountains to the south. I tell time by whether or not the tall palm in the front yard shimmers, or which side of the house glows. On some days, I feel lulled by the constancy, safe to relax and accomplish nothing, because the day will come and go regardless of what I have done inside of it. And if I didn’t get something done today, I will awake to a day exactly like this one tomorrow. It’s Groundhog Day territory; real dangerous stuff.

This part, though, might be the biggest transformation I’ve gone through ever ever ever: I now wake up at sunrise. :O

Me! Me who made retching noises whenever other people reported waking up early to write before work or go to the gym or because of kids or any of that other madness. I, who preferred sleep and dreams over any kind of reality, who had blackout curtains in NYC, now sleep with them open so I can see if the light outside has become pink enough to get up and make coffee and watch what happens to the sky. It’s also a great time to check out the birds: Western bluebirds tend to visit the feeder early, cactus wrens rattle from the tops of the yucca trees, and California thrashers get their thrashing business done under the creosote bushes.

Oh, that too—I am obsessed with learning the names of the high-desert flora. I take pictures with my phone and come back to my computer to see if I can ID them, then I draw them with the watercolor pencils Nat gave me before we left the East Coast. I can differentiate between teddy bear and silver cholla cacti. I’ve plucked and pondered cheesebush (so called because it smells like watermelon, le duh), cat’s claw acacia (so called because it’s pretty but wants to murder you), and desert willow. I am currently enmeshed in a riveting mystery over how goldenrod and rabbit brush differ, and if what I am seeing is Mormon tea or arrow grass.

From top: Desert trumpet, Mormon tea, Cholla, Rabbitbrush.

It may be that obsessing over the local shrubbery is preferable to writing about trauma. This could be another way in which I run from things. Or is it that obsessing over local shrubbery is part of my creative process? It’s most likely my way of feeling comfortable and in control of my new, utterly foreign environment. In either case, I remain vigilant about writing, yet not self-flagellating. I’m done with all that. I’m done beating myself up, letting others beat me up, and beating others up. I mean, it still happens, but now I catch it and shake a finger at it: NO.

I have been revising a piece for submission to a magazine. But it’s a hard one, guys. It’s about the last time I saw my mother alive. It’s about how it feels to have no idea what harm is about to come, and then suddenly, on some level, to know the exact moment it is happening, many miles away.

I dipped my toe into it and realized I’d need more warming up in order to truly put myself back into that time. I’d have to rewatch the video of the last time we were all together, the week before she was killed. Watching this video shears the skin off my neck every time, because she’s only in it for two seconds at the end.

This 25-minute video and my mother is in it for only two seconds.

It’s all me and my boyfriend and my uncle and grandparents, joking around and telling stories, which is nice to see, really. And it’s the man who killed her. He gets more than ten times the screen time she gets.

She gets two seconds. He gets 30.

The significance of this disparity has detonated in the midst of this barrage of reports of abuse by powerful men. Every day now I awake to a fresh new horror (or the same old horror, rather, but now much harder to be in denial about). I really liked and trusted many of these men and considered them allies. I need to feel like the men around me are mostly allies, the way I need to know the names of the plants in this new, possibly hostile desertscape.

Maybe because I need to believe things aren’t “all that bad,” my first instinct when I hear some of these names is to consider how this will affect the actor/comedian/comedian-turned-senator that I liked, to read their apologies with sympathy and to say, “Well now, do we have to dump them in the garbage, willy nilly?”

She gets two seconds of my thoughts. He gets 30.

It occurs to me that I was pretty well baked into a cement of patriarchal, misogynist culture (not as much as my foremothers but more than my Millennial friends), and this discomfort is part of my metamorphosis out of that.

After I lost my mother to a violent man with a history of violence towards women, people, including me, said, Well, they were both…you know…drinkers. Or, They were a toxic combination. As if that man and any woman would have been a healthy combination. As if she was asking for it. By wearing that smirk. By shoving him. By telling him to get out of her house.

When a man physically attacks a woman, he will most likely get to continue breathing air, receiving love and support from his family, a chance at freedom. She will most likely lose her life. Her life. Over. The odds are stacked against her. One of those men I liked and considered a deeply helpful and important ally pointed this very thing out not long ago, and in a way that I quoted often. Or as Margaret Atwood said: “Men are afraid that women will laugh at them; women are afraid that men will kill them.”

It’s the same shitty odds when a man sexually abuses or intimidates a woman: He gets to keep his job, his reputation, the benefit of the doubt, and she loses credibility, support, opportunities, faith in herself. That game, friends, is rigged. And it’s rigged by us, not nature. Time to un-rig it. I can start, in my own way, by giving her those 30 seconds instead. How is she doing? Thank her for speaking up. Wish her the best. Get her back.

I can start like this: I can watch this video of my mother and the man who killed her and I can sit in the hard feelings that it brings. I can go to the window and look out at the wilderness until I understand those feelings and can channel them into a work that is a howl that is heard and joined by other howls.

Sunrise from my front door.

Deborah Joyce Williams McReynolds 1954-2004: National Domestic Violence Awareness Month

I didn’t know it, either, so don’t feel bad. I just read that October—in addition to being Breast Cancer Awareness Month—is also Domestic Violence Awareness Month. What, Domestic Violence can’t get its own month? Give Domestic Violence Awareness January, so the NFL wears purple for the Superbowl.

That will get some interesting conversations flowing in male-dominated living rooms around the country.

Besides, I don’t adore sharing my birth month with domestic violence. Nor would my mother, who would consider October a most joyous month. A magical and life-changing month: I was her first baby.

Besides again, it was July when she was killed by her live-in boyfriend.

July 10, 2004.

Everyone likes statistics. Here are some:

1 in 8 women have a chance of getting breast cancer in their lifetime, while 1 in 4 women (and 1 in 13 men) will experience domestic violence in their life.

According to the Domestic Violence Awareness Project, an average of three women in America die as a result of domestic violence every day. (And these are just the cases that have been reported. )

And here are some more, from

  • Every 9 seconds, a woman in the United States is battered
  • Domestic violence is the single major cause of injury to women – more than muggings and car accidents combined
  • Domestic violence is the cause of 30% of permanent physical disabilities in women
  • A full 50% of murdered women in the U.S. are due to a spouse or boyfriend’s violence
  • 60% of American marriages are tainted by domestic violence

. . . .

Here are more statistics. These ones are mine.

Number of times my mother hit, threw things at, or threatened with bodily harm various men in my presence: A dozen or more

Number of times I was ever afraid for my mother’s life: 0

Odds I would have given that my mother would win a physical fight with any male or female: 20 to 1.

Number of times I saw my mother and her boyfriend (let’s call him Junior) together over their 3+ years of living together: about 25

Number of times I saw him hit her or touch her threateningly: 0

Number of times my mother—it would come out at the trial—had told a neighbor, coworker, night watchman, etc. that she was in danger: at least 6

Number of times she told me that she was afraid of Junior: 1

Number of times the upstairs neighbor heard my mother scream the night she was killed: 1

Number of times he heard her cry “It hurts” as he walked past her bedroom window: 2

Number of times Junior had stabbed her with a steak knife in the neck: Several, according to the only page of the Coroner’s Report I can hold steady.

Number of days she lay dead beneath a blanket in her room until I found her: 3

. . . .

Number of times I told people “He was very nice whenever I saw them together. He was a sweet enough guy.”: 20 or more, not including 12 jurors, judge, stenographer, 2 bailiffs, and several friends and family members.

Number of times he’d had a restraining order put out against him by his ex-wife for threatening her with a gun in the presence of their two young children: 1

Probability that my mother knew about this, even though no one else did: Unknown

Year the National Domestic Violence Registry (run by a non-profit) was set up: 2007

Cost to access it: $25

Chances that a woman in an abusive relationship would risk purchasing that access with her credit card: I’m going to go with 1 in 300.

. . . .

Number of times I have volunteered at a women’s shelter since 2004: 0

Number of reasons I have for that: 1

. . . .

Number of women you probably know right now who are in a violent relationship and you have no idea, even though you’re smart, suspicious of everyone, and have even asked outright: I wish I could tell you.


Keep your eyes and ears open. Know your neighbors, your friends. Watch how a fighter begins to slump as the year drags on. Watch how her shoulders begin to sag and her voice soften. Watch how she stares at her cuticles when you ask her if she is in any danger. And don’t listen when she says “It’s just for a little while longer. Besides, he’s being sweet right now. I’m just going to keep the peace until I get some money.”

That was the last thing I heard my mother say. A week later, she was dead. And I’m so goddamned sorry.

How many of you will know—or already know—what I mean?