BY LYDIA A. CYRUS
All coyotes are memories. With their skinny bodies and hungry mouths, they exist as a precautionary tale. They eat calves on my grandfather’s farm, or they used to anyway. I’ve never seen one outside of photos before, but I know that they are tricksters: They provide the world with chaos and fury. The men in my family have shot coyotes for nothing less than being seen. Like foxes, the coyote is a symbol of invasion or peril and they must be purged from sight. Coyotes steal bullets and memories. Coyotes eat youth and hide in dark, discrete areas sometimes never revealing themselves to the light of day.
My mother used to say I see the world "slant": You see the world how you think it is, but not for the truth. But when I was eight, I remember when my mom took me to school: She drove a blue car with grey leather seats and sometimes, if I was good, she would stop at McDonald’s on the way to Lavalette Elementary. One morning, though I don’t remember why, she made me cry. I came to school with gleaming eyes and a sagging lower lip and the student teacher, Miss Adkins, noticed. Her hair was blonde but I can’t remember her face. As my mother walked away from me—from the classroom—Miss Adkins bent down to meet my eye line and she placed her hands on my shoulders, "If you need to talk to someone, Lydia, you can talk to me."
But my mother saw her do this. When she asked me later what Miss Adkins had said, I told her the truth. She saw me cry and she said I could talk to her. My mother was furious and called my actual teacher to tell her that she didn’t appreciate the student teacher pulling me aside, "I yelled at my child, I didn’t hurt her." That’s how my mother remembers that story.
In the Native American pantheon of lore, the coyote tricks people: The coyote cannot be trusted. In some tribes, the coyote steals things, sometimes the coyote (usually a he) creates worlds—creates lies—to satisfy his mind. He creates plays the role of Loki or Prometheus even. He plays the trickster. Whatever wicked trick he seeks to create he accomplishes. Native writers give the coyote sympathy sometimes, but rarely. It’s easy to understand why: Coyotes cannot be trusted.
In one tale, five wolves hunt together and they share their meals with Brother Coyote. When the wolves begin to stare at the stars at night, Coyote asks, "Why? What are you looking at?"
But the wolves don't want him to know, so they lie. They claim to see nothing at all…until one night they decide to tell Coyote exactly what they see, "Let’s tell Coyote what we see up there. He won’t do anything." They assume that, although Coyote can’t see the stars, he won’t be moved to act on them once the wolves tell him about their existence. They assume.
Hallie is saving me from myself. She’s sitting with her freshly dyed red hair and her newly broken glasses on her head. We’re sitting in my car and she listens with her eyes closed as I tell her a story. I tell her about the way I sobbed in someone’s office and how I said to them: I don’t know why. I just don’t know why and I can’t leave, she won’t let me leave. Hallie already knows, she’s heard it all before. But she sits in the dark, across from me, and she rubs her temples and she tries to understand anyway.
In my story, my friend, Nate, closes his door and he says it’s okay if I cry. There’s no shame in crying, even if I think I hate myself for it, he says. Even though I think crying is an abjection that I need to stop purging: I don’t believe in crying. Nate listens to me as I give away snippets of days past, in this case my last week when my mother forgot me on the side of the road. She said I dare you to cry. She slammed her hands on the steering wheel and I thought the people in the drive through window would call the cops, I thought I was going to die. Nate reminds me I didn’t do anything wrong; if the cops had shown up it was not my fault. But Nate doesn’t understand what I won’t say: I’m not afraid of men in uniforms with badges, I’m afraid of my mother.
God help me for saying, because I know it’ll just give you another excuse to go to therapy but you bring everything on yourself. And any time your dad hit you, you deserved it. You always deserved it. Nate remembers my mother the way I want everyone to remember my mother: kind and grey. Her long, grey hair and smile. He remembers her from the handfuls of times they have met and yet he has no trouble believing what I say is true. I tell Hallie all of this, but I leave out the idea that someone believes me. She believes me.
"Can I ask you something?" Hallie says even though her eyes are still closed. We’re parked at the local marina with the windows cracked, watching ducks swim in the dark. Our brown, crinkled bags of fast food are at her feet and the car engine is turned off. Besides her voice there is no sound. We’re too far away from the water to hear the ripples and alone in the parking lot, so there are no other voices.
"Yeah," I answer her quickly, deflated.
"If I were you, I’d be doing everything to get the hell away. From all of it. Why don’t you get out? Why are you still there?"
I thought I heard a coyote in the darkness one night. It sounded like a child to me: hoo yip hoo yip hoo. When we went camping, as I was growing up, we would lie out in our tents and listen. Once we heard a panther—a mountain lion—scream and it sounded just like a woman having her purse stolen. I thought to myself: They sound so much like people, like us. But I know better than to imagine a lion or will in to exist in our campsite. I know better to long to see a lion. But I wondered, then, if the coyote was red or brown, I’d never seen one before after all; it’s only natural to wonder. My grandmother used to say that if a wild animal chases you, if a coyote chases you, you’re supposed to run twice as fast. Alligators, they say, require zig zag patterns, for bears you play dead, but for coyotes you run twice as fast. God help anyone who can’t run from their coyotes.
It’s strange to say out loud, to admit, that I feel sick when people touch me. When people squeeze my arms or shoulders I feel sick. I can’t stand to lay on my stomach and any sort of pressure on my stomach makes me feel a dire sense of fear: It could be a doctor’s hands, strictly clinical, and I know I need to cry, to get away, to run. Stop touching me. Don’t they know that someone else has done that before leaving nickel sized purple fingerprints behind? Don’t they know how it feels to be shaken with an iron tight grip on your arms? But I can’t remember what happened to me anyway, why it feels sickening. I don’t remember when I started to feel uncomfortable with touch of any kind. If I can’t remember it, if I blocked it out or pushed it away, did it ever happen? Memory is such a fickle thing.
I am not a child anymore, but I remember being one. I remember crying on the opposite side of locked doors, whispering to my mother to please let me in. I remember making up stories about why friends couldn’t come over. I remember once when a high school friend’s mother saw me at a shoe store once when I was fifteen and she told her daughter, "She looked like she’d been crying." And her daughter said, "She probably was."
I remember when I was a high school senior and I had an interview an hour away for Georgetown University…but no one wanted to take me and I couldn’t drive. I remember yelling at my mother, something I regret even now, and I remember when she came after me for it. When she put her hands around my throat. When my classmates heard I blew off an interview for Georgetown they all thought I was stupid and I remember saying: I changed my mind.
I told Hallie once that I went to lunch with classmates and I hid in the bathroom. I told her that I didn’t feel like a human: I told her that I felt like another species altogether and I knew that everyone else knew it. It hadn’t occurred to me to call myself a coyote. It never occurred to me that I created worlds and lies just to satisfy a hunger as it had occurred to my mother: She says I make everything up, she says I’m a liar. And she’s right. I lie to everyone I know and I always get away with it.
Wouldn’t it be something to remember any of this? Everyone lies. I lied to Miss Adkins and to my mother both: I told them both that nothing was wrong. I lied to every single person who has ever asked is everything okay? And I can’t decide now if I am the true coyote—the liar. Or if time and memory are the liars at hand, the real coyotes. Which of us has done the most damage I wonder. It’s easier to blame myself because I exist as a physical thing that can be touched but then again, coyotes are real: I am real. Everything I’ve ever said was real and coyotes get shot for being real.
What exactly would have happened if I had met a coyote the night I heard one? What if it mistook me for a calf? Would it eat my memories and youth? I don’t believe in shooting coyotes. I probably would’ve tried talked to it. My mother would have said that I deserved it; she would’ve said I was always asking for trouble. Always nosing around for it in places I thought it might be. I think I would’ve asked it a question: the one I need the answer to the most. I would’ve asked my coyote, "Do you believe me?"
Lydia A. Cyrus is from Huntington, WV. She is a published creative non-fiction writer and concentrates mostly on post-colonial and feminist theory in addition to her creative work. She is a proud Mountain Woman and strives to make positive change in her community through teaching, volunteering, and being politically active.