BY LYDIA A. CYRUS
I am a werewolf of sorts: awakened at night by a hunger and a desire to roam. I have spent most every night in the rain, snow, or just plain quiet walking alone in the dark. In Appalachia, we don’t talk about lycanthropy: we don’t talk about the crossing of identities where wolf meets woman. And yet, the people here will talk about me—will talk about the way I walk through the night and my darkness—and they will call it by any other name, any other affliction.
Every night starts this way: around eleven I slip out the back door without telling anyone where I’m going. If the weather is nippy, I wear a long, oatmeal colored sweater with deep pockets. Generally, I like to get my dark hair pulled out of my face. If it’s cold I might let my hair down so it seals in my own body heat and covers most of my face. And I walk. Up and down the road and through the yard sometimes. I stop to watch the deer pass by and the occasional passing car. No one has ever stopped before—to ask what I was doing—they just pass by, leading me to believe that they can’t even see me. That I am hidden.
I like to stand beneath the walnut trees and take in their immense size, their skeleton branches and nakedness. The nighttime sky fills in all the spaces where the branches should have leaves: reminding me again of the way the night replaces all things, gives to all things. Sometimes I like to hunch down on my back porch and listen to the owls in the dark. A white barn owl sometimes perches in a pine tree well beyond my sight and I can hear it well. The woo sound spreads out through the trees and echoes too. White owls are an omen here: they mean death or tragedy is forthcoming when they are spotted. Because I can’t see the owl, I only know of its existence. I can only assume that death is not here for me and that I might be my own kind of tragedy: misunderstood by passersby and alone at night.
Sitting on the porch, watching I can see the light spilling out of the chicken coup in the backyard. Nested on top of the nesting boxes, I see a small red chicken with her neck tucked under her wing as she sleeps. She can’t hear me or see me in the same ways I cannot see the owl, but I am there, watching her. I rest my head against the wooden frame of the porch and breathe in deeply and smell wet grass and fog. This is the place I feel the most centered and apart of and yet the neighbors who peek out of their windows or off their porches might see me and think to themselves how strange?
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I started walking alone at night almost five years ago. I like the way the neighborhood gets so dark that I can count the stars without squinting my eyes. I can see every constellation without the aid of the Internet or a map. The one lane road I grew up next to is old and cracked but makes for a good path to walk: no yellow lines or red stop signs. At first I would feel exposed to the night—naked and embarrassed to be there—but I knew I should be there. I was drawn to being alone in the dark in ways that cannot be explained or voiced.
In the process of becoming a wolf, I have learned to abandon human contact for certain hours of the day. While I might walk in this world, I have my hours away from it too. I have my time where I am what I am and there is no need for explanation. It’s a time to be alone and to abandon all the customs and the ways of life that dwell here: to leave behind rituals and old wives tales and welcome the unknown, welcome the dark. To leave the ways of Appalachia for a while and be the old, lonely spinster. Except, those aren’t the words I’d use for myself and moreover, when I’m alone, no one else has the opportunity to tell me what I am.
People used to tell me that there used to be wolves here in West Virginia, but there aren’t any now. Outside of cages and roadside exhibits, there are no more wolves here because they have been hunted or they simply migrated away. I have often wondered what I look like to passersby who see me as I walk at night: dark eyes, dark hair, and slender features. Do they see a wolf when they pass by? Or a young woman lost?
In the daylight, I am patient and attentive to the needs of the human world. I look people in the eye, I meet deadlines. I recognize that there are rituals and rites in which everyone must participate: you must obey traffic rules and regulations, you must pay taxes, and eventually you must die. Those rules are meant for all of us, even those of us who belong in two categories—not just one.
I was born in October on a Sunday night. Consequently, my hair has always been dark: it was coal black upon my birth and has faded to a rich, dark brown. My eyes are an amber brown that reflects the shade of the leaves that fall in the month of my birth. With all the gifts an October birth can give, I have amassed a collection of dark qualities. If I had been an April baby maybe I wouldn’t walk alone at night.
I know that these things are noticeable to others: I see the gaze as I shop for groceries or pump my gas. I see the look in the eyes of others when they scan my surface and I think they sense something brewing inside of me. They can make their own conclusions and find their own meanings in me but they cannot know how I howl. How I spend so much of my time in the light of the moon.
Sometimes in the daylight I can hear the wolf howl and I can feel the way my body pulls itself inwards and longs to be alone, away from the others. It’s the way I feel alienated from an outside society and crave a darkness only I can see: a darkness that exists for me and no one else. At night, I can walk alone and be alone and then what does it matter if I cross a border between species? What does it matter if I transcend from a woman to a wolf? The change is not a literal one or even one that others can see. It is a change I see in the dark purple crescents under my eyes.
In the morning mirror, in the daylight, it’s obvious this life I’m living isn’t working. That my habits aren’t working either: the walking in the dark until I tire and forcing sleep so late into the night that the day has passed and a new one has arrived. The uncomfortable feeling of being in my skin—this human skin—isn’t working anymore. And so I wonder now if I am the wolf all along, if being the wolf is what I was meant to be all along and this is a transition period where I make the final change: I am the wolf, the wolf is me. We are the same. October born and bound.
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.