living underground in the real world

tender hearts

Driving home from the dentist today, I was speeding into the sun. The green tips of trees were that glossy shade you see in springtime, shiny and new. Promising. My skin felt electric with the warmth of the sun – wake up time. I hadn’t left the house for three days, which is nothing unusual, but while I was working the earth seemed to have shifted that little tiny bit, leaving the last bits of winter well and truly behind. I spread my fingers wide and drove with my thumbs, so that my fingertips looked see-through with the sun sparkling behind them, that soft sun of spring, so different from the sickening Southwest sun I grew up with.

I’d been feeling a little set adrift, missing my sweetheart, who I won’t get to see for almost three more weeks. If he was home we would be enjoying this magic season. We’d walk around our yard and talk about flowers to plant, taste the little herb shoots sprouting up. Enjoy our house. But he is so rarely home, and by myself I really just make endless to do lists and drive myself crazy completing them, no matter how silly the tasks are. When he is home I feel something in me uncoiling, some pressure taken away. By myself all I want is achievement. Something to show for this life we have chosen, with all of its drawbacks.

But the sweet sun on my face and flower buds rushing past my window had just about erased these thoughts.

None of this really matters. I am just using up space so I don’t have to write about what else happened on the way home. I saw a turtle in the middle of the road. The road I was on is surrounded by wetlands. Not a small turtle, something medium-sized, the size of an old rotary telephone. Somehow it had made it into the center lane, a mind-blowing feat considering cars were zooming past at 55 mph and it was, well, a turtle.

Turtles. Have I ever even seen one, up close, in real life, not in a zoo? I don’t think so. Not really. It lifted its head just exactly like the little papier-mâché trinkets we always buy on Kauai to ride in the car with us, loose-necked so they bobble with the motion of the car. It had a handsome shell and was calmly beginning another step when a big truck came by and sliced it cleanly in half.

OK. I grew up in the animal rights world, but I always pride myself on how successfully I have hardened my heart to the facts of life in relation to dead animals. Of course, the cruelty and death we inflict on animals so that we can have a certain lifestyle (the typical modern lifestyle) is not my preferred way of living, but every deep down softhearted person who lives in the political realm realizes that you can’t focus on anything. I am not starting a campaign to stop roadkill.

Most of the time, an admirable percentage of the time, in fact, I’m a pretty sturdy broad. I’ve done some good work to overcome an initial oversensitivity to the universe, and these days I think I toe the line pretty well. I’m not fragile. I can deal. I’m a fighter. Blah blah.

But once in a while something slices cleanly through all that. I’ve learned my limits – no violent movies, no scary articles or lectures. Have Jacob screen every issue of Adbusters for upsetting photos before passing it on. It’s a lot of work to keep the penetrating, deep-down horribleness of America™ out of my heart, but I know that I will spiral into deep sadnesses if I let too much of the world into my life. I do my political work, I try to do my little bits to stave off the apocalypse for another day, but I refuse to look at pictures of bodies in Iraq or animals being anally electrocuted for fur coats.

In truth, this inability to function in the sadosociety is what drove me underground, into my own world. I function so well in this world. I don’t have to shave my legs or talk to meat eaters. I am creative and driven. And happy. Resistance.

A truck, a busy road, a turtle. The metaphor is so trite.

I pulled over, got out of the car, and threw up.

How often do you watch something die?

I slowly walked back to the turtle, cars rushing past me. It was just as I thought – the turtle was actually in two pieces. I couldn’t believe this was affecting me so much, but I sat down on the side of the road and let the simplistic sadness of it – I am sad because something innocent died because of our need to rush everywhere and build roads right in the middle of cute-animal habitats yet if this cute animal had been 5 feet over to the side I probably would have run over it myself in my own Iraqi-blood-guzzling-deathmobile – wash over me.

On either side of the road was a pretty little steam, all calm water and lily pads. I walked over and just let myself cry it out.

3 Responses to “tender hearts”

  1. adriennefriend

    This post got me.

    I grew up in the country, the rural country, the backwoods, and I have always had a thing about roadkill. As a child (like, 8 or 9) I wanted to grow up to be a biologist just so I could study animal behavior around roadways and PROVE, once and for all, that non-human animals suffer great stress around roads. I’d measure their non-stressed heartbeat and check other vitals and who knows what else, I had a child’s grasp of what biologists do. This ground-breaking research would, of course, be widely published, admired, and result in Departments of Transportation nationwide somehow making either fewer roads or ones safer for animals. (Didn’t get that far in my brainstorming, I guess.) This, in spite of the fact that I am and probably always will be quite terrible at the natural sciences. (Also, I think I’ve told something like three people about this fantasy, so go easy on me :))

    Within the first month of living in Atlanta, someone killed a squirrel on our (comparatively quiet) side-street. Why (how?!) in the hell, I yelled to the sky, was someone driving so fast on our side-street? And then I cursed myself for driving, like you did; picked up the squirrel in a shovel, dug a deep hole; my sweetheart said a nice little buddhist prayer of gratitude, acknowledgement and a bit of outrage, and we buried it and cried a little. More recently I wept for a good half-hour when I saw a freshly-killed possum on a more heavily-trafficked road. It was late, I was really tired & cranky already, but I’d be lying if I said it didn’t bother me.

    But above all, above ALL, I have feared for the turtles. My number-one, worst nightmare has always been striking a turtle or seeing a turtle struck. I guess I just see turtles as this ultimate helplessness, only because of how slow they are. This also goes back to childhood, when I badgered my mom (who always drove) to pull over so I could move turtles away from the roadside. (You can’t imagine how pissed she was with me when I once encountered a snapping turtle; certain southerners (i.e. the ones I come from) still think that if you mess with a snapping turtle and it snaps you, you have to wait for a rainstorm’s thunderclap for the turtle to dislodge itself. SERIOUSLY. She couldn’t believe I edged it off the road without getting snapped.)

    So… yeah. This post = ultimate heartbreak. Thanks for putting such worthy words to the scene.

    ALSO.

    Why the hell am I here, 63 pages back in the archives, reading one of your earliest posts in this iteration of blogitude?! Okay, here’s one reason: I’ve really been wanting to startt a food bio, like the one you mentioned in a fbook (something blood & other things animal-derived), or even Life on the Line (still haven’t read!) but I have neither 1) public libraries that get new food books or 2) extra cash to just buy the damn things on amazon.com. Or 3) friends nearby reading the same things.

    Since so many of your posts from the last months find a way to point to older posts (I rather like this), I’ve jumped around quite a bit. And since it’s all SO GOOD, I decided to just go back and start at the beginning. Instead of reading a food memoir, when my cravin’ for good contemporary food/feminism/anti-consumerism/etc strikes, I’m reading Lagusta’s back issues! I didn’t get too far tonight (only the first ten or so), but hopefully I’ll have another lazy night soon.

    I spent all this time writing this out because I didn’t want you to think I’m a creeper for reading the archives. Is it creepy to read the archives? Yes? Okay, I’m creeptastic. Forgive?

    Reply
  2. adriennefriend

    good gracious that was one long-ass comment. it didn’t look so bad in the text box, i swear!

    Reply
  3. lagusta

    ahh! First of all, nice to know someone else shares my pain with the roadkill. It’s just awful.

    Also, I’m insanely flattered about you reading the archives! And sort of terrified, like too much of this blog at once might kill someone. Um…good luck!!

    Reply

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