I am in the rainforest and if it is beautiful I cannot tell because there is danger everywhere and there are times I do not know why we get born to be scared to die. I will not curl in a dark corner and wait for death. I will try to make the bad men laugh. Failing laughter, I will take off my clothes and tempt them with my body. I weave a shelter out of palm leaves and do not step over the fallen and rotting logs—I step on them, so no hidden snake can catch my foot on the pass. This is the safe way to walk in the rainforest.
When we were children, my sister and I used to walk to school in the morning and one day we found a small girl. She had fallen from a tree. Our mother had told us never to touch things that fell from trees because then their mothers would not want them anymore. But she was shaking and afraid. We had to touch her, to comfort her. When her mother came, we saw it was true; she did not want her anymore. So we took her and kept her and fed her and cared for her, but she just got sicker and weaker until she got so sick that she was not even alive.
When she was 4 years old, my sister ate jimson weed and grabbed at me trying to kiss me, laughing, and spoke all day of furry spiders on her face. Jimson weed kills farm animals and small children. She thought it was like the honeysuckle I taught her to drink the nectar from. The pretty red-and-black seeds of the rosary pea holds the deadliest plant poison—a grown person can be killed by eating just one seed. Yellow jessamine, mountain laurel, and daffodil are also poisonous. Many pretty little things that can be collected outside in a small basket can kill you and your sister.
In those days our mom used to tell us to get our lazy asses outside, so we would go sit on the steps and suck our knees and watch the ants. Me and my sister were like maggots when we’d sneak into the church on the corner to consume the body and blood of Christ. In the rainforest, the maggots can be your friend when they eat at your sores. It is hard to watch them there on your arm as they eat away at you, but it is for the best.
My sister was born 4 years after me, in 1980. Our mother was a French woman and she liked a Native American man. I’ve seen pictures. She let that man plant me in her womb. Boy was her husband pissed about it—he tried to beat me out of her. It didn’t work. My father died in an accident 3 months before I was born and my mother’s husband became my father. I shared him with my little sister. We did not care for him. In 1993 our mother reached the end of her rope. She ate the rosary she’d prayed by her whole life and died at 5 Hail Marys.
Out here in the rainforest I go into the night and don’t know who I am. There are no flickering street lamps to light a patch of ground, no buzzing neon signs to distract my fears, no glowing vending machines to lean my body against. I cannot read by the starlight and I do not like the moon. I do not think it is glorious. Even when it hangs like a bright disk against dark clouds. Or when it comes up over the water and shines another moon in reflection.
Me and my sister used to watch the bats swooping through the moonlight from our upstairs bedroom. I pushed her from that window when she was 9 and she should be dead but she didn’t even get a scrape. I saw her fly but she doesn’t remember now. She says I never even pushed her. She says I tried to stop her. She says I grabbed for her and yelled for Mom. She doesn’t remember. So I try to remind her. Every day I remind her.
I hated you and I was trying to kill you.
No you didn’t. No you weren’t.
Yes. I did. I pushed you.
I pushed you.
No, I jumped.
Why would you jump?
Because I thought I could fly.
I told you that.
No you didn’t.
So I give up. Maybe it is her way of forgiving me. Maybe I don’t want forgiveness. Maybe I go out into the night and don’t even care if the big dipper is there. Maybe I don’t care for Jupiter or Venus. When people say: Oh look! Isn’t the sky beautiful?—maybe it doesn’t look like anything special to me.
When we were young I almost drowned in a river on our one and only family vacation. We were tubing on the Crescent River and missed the exit area so kept going. Boys had to come to drag our tubes ashore before we got sucked through the damn. They didn’t see me—though I yelled and waved my arms at them—and I just kept going and going. I thought I would have a better chance if I abandoned my tube. But the water was moving fast, too fast. I was holding my breath under the river, trying to paddle against the current, grabbing at rocks and pebbles, and staring at everything below the surface thinking about how these were the last things I’d ever see. Every time I’d finally clutch my fist around a rock from the river bottom I was surprised to realize that I continued to be tumbled along, with the rock in my hand.
My sister was wearing a bikini and her breasts had begun to fill out already, so the boys that came to save us all went for her and did not see me in my glasses, with my tee shirt and flat chest. As they were all offering their hands and shoulders and strength to her, already safe on the shore, she yelled at them and pointed at my empty tube. Save my sister; I’m fine! So they caught me and dragged me out. Later that night my sister left our tent alone to use the outhouse. I found her early in the morning when I went to use the showers. She was sitting on the tiles wearing all her clothes shaking under the cold spray. I asked her many questions but she only answered one.
How long have you been here? Aren’t you cold? What happened? Why won’t you talk? Should I get Mom? What can I do?
Kill them. She said.
Sometimes it seems like I am becoming one with the rainforest. A toothpick fish swam into my hole and attached to my insides when I was swimming in the murky river where the canopy opens up. I carry him with me everywhere I go. Leeches sucked tight to the bottoms of my feet and now when I walk I go: squish, squish, squish; like walking on ketchup packets. A tiny louse came into my mouth and ate my tongue off. He lives as my tongue now. He cleans food particles from between my teeth and when I talk he moves for me. My sister puked up when I opened my mouth wide to show her. She said it looked like one of the crunchy cicada bug shells that clung to the trees when we were children.
Back then we shared a bedroom and one night I dreamed I was having sex with a chubby boy from school. I woke up from it, moaning and ashamed, thinking my sister could tell. I was confused by the feeling, so warm and throbbing. I wanted it to happen again, so I hung curtains up to separate me from my sister. I sewed the curtains shut, sewed myself into my bedroom, and it was a good feeling. At school I thought the boy could tell about the dream too when, at lunch, he teased me for having small tits. So I slapped him and my hand stung against his cheek.
When I was bitten by the banana spider I was reminded of that sting. I had forgotten to shake my boots out before putting them on. You should always shake your boots out in the rainforest. The venom of the banana spider is among the deadliest of all spiders. Along with other discomforts, it causes painful and long-lasting erections. I had always wondered what effect the poison would have on a girl. My genitals swelled horribly and it felt as if my clitoris might burst open. I hallucinated of hot metal balls searing through my veins and the sensation reminded me of the chubby boy who pushed his body into mine in dreams. I would have died if the monkey killers hadn’t found me. Recovering in my mosquito net hammock the next morning I could not tell the difference between it and the room I had once sewn myself into.
Shortly after our mother ate the rosary I found my sister dazed and drooling in her room. She had overdosed on Tylenol. I had to keep her awake and make her throw up and force her to drink milk and call the ambulance and wait for them to come, while she was sweating and talking nonsense on the floor of her bedroom. I had to be there and I had to do that. And I was afraid that when they came to save her, they would take her from me, because she was too young to be motherless.
I told my sister about the rainforest. I told her about all the things that can kill you. She did not want to die, she said; she’d changed her mind. And it was hard being there with her when she was telling me about a dark feeling pulling at her soul.
It is easiest to be a woman in the rainforest. There are things here that will make men impotent and things that turn the men wild. There are things that will swell their balls to the size of coconuts. The men are inclined to fight against nature, but we are resigned to it. We know what herbs to eat to speed up our periods, and which to eat to empty our wombs. We know how to handle the men.
So, I stopped waiting for someone to save us and I walked my sister into the rainforest. Now I live in the rainforest with my sister. We stay alive. Everyday. We take nothing for granted. We have no electricity. We make fires from bamboo shavings and the fluffy insides of seed pods. We cook crayfish on an open fire. We did not used to like eating bugs and small boiled fish, but now they taste good to us. We are learning the ways of the rainforest.
Sometimes a tourist comes and we steal their provisions and eat their rice. We do not care if the tourist goes hungry. We are rainforest people. A man and his wife hiked in and went off a trail. The wife twisted her ankle and he left her to go find help, but really we knew, he left her to die. You should never leave a person alone in the rainforest. You should stay with her or carry her out. We considered taking the wife’s clothes, her boots, her socks, and her trail mix, and leaving her to the snakes and bugs. But she was shaking and afraid so we took all of her instead.
Here in the rainforest, we collect the pretty red-and-black seeds of the rosary pea. We are careful when we string bracelets from them. Sometimes the men come to our mosquito nets at night. We smile and tell them how lonely we’ve been; we stretch our bodies long and let them touch us. From behind our closed eyes their hands feel nice. When they spread our legs we reach up and press a rosary pea seed into their mouths, right between their molars. They bite down against it and we smile at them as their fear makes way for resignation.
Read more about Jenniey here.
Read more about Christina here.