First wake up call was 4:30am; it was an abrasive rattle of a gnarly fist raping on the clapboard door to my bedroom, that I insisted on closing since I became a “woman”. Much harder a knock would have broken the door to splinters. At 4:36 he came again threatening cold water to the face, and at 4:40 he splashed me.
Dad was waking me up to go hunting. He liked living small parts of life like we were pioneers; I did too, unless I was tired, so I protested like only a woman child can. Whining and spiteful I helped him pack a lunch and get all the gear into the small red Toyota truck. I loved that truck. It was my first car- dad gave it to me a few years later, with the personalized plates that said “lil red”. I was so proud of them until I got period blood on my pants in 10th grade and lil red became my common name.
We left the house as the sun was coming up, sunrise was bleak, cold blue like the iced pond we broke for the horses to drink from. It was January and I was on holiday break, we were going to my father’s creepy friend Don Johnsons place to hunt. Don was the first person to coin the term my other common name, “shop dike” after I took a likening to woodworking. He would ask me, after a few beers, “do you like the wood?” of coarse you do! it’s the only wood a shop dike will ever get to touch! He told my shop teacher the joke too; it was the only nickname that outlived lil red.
We were hiking into Don’s hilly 230 acres over and east of the continental divide, looking for a mule deer. I was cold and was being colder to my dad for waking me up so early. He had ignored my frigidity for along time and when he’d had enough sent me up a draw to “spook out the muleies”.
Fuck him, I had the food, I would eat his sandwich in reparation.
Now is as good a time as any to tell you that my dad treated me like a boy. I was the sportier of his two daughters and more importantly didn’t dislike him as much as my sister did. He couldn’t really relate to “lady folk” so was happy with me being a tomboy; so there was someone he could pass his knowledge to.
After a few hours hiking in the draw I sat down for lunch, I ate my sandwich and licked his for ownership. I sat there for a long while, looking at the bright red ponderosa pine bark against the neutral snow. There was less snow that year- still a few feet, but that was abysmal this time of year, and the old-timers reminded you of it wherever you went. Blaming it on California and immigration.
After lunch I continued up the draw, to its apex and walked along its crumbly spine descending into a different draw parallel to the one I hiked up in. This draw was considerably rockier and I moved slowly and carefully so I didn’t slip. It took me twice the time gain the same distance as the other draw, and the sun, which barley left the horizon that time of year had started its decent. I kept walking, not; I would be back to the truck soon.
Feeling close, I ate his sandwich so I wouldn’t have it when I got back to the car, I didn’t even want it, I just didn’t want him to have it. I ate quickly, almost impulsively, and continued on eager to get home to the fire and my loving mom.
Scurrying over a rocky ledge I caught my pant on a small stob, and when I pulled away from it I fell forward on a lose patch of ice and rock, tumbling over the ledge protecting my head and neck, but falling hard. I bolted up to my feet after landing, partially out of fear and also out of the embarrassment that flavors all the activities of a frumpy teen. “My glasses” Where the fuck are my glasses! They fell off in the fall. Everything was hazy, all things borderless. “Legally blind”, they told my mom, like a punch line, when my eyes were being tested in the first grade. “Haven’t seen a kid this bad since your last one!” “Don’t lose her! She might never come back!” Jolly fucking optometrist Dr. Simon was right. I was lost.
I threw off my gloves and fell to my hands to look for them in the snow, “fuck fuck fuck” I was yelling, in hoping to cull them back. I attempted to clime back up to the ledge and falling a second time, this time hitting my head.
I don’t know how long I was out for, but when I woke the sun was down, the sky was black and my gloveless hands were numb and blue. I had a small light, and managed to click it on with the thumb of my left hand, which was clenched inside my fist. The light wasn’t strong, but it was something- a win against terror, of being blind in the dark woods.
I gave up looking for my glasses, it was too cold and my body was shaking wildly from cold and fear, and I scurried as quickly as I could down the draw, yelling for my father and crying. But no one answered.
I couldn’t see where I was steeping, my face had to be so close to the rock to see, and for a final time I missed my steep and slipped, this time falling from a large outcropping of rock.
I hit my head on a dense patch of gritty limestone sand and was nocked clean out.
The fall broke out a few teeth, but there wasn’t much bleeding, and the doctor who fixed my teeth said the small trickle of blood might have provided me with some nutrition, maybe even kept me from starving to death.
I had fallen into some kind of cave that opened by the rocks I shuffled in my last fall. The cave was warmed by a slight geothermal activity, which measured 46 degrees where my body was found. A great snowstorm came to the region, when I was in the cave and sealed entrance up tight, blocking light inside and keeping heat in.
I was unable to respond to any calls for rescue, but I heard them, I was in a comma, and couldn’t respond. I appeared knocked senseless, but wasn’t asleep, I was lucid, and life didn’t stop as you might expect.
I stayed in the cave for thirteen days. And I can tell you now; those were the happiest days of my life.
In the first day I rested, I soaked up the heated river that welled up from the floor of the cave. My clothes were wetted with the mineral rich water and my skin soaked up what it needed in hydration. As the day went forward- time dictated by feeling not changes in sunlight, my breathing slowed to match the aspiration of the cave. I felt a sort of priming, or initiation to what, I didn’t know.
I could recall stories from church, of people standing at the gates of heaven waiting for admission. But this was not quite like that. Instead of ascending to an afterlife of bright and blue clouded paradise where an old man looked after my whim, I was being acknowledged and consumed into a deep warm belly, plush and lined with cashmere, smelling like musk, vetiver and sulfur.
In the second half of day two, I saw where the water was trickling to and followed it into yielding tubular bowels belonging to the cave. It was darker still than the belly chamber, and I was pleased that my blindness didn’t hinder my exploration. I could move freely, gliding, swimming and floating in the accumulating warmth. It was dark and earnest.
Better even than the freedom from poor vision was the disappearance of the anxiety I felt everyday. Awkward teen years and “shop dike” didn’t haunt me here. My strong and assured hands benefited me here. Just a week before Don had brought up up shop dike. At a holiday pig roast, I gave my mom and baby sister gifts I had made. Don asked if shop dike had “given me a good price on those” laughing heartily, my dad laughed, his friends laughed, my mom laughed, and my older brother tussled by short inky hair. I laughed to show I wasn’t bothered. The laughs had followed me around, reminded me I was frumpy, gruff, laughed and dressed like a boy. But here I didn’t care, I took off my clothes, it was warm and they were heavy.
Day three came and went, day four too. And thought I was deeply comfortable I was feeling antsy and started traveling around the tunnels.
On day five I was swimming around the smooth tubes I noticed the sent of fresh water mixing with the musk and vetivere of the caves tunnels. On further inspection I found a pinhole in the wall that allowed a small amount of blue light in. I forced my finger into the tiny opening, which was elastic to a certain point, then turned rigid and I was able to chip an area out. My eyes adjusted to the light in the room and the figure of a beautiful dark skinned woman and man appeared. She knelt, wearing a smooth white tunic, gold and lapis jewelry and carefully wrapped the laying man in great strips of cotton cloth. The room was rectangular and made of warm stone and was lit from blue glowing stones. The glowing stones, eight in all, were about a foot tall and were evenly placed around the room, and looked to denote cardinal directions. The blue light emitted was sterile, but was flecked with inky bits of earth and bits of gold.
This room was sacred, not like big cold building we attended mass but like a warm meadow. There was closeness and alignment with the powers of nature- and communication with it.
Did this memory belong to the cave?
I was allowed to see it because she showed it. She had been there, helping the woman dress the lifeless man, helping in ceremony? What need did she have for ceremony? Ceremony was a feature of man? What need did a non-human entity have for ritual?
I broke form the scene and dull blue light, eyes stinging- like I was participating in a staring contest with the bug sapper mom hung on the cabin porch in summer. When I pulled myself from the scene I came to see I had been looking in the room for a long time, my eyes were sore, my ankles were stiff form kneeling, my feet were cold and I was exhausted. I found a sort of cocoon edition off the tube and curled up into it, I was warm, and deeply satisfying, being nestled and held, rocked to sleep by the great dark cave.
I dreamt of my mom, so sweet and wonderful, attached to me through seemingly unbreakable bonds of love.
I woke a few hours later, buy a slight quivering of the sack I had slept in. I didn’t move at all in sleep, and felt rested and my sense restored.
I left my bed, thanking it on my way out, a sort of little prayer that I had learned in Sunday school, it didn’t feel like the right thing to say, but I wanted to thank the cave.
I traveled downward in the cave for a long time, sometimes quickly sliding and sometimes trudging through gelatinous areas. I came to rest what sounded like a large hall, my footsteps echoed here, and I was joined by the sound of laughter.
“Who’s there?” I yelled, ready to meet a stranger, and strangely jealous that this place wasn’t for me alone. “Hello! Who’s there?” I yelled with a stronger voice.
I checked my feelings of anger or jealously, and sat in silence in the dark hall for a half an hour waiting for another sign of life. Waiting I saw water rippling at my knees, I had felt the water, it was warm smelled like mushrooms and sharp like wet sulfur, it was an earthy smell, and unsurprising here. But now I could see it. It glowed, sort of yellow and thick, with ripples of pink. I moved across the hall to look for the source of pink light.
At the opposite corner of the room, a pile of rubble was covering a giant smooth rock wall that was glowing rich pink- like the Himalayan salt crystal my hippie ant kept by her bed. The wall was so smooth it looked plastic and reminded me of a trip to the Lewis and Clark Caverns where the rocks had been smoothed by the hands of tour-goers.
I walked along the smooth wall feeling it with my palms, and when the light was bright through a thin spot I grabbed a piece of rubble and bashed through the wall. At that moment I was an animal, so curious that nothing could stop me. I thought briefly if I hurt the cave, but my concern was quickly overruled by a bright scene of a gay meadow flanked by dark rich forests that lead to a monstrous gray mountain.
I made a hole I could fit through and jumped into the soft grass floor of the meadow. It was springtime and the earth was wet and joyous, little yellow flowers and clover sprung up through the soft green grass that tickled my toes. I walked away from the wall, noticing landmarks for orientation, noticing my nudity and how filthy I had become from the cave. I walked toward a small pond knelt and washed my face. Kneeling I saw, at the edge of the pond, were tinny people with wings, they noticed me and didn’t care, they were dancing and wrestling and moaning, and I think they were boneing-, as my older brother would have called it.
I had never seen anyone make love before, and they were so small and light that they seemed like bugs or flowers. The whole scene put a lump of excitement in my throat, and was truly beautiful. The loving earth in spring, my favorite muse.
I walked through the meadow, the flowery nymphs flying around me, laughing at my belly, and started toward the mountain. The forests were healthy covered in moss that felt and smelt like mother caves belly. I reached the base of the mountain and started climbing effortlessly, my legs happy for a challenge. A little way up and was joined by a half goat half man, who showed me the safest way to the summit.
He found me by my stench, and I have to admit, he was the rankest thing I had ever smelled, but I was happy to smell him, the smell so rich and rank and bad that it overwhelms you. Garrige, jockstrap, sanguine beats, farts, old beef, a drain snake, musk, cigarette, and sulfur.
When we reached the summit there was a giant stone terrace surrounding a glowing white stone structure. The terrace was occupied by massive and confident beautiful people, laying out and talking, bonding like the nymphs, eating and drinking. They were original looking, not like Adam and Eve, but these peoples happiness was not based on ignorance. These people were learned, emotional, and not ignorant of pleasure. They were gods, and didn’t notice me. I walked around them, listening to their discussions and watching them make love and conspire against each other.
Some worshiped, but worship places were made of soil. Not clean and glittering, like the ones at church, but made of the cave that led me here. The cave, I missed her.
I thought of my mom, I missed her too. But I kept looking around, exploring the terrace. Wine and beer, knowledge centers, piles of earth and bodies all made of love.
To my left the mountain face dropped sharply 10,ooo feet and you were able to peer into the ocean below.
The ocean was deep clear blue, green at the shore and red at the distant horizon. Because of its clarity it acted like a magnification glass, and all creatures of the sea were churning in gazpacho of algae and bubbles.
The 12 arms of a giant squid grabbed a passing gull, brought it in and feed her tiny babies she kept hidden in her breast, the gull didn’t mind and was proud to feed the future.
The colorful ozark fishes swam like a million sperm fighting toward a bloated wale that had choked to death on a sunfish, an alligator ate at the other side of the wale and group of urchins ate at her toes.
The shining dangle of a cache fish pierced the darkest part of the sea and I saw another layer of all new sorts of creatures. All separate, all equally strange and all more specialized than the last.
The sun orchestrated the corals to mate and females and males released their seed and hoped for the best.
I watched the ocean for a long time, hoping to have the words to tell someone some day, but there were no words to tell it.
A churning cold mass of life, so alien to our own.
To my right, where Pan and I hiked up was a view of the beautiful meadow, the fornicating nymphs now slept on the soft grasses, and a beautiful boy was looking at himself in the pond. Beasts of half man half ungulate ate and danced all there own, and the first fires of the night were starting on. Blue lady evening was putting on her gown and the pink rock wall was purple, the hole back was gone.
Pan tapped me on the back, his smell reaching me before his rough hand, rotten and divine wafted around me with the sucking breeze of the ocean.
He pointed at to the glowing stone structure in the center of the terrace.
And we walked there together. I opened up a heavy wooden trap door at the base of the structure, and there inside was the tube I came in on!
In the light the tubes surface was a dark reddish brown and it quivered with life, it didn’t like the light- seeing its color was strangely disheartening, the darkness was internal and hers to know, seeing it was unnecessary. But holding the door open I looked around the glorious land, I looked into Pan’s dark brown eyes to say thank you, but he spit on his hand and pushed me through the door shutting it behind me.
I crawled back to the belly of the cave, the ambient air getting cooler and more refreshing, and then cold, the icy blue light almost digital. My body was their, skin blue and my breathing almost inaudible, very slow, almost gone.
I heard a woman whimpering and pleading with god “not to take her”, that all life was fucked, and how spiteful he could be. I called to the sad voice to tell them the glories of the cave, change her perspective! My mothers voice rang out- booming and furious with joy. “Caity! Is that you?” “over here!” She motioned to the others “she’s over here!” My mom started to claw at the temporary ice that had blocked the entrance to the cave, shovels and picks followed, franticly letting chunks of neon light of day into the cave. Mom held me and wailed and cried “thank you thank you thank you”, seemingly to the throat of the cave.
I was helped from the cave and wrapped in wool blankets; I was given warm milk with honey and taken home to rest.
My father tries to explain how sorry he is, and I try to tell him its ok “I had been given a gift” attempting to recount my time in the cave. He tells me not to repeat what I had said to anyone. But tell my mom anyway, she is so full of love and so happy I’m back that she can barley hear what I’m saying. But she holds me and says that she knows, she knows. I ask her if she really knows, and her eyes get glossy and she cries.
My teeth were fixed and my face made up, news cameras were allowed into our home to film. The country had been following my story, a white girl lost in the cold mountains in January, assumed stolen, father had looked for her until he almost died, until his friend sent out his hunting dogs to find him.
I was gone for 13 days and assumed dead, maybe cut to bits by an abductor, maybe a wolf meal, but certainly not alive.
They said it was an act of god that I was alive, “His miracle kept her alive” “she is a testament to his glory!” “Alajuela”
I tried to tell them about what I had seen but was told to rest. It was a hallucination from hunger and cold, “these things happen” “near death experiences and starvation create vivid dreams”.
I go back to the cave every spring, but its shallow, and there is no warm water coming from it.
Last spring I found my glasses at the mouth of the cave, and for the first time realized that I hadn’t needed them since I left.