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“She has not yet been born:
She is music and word,
And therefore the un-torn,
fabric of what is stirred.”
- Osip Mandelstam - translated by A.S. Kline, Silentium
Surrounded by the forest, I watched my wolf and he looked back at me with an unblinking gaze, his brown eyes holding mine in an unbreakable grip. Kneeling in the dry leaves, I kept my eyes fixed upon him, holding out my hand with my palm facing upward to lure him to me. He was still the same, but so alien – so completely different as he walked slowly, steadily towards me. He was my best friend, but in his wolf form he didn’t feel love for me. He remembered who I was, but he didn’t have the same feelings for me as he did when he was human. I knew those emotions personally, because as wolves we can only really keep a hold of one emotion at a time – the one that best defines us.
As he stood right in front of me, he let his cold black nose touch my fingertips, not resisting my human scent. I sighed and reached my other hand out to him, burying my fingers through his stiff outer coat and into his soft, thick undercoat. He was so familiar, so mine, but so distant at the same time. He owned two skins - one human and the other wolf, and I loved both of him. Unlike him, I could still love even when I was a wolf. Even though he was lost to me in a way right now, I still secretly thought of him as beautiful.
He had three colors of fur. His dusty coat was an aura of browns, shifting in the light, with white adorning his underside, chest, and legs, and then making its way up his neck and half of his face, including his muzzle. His ears were also brown, but black crept in along his shoulders, down parts of his head, and from there it merged with the white along his back. His tail was incorporated of whites and browns, and at that moment I thought that overall he looked very noble - his tail relaxed, gently curving down towards the dying grass.
He was muscular and lean, for he had plenty to eat; the deer were abundant, and occasionally a moose would wander too close and we would hunt. I could imagine it now - the pack working together as a family to feed one another, bloody pawprints lost in the mud, and everyone taking advantage of the opportunity to fill our stomachs. I was the only one from our pack who hadn’t yet lost themselves to Winter this year. I was the last to lose and find myself, but I didn’t want to go. I never wanted to.
The trees in the forest around me were oblivious to their sad deaths, their apparel in a runway blanketing the floor. I could feel a chill in my chest, a hollow, empty feeling that meant that I would soon shed my skin. It was a sensation I looked forward to in a way, yet also dreaded. I didn’t want to give up my legs, my fingers, my dull human senses, or my emotions and feelings. I felt that when I lose those, I lost my true self.
I wasn’t ready to give up my human emotions, though it wasn’t that we didn’t have emotions in our wolf forms. It was because those were my dulled emotions, and I couldn’t feel everything as strongly or think as clearly. Even though I was able to love while I was in my wolf form, my other emotions weren’t as strong or permanent. I couldn’t remember anger, or sadness, or joy. But I wondered if love counted as an emotion like those, or if it a feeling all its own.
As if he knew my thoughts, my wolf whined and tucked his head into my shoulder, gently pushing against me. I closed my eyes and let myself concentrate on the balance of scents around me. Strongest was his musky, wolfy smell, but beyond that was the aroma of pine and mulch and the mild oak and moss. The intense cedar was also there, along with the nuts and the heavy earth, and then there also was the light sense of Winter that clung to everything in the forest. It was a faint smell that I was so attuned to, having lived by its call to me during the season change. I inhaled and exhaled, my eyes still closed, and only then did I gradually become aware of another being.
My eyes flicked open. I heard the leaves on the bushes rustling, the soft thud of paws, and the light breathing and noise of a body moving, even though it was barely audible. I had senses better than a human, but never as powerful as a wolf. I was stuck in an in-between that was neither weak nor strong. I looked up then, and saw her, standing so horribly beautiful. Her stormy gray coat at first blended in with the forest, but soon I realized that she wasn’t alone. She was shadowed by a large, black wolf that I couldn’t identify right away, and even though he was indeed intimidating, she was still the one who held my attention. Her eyes were knife-like, black and filled with hate, and she flicked her tail in annoyance at me.
My wolf’s ears flickered towards them, his body warm as he pressed himself into me. I could tell he was aware of them, but other than that he showed no acknowledgement of their sudden, quiet audience in the bushes. I let my heart rate slow down again because I knew they wouldn’t do anything to me. If they were going to, then he would’ve sensed it and turned to shield me, because even though he was in his wolf form he still had the memory that urged him to protect me. He could remember that I was his friend. I was left with no choice but to ignore them, especially her, as an unpleasant presence. I chose instead to kiss the top of my wolf’s head. He raised it slowly to press his cheek against mine, but eventually he broke free of my arms and disappeared into the forest, leaving me with not even a footprint as a reminder of where he stood.
They left in silence then, too. And like usual, I was left alone.
I stared into my black cup of coffee, just a circle, as if it could keep me warm. I could almost never finish a cup; I was forever getting lost in some way and then it grew cold from my neglect. Always multi-tasking, thinking, and on the go; those were the three “always’” that you could say best described me. But right now I sat here at my kitchen table, quiet and still, without even my pen to keep me company.
It was mid-October, and everyone in my pack was already a wolf. It was rare for everyone to change so early, because it was usually in November that they started to shift, trickling into their wolf forms one by one. I was hoping that this year would be one of my later years - December was my goal. I would do everything I could to stay human as long as possible. I knew this skin couldn’t hold me for long, but I had to at least try.
Sometimes I felt like I was in love with the wrong skin - the wrong form - the wrong me. Which form allows me to escape the most? I asked myself. I was both girl and wolf, and for all of my 16 years of life I had been. Of course I didn’t shift as a baby, but I know that the wolf had lived in me even then, although I’d had no idea of its lurking beneath my flesh.
I felt a pang when I realized that I didn’t belong anywhere. There would never be one complete me. As a wolf, human boiled under my fur; as a human, wolf hid beneath my skin.
I must be destined for loneliness.
Grabbing my keys and heading for the door, I threw on my purple coat, my human coat that was my shield from the just-starting-to-be-cold air, and was quick to snatch my purse from the coat rack. Every year I tried to trick my body into thinking that it wasn’t winter yet so that I could ignore the season change, even if just for a bit. My brain always knew what my body didn’t, and I could sometimes fool it. But when I stepped out the door, I shivered against my will.
I didn’t have to bother telling anyone that I was leaving, because there was no one here that I had to inform.
My mother had left long ago, back when I was still in elementary school. I’ve seen her on a few occasions, but those times were rare because she had her own life to live without me adding to it. My father had left too, just last spring. He didn’t need me, and apparently it was because I did nothing but add burden to his life. I was the freak daughter that he tried to forget about, and alcohol was his friend instead.
I hadn’t talked to him since the beginning of last summer, but he continued to send me checks in the mail. Luckily, I’d had my own bank account since I was 14, and so I was able to manage it on my own. He’d sent me a letter saying that he would continue to send small amounts of cash until I was 18, and thankfully he was still following through with it. Otherwise I’d have no way to pay the bills and get groceries and items that I needed. I knew that my meager salary wouldn’t even begin to cover the expenses that I had, even though I was just living frugally on my own. I was scared for the day when I turned 18, because I would be completely by myself.
I only worked full-time summer jobs, because the fact that I didn’t know when in autumn I’d change and when in spring I’d turn back made summer my most stable month. I was completely human for the entire season, and I loved every degree of it.
Getting into my car, I headed down the secluded road that ran from my house to the highway. I didn’t live far out of town, but on the outskirts. It kept it nice and peaceful, even though our town was nice and peaceful anyways with its small, friendly population. The forest seemed to be watching me as I drove away, its dark features reaching out to me, satisfied in knowing that this would never be goodbye.
I was angered by the fact that my father still wanted to “care for me“, sending me money though he didn’t really care about me. He could pay my bills but he couldn’t talk to me, or be the father I needed him to be. Just because I wasn’t “normal”, or entirely human.
Shouldn’t parents be loving and accepting of their children, no matter what? Why did the fact that I somehow turned wolf make my parents whisper my name like I was a demon? First I had driven away my mom, and now my own dad couldn’t even handle having a daughter like me. Was it me, or the wolf?
It’s not like there was anything I could do about them though, because the fact is that nothing about me could ever hold them here.
Lone Lily, located in Northern Maine, was a quiet, sleepy, beautiful town. I’d lived here and in the forests near here my whole life, but I loved it. I could navigate the roads even in my sleep, so it took me no time to get to my favorite place - the local coffee shop/bookstore/music venue. I went there in my free time to read, write, drink coffee, and listen to music. I loved singing and playing my guitar, and even though I was a bit shy, as soon as I started it just flowed from me as if it couldn’t escape fast enough. I knew piano as well, and though certainly no master, I had an undying passion for music. Music was my stronghold for when I was lonely. Music was coffee to my senses in a completely dissimilar way.
Today I was going to lose myself in a different way, because as a human there were only a few ways I could lose myself. But as I entered through the familiar doorway, it all suddenly just seemed too much. How could I walk in and nobody know about the conflict that was raging within me, ready to explode? How could they not know I was a living bomb, that I soon wouldn’t be human? And how could I ever look at anyone else as just a person, because who knew what hid beneath their skin? Who could ever know who or what anybody really was, their invisible battles, their masks, their transformations, and what beasts howled inside their veins? I quickly sat down at the nearest table, abruptly overwhelmed by my revelation.
That’s when I saw him, up on stage. Deft fingers plucking his bass guitar, and as he anchored the beat, it was as if his music anchored my heart; laying out my pulse. I watched him and how he skillfully grooved, the way he poured himself into his music, and I also noticed when his eyes never met anyone’s in the audience. I was fascinated.
He looked at me then, and for the first time in my life, I felt vulnerable.