creative ramblings & reverie

Friday, September 17, 2010

Reading the Stones


Daphne was the daughter of a river god. Daphne was girl turned tree. I liked to think I was the daughter of a river god too, once I found out there were such things, but my father was just a water rights attorney, really, with an office in an old 7-11 along the main truck route through Española, New Mexico. That did give him an almost godlike power, in a land where water was so scarce. And rivers were in his hands—though only a couple of very little ones, dry half the year, way up by Ojo Caliente.

The question is, would he have turned me into a laurel the way Daphne’s father did? For love of me, to keep me safe? I’ve often wondered. If he hadn’t been trying so desperately to save himself, maybe.

But anyway, Daphne—turning to tree. I could see that. I could imagine bark across my cheekbones (water birch, maybe, or freckled sycamore), the dapple and rustle of leaves always around my head. I sat up in the cottonwood for hours, sometimes, hiding from my little sister Cassie with her armful of glassy-eyed dolls, and from my mother’s constant disappointment in me. I camouflaged myself in leaf shadow on the edges of the playing field, hoping my seventh-grade tormenters might not see me— even if I was a head taller than the rest. Daphne made perfect sense. The Greek myths, which we read that year for the first time, seemed more familiar to me already than my own story.

It was those others in my class I didn’t understand in the least. Daughters of women photographers, of famous western writers, of archaeologists who spent summers on old volcanic islands and spoke in Italian and had a donkey at the bottom of their garden, who were undergoing transformations more incomprehensible than what they did to atoms up the hill in Los Alamos. I was awkward, gawky, among people; made fun of for my eager enthusiasms and my naiveté. The other girls that year were all becoming lithe, sinuous, knowing; their skirts becoming shorter; their lips becoming fuller, redder; their thoughts turning to things I had no inkling of. I was stuck with just me. Dorky old Marcella. I wasn’t going anywhere. I wasn’t becoming anything.

My father wasn’t, after all, a river god. My father was a mortal with his very real mortality starting to show.

But I was hopeful, anyway. Daphne had opened up the lovely possibility of change.

—Christie, Reading the Stones

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