The cheetah swept through the African grass. I watched her as the plain grew dim before me. I made my move.
No. This is not a story about hunting cheetahs.
But hunting will eventually insert itself into this narrative. I mean, doesn't it always?
The cheetah was my daughter, gracing the middle school stage in "The Lion King, Jr." My "move" was about touching up make-up, not hunting. Or so I ridiculously believed.
I made my way backstage. As a volunteer make-up artist for the play I was long on work and short on time. I have no stage make-up experience. But I am a suburban housewife, contractually obligated to always volunteer.
It's a rule. Rule #47, to be precise, of the Suburban Housewife Stuff You Don't Want To Do But Have To Do Rule Book. It's just after the rule that states we cannot be familiar with any performer in the Top 40 except female pop stars, Sam Smith and Ed Sheeran. And two rules before the obligation to have some sort of Internet-based business.
In its entirety, Rule #47 states that all suburban housewives must volunteer. For everything. We must volunteer for snack bar. School store. At least two boards. Classroom parent. We must volunteer until we are spread so thin we spend an evening crying into a glass of wine while our husbands silently say goodbye to the evening's hoped-for copulation.
As I worked backstage, I ran into the school computer teacher. The computer teacher who my cheetah swore was the best teacher ever. EVER! I shared with Mr. Computer Teacher how much his instruction, his dedication, had touched my cheetah-daughter.
As soon as I introduced myself as Cheetah's mom, his entire demeanor changed. Oh, how well I know this change! It is a ubiquitous reaction from anyone previously associated with my family who is meeting me for the first time.
Mr. Computer Teacher looked at me, clearly assessing and weighing, now that he'd met Cheetah's mom, what to say next.
"You know," and here he hesitated, his unspoken unease heavy in the air between us. He cocked his head to one side, took a breath, continued. "She's a sweet girl. She wears...a lot of pink."
"She was telling me a few weeks ago that she was excited," he continued, "because her dad was going to take her squirrel hunting. I - I didn't know you could hunt squirrel."
And there it was. That hard left every conversation I have seems to take. For now, as the wife, mother, daughter-in-law of hunters and fishermen - fisherpeople if we're going to consider Cheetah - I have to Explain.
Explain squirrel can be hunted. Explain these are the same squirrels that run through yards and get annihilated by cars. Explain that yes, squirrel can be eaten. Yes, I've eaten squirrel. Yes, it's good. Yes, it's bizarre to explain to dinner guests that the hasenpfeffer you are serving, already a curious dinner party offering, isn't made with the traditional rabbit, but with squirrel. Squirrel that your husband and children hunted. Shot, skinned, and carved.
This mantle I have assumed, this person I have become....it snuck up on me. Enveloped me as smoothly as an anaconda swallows her prey. Please understand me when I say I have always lived less than five minutes from a mall. Before I associated with hunters I thought wild animals only lived in zoos. To me, outside is for transit to and from a car. Outside is cold and wet and hot and buggy. It is not meant for long term enjoyment. Or any enjoyment, really.
I may be a suburbanite, but deep down I'm a city girl. Put me on a train that terminates amongst a congestion of people, smog resplendent through the air, and I'm a happy girl.
I married a guy from Philadelphia. Like, Philadelphia, Philadelphia. Not Rocky's Philadelphia or M. Night Shyamalan's Philadelphia. Philadelphia. He lived in row homes and took public transportation. Did I ever expect this dude to be storing wild animals felled by his hand in my freezer? Nightcrawlers in my fridge? Turkey calls in my Camry's console?
I did not.
I passed up two philandering boyfriends, one hard core momma's boy, and an ardent hater of William Shatner for this man from the concrete jungle. I thought I was safe. I thought a city life lay before me.
But no. I have a hunter husband passing the torch to the next generation. That, that generation lives in my house and desperately hopes to shoot a bear soon so that she can have a bear skin rug has only exponentially increased the amount of Explaining in which I feel compelled to engage.
"Don't worry, Mommy," my cheetah, swathed in pink, clicking a pink leopard print retainer, assured me one day, "I'm going to make you gloves when I finally bag a bear."
I mean, thanks. I guess.
Let's talk about last week. Music lessons. I told Cheetah's music teacher that she would not be at lessons this week. I could have left it at that. I should have left it at that. But I had to volunteer - a gross misinterpretation of Rule #47 - that she is going away with her dad. Which led to the inevitable question: "Where?" And then it was time for me to Explain.
Explain that they are going turkey hunting. At our cabin in the woods. Explain that no, our cabin is not charming. Or rustic. Or Swiss in it's architecture. It is utilitarian and mice-chewed and only recently acquired indoor plumbing.
Her music teacher is like me. Indoorsy. Normal. He was shocked that turkey actually exist in the wild. He, like me once upon a time, only ever saw turkey in their natural state. Frozen at the supermarket, waiting to be drizzled in gravy, holding center stage on the Thanksgiving table.
My only allies in this universe I now inhabit are my mother-in-law and one of my school mom friends. My school mom friend's husband hunts too. School Mom's husband once tried to entice their daughter, a classmate of my daughter's, to eat squirrel because my daughter eats squirrel. And loves it. School Mom and I formed a support group of sorts. We are widows to deer season and chilly rivers. Curators of edible wildlife. Chefs of meals better left unsaid.
School Mom's husband, like mine, bagged a deer last year. In our solitary world, only we understood the significance of their quarry. At our regular support group meeting, otherwise known as swim team practice, School Mom showed me a picture of the deer. An eight-pointer, she declared, so proud of her man.
I froze, baffled by the offense I felt. School Mom was clearly throwing down the gauntlet. My husband bagged a doe, and here was School Mom, parading an 8-pointer in front of me. The inference she made was as clear as if we were comparing our husbands' shoe sizes.
Well. She might have a gauntlet, but I'm going to have bear skin gloves.
"That's a seven-pointer," I shot out.
I don't know where it came from. The words poured from my mouth, slippery and quick like field dressed organs from a gut slit. School Mom had basically just declared her husband's prowess over mine. Clearly, some part of my brain had insidiously been drinking the Kool-Aid the hunters in my life incessantly spew. I defended my man. Unwittingly. Inanely. Inexplicably.
I pointed to an antler - my computer just autocorrected that to "enabler" - that had not yet fully developed. "It's a seven. That one doesn't count." God, where was this coming from? And how do I stop it?
School Mom backed down.
She confessed that her husband was waiting to hear from the game commission as to whether that one little nub was indeed a full antler.
The game commission agreed with me.
If I was a hunter, School Mom would be my squirrel.
Two nights ago, I was perusing an article about a giant alligator, crossing a Floridian golf course while deer looked on. The text described the deer as a "family".
I huffed, and my hunter husband looked at me quizzically, waiting to find out if my ire was directed at him (no copulation), my forced volunteer work (no copulation), or something easily fixable (with copulation).
"They're not a family," I grumbled, explaining the article to him. "It's a herd. Those deer will gladly leave the slowest one of them behind to be that gator's lunch."
It was his turn to be quizzical. He asked if I read that somewhere.
I hadn't. Why was he asking me?
Apparently, someone in the Quality Deer Management Association had made the same observation. I never even knew there was a Quality Deer Management Association. I didn't know humanity needed a Quality Deer Management Association. You know who doesn't have a Quality Deer Management Association?
My husband was pleasantly surprised (guaranteed copulation) that I not only made the distinction between "family" and "herd" but that I had even caught the egregious adjective in the first place.
You know something? I think the city girl in me was just hunted down.
By a Cheetah.