The strangest things can make me cry.
Like this nature show I was watching about salamanders during breeding season, for instance, it made me cry, and when I was crying, I was laughing only for one reason, the reason being I was crying at salamanders breeding on my television narrated by David Attenborough, who can make anything sound glorious, even a pile of salamanders breeding, a wiggling slime pile of salamander orgy, and I was watching, and laughing, and crying.
But I was mostly crying.
I was crying because the males are competitive to deposit their sperm. Deposit. I hate that word, deposit, when talking about sperm, like it’s a meaningless transaction performed a thousand times at a bank, and then there is the bank, the immobile bank, the place responsible for the safe keeping of the deposit, the place with all the responsibility to grow the deposit, the place that will be blamed if anything to do with the deposit should go wrong.
We see this on these shows, these male animals, aggressive and dangerous and killing and fighting and forcing their way into depositing sperm, and sometimes, a dozen males at once chasing one female. She becomes exhausted, often injured, often already protecting her existing young, and if she doesn’t escape, she concedes out of necessity for her own life and the lives she is responsible for. I can’t imagine the luxury of a life of worrying only about the self, because even without another life growing inside me or attached to mine yet, there is the idea of yet, that’s exactly it, yet, this gnawing notion of yet that chews and chews and chews and chews and strips my protective coating until its capable teeth hit my electric center.
And these salamanders were the same, but almost worse than a bank or cheetahs or wolves or people. It began with just one or two salamanders wrapping themselves around the fertile female, and they battled around her body, for her body, a fight to see who could get their slimy little junk inside of her first, and she remained trapped and limp between them. And then more males wrapped around her, and then more, and then they were deeper into this flowing stream, not just on the moist rocks surrounding on the bank, but they were in the water, washing away, and before I knew it, I was looking at about fifteen male salamanders wrapped around one female, fighting, killing, all of them wriggling and trying to deposit their sperm inside this bank and finally, I couldn’t see her anywhere.
They drowned her. That’s what David Attenborough told me in his kind old man, British, storybook way. They drowned her, and that’s just what happens to females sometimes during mating season. And down the stream the camera showed a pile of dead females that had drowned beneath the weight of males, stuck against rocks with water flowing over their slimy swollen bodies, the ones being fought for, dead. A pile of dead banks.
I used to catch salamanders in the woods underneath wet logs and rocks when I was a little girl before any of what made me so sad happened, before I knew what it felt like to be a wet, limp, swollen dead bank on a rock with water running over me, before a place like the woods scared me into looking over my shoulder. If I had known then what I know now, I would’ve gotten us all out of the water.
Allie Dixon is a writer with an MFA from Lesley University. When she's not writing, Allie writes creative nonfiction, fiction, poetry, and also teaches high school English and creative writing. Her work explores systemic sexism and the humanity inherent in all of us to make sense of life's uncanny moments. Currently, Allie lives just outside of Boston where she happily (and not-so-happily) is working on a debut novel.
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