Human: Mid-30’s, auburn hair with a black streak, one blue eye and one gold eye.
Animal: Maned wolf is often called a “fox on stilts.” Very foxy looking, but with a black mane (like a hyena’s), and one blue eye and one gold eye.
She said her grandmother turned into a maned wolf. She said all the women in our family could. She said her spirit was a million years old, and her previous incarnation was Cleopatra’s handmaiden. She said a lot of things, and it was nearly impossible to say which things were true and which were not.
Let’s just say, my mother is a bit of a hippie.
My name is Isabel Rojas. My grandfather is Edmundo Rojas. Yes, that Edmundo Rojas. Mis abuelos came to New York in the mid-’60’s from Argentina, to trade cattle on the international commodities market. Abuelo did very well, and knew he and his family would never have to worry about money again.
Abuela died giving birth to my mother in 1963. Abuelo was completely lost when it came to raising a child; while he loves her dearly, he was not terribly involved. There were nannies and cooks and more allowance money than a child should probably have. So she grew up carefree and flighty, with that weird combination of generous and philosophical and shallow that truly characterizes the modern hippie. Fortunately for her, that path did not lead to copious STDs, but rather to an unexpected child: me.
Abuelo provided for us, in exchange for an agreement to certain requirements. He purchased a small house for us in upstate New York—well within visiting distance, but far from the crime and corruption. He enrolled me in a private school, and arranged for groceries to be delivered. In spite of my mother being as reliable as the wind, I never had to worry about being cold or hungry (though if I wanted a cooked meal, I mostly had to make that happen myself). Abuelo made sure the bills were paid, I made sure I had clean clothes and finished my homework, while my mother continued to “find herself.”
In the mid-nineties, my mother found herself in the “therians,” a community of people who were allegedly animals in their true nature, and could shift forms. That’s when the stories began about our family’s tradition of protecting the land as guardian spirits, about women who were feared, about the name “rojas” bestowed because of our prowess as predators. I didn’t think much of it. In fact, I was distracted at the time—beginning puberty isn’t fun for anyone, and even the most responsible daughter will begin to seem a bit…grumpy, to say the least.
It was such a simple thing that finally broke me through the wall. I was working on a paper late one night, and got myself a cup of coffee to help me push through to the end of it. I spilled my coffee onto my hands and my computer. Frustration combined with pain, and jumped on the last bit of my patience. I woke up the next morning with vivid memories of the rabbit I’d hunted the night before, the feel of its fur in my teeth.
I also had no paper to turn in, so between one thing and another, it seemed the prudent thing to do to have my mother call me in sick.
“You were right!” She lit up. We discussed, hugged, cried, bonded. She signed us up for the next “Howl.” I was so nervous to meet all of her friends, and to show my furry face in front of people. We decided to wait to change in front of each other until the Howl, to be certain of a safe space for it.
It was so surreal to check into the Holiday Inn for the Howl, as though it were any other convention. People smiled, shook hands, and wore nametags. I felt like a new person in a strange new skin, visiting a new world, but everything still had the veneer of the old one. Time moved sluggishly, dragging its feet until the Primal Prom. (Perhaps that cheesy name was a red flag, but what did I know then?)
I was offered a tab of something I presumed was acid. Mom said I could, it was someone she trusted and she planned to partake, but she’d stand by me to make sure no one pressured me. It was dark, there was music, and people of all ages laughing and mingling. I was just beginning to wonder why I’d come, I don’t care for crowds or parties under the best circumstances. Suddenly there was a gong, the music changed to something floaty and weird, and the lights went out completely except for strobes. This was it! Someone had a sense of the dramatic, and clearly this was our cue.
As bad as the chaos was in my human form, as the maned wolf, it was a thousand times worse. I could barely understand what I was seeing. The changes were…not happening. Nothing! I ran around the room, trying to find a single animal anywhere! I saw red. I wanted to damage! I wanted to destroy! And when I saw my mother lying on the ground, lost in her trip but still in her human form, I knew I had to do something. I bit so many people. I didn’t tear or rend, though I wanted to. Just a nip, here and there. And I pissed in the punch bowl. Just needed to let people know that an animal had actually been there. I shifted back to my human form and went back to the hotel room.
Mom couldn’t understand why I withdrew so hard after that. I worked hard, graduated early, got degrees in Linguistics. I know that she loves me, in her broken way. She travels a lot now, and stops by to visit me every so often as she passes through. It’s okay.
More recently, I tried to publish something. Peer review, my ass. I decline to acknowledge closed-minded idiots as “peers.” I’ve studied ancient languages, I see the patterns. Plus, I have an advantage my peers don’t—I can speak with the animals, and find the patterns there, too. The bones are still there of a base language, the core of all spoken communication. The paper I sent them was beautiful, a revelation, and they said it was impossible and ridiculous. Well, fuck them. I did a lot of editing for Llewellyn back in college, and they’ll publish anything. I de-formalized it, gave it a few pops, and let them come up with the title. The Language of Creation by Isabel Rojas is not a New York Times bestseller, but it does fine. I think this is going to get some attention and open some eyes.