5 days until the start of The Ride.
My eyes snap open to a dull thunk against the window. I turn my face into the pillow and groan, then roll over to stare at the ceiling.
That stupid cardinal.
I normally feel a rush of affection when I see cardinals. My mother always said that cardinals were a sign from my grandmother. Her mom loved to see the bright red birds contrasted against the dark greens and browns of Vermont countryside. My mom preferred blue jays. Thanks to the new direction of my recent research interests, I discovered plumage dimorphism. This type of dimorphism is when males and females of the species have different colorings. Whereas male and female blue jays look identical except for size, the red bird sported by St. Louis fans is only an accurate depiction of male cardinals. Thunk. Yes, like the one currently attacking the bedroom window. The females of the species have more muted plumage that make them more difficult to spot. The characteristic cardinal red of their beaks also tips the soft brown and white of the feathers on their crest, wings, and tail.
Now whenever I see a female cardinal I think of my grandmother and feel particularly affectionate. Thunk. I groan again, squinting to look directly into the slits of sunshine piercing through the blinds. This time I see the flash of red before I hear him collide with the glass. Thunk. I flinch at the sound before throwing the covers off and sitting up. I appreciate the motivation to get moving even if it is in the form of a bird with serious personal space issues. I’ve read that territorial birds will sometimes mistakenly attack their own reflection in windows. Later, I actually managed to snap a photo of him mid-self-assault while fixing a cup of coffee:
I’ve never been much of a bird watcher before, but I love watching the ones that visit Skylar’s front porch. The small wooden deck is accessible from a door between my bedroom and the kitchen, which gives the windows in both rooms a fantastic view. Squirrels looking to munch frequently scale the narrow posts that support the railing. The railing supports a variety of bird feeders. Some are hanging from metal structures and the one hanging from a stone window archway is affixed next to the handcrafted feeder shaped like a circus tent. Three large but shallow clay basins, each situated at a different height, serve as bird baths. Every morning, along with feeding the dogs, Skylar and her roommate replenish the railing with a think line of bird seed. If the water levels are low in the basins, they are refilled as well. I imagine to animals the porch is an incredible gig. It’s no wonder that cardinal is so protective of it. I look briefly and unsuccessfully for the cardinal’s mate before heading for the porch to join Sky in making our protest banners. We talk a lot about the message of our mission. Love. Skylar is fond of the metaphor of a circle of elephants that adopted by PEC (Partners for Ethical Care).
Elephants form a circle in order to protect vulnerable members of the heard from predators like hyenas. For example, when a cow is giving birth or an elephant is old, weak, or sick and unable to protect itself. Safeguarding. Before putting my life on hold for this trip, I was volunteering in Victim Advocacy. Hours and hours of training about trauma-informed care and safeguarding policies. I know how important it is to offer additional forms of support when people are experiencing additional hardships like limited autonomy.
The Ride is an act of love for all women. But we recognize children, incarcerated women, and lesbians are suffering additional hardship on top of facing erasure and loss of their rights. One of the most important goals of our advocacy is to raise awareness of unconscionable violations in basic safeguarding that have replaced common sense policies designed to protect vulnerable people. That is why we will be picketing pediatric gender clinics and women’s prisons that have implemented mixed-sex housing policies. The limited autonomy that children and incarcerated women experience is compounded by barriers preventing them from freely voicing their opinions and concerns. We will be a voice for the voiceless. We will protest the policies exposing them to more vulnerability.
We start by designing our signs. We cut 2 large pieces of canvas in half so we would both have a transportable set. 1 sign for pediatric clinics, 1 sign for prisons. Today we primed our signs in white and left them out to dry in the mountain sun.
The cardinal is back again by the time I go in for lunch. I start gathering the supplies for a pb&j when I hear it. Thunk. I roll my eyes at his persistence as I grab the peanut butter from the top shelf of the cupboard. But if he’s back that means his mate will be around and I might be able to catch a glimpse of her. I let the cupboard door blocking my view swing close so I can look out the kitchen window. I freeze in surprise. Two blue jays, one slightly bigger than the other, are perched on the railing. I move slowly over to peer out the window of the porch door. Wow. They are so beautiful. I’ve never seen a blue jay in real life. As I'm watching, the crazy cardinal swoops by, a flash of brown and red behind him. I can't believe it. It's the female cardinal too!
Seeing the birds has me thinking of my mom and grandmother. I only have a few fragmented memories of my grandmother before she died when I was a young child. As a young adult, my mom died from uterine cancer. She had been misdiagnosed for an entire year but by the time they caught it in stage 4, she was accurately diagnosed for less than a year before she passed away. I always said it was so sad that we lost her before my little brother was old enough to drink. I believe my mom went misdiagnosed for so long because she was overweight. Doctors regularly wrote off her legitimate health concerns, always managing to blame it on her weight. When she noticed irregular spotting that didn’t stop, she went to her gynecologist.
When a doctor says something is “absolutely not cancer” you are more than inclined to believe it. My mom was desperate to believe it, especially after working as a nurse for 30 years. Her doctor assured her on three separate occasions that it was fibroids (“absolutely not cancer”) and scheduled a surgery that could have killed her. Before the day it was scheduled, a friend asked her a question that gave her pause:
“Did you get a second opinion? My mom had fibroids that turned out to be cancer.”
The second doctor took one look at her and confirmed our worst fears. Cancer. Stage IV. Fast-forward through 9 months of chemotherapy and last-ditch experimental treatments to the night before she died. My little brother and my best friend came with me to visit her in hospice. We spent hours playing the game “Cards Against Humanity” and roaring with laughter. She always said our laughter was her favorite sound in the world. I hold onto that thought whenever I remember getting the devastating news the next day.
I recognize different aspects of women’s oppression in the events leading to her passing. I believe many women have or will experience the same lack of support as mothers, struggle with weight gain and the dismissal of legitimate health concerns, and ultimately die due to improper medical care directly associated with their sex. Uterine cancer. A cancer that only affects women. She was not a “birthing person”. Her cancer was because she was female, not because she was a “uterus haver” and the term “bleeder” in context is downright offensive. She was my mother. She was a woman. She deserved better care than she received. We need to be able to name the problem and those affected by it before we have any hope of addressing it, much less fixing it.
I rub the tattoo on my thigh that has her ashes in the black ink of the design. She always encouraged us to push ourselves, to face our fears, and to stand up when something is wrong. I face the summer with her on my mind and outraged passion in my heart. R.I.P., Momma Bear. I won’t let you down.
In solidarity, sisters….
We Ride, We Ride, We Rebel.
Love, Joy xx