Rachel Jacobson

      When riding my electric bike, many animals (mostly squirrels) end up in my path. But I’ve never hit one. I squeeze the breaks, the wheels fight the pavement, and the momentum threatens to send us all in a flip. Luckily, I have never fallen off my bike or ended up in a car’s path (not because of a squirrel, anyway). Aside from my efforts to avoid an intense reminder of death, I love animals so much it hurts. Like a lot of rodents, Squirrel’s heads twitch in all directions until they see a threat. Then they stare, head on, clearly considering the best option. Usually it’s to run. It’s a big world while they are not. It comes with advantages (I’d love to climb a tree at the speed they are capable of) but the ability to overpower is not one. So creatures like squirrels, whose best option is usually to run, are then punished with the death/harm they are trying to avoid. The world is big, and we’ve made it bigger, but somehow much smaller.

      During the spring semester of 2023, I took a Form and Theory creative writing class about the Romantics. At first, I was nervous about my call. After all, the romantics were primarily poets. My monkey brain is too chaotic to remember all the moves available to one in writing poetry, but also too much of a stickler to let my hand move as it will on the page. But then our first reading: Philosophical Fragments by Friedrich Schlegel. Better yet was the writing assignment accompanying the reading—writing our own. My thoughts jump from deep to stupid at random pace and this, to me, seemed like a way of capturing the thoughts that I wanted to pause and dive into. It was refreshing that someone else felt the desire to do the same, even someone from Germany hundreds of years ago. Then there was William Blake, who didn’t believe there was any true distinction in gender, was probably bisexual, drew some trippy pictures to accompany his poems, and believed that love was supposed to complete you the way it did for him and his wife. When we discussed Blake, I fantasized I was him reincarnated. It might be because I wanted my admiration of him to be special, to be mine. 

      Before setting to work on the final project for the class, we were required to meet with the professor. In this meeting, my professor said the idea that stood out in all the pieces I wrote was a struggle for space. One of our assignments—written in the style of William Wordsworth who visited a place then came back, years later, and wrote about the feelings that invoked—we were asked to do the same. So I set out on a walk in an unfamiliar direction. I was waiting for a place that gave me some sort of ‘special feeling,’ though not really believing getting that was possible. I think feelings are earned more often than not. I ended up being right, to an extent. After passing and considering many trees to be my special spot, I stumbled into a park, uncertain whether I was trespassing.

      It was a little park, right off the road I live on now but didn’t at the time. There was a stretch of overly-green grass, overlooking what must be the river which split the city in two. The separation between the dock and the grass was marked by concrete engulfing every bit that touched the water. The ducks didn’t mind though. The first thing to catch my eye after completing the trek down the path was a shrine. It was one of those graves dug under a park tree. That would be the ideal place to rest, I think. The tree eats you for nutrients but you’re immortalized for the humans who visit. It was the stuffed animal dressed in a pilot's uniform that first caught my eye . It may have been an elephant? The shrine was so decked out in belongings—fake flowers, a little wheelbarrow, dream catchers—it was hard to tell.

      Obviously, this was the spot. The name on the grave was the same as a friend of mine. I saw a total of three real people there, their presence each accompanied by a socially-anxious delusion. The first was a lady walking her cookies-and-cream Great Dane friend, who had to be about half her height. I’d seen the two on the walk toward the park and now here they were. In my head, Great Dane woman spots me sitting before this grave, sketching symbols from the shrine, and comes up.  She calls me creepy for staring at not only her but this person trying to rest. All because I stole a couple glances at the majestic beast on the walk, which she likely didn’t notice. I told my brain this but, unfortunately, it is capable of entertaining multiple thoughts at once.

      Two more folks appeared in my imagination. I pictured a man, balding with little round glasses and a button up (kind of like my high school theater teacher), who came and yelled at me for disturbing their mother. Then there was the spirit of the person resting in this grave, wishing I weren’t there. It wasn’t a strong image, perhaps because it felt rude to put a face to this name, this name which represented a real person at the end of the day. How would they feel about the face I gave them? Impossible to say, so best avoided. I’ve built myself up as quite a negative person, but not all these imagery interactions were that way. If the child of the person had shown up, I’d have asked about them. Asked about some of the trinkets, whether the stuffed animal was an elephant, what they did to get this memorial. I’d ask them about their childhood and what they miss the most. But that person never came. Likely no one thought my sitting here was anything significant, but I worried anyway.

      I returned to that spot again with the friend who shared a name with a grave, just as Wordsworth had done. Only for a brief moment. When I was alone, I sat there for an hour. With my friend, it was about 10 minutes. It was getting dark, their mom was trying to pick them up, etc etc. There was a man there, wrapped up in a raincoat and a line on the water digging for fish. He kept looking back at us, for whatever reason. The whole time, I was ready to book it. That familiar anxiety all women and nonbinary pals experience upon gaining consciousness. Then I saw he had a kid, a little boy. Still, I’ve read enough Webtoons to know children can help with murder, so nothing was solved. My constant worry over the surrounding people just couldn’t be overcome this time. 

      I hadn’t even been aware I was fighting for space until my professor’s comment. My final project never grappled with this theme. I tried to write about it. But I wasn’t ready. I have since realized I am hurt and from that I am angry. At our system, at capitalism, at its continuation. My professor and I discussed this in the final project meeting. I was hit with the same hard truths: that I will never escape what I grew up in. It will affect my thinking. I will feel like an intruder in outdoor spaces, even those labeled public. I have been conditioned to split myself into parts yet constantly seek fullness. If I’m not out in the world with a clear cut purpose, what am I doing? If my goal isn’t good enough, am I just wasting space? 

      Social anxiety starts young. In first grade, I stood behind poles built of little stones and tried to create the courage to join the kids playing helicopter. In middle school,  I tried to turn myself invisible by wearing bright pink leggings that signaled I was not ready to grow up with them all. In high school, I speed walked to class, the one destination I was supposed to be. Never have I existed in a space without fear. Ever. 

      But then I see the squirrels. The Great Danes. The abundant creatures that live.

      They still have fear, but make it obvious with twitches and ear shuffling. They still make stupid decisions, but dive into their choices with full force. They’re not ‘better’ than humans, but why does that have to be the question? Why will it always have to be a fight for existence, for space? 

Rachel Jacobson is in her final year at Boise state, almost able to walk out with a Creative Writing Bachlors and a Writing for Change Minor. She can almost always be found at the Boise State Writing Center, among the two other Rachels, happy to geek out over whatever project is brought to her attention. At home, Rachel cuddles with her two naked cats as she plays video games till the night’s end.

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