Surviving Fear in the Face of Predators

bent yellow mouthed over the train tracks–danger in lack of numbers–invisible, a hundred black hole mouths lifting trembling uvula to the moon somewhere behind the trees behind the yard behind the night outside my childhood bedroom hiding always unseen between the rasp of crickets and bullfrogs belch and for so many years wondering if these beings even had bodies at all, if they weren’t actually just slivers of dark itself, cracking open and building teeth from stolen stars and howling as the wind that comes to rouse the sun tore through their haunting emptiness —Breton Lalama

In 2009, Taylor Mitchell, a 19-year-old folk singer, is mauled to death by two coyotes. She is camping in Cape Breton when her corpse is found. Two coyotes stand over her, growling.

I read the Taylor Mitchell story in Dan Flores’ Coyote America, a book I thought would help me fight my growing fear of being eaten alive in my front yard.

This spring, large coyotes beset my neighborhood.

Every time I see one, I freeze in a sweaty panic. It’s one coyote, but then it’s a herd, running at me, dragging rabbit carcass and garbage, pinning me to the ground and gnawing on my fat, attacking my dog while neighbors fondle their phones, waiting on hold with 311.

Coyotes are common in Toronto. The signs in our parks tell me that they are harmless unless provoked. I don’t trust signs, so I’ve solicited coyote stories from my Facebook and Instagram followers.

One friend of mine, Renee, tells me about the time she was in Scarborough, staying in a building at Markham and Eglinton, beside the railroad tracks, “It was run by gangs during the day and coyotes during the night. The sounds of rumbling trains shook the building followed by howls of coyotes claiming their territory.”

Another friend of mine, Elly, walks her dog on a path by Bathurst and St. Clair where she hears coyotes howl. “I rushed down the path because I had heard a dog had been pulled off.” The howling grows as she approaches the dog park. Three coyotes are circling, proud.

Descriptions of coyotes aggravate my memory. I’ve been there. Not dead. But preyed upon. And I’m sure I’ve learned some survival strategies.

REJECT

End of winter, March 2021, 8:30 AM

I walk my dog, Mordechai, first thing in the morning. I see a woman walking her dog. I smile at her, and when she doesn’t respond, I notice the coyote standing five feet from her, grazing under a hedge.

He’s the size of my dog, 85 lbs, wolf-like, grey and brown coat, unbothered.

I feel instantly sticky. The coyote is growing taller, seeing through me, saying, “let’s get closer, Rachel.”

Mordechai yanks me forward, tearing at my shoulder.

I turn away, and we drag ourselves up a side street.

Benny towers over me, red and black short textured hair, an impressive beard, freckles, and a rectangular head that screams “I CHOP WOOD.”

I love his hushed everything. Not likely to nod agreeably or chuckle. He can either be found sitting on the ground, solemnly dreaming or else he’s fucking random strangers in classrooms. I love his versatility.

Late into the fall, I’m having a cigarette outside my dorm. Benny sees me and sits with me, which prompts me to start babbling at him.

He interrupts me, “My roommate is going home this weekend. I might have a party.”

I nod.

He says, “Do you want to have a party in my room with me?”

His eyes meet mine, and I feel trapped: Make a bold choice or die.

I choke on an embarrassed “maybe” and go inside.

From then on, Benny stays away from me.

AVOID

Start of April 2021, 12:30 PM, my parent’s backyard

Mordechai starts hysterically bark-yelling and jumping at something beyond the wire fence.

It’s a coyote, small and mangled.

If not for the fence, Mordy and the coyote would be nose-to-nose.

I cannot tell whether or not the coyote is in our yard or beyond the fence. All I see is my dog jumping at a very still coyote.

I shriek, “MORDY,” grab him by the collar and pull him inside.

Mordechai pants at the backdoor.

I am breathless.

Clarence is thin, tall, messy hair. He is one year ahead of me in our playwrighting program. In my first months of school, he bullies me, openly ridiculing my writing and my looks.

In March, we’re at a party. Clarence has had a great day. He keeps telling me about it, paying exquisite attention to me, and I am a drunk “yessir” kind of woman for the evening. We have prickly flash-in-the-pan sex, and then I stay awake all night in the living room. In the morning, I drink coffee while sitting on the couch, away from him. He sits beside me and puts my coffee on the table. Kissing me, he says, “can I fuck you on this couch?” Even as we fuck, I regret it. His frail body begets an intimate horror as if I’m gripping a skeleton while it humps just to conjure a pulse. For months, he pursues me. We have sex a few more times, but mostly I avoid him. Eventually, he discards me when he finds a new bunny rabbit.

WAIT

End of April 2021, 7:30 PM

I open the door to take Mordy for a walk, and he starts violently barking. There is a coyote in the front yard, frozen, looking pounce-ready.

I yank Mordy inside. I turn my back to him to turn off the house alarm, and he runs outside.

I scream.

It’s dark, and I am too blind to chase him. I can’t even see him. My boyfriend runs after Mordy, back and forth across the driveway until he can grab the leash.

“Mordy ran right at him,” says my boyfriend. “What do we do?

To be brave, I say, “I think we can walk if he’s gone.”

As we leave the house, we hear a droning noise coming from behind us.

I’ve heard that coyote packs whine when they’re hungry.

We walk for three minutes until Mordy pees, and then I run everyone inside.

Elijah is my secret husband.

 In-person, we barely speak. In private, I send Elijah videos, photos, poems, everything, and he always replies. My bipolar disorder is out of balance. He’s become the object of my mania. I think I’m in control of our relationship, but I don’t realize that he’s manipulated me, and I am recklessly vulnerable. He has a girlfriend. She knows about me, but it’s ok because I’m just his creative project which I only realize once I’m properly medicated. I try to pull away from him, but I’m addicted to his correspondence even though eventually he only answers me every so often. To really get rid of him, I have to wait until he leaves me.

When Elijah’s girlfriend breaks up with him, we start drinking together heavily until one night we have sex. Two weeks later, he calls to tell me that he’s upset with me because he believes we had sex without his consent. He stops talking to me forever.

The best strategy is one that I’ve been too nervous to try.

“I’ve done some research on coyotes, and I know how to protect myself,” I tell my mom on our morning walk. “Foghorns.”

She says, “I hear you’re supposed to do this,” and she raises her hands over her head. Her face contorts into anguish, and she yells, “AHHHHHHHHHRRAAHHH.”

She laughs.

I am amazed by my mother. She’s survived mental illness, and she’s keenly aware of her life’s losses due to her bipolar disorder. She is only afraid of my father’s betrayal. Other than that, she’s a walking fog horn far better than being a walking target.

I’ve been practicing. Screaming at the sunrise.

I haven’t seen any coyotes in weeks.

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