Consuming the Baby
A fertility ritual? A rite of passage? A closely guarded familial secret? It was all of the above. And it was what was for dinner.
Samantha hated that she had never fit in at school, had never been able to bring friends home, was not allowed to speak on the phone, and going out with kids her age or attending school functions were all curtailed.
At sixteen, she was an attractive enough girl -- her skin was fairly clear and her bosom fairly developed. She had pretty green eyes, long blonde hair, and symmetric, pleasing features. But her strange, hand-stitched clothes and bumbling social awkwardness were too great a barrier for her to bridge. She rarely exchanged more than a few words with peers and her shyness when addressing adults such as her teachers bordered upon unbridled fear. When a teacher asked her a question, she frequently looked like a deer caught in the headlights.
Most of her teachers believed that Samantha probably came from a family involved in some sort of religious cult or that perhaps they were Amish. That would explain her awkward, handmade clothes and the homegrown food that comprised her lunches.
If any of her teachers had given it much thought, they might have considered Samantha's demeanor and palpable isolation to be cause for concern; it wasn't that far a stretch to imagine that the poor girl might potentially be a victim of physical or sexual abuse.
In actuality, such forms of abuse were mundane and commonplace compared to the reality in which Samantha was immersed. The nature of her family's pervasive sickness was far less ordinary.
Children inherently are captives, imprisoned within the environments into which they are born. Samantha lived in isolation, soaking up her environment, accepting its truths because she knew no others, staying because she had no other world to which to go.
In the external world of school, she mimicked others as best she could, wondering why normalcy inexplicably eluded her while it seemed to come so naturally and effortlessly to her classmates.
Samantha had learned early on that there was no point in trying to explain herself because other people could not understand her.
The reactions of the uninitiated are always the same in circumstances such as these, when someone lives in a bubble of deranged isolation --"But I don't understand."
"Why doesn't she just leave him? Why doesn't he just fix things? Why don't they just buy their food from the grocery store?"
What people typically failed to grasp was that the minds of those within one of these bubbles functioned according to a different set of rules. There can be no reasoning with them because you're using a different rulebook. It does not apply.
Samantha sat alone at a table in the corner of the cafeteria. She did not look up as others passed, talking. She knew nobody was going to address her. Instead, she concentrated upon eating her humble packed lunch.
Every year, Samantha's family held a feast. Afterwards, they cured the meat for use throughout the year. Samantha's lunches were a product of this feast -- sandwiches made of thick slabs of salted meat lain between rough slices of dark, homemade bread.
As a child, Samantha had been stricken with terror when she was first forced to attend the feast's festivities. Her parents had dragged her into the middle of the celebration, and she screamed at the top of her little lungs at the sight of the bodies turning on spits and the laughing faces of her aunts and uncles, which looked ghastly and ghoulish in the light of the bonfire. At six, this annual event had given her nightmares.
But now, Samantha is older, and she has begun to understand the need to prepare -- and to appreciate the importance of tradition.
The irony of her childhood fear of the feast was that being brought to the feast at the age of six signified that the danger for her had passed. Depending on the volume of the harvest and the number of strangers that have passed through the outskirts of town over the course of the year, often the food supply must be bolstered with the addition of one or two young children -- sometimes more. But participation in the feast is a familial rite of passage, signifying permanent residence in the family. Although Samantha still sometimes regrets that two of her younger sisters were not able to attain a place in the family with her, she understands the necessity. And, as she eats her sandwich, she remembers her sisters and appreciates their sacrifice.
Samantha is nearing physical maturity; soon she will be of child-bearing age and able to contribute to the family herself. She wistfully hopes that some of her spawn will reach the age of six, and thus earn the chance to mature to adulthood. Some probably will not, but that is simply an unfortunate fact of life. She will marry the cousin to whom her parents have betrothed her and will carry on the family's traditions. She knows no other lifestyle, so her only path can be the one of transition between victim and perpetrator.