(You can also find the essay and buy the book it appears in here.)
A person can only sit in her car for so long before the frigid November air sneaks in and tries to leach off her body heat. I looked at the small neon sign blaring “Stone Tavern” through the window and back at the front door, which I’d flung open an hour ago only to be ambushed by a sign that read “you must be 21 to go beyond this point,” gone back to my car, and panicked for the next hour. I drove forty minutes too far to not go in, but every time my hand brushed the door handle, I remembered the sign.
“Fuck,” I sighed, finally jerking the car door open, hesitating over my purse, leaving it, marching into the bar, past the goddamn sign, and freezing with one foot on the thin, gray carpet. No one moved to card me, but just in case, I pushed on, made my way to the cracked, red vinyl booth directly across from the entryway and plopped down.
My Tinder date was onstage, microphone in hand. I sized him up out of the corner of my eye. His floral button up shirt and the handful of people in the room made him feel like less of a threat. Meanwhile, a middle-aged man at the bar squinted at me and smiled, and my throat constricted. I turned my knees toward the stage and realized, as I watched him sing utterly forgettable lyrics, that I’d forgotten my date’s name.
In 1967, two guys watched something tall, dark, and hairy walk along a creek bed. One of them, Roger Patterson, was able to film the most iconic encounter with what has become known in Americana folklore as Bigfoot. The side profile of the thing Patterson caught on film is splashed across t-shirts, mugs, posters, and car air fresheners across the country. If we zoom in, the thing—lovingly nicknamed Patty by Bigfoot enthusiasts and unjustly masculinized by casual monster fans and skeptics—has breasts, muscles, and soles on her feet. What Patterson and his friend, Bob Gimlin, saw that October day is still heavily debated over fifty years later. There have been several claims over the years that Patty was just a person in a monkey suit. Some argue that even the best costume designers and special effects artists of the ‘60s couldn’t create something that detailed, that realistic at that time. Others cry, “Aliens!”
All I know is that creatures like Patty walk through my dreams. They’re just not as passive.
The man from the bar strolled toward me.
“Why aren’t you dancing?” he asked.
“I’m really horrible at dancing,” I said, fear-smile rising to my lips, baring my teeth at him. I stood up.
His bloodshot eyes squinted a little harder. “How old are you?”
I inhaled sharply. “I’m twenty-one.”
“Twenty-one! Are you sure?” He grinned.
“Pretty sure, yes.” God, I thought, he’s going to ask to see my ID.
My Tinder date—Matt? Mike?—stopped singing, and the man—old enough to be someone’s pervy uncle—shambled toward the stage. Mike started to reach for the glass on a nearby speaker, but was accosted by the man, who hugged him tightly and patted him roughly on the back before returning to his drink at the bar.
I moved closer to the stage, hovering six feet away as Mike and the musicians with him began packing up their instruments. Eventually, I caught his eye, and he jumped the four inches from the stage to the floor and hugged me, taking away my opportunity to confirm his name. He probably said something like, “Did you find the bar okay?” and I probably asked—at some point—if he wanted help packing up his equipment, but he definitely shook his head. The rest of the band had almost finished.
“Do you want a drink?” he asked.
“Maybe some water.”
There’s a fifty-fifty chance that he said, “And a water for the lady,” to the bartender after he ordered his can of PBR. Then he leaned against the bar. He was roughly my height and stared at me with almost-turquoise eyes. One of us may have suggested sitting.
I’ve forgotten most of whatever we talked about, sitting at that bar in Kent, Ohio. The only thing I can recall is the fact that he wrote for a publication to survive while he was getting his band started, and his brother, Nick, who came up to the bar for a fresh drink, was his guitarist. When they went outside, it was Nick who I ended up standing with by the dumpster, hands deep in our pockets, shivering in the first snow of the year while he lit a cigarette. Mike, meanwhile, dragged out totes.
“Mind over matter, right?” I said through clenched teeth.
Nick’s eyes lit up. “Exactly! I always say that!”
“It’s amazing what the mind can do. It’s barely cold out unless you focus on it.” My entire body was tensed up and suppressing a shiver as the breeze cut through my sweater. I didn’t zip my leather jacket.
Nick took another drag from his cigarette then dropped it, squashed it with the tip of his shoe. He grabbed one of the totes and lumbered off.
“We’re going back to the hotel soon, if you want to come hang out,” Mike said when he came back for a tote.
They’re usually nightmares. In the beginning, the dreams were something more like The Legend of Boggy Creek (1972)—the creature lurking around in the shadows, staring from a distance for a while before attacking. Later, they would chase me, and I hid under cars so they wouldn’t “rip me limb from limb,” as they say. Now, my relationship with the dream-bigfoots is just strained. Now, they just walk up to my tent and shake it around a bit. They growl at me, but we both know that neither of us is going to do anything.
They’re still freaky as hell, though. As someone who has never seen a bigfoot, my imagination turned them into something like really stretched out mountain gorillas, except with brown fur—hair?—instead of black. The dream-bigfoots and I are not friends by any means, but we’re grudgingly becoming more comfortable with one another.
“I was going to say—what’s up with you and Bigfoot?” Mike asked.
There was at least a foot of ugly, floral hotel quilt between us, and he was very slowly closing the gap, fidgeting his way closer to me. I leaned back a little, away from him.
“I’ve always loved stuff like that,” I said. “I started listening to bigfoot podcasts, and now I basically see bigfoot everywhere. I’m starting my own podcast next semester, but it’s going to focus more on the actual researchers.”
He shifted closer, and I leaned further back.
“That’s super cool!” he said.
I glanced at Nick on the other bed. The very top of his head poked out from under the stiff quilt. The drummer was already snoring on a cot on the floor.
When I turned back to him, Mike was lying down and looking at me. I leaned back on my elbow.
“What?” he asked. His eyes were half closed. He looked at me from under his eyelashes.
I leaned toward the phone and microphone. “Can you describe the first time you saw a bigfoot?”
Marc DeWerth—organizer of the Ohio Bigfoot Conference, the biggest event in a nation covered with reports of bigfoot encounters—said reverently, “Beautiful.”
I suppressed a snort, remembering the terrifying dream-bigfoots.
Marc claims he saw a bigfoot the same year I was born. He was looking for a badger nest (as one does) when all of the sudden a bigfoot appeared on the hill above him. This bigfoot was, as Marc says, “Big. Black. Beautiful.” When it heard him, it turned and sprinted back up the slope, into the trees, disappearing from view and leaving broken trees in its wake.
Toward the end of October 2017, I came out as asexual on Facebook. The weekend before that, I came out to my parents, first telling my mom, who said, “I love and accept you. I just don’t know the terminology.” So I explained that to be asexual means that I’m not sexually attracted to anyone, that I’m not particularly interested in sex. When I told my dad this, he shrugged and said, “As a father, that sounds great to me,” and was okay with it until I told him that it puts the A in LGBTQIA+. When I met Mike on the ninth of November 2017, I was dealing with a lot of sex repulsion, which acts, in some ways, like nausea to one’s sexual appetite.
So while Mike and I stood naked in the cheap hotel bathtub with the lights off, shower running, and the water half an inch thick because of all the hair the drain had swallowed, my throat was closing up.
“I’m going to need you to do something for me,” Mike said.
“Yeah?” I snorted. “And what’s that?”
“You know . . .” He pushed my head downward.
My stomach turned. “I’m not really a fan,” I said. “Sorry.”
There was a beat where he didn’t say anything, and then he said, “That’s okay.” He pushed me up against the shower wall and kissed my neck. His penis was limp against my thigh.
I stared up at the ceiling and squeezed my eyes shut. “Not to give you that line,” I said, grimacing into the darkness, “but it’s getting pretty late.”
He froze, then got off of me. The shower turned off.
“Let me turn the light on,” he said, and I heard his feet squeak against the bathtub as he climbed out.
In the light, I could feel each water drop trembling on my too-pale skin, dripping from my breasts, running over my leg hair. Mike’s eyes followed them. He handed me a towel, and I climbed out of the tub. We began drying off in silence.
Not to say that having dreams about imaginary bigfoots and allegedly seeing one in real life is anything like sexuality, but having dreams about imaginary bigfoots and allegedly seeing one in real life is like sexuality: everyone experiences it differently.
I pulled my underwear on, extracted my sweater and jeans from the pile our clothes had formed next to the sink. When we were both dressed, Mike opened the bathroom door and led the way back to the bed, where I plopped down and pulled on my boots and jacket.
“Thanks for hanging out,” Mike said.
“Of course! It was a fun time,” I said, backing slowly toward the door. I gave him a half-wave and opened the door to the cold. There were a few stars glinting in the blackness of the sky, and a few lazy snowflakes swirled in the slight breeze. I pulled my jacket closer and looked at the thicket of trees behind the hotel parking lot. I laughed. If there were any time that I would see bigfoot, it would be then, walking back to my car, after a fucking catastrophe of a night.
I walked a little faster.
Once in my car, I locked my doors and leaned my head back against the headrest. I checked my phone. It was 2:04 in the morning. I stuck the key in the ignition and said, “Fuck you, McKenzie,” just wishing that something big and hairy would shatter the windshield and rip me apart.
I made it home safely.