Transformation and Rebirth

by Cyote

Wilson and Jones.

Dripping Springs Road.

Home to a king snake livin’ under my porch.

 

Wilson and Jones is both the hospital I was born in and where I would later receive my COVID-19 vaccination during Easter week of my “Jesus Year,” at age 33.   

 

My first home was on Dripping Springs Road in the same town, but further out into the fields. They say your “stripper name” is the name of your first dog plus the first street you ever lived on. Mine is “Ivan Dripping Springs.”

Our little corner of Sherman, Texas was also home to a big black king snake who lived under our front porch. When the weather agreed, they would sun themselves out in the driveway between rounds of hunting any field mouse that dare brave their vicinity. We didn’t last long in that house…nor would we in any other house I’d live in between then and now.

 

Growing up, I was very much the “tomboy” of my class, always excited for lunch, P.E., and art class. I remember the magic of learning how to create a clam shell with a perfectly round pearl seated softly in its center. I remember the fastest boys in my class challenging me to races and crying when they couldn’t win. 

 

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On Tuesdays, I would always bring my own lunch and eat at the far end of the cafeteria because I couldn’t stand the smell of fish sticks: a weekly staple at our school. On Fridays, I would BEG my mom for two dollars to buy two slices of cheese pizza from the ladies who were raising money for something new every week. It was a Christian elementary school near the border of Texas and Oklahoma. “Texoma” Christian School…we were always raising money for something.

 

Religion was a big part of my childhood, but so was divorce, so our attendance at church didn’t last for long. My family was more concerned with manners and morality than they were with faith, but that didn’t stop my Southern Baptist teachers from making their mark, teaching us to be fearful of all the things that could erase your name from the Lamb’s Book of Life, a.k.a. your ticket to Heaven. 

 

In the 8th grade, my boyfriend broke up with me because his best friend told him that I looked like, acted like, and most likely was a lesbian. No one would even look in my direction after that. Looking like you might be gay was enough to crush any hope of a date to the dance, an invitation to the next birthday or anything else that wasn’t sports-related. I had respect in the gym but the second that bell rang for class, I hid myself behind a sense of humor, trying desperately to distract myself from the feeling of wanting something that didn’t exist in this world. 

 

Then, without warning or want, I felt my skin peel away to reveal a new layer. My mother moved me (ironically) to what was called the “Big D”—Dallas, Texas. I had auditioned and was accepted into an Arts high school there, where everything I had known to be taboo was now showcased for applause. I replaced athletics with art history, my basketball for mime makeup, and gained a circle of friends who taught me the beauty in eccentricity and the bravery it took to embody my own.

 

It was during my senior year there that I fell in love with my best friend. The first time she kissed me I threw up right afterwards because even though I wanted it more than anything, my body and everything it was ever told knew that this was not something I was supposed to allow. But it wasn’t a concern for long: I was accepted into Cincinnati, Ohio’s College Conservatory of Music while my first love made her way to Oklahoma City’s University. We would entertain the idea of a life together after college via email for years, but time would ultimately take too long for our daydreaming to last. She eventually shattered my heart into a million pieces, and my art became my new passion, my new lover, my new layer of skin. 

 

I moved from Cincinnati to Brooklyn after teaching myself how to exist in the bitterness of real winter weather and found a new home working in the music biz. Exchanging business cards that had “an optimist!”

written coyly below my contact information, I began a collection of others that would quickly evolve into a chosen family of friends, collaborators, and co-workers. To my absolute delight, I was almost immediately surrounded by the influence of strong women, queer community, and a real sense of culture that arrived and evolved from all over the world. New York was full of all kinds of diversity that I had never experienced, and I was completely mesmerized by its potential for adventure no matter how grey the day or how little graced my bank account. 

 

This big city skin had a thicker feeling to it; something that felt more comfortable to wear; something that was made to last a bit longer than before. Life in Brooklyn introduced me to the Artist who had been living under these layers all along: an identity that could only surface through accepting departure from the exoskeleton of my past. 

 

Ten years later,  I write to you from my father’s kitchen in McKinney, Texas. I’m here to mourn the loss of my grandfather—the man I was named after—and to nurse my family back to health after a year of the kind of adversity most of us could have never predicted. I sit listening to my weekly astrology reading by Chani Nicholas as I make my to do list for the week, a (relatively new) Monday morning ritual of piecing together a master list sprawled out on post-it notes of errands, reminders and Zoom links. Chani notes the position of the planets as they pertain to my Aries rising reality this week. The sound of sizzling from my father’s scrambled eggs reminds me that I am loved by someone in what now feels like a home away from home. 

 

When I left Texas, I left because I knew I couldn’t find, be, or love myself here. I didn’t feel comfortable or supported in my community, and each time I did come back was only brief. I spent over a decade erasing a past I didn’t want to be mine anymore, but the longer I am here now, the more I’m able to re-discover and reclaim the history I often choose not to recall. 

 

I am sitting with myself where my transformation began. Sometimes the pathway to healing is just that simple. Allowing my inner child to exist again rather than be this stranger I left here a long time ago

Cyote (she/her) is the moniker of Carter Lou Mcelroy (she/her), a mixed-media artist and songwriter based in the Hudson Valley of upstate New York.  In February of 2020, she debuted her first single & video for “red” via BUST Magazine + held her first artist residency at the Athens Cultural Center in Athens, New York later that summer. Most of Cyote’s creations exist in the digital space via animation, video shorts & collage photography. She is inspired by art that provokes action + avenues of storytelling that strengthen the concept of Community. Follow her on Instagram @_cyote_ .