On the last day of the working week we stopped at the video rental store. It was right next to the Mar T Café; the second brightest storefront in my hometown. Movie titles bobbled inside their plastic sleeves. The pebbly brown clamshell cases imbued the store with a gently chemical tang. If you didn’t have a VCR, you had to ring a bell in the back and ask to rent one. I always carried it out to the car reverently, palms up and back straight.
In The Neverending Story, Atreyu’s horse Artax sinks. I watched that scene in tense, sweet agony on Friday nights. Atreyu cajoled his horse to fight the quicksand then turned panicky. The horse, an elegant dappled gray, peered winsomely up at Atreyu and then bellied into the mud. The movie’s pitchy black swamp was full of bleak, foliage-stripped trees; my childhood home was a decades-long construction site. Sitting on subfloor in front of the TV, the sludge of Cascadia mud licked at my nostrils from the unfinished windows. The soundtrack’s uncanny chorus of mire-murmur was so like my rural bedtime lullaby, I thought the narrative was swallowing me.
I had my first pony at three. By eight, I was breaking gentler mares and geldings to saddle. Atreyu was a warrior from the Grassy Plains. He was the figment of a German author’s infatuation with indigeneity. I went ahead and assumed he was Shawnee. For a very long time, I thought Atreyu was a girl. I thought she was Shawnee and maybe we were cousins somewhere down the line. I thought I could be them, so I imagined reaching up for that VHS tape every Friday was a ceremony.
Once I read that Shawnee scouts taught fur traders how to evade quicksand by staying utterly still. All that movement I assessed on the screen, Atreyu’s overt show of dismay, consigned that swift, slim horse to the mud. Hush, I remember whispering at the screen. Shut up and be still. Someone I loved best got drunk and babbled tell me about your favorite problematic movie. I would never do what you did. Look at your fingers, he said, they are actually blue. Unwrap your hands from all that before you are pulled under.