Wants to Marry a Bear
by Jenny Bitner
"According to the bestiaries, bear cubs were
born formless and licked into shape by
the mother, an act that the medieval Church made into
a symbol of Christianity converting the heathen."
- Dictionary of Subjects and Symbols in Art
She had always imagined that she wanted to marry a
bear. When someone asked her questions about getting
married and dressing up in the uniforms and saying
the words, she replied, "in the woods" "with
a bear." It wasn't just a matter of language
with her. It was a matter of language becoming things
that walked into her kitchen. Once she imagined a
mule had slid into her house and the next day a mule
did not slide into her house, but she picked up a
book on the floor and opened to a passage about a
mule. "Mules" it said, "feel outlandishly
out of place in the animal kingdom because of their
inability to reproduce." The sentence made her
feel sad, the way she sometimes felt when she washed
the dishes at the sink and afterwards her dress was
wet from the water - a vague, unidentifiable sadness.
But women were not allowed to marry bears and she
found that out soon enough. Once she was having a
conversation with her dentist and he told her in no
uncertain terms that bears were dangerous, had bad
breath, and were not suitable mating material for
At the altar she stood with the dress pressed up between
her knees. She had somehow gotten toilet paper stuck
in her shoes and when she came out into the church
there was some white paper on her feet. The bear had
shit all over her white dress before the wedding anyway
and so it didn't much matter what to do about it.
It wasn't going to be a "nice" wedding.
She remembered her mother telling her over and over
to be a good girl. "Are you being a good girl?"
And she wanted to scream that she was not being good
and that there wasn't anything good in her sleazy,
rancid, hateful body at all.
The marriage is always about coming together and ending.
As such, it pulls you into it when you least expect
it. Someone she knew had recently married an octopus
and if you could marry an octopus without anyone standing
up at the ceremony and shouting, "What the hell
are you doing, Yes, I fucking object, he'll strangle
you. There isn't enough room for 4 tentacles in a
relationship, let alone 8!" well, then anything
goes. Marriage dramatics rarely happened. Even when
everyone knew that the couple was making a mistake,
not a word was said. It was hushed.
She admitted that the thought of bi-species children
scared her. The shame was strong and all of the myths.
Being less than human had a certain weight to it,
an onus. But now wasn't the backlash against humans,
against humanity - all of that mad egotism and rational
thinking - so strong that we needed to change the
mix. Pour in some other qualities: great hunting skills,
superior ability to sing (whales), peaceful, don't
kill their own (most animals), great at just being
(cats). Humanity needed something new in its gene
What do you see in him? Her best friend asked her.
"Hes different from anyone Ive ever
met," she says. "He has this connection
to the other world. Sometimes I dont think we
live in the same world at all, but I can taste it
in him. When I lick him I taste the woods and blood.
When we make love I think that I am falling into another
land. I think that I am falling back into the land
of my childhood dreams. The door is open with him."
She didnt want to invite her father to the wedding.
She thought he would spoil it. He would be so unenthusiastic.
He would say something in a voice that made her feel
like she was being emotional and childish. "Jenny,
he'd say, I don't think you are doing the right thing.
Now, this is something you'll have to live with for
a long time." Yes, a long time, yes forever.
Yes, into the night with the bear.
She is running in the woods. She feels the brambles
against her legs. She eats the berries and lets the
woods get under her skin.
My God, How did you get this on your wedding dress,
her mother says, "Is this shit? Bear shit? Jesus,
what kind of a marriage is this? This is disgusting."
She gets up and leaves.
"It will come off with some vinegar," her
bridesmaid says, "I always keep vinegar and seltzer
water in a spray bottle in case I get a stain."
He smells terrible. Worse than she would image. He
smells like leaves and sweat and shit and decay and
there aren't any toothbrushes in the woods and yet
she loves him. When she answered the personal ad she
knew he was what she was looking for: regal, handsome,
and with an odd sense of humor that meant when he
swiped her and she fell down it was a joke. It was
a gentle swipe. What she really loves about him is
that she will never understand him. Try as she might:
he is incomprehensible. Everyone, even these rationalists,
needs a little bit of mystery in their lives. How
did she ever get here, where is the forest, what is
calling to her in the voice of small frog-children?
Each step in she leaves behind another rule - dont
talk to strangers, dont hide from people, dont
yell at the top of your lungs, dont have sex
He rolls her over and he is like a giant
bear rug over her and she is afraid he will smother
her but somehow he doesnt and he comes inside
of her and shes not quite human anymore.
What will their children be? She overhears someone
saying at the wedding.
Yes, what will they be? What are children? They
come in this world in an animal form but soon they'
re trying like the rest of us. Two years after trying
to eat their shit they are turning their nose up at
peas and soon after they are embarrassed by farts
and telling their parents what not to wear to the
mall so they won't be embarrassed. Those balls of
fur and milk suckers.
This wasn't the kind of marriage she had in mind.
The guests were so uncomfortable, trying to think
of appropriate things to say, acting exactly like
every other wedding, but their minds on fire with
gossip, replaying what they would tell their friends
afterwards about This. What she really wanted was
something that happened in the other world. The world,
she hated to admit it, where Goldilocks existed and
Hansel and Gretel. Mostly she wanted to enter the
land of enchantment because it seemed like the place
where she always belonged. She shuts her eyes, she
drops off, she opens the fairytale book and it seems
more real than those realistic stories. She enters
the woods. She is going into the deep to find what
"Why?" They keep asking. "Why?"
they keep thinking, those too polite to ask. Have
you ever, she wonders, walked into the woods and not
wanted to come back, dreamed in your feral, half-animal
state that you could go into the woods, into the trees,
brambles, weeds, sky and damp into animals and cold
and seasons and survive - that there were places in
you that would open to the woods and you would again
be it. That there would be a terrible heaving open
inside of you as you threw off your family and your
house key and that inside you blossomed an unclean
animal all too ready for this other world. The bear
is already there. He lives there naturally, but he
isnt as uncultured as you think. He has raided
cabins and read some Thoreau. He likes poetry. This
is his favorite poem. He recited it to her on their
The moon goes over the water.
How tranquil the sky is!
She goes scything slowly
the old shimmer from the river;
meanwhile a young frog
takes her for a little mirror.
- Frederico Garcia Lorca
He tells her that he never thought he could marry
a human. None of his relatives will come to the wedding.
They have shunned him. They find it sickening really.
"Slaughterers" his father calls humans,
"those who know too little and have too much,"
his mother calls them. The night before the wedding
his mother sneaks to him. "Your father doesnt
know Im coming," she whispers. She hugs
him and licks him. "Its all right she says,
you cant fight your nature. If you love this
human, then you must be with her."
When she told him she wanted to marry him, he was
a bit skeptical. "You know what this will mean?"
he said. "Youll have to come into the woods
and not know people and they will run from you and
maybe theyll shoot you. You wont have
heat and it will be all wild all the time, except
for the annoying humans hiking through with bells
on and then the roads they will inevitably build through
our favorite places: where we met, where we fell in
love, where our first cub was born."
"Yes, she said," I know all of that and
Im ready to give it up. It means so little to
me." It flashes by her all of the time. She feels
the world flashing by all of the time and moving like
rapid film cuts. She keeps cramming one bit of information
in between the others. This other world, she thinks,
is dirty, but stainless.
Marriage is a sacred ceremony generally performed
in white. At the front of the Wesley United Methodist
church, the preacher is rambling on, breaking stride.
She feels something grabbing for her. Brambles have
twisted around her legs, the floor of the church is
opening up and shes being pulled in. As she
disappears into the earth the congregation doesnt
move. They are speechless. The preacher isnt
even looking, his eyes are fixed on a space just above
the stained glass window in the back of the church,
hes saying, "If anyone object, would they
speak now or forever hold their peace." Her mother
wonders what is the correct etiquette in the instance
of bear abduction. Should she return the gifts?