Below is another Time Now adaptation of a myth found in Ovid’s Metamorphosis. This one’s based on the “Jupiter, Juno, and Io” legend, in which Jupiter seduces Io, a young woman, and then turns her into a cow to conceal his crime from his wife Juno. That’s not quite how my story goes, but I was intrigued by the myth’s notion of how humans and animals might communicate. My interest in the myth also has two other sources, one military and one literary: First, many long hours pulling guard duty in the field in Korea and the United States and on deployments to the Sinai, Kosovo, and Afghanistan. Second, a chapter in Matt Gallagher’s memoir Kaboom titled “Dear John,” in which he writes of the devastating effect on his soldiers of learning that their wives and girlfriends had not been faithful. “Dear Johns crushed men of otherwise unquestionable strength and total resoluteness,” Gallagher reports. “In the time they most needed something right and theirs, it was taken away from them.” My story doesn’t involve a “Dear John” act of betrayal, but close enough.
Junior’s big idea was that pets and domesticated animals were really dead people reincarnated. The thought began as one of a million idle ideas that came to him while pulling guard duty in a tower on his small FOB in Afghanistan. Nothing ever happened on the two-hour shifts, so his mind, racing on dip and Monster drink, had plenty of time to drift. This idea stuck more than most, however, and soon he found himself preoccupied by it. No longer alive as living men or women, household and barnyard animals possessed human-like minds capable of thought, love, and purposeful action. Unable to speak or write, they nonetheless had brains like humans and so they preferred life in proximity to people, especially people they once knew and had loved when they too had been human.
Thus the affection. Thus the loyalty. Thus sad looks begot by eternal misunderstanding and incomprehension.
To Junior the theory made great sense and he couldn’t understand why other people hadn’t already figured it out. Couldn’t they understand why their pets stared at them so? Or curled up at their feet? Why horses and cows were so docile? Why they didn’t lash out at their owners and run away at the first opportunity?
When Junior explained his idea to his girlfriend Io via Skype, she thought he was crazy, and not in a funny, charming way. In fact, it was close to the final straw. She had been disappointed with Junior for some time, and now this. She had already been thinking about breaking things off, but really hadn’t had a good reason to do so except that he no longer thrilled her and she was ready to move on. The deployment had made things worse for them, not better, and she was now impatient about being Junior’s girlfriend.
If Junior ever said this crazy idea out loud in public to any of their friends, that was definitely it. It was bad enough that he asked her to take it seriously. It wasn’t clever. It wasn’t smart. It was just dumb.
Within the week, Io dumped Junior via instant message. Dumping him by IM didn’t make her proud, but she was too irritated to write a letter and she damn sure wasn’t going to tell him over the phone and listen to him plead and moan.
“I need to end things,” she had written, “You’ve changed, and I need space.” Then she blocked him on Facebook and refused to answer any of his emails.
Stunned by Io’s rejection, as well as by awareness of how badly he had blown things, Junior stumbled about camp in a daze. For a week he was useless, and then he turned back to the demands of the mission with a rigor that had not been there before. When his unit returned to the States, he couldn’t completely remove herself from Io’s orbit of friends and venues, but she flat out refused to talk to him, at least in any way that was personal or heartfelt or came near offering an explanation for her actions or giving him a chance to ask for a second chance. She still wouldn’t answer his texts or emails or chat requests, and she definitely didn’t let him be alone with her anywhere.
Desperate to be in her presence, Junior contrived ways to run into Io in person. But when chances came to speak with her, Io offered only pleasantries and generalities. In terms of allowing Junior access to her thoughts or feelings, nothing. After a while, she cut him off completely and would pass by him stone-faced without making eye contact.
Io’s actions caused Junior to reconsider his theory about reincarnation and animals. He decided that people who weren’t open but guarded like Io had become were like the animals he once had thought were so fond of humans. Instead of being full of affection and yearning, though, he now thought they had no interior life whatsoever and were mostly just there. If they didn’t share, or wouldn’t share, that was precisely what it meant to be non-human. And there was no possibility for restoration, either—nothing was going to make an animal talk and nothing was going to make Io like Junior again. It was clear beyond question that wasn’t going to happen.
Junior realized all this with certainty one evening when he found himself at an off-post bar and Io walked in. She was gorgeous, her face glowing and her shining hair splayed across her shoulders. Io was with girlfriends, not another guy, so Junior approached, hoping against hope for a friendly conversation. He said hello, and then a few other things, but Io just stood there placidly. In the middle of one of Junior’s sentences, she looked over his shoulder to say hi to someone, and a smile broke out on her face and her eyes once more danced. Then she turned her attention, dull and flat, back to Junior, and Junior stammered on, trying to be pleasant and unconcerned. As he stood there talking, though, Io began to grow fuzzy in detail and rubbery in shape. At first Junior couldn’t tell why his vision was distorted—was it him or was it her? Within seconds, though, he realized Io was no longer even human. She still stood in front of Junior, not now a person but a cow, four legs and hooves and big round eyes, standing silent, gone forever.