Out of Eden into Eve
I don’t feel bad for destroying a man. I feel bad that the man was my husband. I feel bad that he may never believe that I loved him the way I did. But the knowledge I gained was worth losing the life the world deemed Eden.
In the beginning, God separated the light from the darkness, heavens from the earth, land from the water, and man from woman.
In the bible, the creation story is told two ways in quick succession. In the first version, God crated male and female together in His likeness. “male and female He created them. And God blessed them.” In this first story, there is no forbidden fruit, just a send off to multiply and that “every tree, in which is the fruit of a tree yielding seed; to you it shall be for meat.” But suddenly the story starts again. The world created in the first chapter of Genesis is erased and God begins again with mist and dust and nothingness.
In the second version, the version Western Christianity loves, He creates man and woman days apart, pulling the rib from Adam to generate for him a suitable partner. In the children’s bible where I first heard the story, there was a cartoon image of a white-haired God taking a rib from a muscular Adam, easier to draw than “in the image of God he created them.”
Eve grows miraculously and suddenly becomes something to behold, something independent of Adam, something fully capable of tempting and being tempted.
It is after this creation story that the game of the garden begins.
Knowledge for a woman is always venomous. In almost every instance the first taste of knowledge will damn near kill her. For some, the first taste is too dangerous to even fathom, too dangerous to let waft in their kitchens on lonely Sunday nights. For some, the smell reminds them of trauma, of lack, of brokenness. It reminds them of old wounds from friendly fire of fathers and mothers, of death that derails dreams, of engrained evil they are unable to categorize. They hear the slither of the snake and shutter because they feel the ache in an old broken bone.
For others, this tickle of temptation carries no significance at all; it is a detached chill of the forbidden. To avoid enjoying this too much, they fill the air with the scent of foods their husbands like, with music played too loud, with wine on which they spend way too little, and later with babies that might numb the urge toward the forbidden entirely.
But there is a seed of fire lodged deep into every woman’s sternum, a tickling to ask like an old burr in their feathers, an ache to taste the sweetness of the apple.
For the women who can’t put this down, who can’t turn the music up high enough to drown out the beat of their heart, who cant accept the seed of their spouse to start the family they were told to dream of, the apple is there.
As an afterthought to Adam, God didn’t bother telling Eve the rules of the game of the garden. I always imagined Adam beholding Eve, speaking the first lines of poetry written in the bible (“bone of my bone, flesh of my flesh”), and then telling her what he thought she needed to know: you can do anything but that. And that should have been enough. She was created from his bone, from his flesh. Created as his helper. Created obedient.
I once asked in a bible class if we were sure that Adam told Eve the rules of this game. At twelve, it bothered me that Eve would so stupidly walk into the trap set by the snake. She could see it coming from a mile away. My teacher assured me that, yes, the Catholic church is sure that Eve sinned knowingly. The church’s definition of sin relied on knowingly sinning. But I already knew women are more careful than that. The kind of careful that makes a note of a license plate of a slow moving car. The kind of careful that begged me to wear a bra for my barely visible buds. The kind of careful that runs worst-case scenarios and chuckles along with the jokes about being a worrier.
In the bible I’d only heard a short sales pitch from the serpent. It wasn’t this half-hearted tempting that made Eve reckless; there must have been times before.
I imagined that long before she ate the apple, the snake wizened her to a world outside the garden. Long before the temptation, Eve’s eyes must have already adjusted to the darkness to the Lord’s light. She must have seen the pure matter that God had deemed nothing. She must have put her hands on it, smelled its noxious scent, tasted its bitterness, heard its electric crackle. When she did not die as promised, she must have squeezed it through her fingers, found the sweet in the smell, danced to the rhythm of the snaps, acquired a taste for the tart.
Her mistake wasn’t the knowing good from evil. It was bringing Adam to the tree. Her knowledge was for her only, like the mysteries of periods and orgasms and birth. Adam wasn’t made to bear this kind of knowledge. He lacked the ability that Eve had to create as God created, to understand as God understood.
She may have destroyed the first man but she was wizened now. She needed to be modest, she needed to repent, she needed to don the shroud of shame to save Adam the sacrifice of being the first sinner. She could bear that kind of weight. She had the hips for it.
When I took my first bite, I spit it back out. It was bitter enough to barf and I had every reason to quit the poison before it spread and destroyed my entire life. I’d been teaching for a year, working like a dog taking care of other people’s children. I was praised loudly and frequently for the work I did, for the care I poured into my class, for the sacrifices I made to do what I imagined I always wanted to do. But then the summer came.
I spent long days away from the praise. Lonely days where I missed the challenge the small school has posed. The quiet of my neighborhood startled me. I tried to settle into the silence. Tried to tell myself that this was the life I’d wanted. Tried to believe the implicit reassurances that I’d done everything right. But I was empty and began to dream.
I dreamed that I met Eve in the garden. She silently lead me to the tree. She plucked the apple and handed it to me. As I bit, her feminine shape turned serpentine. I spit the bite back at the snake that was once Eve.
I went back to school. I care for and invested in other people’s children. I was observed and praised for the patience I had. I was satisfied until another summer came.
This time the seed of Eve had grown nourished by the venom I’d allowed to seep in from the nasty bite. It budded into a single idea. I wanted to write.
I turned to what I knew: the anemic academics that coddled my creativity through college with research and form. I presented at a conference, reading from my paper whose title contained a foreign word, a colon, and a quote. I listened to papers about zombies and Jane Austen and tried to mix with the scores of scholars like myself. I thought I would leave feeling satisfied. Instead I went home hungrier.
School began once more. This time I had more than errant praise; I had respect. From my students, from my peers, from the very teachers who taught me in school. I was a decision maker. I changed curriculum. I created new ways to teach. I changed students’ lives for the better.
But the dreams continued.
In the dreams, I had become Eve. I saw the serpent long before the apple. It showed me the darkness to the Lord’s light, the matter that God had deemed nothing. I put my hands on it and finally saw it with my own eyes.
Instead of spending my time pouring through textbooks and best-practice manuals, as I had the years before, I began to read Alice Walker, Clarissa Pinkola Estes, Flannery O’Conner. Their prose sang praise of the poison I’d tried to avoid. Their women sought knowledge, lost everything, and found themselves. They took the hypocrisy of their lives and stepped to the side, to another plane I had no idea existed
The ache to know was now as constant as the beating of my heart. At times it pushed me to the ground, unable to move through the motions of a domestic life. Other times it strengthened my spine, it shouted at those that threatened to take more of me. Still others it dreamed of lovers who would satisfy. For every iteration one thing remained the same: it was pointless. The small Texas town that I called home assured me that if I ever tried to act on this feeling I’d be exiled, that my hometown would be guarded by an angel with a flaming sword to shame me, that my Eden would never be the same.
Inspired by His creation work and fueled by righteous anger, God decreed that Eve’s insides would be destroyed, her womb used as His workshop for new generations, and her core only tidied up enough to do it again.
As daughters of Eve, women bear on their bodies the unfortunate legacy of this first woman, the first temptress, the first sinner. There is a kind of chronic pain that emanates from the sore spot between our legs lest we forget that Eve’s punishment for her sin was to carry the entire earth inside of her.
But the real punishment was kitting knowledge to the nothingness. The more a woman knows about her self, about her world, about God, the more she ought to be ashamed, the more she feels like she has nothing.
Made the decision to my teaching job and pack up the rest of my life to move to the city. I got rid of as much as I could to make my load lighter, to make my new life free from any weight. But I’d made one error.
Before we moved, my husband and I found our Eden rotting before our eyes. The first few years of our marriage were filled with days of exploring the lush landscape of each other. Every day there was a corner of me I realized he hadn’t seen. I’d lead him to this flowering tree or that climbing vine. He’d marvel at their colors. He’d kiss my forehead and tell me that these worlds I’d imagined were paradise.
But one day I lead him to a plant that had withered without me knowing. It had grown in on itself, it’s fruit had turned bitter, it offered a fraction of the shade I remembered. He watched as I watered the ground around it with my tears. I was ashamed and angry. I’d lead him too far into the interior of my self, too far into places I hadn’t charted on my own. He sympathized but he did not know. And a darkness spread.
Soon the parts we’d visited often began to brown and decay. There were minefields of molded apples of past hurts. There were days where we tried to find our way back to the safety of the green. We’d decided maybe another Eden a thousand miles away would fix what was broken in our marriage.
But even in the new city, the dreams began again.
This time I wasn’t Eve, I was God. I watched as Eve snuck away from Adam to roam and explore, to poke and taste. She walked through the darkness and came out alive. Even when I was sure the snake would bite her, she remained unscathed.
In the dream, I scoop down to hold Eve in the palm of my hand. I protect her from hearing Adam call her back to Eden. In the dream, I knew that there was much more to this earth than light.
I should have left my husband as soon as I knew. But dreams are always abstract and the feeling in my gut was easily ignored with work and wine.
We argued and cried and negotiated and prayed and ignored.
Then, I ate the apple.
I didn’t come home one night. I’d found another man to promise me his rib. His bed was unlike the known comfort of my shared one. His touch was different than the knowing touch of my husband. But I stayed and did not die. When I returned to my husband, I was outwardly ashamed, but I knew what I’d done.
I moved out in the middle of winter. There was a pain between my legs like nothing I’d ever felt before. I took a foul tasting vitamin to reduce the swelling of a gland I’d never heard of. I let myself sleep through whole days. I slept through the voices telling me to run back and repent. I knew I was in the wrong, but I was in good company. After all, I wasn’t the first woman to destroy a man.
I journaled. I rested. I prayed. I healed. I learned.
I met my husband for a drink a month ago. This was the third or fourth time we’ve met since I left. Each time he seems less like a man destroyed and more like just a man. I am reminded that even after all Eve did, Adam did not die either.
The world looks different outside of Eden. Darker, yes, but also vibrantly colorful.