Switching

Memory lane has more bends and double-backs now that I’m almost fifty-five. Today’s meandering walk began unexpectedly, as most of these trips do. While hip pain has put a dent in my dancing routine, I’m still swaying; determined to go with the flow of life rather than drowning in a what amounts to a puddle.

Thinking about these hips, I remembered a seasonal friend named Leonard, who helped me make more money as a waitress. I say “seasonal” only because we lost touch when he stopped working at the restaurant where we met, a natural fate of most coworker friends from my 20’s. Leonard bussed my tables within seconds of customers leaving because 1. I tipped him well, and 2. We were friends. How he helped me most is by advising me to swing my hips when I walked through the restaurant; apparently I had a complete absence of this feminine wile (sorely lacking in this generally, to be honest). I remember laughing hard, likely because we’d smoked a joint, and responding how I’d have gotten in trouble for “switching” if I’d done that as a young person. Such overt manipulation seemed nasty to me, until Leonard told me I was leaving money on the table; men watched me anyway. I love blunt people, as I often miss subtlety.

My mother is very no-nonsense and as far as one can get from a femme-fatale. She taught me faith, resiliency and work ethic, values I hold most dear. Now my aunts, on the other hand, they switched their hips naturally, each of them sexy and feminine in different ways. I saw one as a nurturer in tank tops and short shorts rooting for the Steelers very loudly and being funny, easy to laugh and give out love, while another had a powder poof on her dresser I thought was magical, wore flowing caftans, and had beads in the doorway to her music room. Another had a smile bright as the sun and made me feel special every time she turned it on me, her walk in heels the epitome of womanhood in the 1970’s, and another who asked me if I was hungry every single time I walked through her front door and ushered me to her kitchen for at least some koolaid, maybe a secret cookie, and a probing question or two about girl stuff.

So, I channeled my aunts and practiced switching slightly, Leonard often reminding me during shifts. My tips increased with a few customers, and every cent helped us, my delighter and I. One of my regulars gifted me a black silk tie for my uniform, although I’m unsure if that was because I started switching, but it happened not long after I adopted it. Fortunately, I was paid an hourly rate at my next job, but I never forgot Leonard’s advice because it felt like overhearing guys in a locker room.

Then I meandered further, and remembered dancing as a teenager and how I swung my hips for hours on end, gyrating to Prince, Madonna, Adam Ant and Bobby Brown. Of course, that made me pull up “Every Little Step I Take” on YouTube, the first cords encouraging muscle memory and dancing with Bobby and his crew. Stopped for a second to remind myself not to do those criss-cross moves fast enough to trip over my feet, but had a good laugh wrapped up in good times. Funny thing is-my hip feels better.

Expiry

We were all valuable according to a bright choir of assurances along Directorate Pathway #5. Oxygen converters planted every half meter pumped out relative affirmations intended to keep travelers’ headspace positive and productive. “Laws of Greater Good insure our survival” I repeated in my “for the record” smiling tone, while my gut pitched in a grief, anxiety and repressed anger soup. In my newish sun goggles, still snug with zero leakage, I tilted my head, stuck my eyes on a windowless brick tower, and prayed my tension wasn’t observable to Oversight.

“3 Month Extension” a transparently thin slip of bamboo with her name and new expiration date spit out the holographic lips of Appeals Agent #47. A miniscule neon oval recorded my reaction for my permanent profile. “All decisions are final. Promptly exit Expiry Appeals Tower #3 along the green line and have a positive and productive day”. Its serrated mechanical arm rose from the wall next to me, pointed and tapped on the line. I’d entered maybe 10 minutes before and they didn’t give me an opportunity to plead as I’d rehearsed. Glossy purple toes my little sisters painted 3 days ago stuck out of size 10 wraps, which seemed glued to the floor. We needed more time. Perhaps naively, I’d hoped we would receive one of those 20-year extensions I’d heard about more than once in the past week. They probably didn’t even exist, my mind raged now. “Do you require assistance to exit?” Agent #47 tapped again, this time leaving a smear on the top of my wrap.   

“No”, I spat, then added, “thanks” for the record. My legs finally moved, their green line taunting me. As I pushed out the door, I envisioned the 5 of us laid out under a neon dancing tree canopy, mesmerized by whispering leaves and tiny, yet noisily chittering, birds who dove at one another as if playing. My step-father Ghistar taught us about finches. Our family spent as much time as they could afford in the protected areas since they’d partnered five years ago and moved into the grower community, a step up from the recycler community.

“Lithia! Wait up, Lithia!” Henny’s arms enveloped me before she’d fully stopped running and threw me a little off balance as I stopped. Normally, we would’ve laughed at our clumsiness. Instead, I sobbed into her shoulder, the rough hemp uniform scraping my cheeks and nose, her shaking body a confirmation she knew the outcome. “Ok, let’s get to my place so you can collect yourself before going home to tell everyone”, Henny’s words rang with clear pronunciation of each word.  Although I could tell it hurt, she pushed me away and wiped my face with her sleeve, uncaring of snot smears. “Stop crying”. People jogged a bit to distance themselves from us. Recorded distress could result in a series of supervisory visits from Safety Officers, and debits. Henny’s unit was second from one end of grower units, and easy to slip into unnoticed during the day while growers worked and most kids trained.

Inside she raced to her room for a hat, while I admired a holographic image of Henny’s lineage all the way back to her great-great grandfather, Mach Lipnee, in 2072. He and his wife had five branches, and each of those had at least three. Large thriving families a Lipnee source of pride, Henny was one of five. I imagined them all perched on the expansive padded bench made of bleached driftwood and dense navy canvas, a sizeable table of real wood set in front of it. In this scene of mine, Eutechia, Henny’s stout mother, her knee-length braid the color of tilled earth coiled on top of her head, brought a bamboo platter of steaming vegetable hash to the rowdy crowd from her all-green galley kitchen splayed against the opposite wall. Not for the first time, the colors brought growing fields, sandy beaches and deep lakes to mind, and tickled a recollection within me. Henny returned with a forced smile. “Here, you can give it back later. Don’t argue, just let me. I still can’t believe Ghistar expired.” She stuck her favorite cowboy hat with ties on me and it popped up from my unruly crown of curls, turned copper by intense sunshine and my hatred of hats. “Here’s a Simplifier. You’re gonna need it, I’m telling you”, she pushed a tiny cup at me while I shook my head. “When you face your Mom and tell her she’s only gotten a bit of an extension, you’re gonna break down, Lithia, you know you will. Then everyone is gonna lose it because you never get upset. That’s why she sent you”.

“You’re right”, I relented. “Such a good friend, always looking out for me. If I didn’t have you…”, my throat closed on me then. “I love you”, I managed, gulped the Simplifier and rushed out the door.

There’d only be three of us if Mom expired in five months, only me and my little sisters. How could I meet the daily, monthly and yearly requirements of the grower community? “Damn it”, I muttered to myself. We’d end up in a community my mother had worked so hard to pull us out of, a harder community my little sisters didn’t remember and weren’t prepared for even a little bit.  My own beatings flashed across my mind, as did feelings of vindication when my fist drew Ninbur Sokolov’s blood.

Dr. V plucked me off my track of spiraling despair when he noisily settled on his porch in a reclining wooden chair he made from a dying hardwood, and yelled out, “Hi, Lithia! It’s a beautiful day, isn’t it?”

All your days are beautiful, Old Man. “Been a little hard, Dr. V, but you’re right,” I looked around us at the neatly kept gardens in front of tidy home units. A toddler laughed across the way as his mother played peek-a-boo. “In the grower community it’s always a beautiful day, even when it storms. Not sure, though, if we’ll be able to stay, ya know, with Ghistar’s expiration”. I wasn’t sure why I said it to him, perhaps his age made me comfortable enough to announce my fear despite the Simplifier.  Maybe it was how everyone kept their distance from us over the past week, even at community meals. Dr. V took a sip of whatever was hot in his cup, both hands almost entirely white from sun damage, and stayed silent behind his sun shades. Mother and I worked from dawn to sunset over the past week, weeding, planting, and picking. Our household’s weekly credits were halved with Ghistar’s absence.

“When do you finish training?” Always the professor.

“With extra time in the fields and studying every weekend, I can finish in a year”. “Grower training is a two year course so you can incorporate the wisdom of changing seasons. You’re gifted for a 2nd generation grower, thanks to your mother.” Dr. V was a professor of agriculture and natural science, a role he seldom relinquished. “The plants and trees have an energy I can’t explain, especially when they are fruiting.  Ghistar wanted me to take the planning qualification course, but now…” I looked up at gathering clouds and ordered my tears to fall back into my skull.

“You make your own fate, your own legacy, Lithia. Ghistar is a loss to our entire community, as you can appreciate. We will all have to adjust, especially your family.” He said it as if it was not only obvious, but already a done deal. If I could just finish my training everything else would fall into place; not places I’d dreamed of, but places my sisters and I had a chance without having to resort to crime. When my father was alive and my mother in grower training as well as her recycler job, he withheld food so I’d be hungry enough to steal packets of noodles. He said he began his career of taking at six, too. Still love those noodles.

“I don’t know about fate, Dr. V, but I can try. Do you think I could borrow your bike for a little bit? ” I’d grown more bold than ever in the hour since I left Expiry Appeals Tower #3 with my mother’s piddly 3 month extension.

He hesitated, then nodded, as if pleased. “Only if you tell me how long they extended Calliandra’s expiration. Promise not to tell a soul.” He held up his pinky for some odd reason.

Paz’s family lived in a coveted end unit in the recycler community, although none of them performed the hard and dirty work of recycling. Instead, they sold time. For generations, people from every community bought illegal extensions from the Sokolov family while the government, in return, held them in esteem. The scarce naïve complainer simply expired. Ghistar warned me about them, “They’ll use their lab-created physique to lure you in like a thirsty doe to their pool of short cuts for status, for a better unit, for training, for kids.”

Ninbur Sokolov, my only childhood enemy, flung open the door before I could jangle the bells, all six feet of him grinning, gangly and golden. I’d partner with him if he’d agree to wear a fine white shirt identical to the one he currently sported, rolled at the sleeves, casually unbuttoned, daily. My smile and appreciative stare encouraged him.

“I thought you’d never agree when father told me about Ghistar and your Mom. Who would’ve thought when I was pounding you bloody we’d end up partnered!” He noticed the look on my face, thankfully. “Aww… what a blockhead hello after all this time. Sorry, Lithia. I can do better. You’ll see.” He took my hand and excitedly gave it a squeeze then instantly let it drop when he felt my tremor.

 “Don’t get ahead of yourself, Son!” came a bellow from Paz as he advanced down the hallway with a tap-tap and loud exhalations. The bald “Maestro of Time”, as he referred to himself, had grown wider in the years since Lithia’s family moved, and he’d acquired a cane. His eye shades hinted at day blindness, a common malady in humans who didn’t expire at an average of fifty years. Nin wouldn’t have that issue. Their impressive family lineage holo shone above the arch where he paused, a massive tree with too many branches to count quickly. It doesn’t matter, I reminded myself as I appreciated a forest holo running the entire length of what could only be a Great Room, with a simulated blue sky above us.

In the middle of a sea of unknowns, I prayed for Ghistar’s guidance. Although I couldn’t fathom why Nin liked me now, I was thrilled he didn’t greet me with an insult, or worse-a slap or shove. “Nin, maybe we can start over, now that we’ve grown up and can express our… feelings differently?” I purposely moved closer and looked up at him with wide-eyed innocence, instinctively sure of his attraction. His eyes widened for a second in confirmation.

“You young people! I swear you’re gonna combust!” Paz guffawed, hugely amused by himself. “I know, I know. I was young and full of fire, too, once upon a time.” Quick as a wink, his mirth vanished as he warned, “This is a legally binding contract you are negotiating with one another, with my oversight, of course. As you know, it ain’t standard for folks your age to partner.”

Still looking up at Nin, I began negotiations. “I want ten years for Calliandra Daire in exchange for my partnership with Ninbur”.

“Come. Sit.” Paz lowered his girth into an immense wing-backed chair before a welded round table ten feet across. He slowly rested his cane against one arm and took in my shadow of unruly curls. “You don’t look all that strong for a grower.” As if he could see me.

“Dad. Stop.” Nin’s jaw squared, a good sign.

“There’ll be time for courting, Son. Right now let’s stick to reality, as harsh and ugly as it is.”

His purpose clear to me, I responded, “People often underestimate me, Mr. Sokolov.” A smaller wingback chair located directly across from him called my name. “Will you sit next to me, Nin? I’m so nervous.” May as well admit it and wring some benefit from my obvious terror. I angled my body toward Nin and slightly away from his father after we sat, the latter predictably pouting.

Ghistar’s voice rang in my head, “What 19-year-old wouldn’t be afraid? Only a foolish one.” Ghistar also taught me the crucial strategy of right timing.

“Who would’ve thought when Calliandra and Ghistar ascended to the grower community, his recycler blood would expire him decades early? His brother Myser cost him everything after ALL the years he labored and trained, ALL that wasted time. Such a shame.” He rubbed his hands together and smiled at me in contradiction to his words. “This hand-crafted paper of lily stalks, rose petals and iris stalks has served for all of my children’s partnership contracts, but none bring me as much joy as this union between you, Lithia Daire, and my youngest son, Ninbur. Of course, we will begin with a priceless gift of 7 years of life as an extension for your mother in exchange for your lifetime partner oath to Ninbur Sokolov. He wrote my name with a quill he dipped in purple dye and the words, “in exchange” before I stopped him.

“No. I bring more than 30 years and a healthy bloodline. 15 years seems fair, now that I reason it out.”

Paz’s glare made me look at Nin, who once again took one of my hands in his. “Ten it is. The Partnership celebration will take place in January so we can have a day ceremony.”

“Wait! This January? Give me just a sec.” I counted on my fingers; only five months from now. Nin squeezed my other hand in his. “Is January ok with you? Will you be ready? I mean, damn Nin, this is the rest of our lives. If you need more time to, ya know…”

He appeared to seriously consider pledging his life to me in just five months’ time. “Yeah, I know. Listen, Lithia. To be honest, I’ve sampled women from every community to the point that sex with a stranger is just tedious. Let everyone think we’re too young, but I know I want to be partnered to you, only you.” His eyes were honest.

“Nin, I can’t say that I’ve sampled anyone, but to be honest, I did kiss a couple people after I practiced on our home bot.” He smiled then.  “Would February be ok with you? It may sound silly, but I feel like 6 months will be easier for my family to accept.”

“February is perfect, Lithia.” He leaned over and kissed me softly, to my surprise. “Please indicate the month and year and we will decide on the day after we discuss it alone, Father.” Nin addressed Paz while he held my gaze. Butterflies fluttered in my belly as I felt his intention and admired his nerve. To say Paz dominated the space was an understatement, but Nin held an air of independence without being disrespectful.

Stop it, fool, I admonished myself. “I hope everything flows this easy, Nin. I think the next point is children. We’re going to make the most beautiful legacy, Mr. Sokolov. I hope to present your first grandchild from Nin within a year of earning my grower cert.” They both studied me intently while I let it hang in the air.

Ghistar told me once, “People don’t need to know what you know, nor what you don’t know. Don’t get caught up with showing off because we’re never as bright as we think.”

“Lithia, you know from my blonde hair and gold skin I was a lab baby, right?” He looked so vulnerable I almost felt badly, but this was for life.

“You can still make babies, though. Of course, I knew”.

Paz appeared uncomfortable as he shifted his weight and struggled for words. “Well, the thing with lab babies is they have to marry a live-birthed human. It’s the law, you know.” I nodded. “It’s also the law that they can’t reproduce more than two humans, despite there being no proof of any abnormalities in their offspring. If you think about it, two allows you to pour into them and not be overwhelmed with work and mothering.”

“Oh. I didn’t realize.” My silence spoke disappointment better than any words could, a trick I’d learned from my mother. “I’d like us to live in the grower community, then.” The sheer anger on their faces made it hard, but I kept on, “We can come visit often, but I want our children to live where people are kinder and less stressed by their work, where “positive and productive” is a real attitude, not just a joke. We will be the first Sokolovs to live in the grower community.” I looked at Nin and he appeared to consider my proposal.

“Father, I won’t become a grower, if that’s what you’re worried about”, he chuckled, “and I like the idea of getting a new start, maybe moving us all up one day.”

The wind kissed my face as I pedaled as fast as possible to deliver my news. It would be ok, maybe. There was so much I needed to talk to Henny about, but first I had to tell my mother she had a ten-year and three-month extension.

“There you are, Lithia. Where did you go? We have company and the best news”, my mother stammered a bit on the last line. What was he doing here? “Dr. V, I mean Ivan, has gifted me ten years in trade for partnering with him. We just signed the contract. Isn’t it wonderful? Now you can finish and get that extra qualification.”

Chances Are

A New, Yet Familiar 2023

I want to believe in positive change, in a better year than last, an easier, graceful year. Wouldn’t mind a fairly “boring” year, I tell myself, anyway. Meditation, writing, research rabbit-holes, art, and lots of music are my simple blessings, along with my loves. I refocus a couple of times a day on building stories, managing my sometimes dicey health with too many strategies to count, surrendering a lot of empathy and sympathy for friends and strangers to Universal Love, and reviving optimism and humor. This feels habitual now. From what I’ve learned, chances are my same ol’ baggage will be with me at the end of the year, maybe a bit lighter. Chances are I will apologize less and love myself more by N.Y.’s Eve, too. Chances are I’ve healed the past… unless my secretive psyche surprises me.

Chances are the stories I have to tell are different this year, and hopefully get better with consistency. I will read interesting and well-written books, and more of them than last year since it is a highlight. This year will be different than last, chances are.

Alt Journey-Creature

Part 11

Flower of Life

“We are fashioned creatures, but half made-up” ~ Victor Frankenstein, Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus, by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley

Originally, Frankenstein seemed an easy essay to knock out due to it’s familiarity, Phoebe insisted in her second session with Dr. Pressman since her discharge a week ago. “But it was Shana, not YOU, who was familiar with Mary Shelley’s work. I think it would be productive for us to focus on your enmeshment with Shana so you can move on and successfully finish university. This essay is as good a place to start as any. I’d like you to further make it yours by writing it in your space in the apartment, not you and Shana’s shared space, but yours alone. Do you think you can do that?” As always, Dinah Pressman’s tone remained even and confident, as if no one had ever told her, “No, I will not.” Phoebe would not be the first. Although it had been Shana in their senior year of high school who crafted her first “A” paper, the friends had discussed both the Creature’s and Victor’s motivations and torments at length, to the point of arguing. Only a few years later, death, alchemy, and the nature of the creature weaved a tale beyond imagining in Phoebe’s mind. Kaz’s whispered comparisons between her and Victor, Shana and the Creature, made her question her friendship and true feelings. Was she mindlessly motivated by a savior complex? Shana had saved her many times, and at other times they’d leaned on one another, like when they touched on their grief. Was she “enmeshed”, and where was the line between love and this handicap? “I’ll try. It’s an open loft, ya know? I usually wander around, look out the windows by Shana’s bed ever so often; helps me think.” “No need to be a purist, Phoebe”. “Trust me, Dr. Pressman. I want to get away from everything that reminds me of her, but it’s impossible. Maybe it would help if I start packing up a few of her things this weekend”. Or maybe she’d ask Doyle to do it, but she kept that thought to herself. The psychiatrist looked at her with kindness, but Phoebe didn’t sense pity like she did when they met in Resting Pines. She decided to take it as a good sign despite the doctor’s misunderstanding. She’d never needed Shana for school, but for writing projects they’d excelled by teaming. As her mother used to say, “what one doesn’t think of, the other will”. Shana usually said Phoebe overthought it, just as she currently did. If Mary Shelley could imagine such a psychologically complex tale, surely Phoebe could write an aspirational final essay without Shana’s input. “I’ll see you back here on Friday and you can let me know how it went. From what you’ve told me, I don’t expect any surprises from Mr. Regan’s progress report this week. I’m happy to hear the nightmares have resolved, but don’t be concerned if you have them until your mind is more settled about your new reality.” Phoebe couldn’t tell the doctor about the pain of being eaten alive or what it felt like as she slithered on her snake belly across the bottom of a lake, and certainly not about her recent journeys to unimaginably exquisite or horrifying spaces, nor angelically-guided reunions with Shana’s essence. Her secret existences were still better than her reality. Phoebe felt as if she hauled around a leaden head and heart, despite lighting a candle for Shana every day in a campus chapel. But, disturbed as she was, she still could not imagine how Shana felt in her last moments, couldn’t fathom what lies ran through her friend’s head, but she began to imagine.

Tchaichovsky’s Waltz of the Flowers played vibrantly from her dented and taped boom box and instantly grated on her nerves. Coke cans and Oreo crumbs littered her mother’s silver-flecked formica dining table; what Phoebe recognized as pages-thick advanced chemistry exams along with his rumpled test key covered stains, and by association-memories. Of course he’d set up right where she and Shana normally studied the most. Phoebe tossed a can into the kitchen sink, then another with satisfaction. He’d be up most of the night if he planned on finishing, she thought and heard the shower’s signature pipe rumble as if in agreement. “I’m ordering pizza!”, she yelled through the frosted pane of the bathroom door and stood transfixed as he turned the water off and stepped easily out of the tub. He knows damn well I can see him. Doyle stretched a towel between his hands and slowly sawed it back and forth on his backside. “Russo’s? Will you get onions and mushrooms on half? Sorry about the music, didn’t think you’d be home for a while yet”, he called. Barone’s was right around the corner, but Phoebe thought she could be a little flexible this once. She turned the music off with a shake of her head. Who, other than Shana, listened to The Nutcracker in May? “Please bring a 2-liter of Coke, too” she told the chill voice on the phone. Loose sweat pants and a high school track sweatshirt fraying at the cuffs and neck signaled a trickle of inspirational flow in her mind, the issue of Victor’s responsibility to his creation tugged at a thread of an idea, but it broke, again. Essays required her flavor, but for an “A” they required fresh blood, a profound realization. Professors got off on student’s epiphanies, the more vulnerable the better, unless it crossed into uncomfortable territory and kept going, as she’d mistakenly done only once. Did she have a responsibility to Shana? If so, she’d failed entirely. Phoebe caught her light blue eyes at the moment they turned golden in a star-shaped mirror swinging on a strand of wooden beads in a breeze from nowhere. Shana had held her steady on a wobbly barstool when she hung the mirror, her Christmas gift, from a rusty nail head. She’d called her a star, her very own true north. Am I a monster? Phoebe remembered waves of possessiveness and rejection she was ashamed of when Shana started dating Doyle, similar to the creature’s envy when he spied Dr. Frankenstein with his new wife through the window, the two happy and laughing with no care for him. Her stomach growled in time with a single hard knock. A couple notes to help her pick up this thread of self-reproach and, simultaneously, restrict her personal revelations on the page. Her eyes changed more often when Doyle was near, the only “trigger” she’d figured out, so far. Phoebe stuck her head out from behind a paneled screen painted with golden and bronze wild mustangs in full gallop and smiled at the delivery person before she stuck her tongue out at Doyle’s back. Although they’d settled quickly into a routine, both taking refuge in their schedules, she hated him living here, in her and Shana’s loft. It was perverse, but she reminded herself it was temporary several times a day. Clearly unamused, the pony-tailed teen rolled her eyes at Phoebe then smiled extra wide when Doyle handed her a five. “Have a good one, Dude”, he said distractedly as he flung the door closed and she was forced to step back. At least he was also pressured by finals. “Put it over there on the coffee table”. Phoebe waved at Doyle with a pack of doubly thick paper plates he’d bought when he got her cheerios, bananas and milk before her discharge, his first act as her “guardian”. He’d confessed he hated washing dishes, to which Phoebe gave him no reply. After a couple days, he’d mostly given up talking to her, except when he woke her from night terrors. Phoebe was lost in thought when he cleared his throat. “You can run it past me if you want, your essay. I’ve got a load of papers to correct, but I can’t go back to that right now. I’ll have just as many after tomorrow morning’s exam. Please. You’d be doing me a favor, which might work against me, but if it would help… up to you”, he ended with a shrug. Emotionless, she stared through Doyle, as she’d done dozens of times over the past two weeks. When she looked at him she always thought the same thing, but if she killed him, she’d never write the essay, never receive a final grade for the single class she didn’t drop. Desperate for another viewpoint, she reconsidered her tact and surprised him. “Any thoughts on Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein? I’m thinking about the doctor’s responsibility to the creature, to his creation” Phoebe wrestled a piece of pizza crust with her back teeth as she forced her eyes to focus on the man who might be responsible for her best friend’s death. “One of the saddest books ever. God, I hated the end. Lemme think. Oh yeah, freshman paper on Mary and Percy toward the end of the semester, so depressing. I cast him as a predatory type and her as a literary genius. Don’t some people believe they were cursed? I think a lot of my classmates took that angle.” He wasn’t an English major, Phoebe reminded herself, but he thought in an orderly, and linear fashion, suited for science. “Yeah, I don’t give a shit about Percy. This essay is about Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus, in other words-the subtitle’s inference” Phoebe watched Doyle turn Prometheus over in his mind, his hooded eyes slanted away from her and to the ceiling, brows flattened. “Well… what do you have so far? You’re saying Prometheus or Frankenstein’s ambition is the crux your thesis? I can’t remember how he… wait, ok, he was chained and pecked to death by a bird every day, a punishment from Zeus, right? How does that fit?” Phoebe let the question hang in the air for a moment as if she considered what he’d said, when in actuality she pictured Doyle chained to a mountain top, vultures feasting as other flew away with his entrails. Her breath quickened. “Yeah, for stealing fire and giving it to humanity. He over-reached, changed man’s fate. I propose Mary Shelley likened Prometheus to scientific experimentation with unintended consequences. At least that’s what my interpretation is right now.” She had to admit the pizza was better than Barone’s. As she wrapped cheese around her finger, Doyle rose and wandered barefoot over to a narrow window, dusky light . He ran one long-fingered hand through his still-wet blonde mane and let out a loud sigh. “Is that supposed to be directed at me?” His voice let Phoebe know she’d hit her intended target, but she didn’t expect him to hurl the little jade plant he’d given her when they first met against the brick wall behind her with surprising ferocity. Shards of green pottery landed in her hair, but stopped short of the pizza, thank goodness. Phoebe rose quickly, more than a little afraid, but even more angry at this person who had the audacity to insinuate himself into her life after he helped her best friend, her soul sister, self-destruct. Doyle realized his mistake when Phoebe’s eyes changed from blue to golden elliptical-shaped viper eyes, and with a gaze, lifted all two hundred pounds of him quickly until a beam on the loft’s ceiling cut into his back. He froze, suddenly afraid his struggles would plummet him to the hardwood below. “Let me down, Phoebe! I’m sorry; I swear it won’t happen again!” “No, it won’t.” She struggled to hide her shock at this ability, intent on keeping control now that she had it. “You almost had me fooled, you fucker.” Her face twisted with grief as she remembered what this man took from her, took from them. Doyle groaned loudly and doubled over on the ceiling. A voice inside cautioned Phoebe, but a different instinct took over as she envisioned her viper self ‘s hinged jaws take a bite from his center, right below the belly button. No thought existed for her when she entered his thoracic cavity. As the golden viper Doyle knew was Phoebe coiled inside him, it flicked it’s forked tongue like a whip and cut tiny slices in the tissues between his ribs. She slowed within his body and felt his wildly erratic heart call to her from behind a lung. He screamed as her flat head pushed hard against the pinkish lung and pinned it aside. “Noooo, Phoebe, Pleeeee…” his gasp ended, the pain a sudden suffocating blanket of dark mercy he mistook for Death. Kazmir could not be happier with his quick transformation of the girl.

The Merkaba is 2 tetrahedrons resembling a soul’s light body

By the time Phoebe returned from the library with the name of the rock (Caucasus Mountains, likely Mount Elbrus) Prometheus had been chained to, she’d also come up with a solution to the problem of Doyle Regan. His entrails and organs were intact when he awoke on Shana’s bed behind a screen painted with a gloriously colorful garden, complete with birds, bees, a copper fox and Monarch butterflies. The viper was gone and Phoebe’s eyes were blue and intent as she watched him warily. He’d been having nightmares since Shana hung herself, but nothing had prepared him for the experience they’d had earlier. “There’s another one… another version of Frankenstein. Mel Brook’s Young Frankenstein gave me an idea.” Doyle felt odd. Slowly he rolled over and put his feet on the floor. Phoebe put two frames and Shana’s fairy cards in a copy paper box she’d also gotten at the library. Doyle sprang up and ran toward the bathroom as three slices of pizza ejected from his roiling belly not only in the open toilet, but all over it. Ten minutes later he still dry-heaved into the bowl, face red as tears and snot flowed. Phoebe handed him a cold wet wash cloth, one of the thick white ones she’d given Shana for Christmas. “Don’t worry, Doyle. I’ll take care of you. And you will take care of me.” His stomach suddenly calmed. He wasn’t sure if he felt afraid or just very sick. “Here you go”, Phoebe handed him a dainty tea cup, “I know you said you didn’t like tea before, but this is like a tonic, a little medicine to help you go along. You see… you are going to be MY Igor. Now, sip it ’cause it’s really hot”. The sweet tea did seem to soothe his nerves and slow down his anxious heart. “What is it?” Phoebe smiled at him placatingly before she slapped him satisfyingly hard, like she’d wanted to for quite some time. “Don’t worry about it. You should get back to those exams, and I have an essay to write. In a couple of hours I want you to help me pack up some of Shana’s things and we’ll move her screen. Then you can have her bed for the rest of the summer.” He wasn’t sure what to say. He didn’t feel like arguing with her, of that he was certain. An hour later Phoebe wandered over to the window as Doyle sat at her mother’s formica table and corrected chemistry exams as if nothing out of the ordinary had happened. Phoebe’s essay flowed like a spring creek on a sunny day.

Attending the Bones

Peace Through Rituals

Healing is an ongoing process, seemingly without an end point, a path spiraling upward and down again as life deals hand after hand, a few winning, most reliant on how mindfully I play my cards. In a world where masculine energy is celebrated for achievement, athleticism, and material success, we often yearn for and bemoan a lack of feminine energy-compassion, acceptance, natural beauty and nourishment. While we all possess both Ying and Yang energies, our world is currently brash and incongruous with a surplus of violence, greed and unmet desires for more of everything. The more we want, the more we consume, our well-being sometimes clouded with overwork, frustration and envy. I began learning mind-body practices five years ago and as I made rituals of my own, my mind and heart connected in a profound way which eventually awakened my soul to a richer existence.

5 rituals for Balance and Resilience

  1. Writing/typing a page/note helps me see where my mind is and corral self-defeating assumptions galloping toward triggering situations and people. Words are precious to me; how they can be curated, constructed, or destructed with an intention to relay a feeling or a grand idea is evidenced in quotes we refer to centuries later. Writing has been a purging and healing ritual since childhood.
  2. Cleaning is often a ritual. I use a handmade turtle rattle as well as 432hz or 528hz music to move out heavy or unhelpful energy, and smudge with white sage, incense, or palo santo. I cleanse the front door, my desk, 2 small dressers on the sides of the bed and my altar with distilled water plus a few drops of peppermint or lemon essential oil to both disinfect and purify energy. My bedroom is a sacred sleep/intimate space and keeping it clean is part of Feng Shui for the bedroom.
  3. Lighting a candle and staring into it for a few minutes , or closing my eyes after lighting it and sitting in stillness or meditation/prayer has given me profound insights and often solace. It takes practice for the mind to quiet, but focusing on breathing helps. I have an altar in my office with crystals, bits of nature and female statuary I find empowering. This is a personal choice guided by Spirit, however I know a few practicing witches and do not mind being called one. If I accept any label it is Writer and Friend, who’s interests are varied.
  4. Gardening is ritualistic with it’s seasonal to-do lists, year after year of amendments, new life, relocations, death, and as of last year-food. It’s not a big garden, but every time I water the giant hostas, the pole beans or even the petunias in flower boxes, I feel motherly and grateful at the same time. There is a definite reciprocity and satisfaction to natural law with the ants, the droughts, the storms that have whittled down my sense of entitlement. Every year is different, seasonal rhythms often upset by something happening far away from my home.
  5. Cooking with fresh foods and spices can be a creation ritual, as is making tea. When I was tired and stressed from working at a highly-pressurized job, I admit I didn’t appreciate good food as much as I do now. That’s the thing about being overworked-I spent a lot more on convenient frozen and packaged food only to become ill. Now I know health is wealth. This is also one of my favorite ways to show love.

These are small ways I cope with a busy digital world full of stressors vying for my attention. Rituals have signaled my spirit that I love me; a big difference from 5 years ago. I hope it sparks something for you because each of us adds to the whole, and most of us can use some lightness, a reprieve, however small. Namaste

Nourishment
Sweetness
Sustenance

Alt Journey-Serpents

Part 10

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If all you can do is crawl, start crawling – Rumi

Professor Fritsche kindly allowed Phoebe to submit both her and Shana’s essays on the topics of marriage, lust, and consequence, as portrayed in Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina. Their deceased parents served the young women’s purposes as bad examples similar in scope to Anna’s, although they had different opinions about her karma. Professor F peered above his glasses at her and mumbled something about, “a waste of talent” and “Hope you’ve started your final despite everything”. He finds the ground under academics more stable than death‘s abyss of unknowns, Phoebe thought later over a cup of peppermint tea as she sat in the grass and pretended to read Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein for the umpteenth time. With her urging, their 19th Century Lit prof agreed to submit a final grade for Shana, minus a final exam essay, if the Dean of the English Department, and one of Shana’s most loved professors, approved. Phoebe simply framed her request as a memorial to Shana, and gave the Dean a copy of her friend’s last and final essay. The Dean found Shana’s ideas about passion versus fidelity especially naïve and moving in light of her suicide. Shana would receive a grade for her favorite class that semester, and Phoebe would remember it as the last course they took together. Classmates gave her shy nods, their sad eyes relaying the words they didn’t find. A few were obviously surprised when she walked into chem lab an hour after being released from Resting Pines, not that they imagined what Phoebe ran up against after her best friend’s painful exit.

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Golden Eyelash Viper

Her fists slid off it’s slick stark white scales as a serpent with Doyle’s dark eyes fully consumed her. Phoebe discovered herself a golden serpent who slid across symbols carved on tangerine colored walls within her Grandmother tree, an ancient cedar in the Northwoods of Michigan. The symbols pulsed with heat as if alive, but the Ankh is where she fit her slim viper form. Her head rested in the opening of the key of life and Phoebe finally surrendered all she was before Shana’s suicide. Intelligent and witty, her well-crafted college persona came apart at the seams like a sun-bleached scarecrow, mere stuffing of knowledge, sarcasm and friendship scattered, buried, and carried off by crows. Or snakes. Phoebe dreamed of a snowy white python with hinged jaws thanks to Kazmir, Death’s demon who orchestrated these nightly feasts. Warm blood pulsed and squirted into her eyes and mouth as she yelled out, foot, ankle, tibula and fibula crushed like glass in a grinder with each agonizing swallow. Smothered screams with the last gulp of her skull and then nothing until she opened slits and felt her essence in a snake’s condemned existence. “As low as a snake”, Kazmir whispered as she envisioned her cedar sanctuary finally on the third night. In the Ankh, considered in Hebrew as the “Key of Life”, Phoebe’s essence glided among reeds along a lake’s shoreline, her slim serpent body a ribbon of gold amongst the cat tails and lily pads. She dove and swam along the bottom between weeds that rose toward the light above, rocks risen from below, and an occasional clam, the silt velvet against her tender underbelly. Deeper and deeper into the dark she searched and undulated her length as she came to embody the viper and her eyes adjusted to see every shadow. Unsure of what she sought exactly, Phoebe swam until far away she thought she heard a song one only ever sung for her, in private. Ahead, a blushing glow grew and beckoned with a sad melody where only friendship existed before.

“Some say love, it is a river that drowns the tender reed. Some say love, it is a razor, that leaves your soul to bleed.” Shana sang Bette Midler’s The Rose for Phoebe not long after their blood sister ritual at the end of 7th grade in 1985. She’d sang it to her countless times over the past seven years, when Phoebe felt like anything but a rose, and it served as a soothing balm. Although she’d never been able to express how special it made her feel, she didn’t have to. For Shana, Phoebe’s patient tutoring, whenever she needed her, felt like acceptance during the years that followed her parent’s abuses. Phoebe had never made her earn love, and forgave easily, but Shana had never skipped out on classes before. Her personal drug usage consisted of a couple puffs during marijuana movie nights at a friend’s apartment last summer. Her parent’s addiction served as a constant reminder of how drugs and alcohol changed people for the worst, hard-won knowledge which kept her straight until Doyle’s manipulations opened the door for Death. During the last weeks of her life, paranoia about losing Phoebe’s love grew as Kaz gleefully watched her create her own scenes of rejection, including burning insults it planted in her psyche. The two friends had never exchanged insults, had never even had a blowup disagreement, but Shana’s artist’s imagination had always been powerful. If they had fought, Phoebe would have explained how it was simply impossible to lose her friendship for a mistake. She would have said “Love forgives”. As Phoebe the golden snake entered the pink glow of a temporary healing chamber, miles deep in a Great Lake, their human essences reformed as womanly silhouettes. Shana and Phoebe hugged and cried dry tears as they held onto one another. No words sufficed, so none were exchanged.

Phoebe awoke to Doyle’s yell from the kitchen, “Time to get up, Phoebe! Gotta fly, but there’s hot water in the kettle. You awake?”. “Yeah” she croaked followed by a stronger, “I’m up! I’m good!”. Her voice squeaked a bit. She prayed Doyle didn’t check on her behind the privacy screen and spy the perfectly shed golden-hued snake skin complete with eyelids stretched out on her bedspread. Doyle flipped the switch on the radio and turned up the volume so she’d get up for sure. Paula Abdul accused her of a being a “Cold Hearted snake”, a dark start to her first day of crafting a final essay about the merits of Dr. Frankenstein.

Alt Journey-Atonement

Part 9

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Ouroboros and the All-Seeing Eye

Sha’s trite confession hung in the air and multi-hued stars holding space for her form recessed into inky shame she’d secreted away in a secured heart chamber. An imaginative 11 year old constructed an almost impenetrable locked space for memories incomprehensible to her young spirit-beginning with a plastic picnic table stained with blood not her own, her father’s voice bitching about Bertie’s fee while she yelled he would pay or she’d call the cops on his perverted ass. He said she could at least knock 10 bucks off for disposal; the girl would bury it herself. A single snake stirred from her soul’s essence and slithered out from between her legs. A hiss boasted of soul ownership, “She belongs to meeee. Master Nidhug promised me the next light being turned murderesss.”

Saint Joan materialized between Sha’s essence and Nidhug’s Collector serpent, who grew fatter by the second with smugness as his potential mate refused to lay her soul bare. His forked tongue tried to move around her to kiss its’ prize. Joan’s copper form swirled, flames of orange and blue green ignited in her center as she whispered, “You have no claim”, and deflected it’s aim with holy fire. Mary the Maiden, still connected to Sha with thorny vines, pulsed sacred light energy toward her form. “She will bear me thousands. You cannot shield a murderesss without sacrificesss.” Archangel Auriel’s wings beat furiously and emitted ten phosphorescent orbs which floated into place around the Divine Sister circle then raised it above the temple, through Archangel Haniel’s opened wing, it’s feathers of silver fluff a blessed tickle on the serpent’s underbelly as it followed. Sha heard her parent’s dealer, “Tell ‘im it’s uncut, Baby, a lil’ thanks for taking care of your situation”, and felt familiar disgust swell in her locked heart chamber as she envisioned his gold-toothed grin and felt his filthy hand pat her aching belly under her mother’s Coca-Cola t-shirt. Blood had run down one of her legs in a rapid trickle and stained her new Converse high tops as she returned to her parents at the condemned flop house that was her nightmare. The circle hummed with combined harmonies from Mary the Maid, Saint Teresa, Saint Brigid, and Archangel Auriel. As the serpent coiled and snapped its’ jaws in irritation they sang, “I am loved, I am forgiven, I am whole, I am healed” in lilting and low voices layered onto Sha like silky warm blankets around her shoulders and over her head. Meanwhile, her form’s legs, one white and one black, fused together in a single grey slimy appendage as Sha’s stubborn unwillingness divided her soul between Nidhug’s guilt and Divine acceptance-her birthright. “She called me a baby killer and he made me bury it in the alley”, Sha sobbed as her form steadfastly gripped a memory of her human self as a girl knelt over a hump in gravel, blood and dirt under her fingernails. She further devolved into a grey serpent and the Collector hissed in happy anticipation of its’ progeny of snakelets in Nidhug’s pit below the Tree of Life on earth. They will eat her roots faster than she grows them, he fantasized. Archangel Haniel enveloped the circle of Saints and angelic belonging, Sha’s soul in it’s center. Haniel’s impenetrable massive wings of protection closed the Collector outside and infused the space inside with El’s loving Sun energy. Darkness often celebrated prematurely. Sha’s essence stated plainly, “I wanted them to die. I hated them.” Her skull painfully changed into a Dragon’s head and circled around to swallow her own scaly tail.

In childhood, the injuries to her soul could’ve been healed enough for an allowance of her and Phoebe’s soul contract, but none of Shana’s helper humans knew. She’d almost told her first counselor, Holly, a no-nonsense Grandmother who hugged her at the end of sessions and said it was a shame her parents didn’t teach her Spanish. But, Holly moved to Sedona after only three months of therapy, and Shana vowed to never reveal what was an even bigger shame. Instead, she excelled in school and resolutely did her best to appear “normal” and happy living with Phoebe and her Mom. And she was happy quite often, as long as she didn’t allow herself to think about, let alone emotionally process her rape, abortion by Bertie, and her parents’ betrayals and overdoses. How would a twelve, or sixteen, or twenty-year-old even begin to heal from that? In reality, almost everyone preferred to believe that whatever horrors she survived at other human’s hands were in the past, hurdles she’d jumped with ease thanks to the solicitous care she received. Until she met Doyle, who sensed she was not nearly as contained and content as she looked at first meeting and set out to pry her open for a closer look inside.

Classic, vintage engraving of Joan of Arc in battle. She is a symbol of beauty, strength, feminism. This authentic engraving shows its age in style and slight grunge. Published in 1840 it is now in the public domain. Digital restoration by Steven Wynn Photography.
1840 Engraving of Joan of Arc

Saint Joan let out a warrior cry born of her earthly mission at Orleans, France, when she helped restore the earth’s balance of power with Archangel Michael’s, Archangel Margaret’s, and Archangel Catherine’s help. Sha felt Joan’s tremendous faith surround her serpent/dragon form with motivational wisdom as she devoured her own shadow essence. Round and round the Saintly circle, their song grew deeper, resounding clashes and thunderous groans echoed throughout the universe as Sha released lies about her own culpability and accepted unconditional love on offer to staunch a flow of exposed agony. Fully dragon, Sha’s soul embraced herself as a survivor and fire from her nostrils blazed across the ethereal realms. In the same instant, Nidhug’s Collector returned to his place in the pit below the tree to wait for his murderess bride. Perhaps her Anam Chara, her soul friend, if Kazmir’s boasts proved true.

Sunrise on an island

Phoebe screamed as a snake swallowed her feet and ominously advanced up her legs, each movement accompanied by a loud crunch she felt as well as heard. “Wake up, Phoebe. It’s ok, I’m here.” Awakened for the third night in a row, Doyle wondered if her release from the hospital was a mistake as he called out to her from a futon in the open-concept loft she shared with Shana, or rather Shana’s ghost. The first night she’d gifted him a black eye when he shook her awake, an intrigue for his advanced psych seminar students who all knew about Shana’s suicide. “Ahhhhh!” Phoebe howled as the snake swallowed the rest of her alive and said, “Since she’sss not here, you will have to do.” Inside, it continued to squeeze and break the bones in her face until she heard her skull crack loudly and the snake, then tremble excitedly in enjoyment of its’ meal.