Becoming Wild

Meadow12

May 28, 1986

We drive through the night to the Cleveland Clinic. My uncle, my mother, and me. Something about Grandpa, but I know he will be okay. God wouldn’t take him from us. Not after everything else that has happened. I will have to make up final exams, but I don’t care. Next week, I will be out of that hellhole for good. My chest tightens. Mom still hasn’t recovered from her breakdown. Who will watch over the kids when I leave? But I will die if I stay in that town.

We arrive too early for visiting hours. I curl up on the couch in the waiting room. Behind my closed eyes, a dream materializes. I’m in the meadow, sitting under a tree that doesn’t exist in reality. My boyfriend is next to me. Rich green summertime shade. Grandpa runs towards us. He’s wearing a red flannel shirt and blue jeans that are rolled up to his calves. He is barefoot. He smiles down at me. The heaviness of life is gone from his eyes. “Grandpa! What are you doing here? You’re dead.” His eyes twinkle. The sweet smile I know so well. The one he uses when he’s teasing. “I’m not dead. I’m only sleeping.”

My mother’s long fingers grip my shoulders and shake. A voice contorted with sobs. Wake up. It’s time. Down a long gray corridor and into a white room. The click of machines shutting down. Say goodbye to Grandpa. Tell him you love him. A chest under a sheet rises, falls, and is still.

meadow05

I run my hands over the thick, rough bark. It’s called a willow oak, I think. Thirty-two years have passed and here you are. In the same exact place as in the dream. The only tree that has grown in the meadow after all this time. I lean my back against the trunk, its chest. The pulse of a heartbeat. The warmth of life flowing through veins. Awareness. Strong hands on my shoulders. I’ve got you. I sigh and smile. Wow. This feels good. I’ve got you. Three words I’ve never heard. I’ve never had a protector. Dad was submerged in psychosis, and Mom was blinded by despair. Even Grandpa was vague with his support. Be strong was the mantra I inherited. You’re the oldest. Your family needs you.

It was always me: taking care of the family, then myself, then the people in my life. I no longer feel any self-pity or the need to blame. I adapted, as everything thing does to its environment. What began as necessity became the perfect hiding place. It was so easy to take advantage of the fact that most others are too superficial or too focused on their own pain to make the effort to see behind exteriors.

There’s a difference between vulnerability and neediness. Let it all go. I’ve got you.

meadow02

We each have a place on this Earth where our personal story unfolds in symbols. A place that holds our souls. The harmony that would reign, if only everyone knew theirs. Mine is a humble meadow tucked into a forest. It claimed me during early childhood explorations. I found it while wandering down the railroad tracks near the cottage that Grandpa built. Tracks that have long since been torn up and replaced by a bike path. I used to lie here, amid the wildflowers, and let myself fall through the sky. I carried this sacred space with me everywhere I roamed. My mother says she’s always felt my presence so strongly here, even when I was on the other side of the planet. One day, my ashes will sink into this dirt with the rain.

meadow03

May. The borderland between spring and summer. That beautiful time of fresh, green warmth before the mosquitoes have awakened. The divine bleed of the aurora borealis through the night sky. Shooting stars streak through the undulating curtain of green and violet. Celestial fireflies. Heart in my throat. The glow ascends, vanishing into the darkness. Delivering my wish to Heaven.

Meadow14

Let go of who you believed you were. I circumambulate the meadow, scattering the ashes of my former life. The labels. Those devastating weapons of mass division. I pass by patches of daisies and the depressions in the tall grass where the deer bed down for the night. These are my signposts. Now that I’m just a human named Julie. Liminal space is the most unsettling of territories. But it is here, in this emptiness, where I thrive.

meadow07

A solstice sunrise. I lift my face to the gentle rays. Shine your light through me. Show me what you want me to do now. I’m yours.

The time has come to reveal yourself. No more hiding.

meadow11

And now, your eclipse. The brighter the light, the deeper the shadow. No more hiding, anything.

meadow04

When I’m in the realm of schedules and conformity, I fulfill duties with a smile. I’m a good-natured imposter. After work, I slip away, evading invitations. Home, down the trail, and into my sanctuary. In this loving shade, I let my imagination out to play. A tiny white spider crawls up my arm. I smile down at her and lean back against my tree. Notebook on my knees. Namibia, the lions. This is what happened: a safari, a childhood backyard expedition. Bring them together. Words buzz around my head. I catch them in my web. Messy, incoherent scrawls in the notebook. I look down at it and shake my head. Somehow I will decipher and arrange it all. Just like I always do. The sun slips behind the forest. I raise my arm, but Spider has moseyed along. Prismatic strands encircle my arm, casting tiny rainbows in the fading light.

The other world of disharmony and hopelessness fades. The world in which we are systematically led to believe that we are losing. Agitated chatter fizzles into static which dissipates into silence. Then the symphony begins.

Nature speaks in symbol and metaphor. An atavistic communication that transcends words and seeps directly into the subconscious. The sigh of a warm summer breeze through the treetops. The ripple of heat in the distance. The slow drift of clouds across the blue expanse. In this world, we are winning.

That other world can only be healed by rediscovering this one. And it is calling out to us.

It’s the same little haven, but every day is different. The sun’s trajectory, the dance of insects, the wildflowers in various stages of growth and decline. Petals unfurl, bask, and slowly shrivel up. A butterfly pirouettes in the space before me. A purple shimmer in his brown wings. So many iridescent wings this year: butterflies and dragonflies. Symbols of total transformation. I put down my pen and hold out my hand. He comes to rest and lingers while I take a video. Could it be he’s showing off?

Meadow13

I trail behind the morning mist as it billows into the forest. The sun peers over the treetops. Hundreds of tiny spiderwebs glitter in the dawn light. They are only visible when illuminated from this sharp angle. Spellbound, I lower myself into the grass. Dew soaks into my jeans. Yet another dreamscape I’ve traversed. This one came during my years in Bratislava, I think. A beige fog rolled away, revealing innumerable spiderwebs in various stages of completion. The Presence by my side. These are all of your stories: written, in the process of being written, and those yet to be conceived.

meadow08

An annoyed snort jolts me back to the present. A herd of deer have lined up on the periphery. I am in the way. They scamper back and forth for several minutes. The snorts intensify. Then they bound into the forest.

Two mornings later. Same place. A rustle to my left. A fawn. So close that I can see her eyelashes. Our eyes are mirrors of innocent curiosity.

meadow09

I am becoming wild, again. Feathers, flowers, stones, bones. Life, death. Resurrection. I tuck the feathers I find along my path into a pocket of bark. Thank you for being here. For existing. Hang my crown of thistles on a branch. When I wander back to the cottage, humming to myself, forget-me-nots woven into my hair, my mother doesn’t greet me with a frown or raised eyebrows or a look of alarm. Instead, a soft smile lights up her gentle face. “You look so pretty.”

Meadow10a

Awe is love on the precipice of fear. With the bones and stones, I construct a wheel in the soil. A dreamcatcher, a spiderweb. The Native Americans call it a medicine wheel. With each piece buried, I reassemble my existence. I begin to understand how the facets of life work together. The very one that seems unimportant and irrelevant often must be fulfilled before others can be aligned. What we don’t think we want is exactly what we need.

From the other world, a bony finger beckons. Grim Reaper of the soul. A job in an East Coast city. An admirable career. Return to the safety of anonymity and isolation. There will be no energy left for spinning words, but I will be too distracted and exhausted to miss it.

The familiar squeeze on my shoulder. How you support yourself is no longer important. It is time to live your passion. I wrap my arms around the trunk. Yes. Only that which sets me aflame can lure me away from this wonderland. Or maybe I’ll just disappear here. No one will notice. A slight pulling away. For my own good. You can’t hide away from that other world forever. It needs you. And I will always be here for you.

meadow06

What seems like magic is the most natural thing of all. We have forgotten that we are part of Nature. I’ve simply allowed myself to remember. How to listen and observe, how to ask for answers, how to integrate what I learn. Through this communion, I shed layers of conditioning, unravel patterns, grasp subtle differences in meaning. Sensations seep into my dreams. A raven becomes a wizened old Chippewa guide. The aurora becomes angels heralding a beautiful apocalypse. Celebrating my victory. You’ve had the guts to jump into the void. You deserve nothing less than the miraculous.

The dragonflies disappear, then the butterflies. Even the bumblebees eventually die. Spiderwebs are abandoned. At the very end of summer, after all hope has vanished: rain. Sky blanketed in gray. I lie in the center of the wheel. Deep breath. I think I’m just about ready. Drizzle tickles my face. Excited motion just above. A second batch of dragonflies has hatched. Dozens hover overhead, never touching the Earth.

Meadow15

“Your sacred space is where you can find yourself again and again” -Joseph Campbell

Shine

**Another fiction piece unearthed from the deepest vault. I don’t wish to be a downer during the holiday season, so those who are uncomfortable with dark themes (addiction) might want to skip this post.**

Shine.

Sometimes I like to leave the needle in my arm longer than necessary. The reflected light a beacon of hope. My salvation. There was a time when the mere thought of such an action would have caused me unbearable anxiety. Now it’s a curiosity, like my passive face looking back at me from this toothpaste-splattered mirror. My glow dissipating. I have not sunk so low. I lead a productive, though unconventional, life. I’ve always made it to my gigs. I love my family. And so on.

I’m not sure what time it is. It’s light outside and I hear people moving about. Cursing myself for losing my watch again, I pick up the phone and dial the front desk. A kind voice tells me that it’s five PM. I don’t have to be anywhere for a while. Good. It’s true that all hotel rooms look the same, but each town has its own charms. And neuroses. I peek through the curtains at the incessant gloom that is winter in the Midwest. Buildings breathing steam. Lights peering dimly from behind frosted, incandescent glass. Signs of life.

Passage of truth
Lead me far from this farce
Coherence is lost
In the forest of my heart

My arms hurt. At least I can pull off long sleeves gracefully in this weather. I remember a dream I had before I started doing this to myself. “Little girl afraid of the big, bad needle,” a seedy, reedy black man said to me as he tied and squirted and smacked and plunged. Yellow dog eyes rolling back in his head. Some of the golden liquid had landed on my hand. “Go ahead. Have a little taste.” Timidly, then enthusiastically, I did so. The glow like a hissing serpent gliding through the lonely corridors of my being. And warmth. Such incredible warmth. And when I woke up I was scared.

Fear is a strange thing sometimes. The great motivator. The great deceiver. You fear that which intrigues you the most. I remember my virgin veins, aroused and eager as they were lovingly tied off and caressed. So many to choose from then. “Relax, baby.” Ryne with his soft eyes and confident touch. I hardly felt a thing. Then: pounding heart and panicked whimper as all control was surrendered: help me. Every pore dilated and weeping. Tender hands stroking my hair. Safe. Safe from them all.

Ryne. It rhymes with shine. Where did he go, my sublime? Oh, he left me for a socially acceptable anesthetic: the Church. Now I’m nothing but fodder for his flock; a radiant example of depravity strewn to the self-righteous masses. They gobble up every last morsel and shake their woolly sheep heads in disapproval.
Choke on me. That’s it. Gag me down. Soon there’ll be no more. Soon there’ll be—

Tears no more
Those glass slippers dangling in scorn

A bath will help. I don’t want to go out there yet. Don’t want to see their frigid concern. The running water soothes me as I notice myself, a faded pastel portrait, gazing back from the depths of this wretched mirror. I am alive. Around my neck, the antique locket’s inscription: For Meredith, who shines so bright. A gift from my supportive and bewildered family. The irony. If only they knew. It’s not their fault, yet they would shoulder the blame. The family closets harbor no boogeymen. This despair is my own doing; the result of a foolish experiment in—

Love not my soul
For it is dubious
Search not my heart
For it is shadowed
Just sing with me

The crowd will be intense tonight. Furiously enthusiastic as if in defiance of the harsh, bitter weather. A welcome change from the beige and preoccupied audiences of the Southwest. It’s different in the North. Surly and aggressive. They go through a lot to get to the show. And they’ve been counting the days.

People come to hear my music and, if I may be so delusional, my words. I used to think I had something to say. Now it seems I could be up on stage extolling the virtues of stale corn flakes and they would still think that I was remarkably profound. Perhaps even more so.

Entombed in this pearly grave
I am precious. I am not yours to interpret
Not yours to categorize, analyze, institutionalize
And –

I am not profound. They don’t listen. I am just the latest novelty. For some, a topic of conversation over café mochas and biscottis. For others, background accompaniment to getting stoned. I’ll never forget the moment when I looked out over a wasteland of rapt faces and realized that they didn’t get anything I sang, and yet they truly thought that they did. Faces that, when it mattered, shot me down and then laughed about it. And now it’s my turn to gloat. But instead of gratification, it was a sickening reality that hit me. It’s too late. I don’t want their love now. And then, the guilt. It’s not their fault. They want so much to understand. They want to be inside my head. To be me. And I began to wonder if I even understood what I’m singing.

Kill me kill me kill me
Set me free
From your endless scrutiny

Morbid, self-indulgent thoughts cascade across my mind as I lie here submerged and cozy. Reality obscured by ripples in this: my coffin of make-believe. The water has grown tepid, but I put off my return to the air. Izzy, my manager, and the others will be here soon. We still go through the motions. They have given up trying to rouse me from my isolation. None of them will look at me directly. They’re planning their escape, biding their time. They say nothing, because, in spite of my sullen seclusion, I still kick ass.

I paint rosebud lips on my listless mouth, butterfly lashes on my bleary eyes. Long lost little lady. Angel hair and ragged nails. It’s hard to imagine a powerful performance from such an image. I still can’t believe I have a following.

Once, I was out there among the lonely and misguided masses. Wanting to be relieved of the responsibility of giving the hurt a voice: tell us what we feel, because we don’t have the guts to dig for it ourselves. My only difference was that the pain was always on the surface, demanding to be acknowledged. There was simply no other choice but to express it. I am such a coward. Yet I’ve been called courageous, passionate. “Elegantly brutal in her relentless search for meaning in an inconsistent universe,” wrote one critic. Cheesy and pretentious, but it’s the only review I’ve ever saved.

I’ve caught the bouquet
That I never sought
I only ever wanted
To not be bought

It was there all along. The purpose of it all. Sadness in everything. Illuminated in a tiny, hollow piece of metal. I will not be getting help. It wouldn’t be the same if I cleaned up and became lukewarm. That’s a death I’m not willing to endure. I will let everything run its course until the inevitable accident. No shotguns, razor blades, or goodbye notes from me. Just negligence and destiny.

I hear them knocking. Time to go out there. I’m not ready to face them, but I will because soon it will all be over. I can already hear what people will say. Some will call me a loser, others a tragedy. They will both be right. For now, I hold my head up. I have seen my end and it’s exquisitely mine.

Shine.

**”Shine” was originally written in the mid-1990s. It was a time when “heroin chic” was aggressively marketed to the troubled Gen X youth. All the cool rock stars were addicts. Very few are still alive today. My own abyss of depression never led me down the path of substance addiction. My addiction was travel. But I could relate to the alienation and hopelessness. The feeling that no one could possibly understand. It’s not easy to have empathy, if you’ve never experienced it for yourself. This was my attempt to understand.

This was my very first published story, way back in 2003. It appeared in Word Riot, which, for more than a decade, was one of the most reputable online literary journals. It has recently vanished, like so many other webzines from the early years of the internet.**

The Things I Will Miss

In the end, reality is as cliché as Hollywood. When little green men fly over in their souped-up Frisbees, I can’t muster up any surprise. All I can do is wonder if they ever go cruising for chicks in those things on a Saturday night. I drop my gaze from the sky and walk into the house. I just hope I’m not their type.

“It serves all of us right, I guess,” I say. My giggles echo off the empty walls. I can’t bring myself to regret that I have no one to say goodbye to. “But I have never been lonely,” I say out loud.

The air in front of me ripples; a man-shaped shadow materializes. “You have never been alone,” he whispers. I can’t discern his features, but I feel the resonance of his smile.

I sit for a long while, my hand in his, and listen to the pandemonium. Frantic shadows scurry by the windows. I am entitled to join them now; indiscriminate tragedy is always a good icebreaker. They are going to congregate in designated shelters. Safety in numbers, and all that nonsense. The masses have never made me feel safe.

“The sad fools,” I say with a sigh. Their panicked stampede is as predictable as a Bruce Willis blockbuster. It will be a bitter betrayal when he doesn’t show up to save them.

After nightfall, we wander the vacant streets. We watch the horizon, as the radiance from distant cities is extinguished one by one. My insignificance, something I’ve forever detested, isn’t such a bad thing after all. They will come for us loners last. The meek have inherited precious last moments.

The Shadow Man takes my hand and leads me uptown, to the mansions. Jubilation wells up in me like effervescent pearls. No place is forbidden now. The imposing iron gates are thrown open like welcoming arms.

A warm glow appears amid the blackness; rays of light rain down from an upstairs window.

I whisper, “How can a light still burn? There has been no electricity for hours.” I am more intrigued than afraid.

We enter the house. It is completely still, except for a diffuse luminosity. Golden light streams from a bedroom. I take a tentative step inside. A little girl emerges from behind a large doll house. A shimmer from within her opalescent flesh. She is the source of the light.

“We just want to look, honey,” I say.

She nods and leads us through the labyrinthine hallways. The Shadow Man disappears down a dark alley. The corridor opens into a cavernous bedroom. I gasp at its opulence. A chandelier shines rainbow prisms in my eyes. My head swoons with the rich scent of fresh roses.

“They have left me behind,” the Light Girl says; her voice is metallic indifference. “Will you take me with you?”

“We are going up to the mountains. It will be cold, dark, and dangerous. Why would you leave all of this?”

I look around at all of the feminine, superfluous things. The shoes of every style and color, the perfume and jewelry-littered dresser, the flamboyant evening gowns that were worn only once. Superficial, tactile things. The things I will miss. I finally understand that worn-out platitude — you can’t take it with you.

“Stay here with me,” says the Light Girl. She puts her small, warm hand in mine. “We can play dress up.”

I reach out and stroke a green silk gown. Such luxury has never touched my work-battered hands. They are going to come for me, eventually. I will not prolong the futile charade of survival in some dank cave.

The Shadow Man pokes his head in the closet. He’s wearing a black tuxedo two sizes too large. “I have something for you.” He holds out a corsage of pink orchids. “Get dressed, my darling, and let’s dance.”

The Light Girl giggles and claps her hands.

When they come for us, we will look smashing.

This little story was published over a decade ago in Bewildering Stories, which is one of the longest-running speculative fiction Ezines. It was reprinted a couple of years later in the now-defunct Atomjack. Before I began this blog, I had published in numerous places and much of it was fiction. It’s been years since I’ve sought publication. The blog now holds my heart. Many of these early stories have slipped far to the back of my memory. It’s almost as if I’ve forgotten the years when I was teaching myself how to write and searching for my voice. So many of the stories, like this one, were dictated to me in dreams. It came back to me last night in another dream. Remember these words. They came out of you. I know better than to ignore the Mothership.

So I present them here as a testament to perseverance. Over the past few weeks, I have been working on the memoir, which I began writing over a decade ago. It is so close to being done. A couple of days ago, I was overcome with discouragement. It was all I could do to not delete it all. I want so much for it to be finished, so that I can move on. It doesn’t matter if no one wants to publish it or read it. Thanks to the nocturnal nudge, the despair is shifting into discernment. The process of creation is part of the journey. It is our imprint upon this world, whether it reverberates far or not. Enjoy it while it lasts.