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Life in a rural mid-western town—population 2,333 during a high-yield year—thrives on routine.
When you’re completely surrounded by fields of corn and soybeans and dairy cows, change first comes to the rows of tilled soil, and the amount of daylight you see is the best way to mark time passing.
From dawn to dusk, day in, day out, the weeks and months saunter around the seasons, adding on years like an afterthought. For those who make their homes here, life is predictable as clockwork. Maybe, a tad too comfortable.
The mile-long town set squarely between two county roads on the patchwork farmland that is eastern Indiana hasn’t grown beyond those asphalt borders in 150 years.
Residents prefer it that way. There’s an ironclad commitment to the status quo that lets you know where you stand at all times. An agreement with this order of life is expected of everyone. Folks are informal and unpretentious, with a staunch work ethic. They still hold fond memories of their glory days, and are wary of anything from “outside” the county that might bring change or cause disruption to The Way Things Are Around Here.
It’s best not to rock the boat. There might be some sort of upset, and no one wants to put up with that kind of nonsense.
I didn’t get the memo.
I arrived on this planet in the middle of a sh*t-show.
1968 was one of the “single most tumultuous years in history…as a spirit of rebellion swept through countries all over the world,” according to the history books: When soaring casualties after the Tet Offensive and My Lai Massacre led students to protest worldwide over the war in Vietnam. The year that Martin Luther King, Jr. and Bobby Kennedy were assassinated. Followed by the civil unrest and political drama at the DNC in Chicago. Rounded out by the fiercely raised fists of Tommie Smith and John Carlos calling out ugly racial discrimination at the Summer Olympics. And then, Nixon was elected.
Mothers in active labor were still served a cocktail of morphine and scopolamine—twilight sleep—to ensure amnesia and relief from the discomfort of the blessed event. For my petite mom, who doesn’t even tolerate Tylenol, this had the effect of pulling the emergency brake, full-stop. An overly-helpful nurse decided she should climb up onto the delivery table with her.
The only thing Mom remembers about my birth are thick, white pantyhose-clad legs and a giant butt in her face while the crazy lady straddled her stomach and pushed me out into the world.
It explains a lot.
To this day, I prefer to go at my own pace, in my own time. I hate being pushed into decisions or actions or feelings. I was forced into this world that seemed to be falling apart before I was ready, colicky and uncomfortable in my own skin. And during the light of a full moon, which is my saving grace. What the hell am I even doing here?
When I was three years old, life got more interesting—I discovered that I am a separate person from everyone else and my thoughts are different things than others’ thoughts.
If I thought about scissors, for instance, and visualized the adulty black-handled shears in my Mom’s sewing box, because I wanted to cut the wavy strands that were always in my face, she might be thinking of those annoyingly dull rounded-tip scissors that preschoolers are forced to use. Or, she might not be thinking about scissors at all, rather, whether we were having mashed potatoes or nasty boiled brussels sprouts for supper.
It was a strange awareness, to discover that what I was thinking didn’t immediately form an accurate picture of understanding in someone else’s head. I used to believe we all had some kind of telepathy. That if I thought about something, someone else could pick up my exact thought, see the same mental picture that I saw, and give me an answer.
Because that’s how it seemed to work on my end.
I began to see and hear and feel things that others couldn’t relate to. Which was too bad because I saw a lot of interesting things and had a lot of questions that everyone tried to avoid. Like, what were the sparkly balls of color that floated around my bedroom at night? Or the wispy white ribbons of fog dancing up the wall, even when no one in the room was smoking? Who was the young man standing in the living room who turned and walked through the wall?
Sometimes, I knew things that I hadn’t been taught and that others didn’t know. That always prompted a look of alarm, which the adults hurried to conceal. I always noticed, anyway. It was easier for them to tell me that I had a good imagination before they changed the subject. Without meaning to, their microexpressions gave it away, and I learned that I made people uncomfortable. And they didn’t have answers for me about what I was experiencing. They wouldn’t even try.
I felt confused. And lonely.
One evening, I sat with my parents and grandparents in my grandma’s kitchen, looking at the door at the end of the long hallway, mesmerized by an orange-red flame that wasn’t burning anything. It filled the space from floor to ceiling, some nine feet tall, and kept me rooted to my chair, terrified.
Eyes wide open, I stared.
The flame-entity undulated slowly toward me. It was powerful.
Closer—it made its way forward to the living room.
Closer, still—to the threshold of the kitchen.
If I could just hold still, it would come close enough for the adults to notice. Finally, they would see with their own eyes and understand me. I didn’t breathe.
And it disappeared.
They didn’t see.
The adults kept talking, and nothing changed. Except, me. I changed. I became quiet. Unobtrusive. Observant. I learned to keep my mouth shut so I wouldn’t rock the boat.
Some time later, I found a little black pleather datebook with “1970” stamped in thin, gold numbers on the cover. It was an ordinary thing that you might receive for being a regular customer at the First State Bank on Main Street. Each creamy page had enough space for a week’s worth of notes. There was an address section, and a table of measurements, and a list of United States telephone area codes. But the most remarkable part was at the back of the book: 10 vibrantly colored map pages of the world, divided by continent, and illustrating all the countries, capitals, cities, and oceans.
The orange of Turkey captivated me. Bluebell Scotland. Salmon-pink Egypt. Dusty yellow Australia. Crimson Peru. Lime-green Hawai’i. Violet Tibet.
I was completely riveted. “Where are these places?” I thought. “How do I get there?” They seemed impossibly far away. I felt a decisive knowing settled deep into my bones. Oh, I’m going. Someday.’
The inconvenient seeing and feeling and hearing and knowing continued as I got older.
Shadow people often stood in the corner of my darkened bedroom, and occasionally, I would dream about random people just before they died. I’d hear tinkling bells and someone calling my name.
Nobody I knew would admit to having these experiences and nobody wanted me to talk about it.
I could often sense clearly what others were thinking, and they didn’t like that they could never hide their truth or their fear from me. I started thinking there was something wrong with me, or maybe I was crazy. It wasn’t something I felt safe to discuss with anyone, anywhere.
I did my best to ignore it all and appear normal.
My parents told me to just go to church and pray about it. Being in a sacred space was comforting, and yet it made things more intense. Seeing the minister’s blue-green aura while he spoke. Hearing music that wasn’t there. Feeling gusts of cool air as if something large brushed quickly past me. It was not my imagination.
I didn’t choose any of this. No one wanted to believe me.
I was rocking the boat.
By the time I was 15, I was exhausted from trying to compartmentalize all that was happening with what was expected and projected upon me as a young lady. I read through everything of interest in my local library, both as a means to escape and as a way to learn about experiences like mine. I needed to find myself a broader collection. I needed so much more than was available to me in this quiet little town. I couldn’t wait to take myself off to college.
“A fresh start,” I thought, “and I’m never coming back here!”
As George Bailey said in “It’s A Wonderful Life,”
“I’m shakin’ the dust of this crummy little town off my feet and I’m gonna see the world!”
I, too, wanted to see and experience it all. To move away from my little community and explore new locations and new ideas. To communicate and travel, and develop relationships, and build a future. To create my life.
And I did. Florida. Boyfriend. California. Husband. Idaho. Children. North Carolina. Divorce. D.C. Freedom. Istanbul. Crete. Edinburgh. London. Paris. Rome. Tulum. Efes. Patmos. Iona.
In my pilgrimage, I’ve found many sacred spaces to nurture my soul. To teach me what I needed to know. To remember my authentic self. And bring her forward.
But here’s the thing: never tell the universe that you are never going to do something.
The universe will laugh at you.
She’ll start with a husky, sultry, chuckle deep in the back of her throat, imperceptible, until it catches momentum and ripples through your life in a way that you didn’t see coming. She’ll make you catch your breath and shock the wind out of you.
She’ll awaken you at 4:00 a.m., distract you with discomfort and disorientation, weaving fragments of a dream that won’t let you go back to sleep. Something just out of reach, that you’ve tried to avoid is lying dormant right under the surface of your subconscious. Waiting for you to let down your guard.
Then, she will conspire to orchestrate events to make sure that you do exactly what you swore you would never do.
And when, gobsmacked, you realize that you created conditions to manifest the one thing that you were certain to never, ever repeat: her glee erupts in volume—This is all a great cosmic joke!—and transforms into the manic cackle of Vincent Price.
I have to go home.