Remember to Forgive, Forgive to Remember, explores quantum forgiveness using an unassuming authorial voice interspersed with the engaging storyline of my shocking and sometimes taboo life through a venue similar to Gary Renard's Disappearance of the Universe (DU) trilogy.
Remember to Forgive, Forgive to Remember, A Real Life Story of Quantum Forgiveness, was born out of a time where apparent scarcity and impending financial doom dominated my horizon. My husband and I, in our first year of otherwise blissful marriage, left our successful positions in the corporate world to follow our dreams of creating wealth and helping others. He was the manager/director of finance at an auto dealership; I was the director of a nursing program. After putting aside some funds for the project and creating several detailed business plans, we took a leap of faith. We tirelessly attempted first one business, then another, then a third! We created websites, business cards, hired professional marketers. We left no stone unturned. During this time, we read Gary Renard’s Disappearance of the Universe (DU) trilogy. Faithfully, we practiced forgiveness of whatever was in our face. We prayed in the manner that is described in The Song of Prayer¸ in A Course in Miracles (ACIM). This process opened my heart and I re-embraced my love of writing. We haven’t given up our business plans. Roger is working hard. And I am writing a book, as I always knew I would.
I have been writing for the better part of my adult life. I was the editor for my literary novelist ex-husband for 20 years. He groomed me for this position, using his Masters in English Lit to direct my education. With passion, I poured through every serious piece of literature and philosophy that came my way, from Bertrand Russell’s A History of Western Philosophy to Lawrence Durrell’s Alexandria Quartet. I wrote hundreds of poems and parts of several novels. When the tumultuous relationship with the novelist turned violent, I narrowly escaped with my life. At age 43 I had to start over. But I determined to make something positive of the ordeal and created a halfway house organization to help people recover from alcohol, drugs, and other abusive situations. I called the organization United Hope and was privileged to receive the Women of Peace Award for it. With a new lease on life, I experienced the full-blown throes of a spiritual awakening. I read all I could of contemporary literature on the topic and explored a number of paths in my driven search to become enlightened in my current lifetime. I tried to read ACIM and even attended a couple of study groups with ACIM students in 2004, but at that time I found it incomprehensible. I put the text on the shelf and continued my spiritual seeking. And then I found DU, or rather DU found me! Some months after putting ACIM aside, I received a spiritual-spam email from Wayne Dyer promoting The Disappearance of the Universe as the best thing since sliced spiritual bread and promising lots of free stuff if I bought it that very day, the day it was released by Hay House. So, to get the free Wayne Dyer stuff, I signed up and bought the book. I don’t remember what the free stuff was but I do remember getting DU in the mail, looking sideways at the weird title, and putting it on my nightstand. It stayed there for nearly 3 years.
By December 2007, I had tried Kriya yoga, been part of a Unity outreach ministry, and read most of Wayne Dyer’s and Deepok Chopra’s books. But I felt like I’d hit a wall in my search. Almost by accident, I caught sight of the book with the funny title that had been on my nightstand for these years – The Disappearance of the Universe. I was hooked right away. Suddenly all the pieces fit and I found the answers I had been seeking in other spiritual literature and disciplines. And DU was in my favorite kind of anarchist style! This book became the pivot in my spiritual quest.
I don’t remember how long it took me to get through the first reading of DU. I do remember that I began to read the text of ACIM right away. I wanted to go in order, to do everything right, so I could become enlightened in, oh, say the next couple of years at the most! I finished the text of ACIM within about a year. After that, I began the workbook. I never did more than one lesson a day and some lessons took more days than one. For the lessons that required practicing several times a day or hour, I set up an alarm on my BlackBerry so as I did my job as an ICU nurse at the hospital, I could remember to do the exercises. I was serious!
Nine years later, I’m still not walking on water, time traveling, or showing other warning symptoms of impending ascension. But when my husband and I discovered more Gary Renard books and began reading them, I renewed my determination for the quest of enlightenment. One day as we were reading Gary’s third book in his Disappearance of the Universe (DU) trilogy, Love has Forgotten No One, The Answer to Life, a phrase by Pursah jumped off the page. “People can’t hear this kind of a teaching often enough, and you not only help to reinforce the Course (A Course in Miracles) for people, but you also introduce new students to it.” It was almost as if Pursah, one of the enlightened masters who appeared to Gary, was speaking directly to me. Within a couple of weeks, I started writing Remember to Forgive, Forgive to Remember, A Real Life Story of Quantum Forgiveness.
Once I began to write my life experiences, I realized that the main purpose of the process is to find forgiveness lessons in my life that aren’t yet complete. Time saver, in the ACIM enlightenment world! The second purpose is to share that practice with you, the reader. That way we can both ‘save time’ and get home more quickly. As I write and relive these times in my life, I use my ‘bellyometer’ – a word I learned in recovery – to determine if there are any gut feelings related to those events that might indicate I have forgiveness lessons hidden that I can take care of right now. Then I ask the Holy Spirit for help in forgiving them.
A Course in Miracles explains that forgiveness is not linear. When we forgive something, either inside ourselves or in others, we experience the holographic miracle. There is no way for us to know at this point how vast the ripple effect is. And as I write about the sticky, often taboo subjects of my life story, I feel the hard knot of guilt dissipating. I give these experiences to the Holy Spirit. The guilt goes ‘poof’ and the peace of God that passes all understanding descends. What a good feeling that is! It sure as heck makes all this recounting worthwhile! I believe that as I am forgiving myself, the Holy Spirit is shortening the time remaining on my forgiveness contract. That particular forgiveness lesson has been redone, rewritten, and, just like a novel that starts out with one vision in mind, and morphs into another, my life is being rewritten by the Holy Spirit. A new dimension of time is opening that doesn’t include the forgiveness lessons that are not now needed.
The goal of this writing is not to make these events real to me or to anyone, but rather to teach myself – and others – how to forgive things that may seem either unforgivable or drastic. My real function, according to ACIM, is to find the special part in salvation where God does not appear to me to be insane and where I feel free. The next part of the Holy Spirit’s plan is for me to share this information – the part where I see God as not insane – with my brothers and sisters, according to the Course. Of course, I am in actuality no more special than anyone else. Each one of us has a unique perspective that, when given to the Holy Spirit, will be used to help those brothers and sisters who relate to that special viewpoint. We’re in this together! It’s my hope that you, as the reader of my ‘special’ story, will be able to relate to it and hence be encouraged to find episodes in your own ‘special’ history that you can give to the Holy Spirit for forgiveness, shortening the time on your contract here in the kingdom of suckdom.
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Chapter 1 – A Tumor of Glass
I started my foray into adulthood with marriage to a man from the church. He had a cool French name, after all. The wedding took place at the little stone-faced church up the hill from my parents’ trailer. I was 21. I moved into my new husband’s trailer, parked out behind his parents’ place, rolled up my sleeves, and got busy finishing the last year of my RN degree. The next summer, I embarked on my nursing career with great enthusiasm.
At last turned loose into a world from which I had previously been sheltered due to my religious upbringing, my curiosity respected few boundaries. The world I was exploring, however, was the county hospital of a small town in north Georgia, in 1983. I began looking for answers, asking everyone I met. I was pleasantly surprised to find that the people I was meeting, the so-called ‘sinners’ I’d been warned about – were kinder and more rational than many of the ‘chosen’ ones I had grown up with in the church.
And then fate – otherwise known as the scripted movie – intervened and brought some intellect into my limited southern cultural scene. A new nurse, a Yankee from Baltimore who had recently spent several years in California, moved into the area and took a job in the ICU where I worked.
Tanya, the new nurse, and I hit it off immediately. She was 10 years older, and a seasoned intensive care nurse. She was also seasoned in the worldly ways and knowledge that I was hungry for. She became my mentor in many realms. We began having discussions in the break room about philosophy, religion, and rock ‘n roll, in between discussions on how to stabilize blood pressure in the shocky patient and keep an eye on electrolyte levels. We’d ask another nurse to keep an eye on our patients and head back to the break room so she could have a cigarette while we talked. This was 1984 and yes, smoking was still allowed in the hospital, in the ICU breakroom, of all places! Tanya would encourage my enquiring mind. She’d do her best to answer my philosophical questions. She said she wasn’t really an intellectual, and insisted that I must meet her husband who would be able to explain everything more thoroughly.
One day we both had to come in to work for a staff meeting on our day off. Tanya lived in the boondocks, an hour away. She brought her husband, James, with her. He waited in the car while we attended the one hour event. Afterwards we all headed to the “big city” of Chattanooga, Tennessee, for a night of bar hopping and intellectual discussion, something I had never done before.
That night I threw all prior guidelines out the window and left behind the only life I had known. At the end of the evening, a few minutes after midnight, I phoned my husband of a year and a half and told him I was leaving. My new friends invited me to move in with them to their cedar-sided, A-frame house on a steep hill in the Georgia woods overlooking a creek.
It may have been 1984, but for all anyone looking in on the situation could tell, it might as well have been 1969. I embraced everything I had been told not to do – plus a lot of other things I had never heard of but was pretty sure would be forbidden. This included forays into the world of alcohol and drugs – mainly mind-altering ones like LSD and marijuana. I pushed the boundaries of social morays and threw caution to the wind. I decided God could not exist, at not least in the way I perceived Him. I could not accept that all these people out here in the world, my new friends, were doomed to destruction for their beliefs. If they were going to hell, I was going along for the ride. I turned up the rock-n-roll and fell in love with James who happened to be a literary novelist. We spent evenings drinking, smoking pot, listening to the previously forbidden rock music, discussing fiction, philosophy, and what we were going to do when we ran away together.
One night I got off my shift at the usual 11:15 p.m. I stopped to fill the couple’s little Nissan truck with gas, which I had driven to work, for some reason I can’t recall 30 plus years later. I could see a muscle car parked across the street, lurking in the dusty lot under the dim street lamp and revving its engines. I felt stark fear as I pumped the gas and paid the attendant.
The following section is adapted from a novel I started over 30 years ago. Pardon the heavy poetic metaphor. I was trying to impress my boyfriend the novelist, for one thing. Even more than that, the style was very much related to my state of mind which happened to be exceedingly fragmented. I hadn’t quite been able yet to marry my limited street knowledge to my growing intellect and burgeoning literary skills.
The growling car parked across the street screeched off, clouds of yellow dust mixing with the ringing darkness in its wake. Fear continued to permeate through me as climbed in the truck and headed down the tunnel-like rural roads that seemed to stretch on interminably. I was going somewhere, passing farmhouses that were nothing more than dots of yellow in the fat southern darkness. It was 25 miles, the same drive home, always the same. I arched forward over the wheel, but the feel was of moving backwards over the earth-scented roads, like going fifty miles an hour toward your fate, only in reverse. It was similar to praying, only with your eyes wide open and glaring over your shoulder. My fix was still the product of my perceptions, a shell with simple tasks to handle.
Low music from a scratchy Crosby, Stills, and Nash (CSN) tape filtered from the dash and settled on the floorboard. My headlights leaping into an empty field as I rounded a curve. Suddenly, there were lights up close in my rearview mirror. Where had they come from? Headlamps like concentrated torches moving from side to side. My thoughts immediately became scattered and yet compressed, bowed back deep into the brain stem, like pieces of grisel. Why did men seem vicious? Fear in me. Of course, always the fear. The lights in the mirror closer. Brighter. Flashing suddenly onto high, singeing my hair. The junker muscle car I’d seen in the dusty parking lot when I was pumping gas! I felt then, at that moment, that I might just be imagining life, nothing more than an X-Ray film of myself.
Wow, I can’t believe I wrote those words back then – that I might just be imagining life! I am blown away by what I knew unconsciously but didn’t have a clue about consciously! My unconscious mind was trying to tell me that this is just a dream we are having, but instead, I thought I was crazy!
Zooming back to 1984, the headlights were on my bumper now, an instant later fallen way in the distance. The car was tailing me. What was the motive? Rape? Where was I? Back and forth, in and out, trying to penetrate, trying to force me off the road. I grasped the wheel harder. I wasn’t going to release the power to him. The roaring swept into the left lane as the car started to pass me. I looked over. I could see the light wispy groupings of hair on the nearest man. The eyes were glowing, like underneath the lids of a man praying as he leaned out of his window toward the door handle of my car. Reaching with my right hand I slapped over my shoulder at the automatic lock. My limbs clicked harder into their positions.
I looked for signs, but there were only trees, tall pines with needles piercing the Georgia moonlight. The car surged in front of me, way ahead, and then slowed. The tail lights were now like looking backwards through binoculars. I had no thoughts, only the black and white turnings of my brain. All I could do was grip the wheel and increase the angle of my foot to the pedal. Suddenly it was gone! It had been lingering on the edge of the horizon a moment ago, but now there was no car. I was only driving to the place called home. Of course. I checked the position of my hands and feet, I was still going between the lines. Always afraid, just like a woman, just like the little girl I was.
A curve came. Suddenly the same headlights were telescoping toward me in the speeding blackness. My car surged right, into the ditch and out, but he was still coming. The bright lamps torched onto high. I thought, if they try to block my path I'll run into them and kill them too! I stepped on the accelerator.
And then, as the car passed me on the narrow road, there was a blast. The windshield flew apart. Glass blew inward and shattered the night like a bursting bladder. My head pounded the back of the seat and my breath came in one giant jerk. Broken shards of wind and glass raked across my skin. Air came through the hole in front of my head and mixed in a clockwise motion with music from somewhere on my dashboard. There was no time, no particular speed except a toneless feeling of moving away from something too dense…
Had I been shot? Through the head? In the chest? I felt wet. Somehow I remembered to check the mirror and the car was seeping into the distance like into a vacuum. The truck carried me on through the darkness, penetrating it, the tires balloons on silk. I picked a handful of glass splinters from my lap, strung together like a tumorous web, and let it fall onto the floorboard. Salt was on my lips.
The air rushing through the windshield and mixing with the sounds of CSN still playing on the tape deck helped center me enough to know that I hadn’t died. My heart was pounding in my ears, but no headlights followed me now.
Somehow I managed to make it to the ‘safety’ of a truck stop on the next highway and call the police and my friends. I was shaken and no doubt had a stiff drink once I was safely home. I don’t remember, but I’m guessing that was what I would have done back then. My life had changed, yes. Was this what ‘the world’ was like? When were things going to get better? When was the fear going to lesson?
So as I relieve these events from 30 plus years ago, I am releasing any attachment I have to their reality and to the guilt that I have been harboring. The guilt, after all, isn’t really about events that are simply illusions. According to ACIM, any guilt we experience is really just a replay of that original guilt we still feel due to the seeming separation from God. But that’s a lie. The separation from God didn’t actually occur and isn’t any more real than a dream we have at night in our beds. So the reality is that we are still connected to God as One. The seeming separate egos we “see” with our bodies’ eyes are illusions, part of the great projection, as ACIM calls it.
One of the specific events I am forgiving is that I fell in love with my friend’s husband. I have to remember to forgive myself and him for what we didn’t do. Even on the level of form, I didn’t plan on falling in love with a married man. In my confused, naïve frame of mind, having just discarded the strict religious moral guidelines I had been raised with, I wasn’t even sure what was ‘right’ and what was ‘wrong’. My job now is to remember that I was simply having a hallucination. I am safe still, at home in God. And the goal here is to wake up and remember that.
* * *
For the next two years the 3 of us – Tanya, James, and I – lived under one roof in the town of Talking Rock, GA. It could be a miserable existence at times, but I was able to channel my frustration into writing and reading. I penned hundreds of esoteric poems, and wrote part of a novel, excerpted above. I also poured through every serious piece of literature and philosophy that came my way, from Bertrand Russell’s A History of Western Philosophy to Lawrence Durrell’s Alexandria Quartet. I was searching for truth, pointing out hypocrisy with a razor edge, and criticizing anyone less intellectual or ‘enlightened’ than myself. This, of course, was just my own special version of the age-old ego trick of trying to make oneself look better due to apparent lagging performance by others.
Tanya likely suspected something was up, and often treated me with scorn. According to James, the two of them had been fighting ever since they’d gotten together a few years earlier. This continued, and I could hear them arguing late into the night. I’m not sure why the three of us continued together, but I was paying a good monthly rent and James was able to continue writing his philosophical novels. Meanwhile, I was the second shift charge nurse in the surgical ICU at the hospital and Tanya was the third shift charge nurse. I’d go home and hang out all night with James, drinking, dreaming, philosophizing, and yes, having sex. I was in my mid-20s, he in his early 30s, after all. We were young.
Some of the time, we had fun – a lot of it. But other times, like all of duality, were anything but. I suspect that the amount of alcohol we consumed contributed greatly to the anything but side. The ego, after all, wants us dead, according to ACIM. Alcohol is just one of the ego’s false roads to happiness, a bribe of freedom behind which are the thinly veiled prison bars of sin, which soon become visible, particularly after the first 4 or 5 drinks. There is a reason, after all, why some call it the devil’s brew.
I remember feeling so lost, lonely, and desperate that at one point I wanted to end it all. The two of us had gone for a walk in the frigid, early spring. The sky was a cold blue contrasted against the orange leaves and the trail slanted through the tree trunks. As we descended, I saw a shiny brown rivulet making its way to the bottomland creek. I looked over at James. He was saying nothing and kicking dead sticks, one at a time, breaking them. We stopped at the joining of the slow brown rivulet and the fast, clear stream. I reached for his hand that hung empty beside him, squeezing it without reply. Inside me was a feeling like a jagged piece of blue marble knotted tight. My fingers fumbled with a crumb of Kleenex in a cold pocket until it was a tiny ball.
"Sandy, don't ever think there's any hope for us," said James, looking into the distance.
In response, he put up his empty hand up to shush me. I thought of his woman, Tanya, back at the house on the hill, sleeping off her third shift in their darkened bedroom, comfortable in the quilts. James was saying something, pointing at the orange leaves, the brown stream, and the creek, something about there being nothing for them either.
"We have to go back before Tanya gets up, but you must understand what I am saying." His hand dropped the stick; it fell flatly into the dirty stream and stuck in a root hanging over the bank.
The water inside squeezed out of the marble and filled the twisted parts until it seeped through the slits on top that were my eyes. His arm reached out and held me as if to comfort, for a moment, at least, before we headed up the hill.
The smoke wound out of the chimney blacker than it had before we left. James was in front, the rock patio coming up fast to us as we ascended, separately. Suddenly the glass door slid open, banging hard against the mortar. Tanya’s uniform was white and starched on her stiffened body. Apparently they’d called her in to work early. Her eyes got big as her face quickly became small and pointed.
"Where have you two been?" The sound was like the taste of unripe persimmons, but more important to me was what I remembered him saying – “Don't ever think there's any hope.”
Suddenly I couldn’t bear the pain of rejection any longer and darted past the scowling Tanya to my room, grabbed my gun and diary, and headed out the door. My destination was a favorite of mine, Carter’s lake, about 10 miles away.
My gun was a tiny 22 caliber North American Arms pistol I’d bought to protect myself from the rednecks, since I no longer believed in God or angels. In the fun times, James and I would line beer cans up around the property on the fence posts, drink, and shoot the cans off the top of the posts. Now though, I sobbed as I drove through the scenic, lonely woods to the park.
I pulled into a parking lot overlooking the fingers of water far below that had been gouged into the Georgia forest when the dam was built. The sun glinted sharply off the deep blue-green of the lake and became lodged in the fat tears of my sorrow. Would the pain in my heart ever dissipate? Wasn’t love the answer, the safety net that protects the self from dying alone in a large white room? I didn’t want to reach the end without the safety of another’s equal love, the only real thing existing in this prickly, cold, hard, world. The flow from my eyes lessened a bit. I turned the radio off and stared blankly off into the distance.
An hour passed. I was calmer now. I tried to comfort myself by penning a morose poem about death and desperate, codependent-style love in the locking diary that I usually kept in James’ safe. Suddenly there was a knock on my window. I looked up. It was James! Even though this was before the advent of cell phones he had figured out my likely destination. And he did try to comfort me. But I could tell he was more worried about the mess he’d gotten himself into than anything. However, I felt a change that day, a ray of hope. He cared. From then on, I did my best to tow the thin and jagged line between being a paying house guest of my friend, and being a covert lover of her husband, the admitted alcoholic Irishman, yet literary genius.
One day Tanya and I were off work on the same day. James, the writer, was in charge of his own schedule. The two of them decided that it was time for me to ‘drop’ acid. I had never done LSD before and was pretty much terrified as well as looking forward to it. This stuff had been sent by a friend of theirs from Baltimore. It was blotter acid – tiny drops of the straight chemical dropped onto a sheet of paper that was perforated to create small squares. Each tiny square was a ‘hit.’
Apparently you had to do this tripping business just right or you’d end up being paranoid as hell, I gathered from the discussion we three had before the event. Well, that was the scary part – I was already riddled with fear and paranoia and that was just sitting in the living room, no acid on board. But I felt I had to do this thing, so I took the piece of paper into my mouth and swallowed it with a chaser of Heineken. I remember the Heineken because later that morning I became fixated on the green bottle cap.
For about 45 minutes I didn’t feel anything. I was just sitting in the living room that overlooked the woods and bottomland valley where the creek was. The two of them were moving throughout the house. And then I noticed the cedar planking on the side of the stairwell. There were sheets of purple and green moving over the wood grain. I was quite dumbstruck and didn’t really want to move from my seat. But they insisted that we go on a walk down to the creek. I noticed the two of them were getting a little paranoid. They wanted to leave in case anyone might come to their place – not that anyone had ever visited, at least not in the time I’d lived there.
As we descended on the path, I became aware that the pines I’d walked through so many times before were actually extensions from the earth. I felt that I was one with the forest. Once we got to the clearing in the field below, I went off by myself and lay on the earth in the tall grass, watching the clouds pass overhead. It felt pretty good, but I was having a difficult time deciding what I might need to say and do next. In fact, this was really just a noticing of something that I had an issue with all the time. With my strict and sheltered upbringing, I often was at a loss when it came to interacting with people who hadn’t been brought up in my Seventh Day Adventist culture. And now, since I had rejected that culture, I often felt I didn’t have a way to interact with ‘normal’ people. The acid simply magnified the feeling. What happened after this was close to a schizophrenic break, I believe. The following section was written the next day after the ‘trip’ about the experience.
Suddenly, it seemed, I was riding in the back seat. My hand that wasn't the watch reached through the seats and grabbed her hand. "I want something real," I said and mashed and rolled the bones. The hand was limp. It felt like it had nothing to say. I let go and it flopped like jelly on the floorboard. I looked through the windshield at the oncoming cars. They weren't regular cars, they were shiny caplets on the horizon that came on slowly and stayed the same size until they killed you, over and over.
I stared at my watch. We had pulled over into a church parking lot. I didn’t want to let go of the watch. Somehow I felt if I tried to hold time still, I would be safe.
"Give it to me," he said. "Give it to me or I'll take it from you."
The big man with the beard threw my hand against the brick wall and the fingers burst. He stood with his muscles strong as brass and his backbone a steel rod ending in a gentle curve that bulged under his pants fly. My fingers faded and left a pile of broken springs while the blonde woman, Tanya, looked on. The sky was round and too sincere. We walked back to the truck, squeezed and bulging on the edge of the graveled lot. I got behind the seats.
"Where are we?" I asked. "Tennessee?"
He was patting her blonde hair and telling her he loved her. He didn't look at me. The cars were coming again. The trees had purple lights on the branches. Then wind came sucking through the windows and went under the seats. It blew out of the seats in many whispers. I could understand the part that sneaked behind my back and made me jerk around. "You know, you know, and ah, ah, ah, ha, ha, ha!" My skin was scales and I was hard and sunken in. He stopped patting her hair and rubbed the fur that came through the opening in his shirt.
Now, an instant later, and a mile he said, past the stop light, I was standing in vomit. The woman with the blonde hair said she'd help, but couldn't, or wouldn't. She went to the sink while I vomited. She looked at the toilet paper in the stalls, checked the trash cans. I couldn't talk. When she at last noticed me I was wiping up the vomit with the paper towels tearing off in my fingers like wet cigarettes. She was my friend. She said she'd saved me.
Tequila. My lover in the other room, the bar, drinking it in many little tilts. The men there, the music, liquor bottles behind the bar as if someone had put them there. Drunken overalls. Paw-like feet. Tiny yellow eyes. Huge asses on their bellies. The man, Pudder, they called him, standing close, as if to violate me with sausage fingers. We had come to a town I knew and did not know. My ex-husband might have been around the corner, stalking me.
Then I was at the truck and the fat man, Pudder, had disappeared. I was standing in a gleam of asphalt, the cars all around steaming and shimmering in the waves of heat. I felt normal. A little boy was selling candy on the parking lot. I wasn't insane. I'd buy candy from him one day.
We were on the horizon again, every revolution of the wheels a new horizon line, an infinite number of horizon lines swimming over my spinning circumference. In the road there were many bumpers, shiny and square, small at first, flying into the weekend with us, becoming round and huge as we approached and demolished them in our eyes. A clean wind was around my ears. I looked behind and saw the sleeping bags, food box, and neatly packaged green tent in the back. The couple in front gestured at the trees, flowers and white puffy clouds. The woman's hair flew and her eyes were wide. She scooted down in her seat to get a better view of the sky that had no darkness in it.
I was dizzy and alone, then we crossed the river. They stopped and were arguing while I looked to where the water met the land. It was flat water. The trees and boats flat, frozen reflections.
We were wandering now in an empty forest. The trees were new and ocean green. We started hauling things in a rough wooden box to the other side of the forest where a crooked dead tree leaned up into a single shadowy star that had just appeared in the sky in the early twilight. Suddenly, across the way, a princess with slow grey eyes and jeans with a small rip at the hip appeared through the leaves. Her hair flew in the wind like cat's fur in a gale. A man was serving her tea in a paper cup. He wanted to build a fire for her by adding sticks one at a time to a tiny flame. Tanya hated the princess because she sat on a lounge chair and let her breasts hang out. She glared at the breasts as we went past.
We put the things by the tree. The tent went up from a small cylindrical bag to a huge green shell with three downy bags inside lined up like corpses with pillow heads. Outside, the whiskey bottles gleamed brown gold on the table and clear plastic cups stood beside them, partly filled.
I was cold. I walked away from the chair and the tent and the small plastic table. I walked beside a black mirror that sucked up light and left pictures in it. My guts were dragging behind me, so lonely was I. Some men in a boat tried to find me, but I hid behind a tree. They had a light.
Back at the tent I could see warm laughter. In my absence the two of them had built a high night fire and were beside it, moving, their hair gold feathers with the edges touching. Inside me the chills were congealing. They started at the edges and moved in little whorls to my core. When I reached the fire we three looked at the water and the marina for a while. The chills were gone, but something cold and hard stayed under my ribs.
On the way to the bar I drove. My shoulders were bent by a band of steel that was tightening at the sternum and making my arms jumpy. The lights were still too bright and clear and had streamers after them, but I no longer heard the whispers. I was still afraid; the steering wheel wasn't connected to the wheels and there was loose fabric between the wheels and the pavement. Then we were there and the steering wheel went hard and I couldn't turn it. Tanya screamed at him and them at me, and I sprung out of the driver's seat and he parked. Once again, I realized I was just skin stretched over a shell.
The high wooden doors dwarfed me as we walked through them, a child with a too big purse fumbling for a piece of paper that had my name, where I lived, what I looked like on it. Finally I found it and entered a wooden bar.
Slow magnets of light pulled up from the edges of the room. Chilled wolf eyes gleaming green and the fangs white. Once in a while ice cubes in an upturned glass or an empty bottle on the littered floor. Men with leather jackets and matted hair staring at me with lecher eyes. We stood in front of a small wooden shelf. On the other side of the shelf was a lion clawing a guitar and screaming, tossing his black mane, thick with oil. Tanya began screaming too, happily. She jumped and jumped and gripped her bottle. Her long hair flew and my bearded lover patted it down and squeezed her shoulder.
I was a skeleton, caved in at the hip and the back of the head, awaiting my drink. I couldn't understand the words or the music. A cloud of whispers was drifting down from the ceiling fans repeating all the foolishness I had ever thought or heard or felt or said. I looked at the blades going round and wanted to run. James yelled something to me through the noise. The words were far away, in a bottle like. "I can't talk now, but I've got a lot to say."
I remembered the crooked tree and the star. I wanted to go there, climb that tree and take off toward the blackness, let my soul heave in one great groaning spasm. Instead there was clutter: laughter and shrugs and jealousy and hate and loneliness. And stupidity.
The men were all around me. They pressed in close with their eyes and their crotches bulging. My shoulders were frozen skin too thin to keep them away. Long hair and fat bicep eyes staring at me. A glowering mosquito pond in the eyes and a little man beside it. I remembered the trailer we'd lived in, a heap of feathers and dried out machinery. The cesspool eyes, liquid as shit through the end of a wet sock, my husband crawling out of them, out of the fat eyes.
"Buy you a drink, lady?" rasped the machine. He winked and our nuptial trailer and dismal life melted. Instead there were the greedy eyes chewing my shivering crotch over the edge of a cold rough glass, the whiskey in it swirling with a suggestive motion. Inside, I felt a sallow wing twisting, teetering on a coffin's edge. I'd never take such a man, never let him sniff my breast or my breath.
I looked around for my man, but Tanya had her elbow in him at the waist.
"No," I said, and the trailer oozed deeper in the mud the way it did in storms.
I looked over at Tanya. There were two rings on her hand on his hip. Then he was taking me, yellow-skinned at the sink of the axle-less trailer.
"Love ya, honey. See?" His hand cleared his pocket, pink with a silver key. "Take a ride?"
I couldn't move. Pinned. Jagged and splitting, a lightning bolt coiled in a petri dish, like a dead fetus.
"No," I told him.
I turned away from the man with the mosquito ridden eyes and felt fingers singe my buttocks, curling over the quivering cheek. They quickly probed the secret, shameful crease, once.
I jerked away, crusted sand. I lifted my arm and the slap fell dully on his hollow cheek.
The whiskey stopped swirling and then sloshed over the edge as he burst out laughing, nudging his motorcycle buddy. I stumbled away, clumsy with my sandbag flippers banging the floor, away from the stretched out jackets leaning over the bar. Outside the street lamps were blue moons.
I was alone for a long time. Sometime later we left the bar for the camp by the lake. I sat solo by the fire. The two of them were in the tent, softly talking. I was coming back to myself, feeling saner than I really had ever been. I was still tripping, yes, but in a calm, collected way.
Then, finally, James climbed out of the tent. He came out to the fire and sat down a little way from me. The crooked tree was moving in the stars and the sky was not a line and not a circle and there was a varnish on the water. But somehow I knew it was all just an idea and that I was going to be OK. I felt that way for a long time and then the moon went away and the varnish stayed and purple came around the edges of the sky. The stars in the center got dim. It was chilly and the inside of my nose was cold. He kicked a log and the fire flared up bright. We talked quietly for some time, about life, about the universe, about us. Something inside me had snapped loose, the wing had broken free and the correct half had cleared the coffin edge.
Whew, what a long strange trip it’s been, to quote the Grateful Dead, a band I probably listened to at some point during that ‘dream’ day in 1985. The terror that I endured during most of the trip, I attributed to facing my fears and inadequacies related to my childhood. I was just 24, and a very naïve young woman. But as I look back on that time and forgive the terror and scenes I experienced, I realize that the feelings were not just from my childhood. They couldn’t have been. Yes, it was pretty crazy childhood, I lived in a car, moved all over the country, and was immersed in a religion that was too far to the right for my comfort, but it really wasn’t that bad. My parents loved me deeply, something that many children do not have. No, the craziness and sheer terror I felt that day had to be from the original ‘sin’, the separation from God that we all have in our current state. To paraphrase A Course in Miracles, all fear is simply a re-experiencing of that original separation when we knew we were guilty sons of bitches and would never be able to come home. And now, right now, I’m forgiving that fear consciously. The Holy Spirit is helping me and I’m not scared and I’m not guilty. That’s a miracle.
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