The following is a shorter piece of a larger piece: the creatures that cross our paths and the lessons they bring in the crossing
Orange red, the eft, so bold it stops me in my tracks. A timid sleeping sweet newt hiding under a leaf and I am obsessed. They are water dwellers trying their hand at living on land for only a short time. I want to pick this tiny friend up, take them along for a ride in my pocket. It is only after first seeing and then following up with some research that I find out this newt is filled with a fire.
They move quickly but when spotted, stop. Full stop. I want to pick them up and hold them but I’m worried I will pull a leg off or a tail. What if they lost their tail? But then I remember their resiliency; after loss they simply grow a new one. There is renewal, rebirth. Even in the darkest moments, they pull from within and rebuild.
The seven-day devotion candle, to keep me on track, lasted ten days, maybe more. I would blow it out and relight it each time I left the cabin and sometimes even when I would sleep because I just had a feeling. I am trying to mark time with candles but it’s not quite working. Sometimes I can trust fire to stay where it is supposed to, to not destroy everything in its wake, to stay contained. But sometimes fire needs to be extinguished, needs to quiet in order to come back glowing.
See each ending as a new beginning. The tarot told me so, friends do too. “But look at all the openness! Now you can create!” I have been the one telling this to other people, it’s the things we say when there is nothing left to say, when the only other option is to lay down on the floor and stop moving. And what if I truly love what I created, what I had and lost? What if I didn’t want more or different or change? But maybe I did, on some level. So I walk outside instead, take trips to the co-op, cook meals to fuel the body and replenish the places that are deficient.
But why does this feel like forgetting? Betrayal? The candle burns out, I run to replace it. I don’t think of Frank the second I wake up, I berate myself. That candle doesn’t smell right, find another. I buy two of everything so I don’t run out, make grocery lists and to-do lists and future to-do lists so that I can harness some sort of control over the ways I am told I am not even a little in control. People like me can’t just let go of the reins. I can’t just throw my hands up in the air and say “Fuck it, do what you will universe.” So I grip tight, try to loosen when I can. Hope that all that I lose, all that’s been bitten off with sharp teeth will regrow.
My days outside of the city look like this: wake up, grind beans by hand and make coffee, put on my “woods” playlist, dance when the moment is right, check social media, scold myself, egg on cheddar on toast, light incense and waft it around into all the heavy places, scold myself, make another cup of coffee, look at the list I have made for myself, walk outside, drive to find pottery, answer those emails, try to do a little work for pay, scold myself. Write, if I’m lucky. Reading. Weave thread through new spaces, new fibers. Sometimes I sing really loud, losing that fear of being heard through the thin walls of city apartments. My voice carries here. It’s actually a beautiful way to live in a lot of ways, marking time with ritual and fiber and scent and pen and sound.
I gather from the woods for Frank. I bring him with me on these walks, I ask him to come, I look to the illusion of him trotting along by my side in that way he proudly gallops, return home with gifts from the earth and the trees and the feathers that fall in our path. His altar filled with my life here, the life he can only feel from the other side, whatever side that actually is. There’s ghost pipe for the pain, self-heal to embrace the healing we hold within our own bodies, cordyceps to honor the cancerous process (and to try to expel its grip on me and him), the “seeker of keys” tarot card as a reminder that we now choices and there are many doors to walk through, the aragonite, amethyst, and sodalite that I placed around his dog bed when he was the sickest, his post-death ceramic paw print, framed and unframed photos, the leaf with the changing colors, the new candle because I can’t be without a light yet. So many of these things I have carried with me from Brooklyn. I wonder when it will be past the point of useful, when carrying these around become just another way I am weighted down with past lives.
My mother told me that Frank is now in heaven looking down. Morbid and contradictory, I joked that who knows, maybe he is in hell. Or some kind of purgatory. “Ohhh, no. He’s not in hell.” And it’s true, Frank is not in hell or in any sort of imaginary place or place I can’t feel him, he is here, still, and in new ways. Frank was my daemon, not to be confused with demon, and much like he was in life, he is now beyond guiding me in that subtle but necessary way. It helps to think of his guidance, helps the grief that feels like bricks on my toes.
This grieving isn’t new, even though sometimes I think I have never grieved like this before. The experts and the books on grief tell me that the grieving process isn’t just about the current loss but more of a culmination and bringing together of all previous losses. I start to remember all the ways I have grieved before, the people, the homes, the families, the lost bodies, the wishes; how this isn’t the first time but rather just another time. I think of how my body has heaved in the past, how it has broken down, fallen down, how I have drowned out any sort of corporeality with bottles of cheap alcohol, nights of twenty-five cent bags of Cheetos. I think of how, years ago now, one month after an unexpected break-up I found myself in a $400 bridesmaid dress, not of my choosing, so drunk I couldn’t stand so I was sitting on a curb in my hometown trying to find a ride somewhere. And then, two days later I was in the back of a suburban cop car after smashing my borrowed mother’s car into a thin-boned tree. Totaled it. How I stumbled out of the car and tried to walk my way back to my mother’s through woods that I knew connected us but that I had never been in. How I somehow managed to be three times over the legal limit. How I hit the steering wheel and airbag so hard, I blew my nose ring right out of my nose. How that loss, that time, maybe it felt like other losses, other times I had lost myself, my body or the times it hadn’t been lost but had been stolen. How these things always happen in the suburbs where I am most afloat, places I am the least grounded, the least hopeful. How I just collapse right into “freak” mode, become all the things they think they see when they stare at the grocery store. How that was years ago and so often it feels like now. How I am imperfect and messy and I’ve been broken and glued so many times, I can’t always trace the first crack.
Is it the teen years all over again? Am I a bright fire teenager coming out of the water like the eft? Trying to live on land with my burning hot skin? I worry that this time, the fire is too big and I am too fucking mad and disappointed and it’s going to spread, that it’s already spilled all over. That it’s burning me down from my roots up. That there can’t possibly be rebirth. That I’ve lost too many limbs. That there are too many trees downed, forest too sparse. That maybe it’s too painful to stand. That maybe I’m still just wishing for a new limb, I want someone to just hand it to me already— sew it back into it’s socket.