The Four Hundred and Ninety Ways I’ve Left You

a rough excerpt

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Everything was going great for Jo until she ran out of money, got evicted from her apartment and then had to move back in with her parents.

Something kept her from calling her parents until the last minute. There was a relentless nagging gut rot that came whenever she thought about it.

But she was desperate and there were only three options that she could think of.

The first option was to send her five year old daughter to live with her dad while Jo stayed in a shelter. She couldn’t bear the thought of her daughter living like that when there were other options for her, even if it meant they would be apart.

The only problem with that was the fact that Nora’s dad had been trying to take her away from Jo since they left. He was mad that Jo had left and took Nora. He was even more mad after he was served papers that showed Jo had asked for a restraining order. (He was very angry she left and he looked at her with real violence in his eyes as they were trying to sell the house.)

Jo believed that if she left Nora with her dad long enough to get the supports she would need for affordable housing, she would never be able to live with her again.

The second option was to ask her parents if they would take her back while she tried to sort out finances she needed to live while she recovered from severe depression.

The third option was to apply to a long-term shelter for vulnerable women where there was support for all areas of life, including mental health, finances, custody cases, and the kind of things a single mom finds herself facing if she needs help and had nobody to help.

This isn’t a sad story. Jo wasn’t the first single mom scrambling for a place to stay or making choices between not so great options. And she won’t be the last. It’s part of life, she thought.

Jo didn’t want to risk losing her daughter to a controlling, hyper critical man who had been emotionally and financially abusive to her. She wasn’t able to believe that Nora would be unscathed.

Jo had no way of knowing what her gut rot was trying to tell her. And at that point, though she knew her parents didn’t want to be burdened with the extra work that came with caring for a depressed single mom, she felt like she had no better choice.

She faced her fears and called the house. Her mom answered. They didn’t chat for long. When Jo told her mom she needed to come home because she didn’t have enough money to pay rent, her mom got angry and then said she would discuss it with her father and get back to her.

Jo’s landlord was knocking on her door every day now. She was really scared. She didn’t know how to deal with the intense conflict. A few days earlier she had told him that she wasn’t sure she could pay the rent. She said she couldn’t work because she was struggling with severe depression and anxiety. But she had no place to go. He asked her if she had parents. Of course she did. He told her that it was settled, then. If she was sick she would call her parents. She would move in with them. They were her parents, they had to help her.

Jo wondered what bubble gum world her landlord had been living in. Did he have family that would take him and his children in if they suddenly lost their house? Would he do the same for family? Was that really the norm and it was Jo who was living in a warped world?

Her dad called a few days later. He had mediated between Jo and her mom and negotiated a reasonable deal for everyone.

Because Jo had been left hanging by her insurance company and the only source of income she had was welfare, her dad said she could come home with Nora for one month. In that month they would help her find an apartment and help her get the insurance settled. Finding a place was going to be tough because her credit was wrecked after having to claim bankruptcy after the split when her income became zero and all the bills had been in her name because she had been the one to have a 9-5 job to support them while her common-law husband pursued his dream through running a business with his dad.

Jo’s dad said they would use their credit to co-sign for a lease and they would give her up to $600 a month for up to a year so she could rent a two bedroom. He thought it was important for Nora to have her own room, even though Jo couldn’t afford the rent for a studio.

Jo’s mom told her to apply to the long-term woman’s shelter in town. Jo really wanted to be able to live on her own. At the time, she didn’t think things were that bad. And they might not have been, if not for circumstances out of her control.

Her dad looked for apartments. He said it was tricky to find a place for a single mom. Nobody in town wanted to rent to someone who had a young kid. Especially not one who had no job, even if she did have a co-signer.

Jo’s parents had gotten into New Age pretty heavily before Nora was born. They belonged to a community of psychics, intuitive, mediums and reiki masters.

Staying at her parents’ home, she got to know many of the psychics and mediums. She was constantly asking for advice. She believed that hearing unspoken truths held white-knuckled by those trying to hide would help her keep from being blindsided.

What she heard unanimously was that Nora’s new step mom was a dark hearted girl. Jo was told to watch out for her. Her mom said this woman was a child collector.

Another person said that she used to party too hard, but that she had cleaned herself up. He told Jo that she was a real backwoods girl at heart, which, to this man, meant she was willing to play dirty and maybe even get physical.

So, Jo was on edge. The problem was that she didn’t know Nora’s new step mom. She had tried to be friendly and welcoming in the first years, holding onto a Pollyanna fantasy of blended families having some differences but ultimately each member being willing to get along for the sake of the kids. But it seemed as soon as this woman had seen for herself that Jo wasn’t a threat, she was willing to be mean, to ignore her or make sarcastic comments when she was dropping Nora off.

Jo gave up trying to be nice. She focused on being quiet. On speaking up only if she felt it was what her daughter needed, and trying to let go of the other things. She didn’t do a very good job of letting go of the little things. In the moment, these things seemed to be signs of a bigger problem.

When the search for an apartment looked like it wasn’t going to work out, that she would have to stay another month, things started to get weird.

Jo went to a guided meditation with her mom. It was creepy. But the creepy part only lasted a few minutes and the rest of it was pretty cool. The group was guided to go into a tree (in their minds) and up to the branches. When they were guided to come back down, she saw four things inside the hollowed trunk of the huge tree that were supposed to represent her spiritual gifts.

She happily talked about her gifts with her dad, believing he had the wisdom to guide her. What they talked about mostly was keeping safe. He never said anything like, wow you’re talented in talking to the dead, you should mentor with one of our medium friends. He never said, hey, I recognize the guide you have with you because she’s been with you since birth. He never explained what the symbols meant that she saw in the tree trunk during her meditation.

She had told him she saw an orb, a stick, a pinwheel and a triangle. This was a man who’d spent years studying metaphysics, had been practicing astral projection even longer, and was considered a spiritual mentor and guide to many in their small community. He asked her what she thought they meant. She had no idea. After talking to her mom, she asked if the stick could have been a wand or a staff. He asked her what she thought. Jo asked her dad if the globe could be a crystal ball. He shrugged.

It wasn’t too long after that meditation that her spiritual journey started moving forward in leaps and bounds.

She started to have vivid dreams. She connected with her guides right there in her parents’ living room. One guide watched tv with them, amazed by how the emotion came through the screen and affected her, even though it wasn’t live.

Once she’d had a precognitive dream that proved true, and once she felt connected to her guides, she started to believe that her spiritual gifts were blossoming. She felt good with her guides. She felt like she was headed in the right direction. She felt that working on these relationships was going to help her in life.

In the meantime, each morning on their way to get tea and coffee after dropping Nora off, they talked about the drama coming from Nora’s dad and step mom. Jo was starting to wonder what this psychic attack was. Nobody could explain it. Or they wouldn’t. It was making her nervous. And, like her parents’ favourite comedian said in his stand up routine about parenting, not making a specific threat was more effective because imagination is worse than the real thing. At least, that’s what Bill Cosby said in the ‘80s.

As Jo’s imagination started to go wild, wondering if psychic attack could include people hearing her thoughts, her dad was bringing ethereal concepts into the physical world. Her dad, a man she trusted and had faith in, started making triangles with his hands as they rested on the steering wheel. This came the day after she was reading about the Illuminati online.

And then Jo wanted to know if her dad could hear her thoughts. As she got more and more afraid that people who hated her might be able to somehow figure out her thoughts, she needed to balance that out with some sense of security. Her dad knew way more about any of this than she ever did. She was just starting. She thought if she could connect with a man she trusted who knew about metaphysics, she’d be safe.

So she started having conversations with him without words. She would think something directed at him. And because she was testing him, she didn’t say anything out loud. What she did one afternoon that convinced her, was ask for proof that he could hear and understand her thoughts. But what proof could she ask for? Something that couldn’t be an accident. And then it came to her. He had always been very careful about touching people. She just knew that him touching her would not be an accident.

At this point she was not talking to her guides. She was ‘talking’ directly to her dad. She told him that if he could hear her thoughts, she needed a sign and she told him the sign would be him reaching out and touching her, like with his hand.

As they pulled into a parking space and he put the SUV into park, he reached over into the console area as she was getting something. His hand very clearly touched her hand. It wasn’t a mistake. He touched it two times. That convinced her that her dad and her could communicate through thoughts.

Once this was established, things that nobody wanted to say out loud could be discussed. Yes, Nora’s step mom was attacking her. But not just her, him too. And on top of that, Nora’s dad was doing it too. So was one of their mutual friends. And they were working together. It bounced from the step mom to Nora’s dad to the friend and back to the step mom again.

Jo would look over as these thoughts were being shared and she could she her dad was in distress. He put his hands over his face at stop lights and ran them over like he was washing his face. Jo heard thoughts like, I’m old. I’m out of practice.

And Jo felt responsible for putting her dad in a position where he was being hurt.

The apartment hunting went from bad to worse. The one place that was willing to take her application seriously heard back from head office. It was a no. Her mom had pulled some strings to get her an interview with the shelter. Jo agreed to go but it wasn’t her first choice. She really had no idea how much support she needed, or how things were about to spin out of control.

Jo’s spiritual awakening gave her a sense of purpose and she didn’t feel lonely anymore. Her guides were always there to help. They were at the ready to show her what kinds of things came with these spiritual gifts. She felt it would be going in the right direction to practice the womb seal mudra she learned in a Vedic healing book, to know what it felt like to have that unleaking power flowing through her and how it felt when she focused her attention on her heart. She felt love. She felt so filled with love that she wanted to share it with others.

Her mom was starting to act weird, paranoid, even. When Jo and her dad were in a storeroom together and the door was almost closed, she could hear her dad thinking about what a crazy woman she was, worrying that the two of them would be up to something. Jo felt her mom’s anxiety in her side and her dad thought, ‘See? Crazy.’ He looked up after that thought and nodded toward the door.

One night, in her parents’ upstairs bathroom, not ten feet from where her mom and dad slept, she had a crystal clear connection with her guides.

At that point, Jo was convinced her dad was in trouble. She believed his health was failing and that he wasn’t far from landing in a nursing home. Mom had talked about how he was becoming paranoid, closing the main floor windows at night, shredding the mail. She said he had been leaving the stove on.

The three had always had a weird dynamic. If two were getting along, the other was excluded in a mean way. And then the two adults would start fighting and Jo would be stuck in the middle, being pulled at from both sides until she feared she’d be ripped in half. And when she couldn’t take it anymore, they would stop fighting and everything would go back to normal.

Things had been getting intense between her parents. Her mom was critical. They were mean to each other. But it was more than that. Her dad told her that her mom was jealous of her and that she would try to keep her down. He told Jo to ask her mom to teach her reiki. He said if she said no, it was because she was being selfish and envious. He said there would be no reason for her to deny her learning a healing method. He said Jo should ‘suss her out.’

Her dad started writing down weird things on a white erase board on the fridge. It was something about associations. A = apple B= Bob etc.

It was a test to see if anyone from outside his mind was trying to get in. It was a safeguard. He never explained associations to her, but she knew they were very important. It had something to do with identifying the thoughts of others in his mind.

When he would drive her to drop Nora off at school in the mornings, he would talk about Jo’s ex and his new wife. He said she had spiritual gifts, too. He said she was attacking her using negative psychic energy. Black magic. Jo didn’t know what that meant. She was too afraid to ask.

Something major happened one morning. She woke feeling like everything was different. She was able to hear two narratives without being affected by them. One was her own, the other was a person controlling her. She could hear a voice telling her she’d better stay home today. That she should tell her parents to take Nora to school and stay in bed. But she had an appointment with her doctor, she argued. It didn’t matter, came the response. We can reschedule.

She felt for the first time in her life she could see herself as separate from that controlling narrative. There was another narrative explaining what was going on, and telling her how to respond. Jo had been speaking with a man through the internet who she felt really loved her and was capable of taking care of her in these weird metaphysical ways. She trusted him fully. She believed he was a man she knew in real life who wanted to take care of her but couldn’t do this in a traditional way because of extenuating circumstances.

The instruction that she thought came from the man she loved told her to ‘play along’ and act like she was being controlled by the narrative, even though she was suddenly more free than ever in her life to think for herself.

She listened to the guidance of the man she trusted (or so she thought) and pretended to agree to stay in bed sick. She agreed to call downstairs and ask her dad to take Nora to school. The controlling narrative told her to stay in bed. She thought, ‘but I have to pee.’ And she was allowed to get up.

In the bathroom, she looked at her face in the mirror. Really took a good look. She was looking to see what was different. Was it in her eyes? Was there a glow in her complexion? She didn’t know. After she went pee, she was washing her hands in the sink and heard the controlling narrative say, ‘I feel sick.’

But the ‘aware and conscious’ part of Jo knew she wasn’t sick. So she responded, ‘no I’m not.’ But the controlling voice said, ‘yes, I feel sick to my stomach. I think I might throw up.’

And Jo’s tummy did start to feel queasy. She tried to stop the feeling by denying the suggestion. But then she heard, ‘I think I’m going to throw up.’ She responded, ‘no, I’m not’ and then ‘I think I’m going to throw up’ was repeated over and over.

When that didn’t work, she heard a command to gag. She thought, ‘I’m not going to do that.’ But the controlling narrative came, ‘I feel like gagging. I’m about to gag.’ And she did gag. Right there standing over the sink. She thought she would have to throw up in the sink. She gagged so hard her eyes watered. But all that came out was dry heaves.

After agreeing finally to go back to bed, she climbed under the covers over the air mattress her parents had given her to sleep on. She waited. She knew that the man she trusted could see everything that was happening.

He told her to get up and walk out the front door, not listening to anything her parents said, to only give short answers.

As she did that, her mom looked at her dad like ‘wtf?’ and her dad looked at her mom and shrugged. It seemed exaggerated. Like he was acting. Like he did really know what was going on.

Walking up the street, Jo felt a heaviness following her. She saw an image in her mind’s eye that her mom was above her driving her like a car. She didn’t understand what that meant, but she struggled with the feeling of being controlled.

She felt like the man she loved and trusted, the one she was talking to online, was still there with her, helping her through everything.

Little did she know, the man she thought she was talking to online had stopped speaking to her a year before, and another person catfishing by posing as the original catfish (who turned out to be someone she knew and loved and trusted) swooped right in there through one of the other accounts online she had been speaking with, believing it was the man she loved.

That night in her parents’ bathroom, her guide asked if she would do something for her dad, to show him how he was being manipulated by his wife. To free him. She had been told by her guides before that she was going to do something to help a lot of people. Her guide asked if she would be willing to help her dad even if it meant she wouldn’t be able to help as many people.

Jo was willing. It was her dad. She was loyal. She was the kind of person who would put family before herself. But first she wanted to know how many people she wouldn’t be able to help. Her guide answered “100”. She didn’t think that sounded like a lot. She was dedicated to helping.

Her guide said all she had to do was follow direction exactly as it came through.

The next day they were headed to the city to have brunch with extended family.

The instructions were very clear. Louder and more clear than anything had come into her mind before. The instructions were for every little thing. What to wear (black jeans and black turtleneck), whether her hair was up or down, the way she carried her jacket over her arm, which arm. The instructions were explicit in telling Jo to wait for instruction before acting.

Her mom yelled up the stairs that they were running behind. She was instructed to take her time. She was instructed to pick up her mom’s black leather gloves as she walked out the door and to use her mom’s keys to lock it.

In the car on the way down, she got the feeling that her parents were having a non verbal power struggle. Her ‘guide’ instructed her to ‘tell’ her dad to press his foot down on the gas in the fast lane. The purpose was to see if her mom would control him like she always did. The heat became overwhelming in the small space. She was instructed to not say anything.

This type of thing went on for the whole drive. It was intense. But her guide had told her last night that something serious was happening and that it needed to be resolved. Jo had been told that her family members were practising black magic and voodoo. She was told that she had one chance to help them be saved, because this was really bad.

When they got to the restaurant, she was instructed to tell her dad to take her daughter in, that she was going to go in first. She was instructed to go straight to the back where the restroom was. She was explicitly instructed not to look at her family members who were already there. She was instructed to sit in a specific stall and wait.

As she waited, there were times when her aunts or her cousin would come into the bathroom. Before they got to the door, Jo was told who was coming and instructed as to exactly what to say, or not say.

With her cousin she was instructed to not speak unless spoken to. With her one aunt she was instructed to sing a Christmas song in her head.

While she was waiting in the bathroom, she was told her dad had ordered pancakes for her. She would be told when the food arrived. That was when she could come out.

When this happened, Jo arrived at the table to see that food had come for everyone but nobody had ordered for her. She had missed a major announcement – her sister was pregnant. She was instructed to not look at her sister and to not say anything about the news. She was instructed to ask her cousin’s wife to pour her a coffee.

When her food came and she was eating, her aunt came over to talk. She was instructed to stare at her and think ‘if you look through the eyes of God you can be saved after practicing voodoo’. Jo was instructed that if her aunt looked into her eyes, she could in a way see through God’s eyes because He would lend her His eyes for this important circumstance. Her aunt became uncomfortable and changed seats again.

Her cousin came over to talk. Jo was instructed to stare at him too. She was told he might need an extra push to help him make the choice to look into the ‘eyes of God’ in order to be saved. She was instructed to start counting down from 10. At the end she was worried her cousin would not be saved. The guide soothed her and told her it wasn’t really his only chance but his best chance. She pleaded to give him another chance. She was instructed to give him another chance.

Jo was instructed to take her glasses off, put them down on the table and start to stare again at her cousin. He wouldn’t look at her. She was instructed to count down again.

Counting in her head, she thought, ‘five, four, three, two, one.’

And at the exact moment she thought ‘one’, her cousin looked up at her and said out loud, “ding.”

Later that evening, back at home with her parents, her mother sat her down at the kitchen table and said she was really worried about her.

“Have you been taking your depression medication?”

“Yes.”

“I’m concerned about you, sweetie. You’ve been acting weird lately and it’s getting worse.” Jo’s mom put her hands on her arms. “You’re depressed.”

Jo responded right away, “I am not.”

Her mom insisted. It felt to Jo that she was trying to convince her of something that wasn’t true.

She went to the front porch for a cigarette. A few nights earlier, Jo had been thinking about why asking Archangel Michael to cut her cords wasn’t working. She had brought everyone into a blue room and asked Archangel Michael to cut the cords as she was told by her aunt (also an intuitive). Jo didn’t think it was working because she was still feeling attacked. She had been forgiving people, too, as she was told that was important. On that night, her dad had come out onto the porch, unscrewed the light and tugged on the fixture.

“Nope, it’s too rooted.,” he said. This was in response to her thought question about cord cutting.

And on the night of telling her mom she was wrong about having depression, her dad opened the door and poked his head out. He thought, ‘I have to say something or she will think we’re working together to call her out for being the one messing with us.’ And then he yelled at her to watch her step, with his voice directed back into the house. But then he looked at Jo and thought ‘not really.’

As her dad headed for bed that night, he told her – in front of her mom – that she needed to get sleep. He said she had been acting weird and she couldn’t afford to lose any more sleep.

But his thought came, ‘tonight we can really prove she’s the one who’s been masterminding this whole thing.’

Jo stayed up all night, sitting on the couch with her legs crossed and her hands set to womb mudra (to conserve her energy) and she battled her mom video game style with the controller in this game being voice commands.

Jump, she said. And she pictured herself jumping. She dodged her mom all night. Her mom wasn’t letting up. Someone was helping her, telling her what commands to use (spin, cloak, jump etc).

After those experiences, Jo was willing to believe that it wasn’t just people who were specially connected (like twins or soulmates) that could be telepathic. That opened up a whole new way of viewing the world and how people could hurt her.

A few days before Halloween, everything went crazy. There was an overwhelming feeling of anxiety bordering on paranoia in the house. She believed she was picking up the emotions of others in the house and that it was too much to handle. She got swept up into it.

And then, the drama and chaos started in the physical world with conflict happening between Jo and her mom and her mom and her dad. With an undercurrent of Jo’s dad vouching for her with her mom, which meant if Jo did anything to fuck up the credit he had graciously extended her, things would blow up between her dad and mom, and her dad would blame her.

There was the ‘loving’ narrative in her head guiding her, letting her know what was really going on. It was mom casted as the bad guy again that night. But there was also a conflicting sentiment that dad was not so great either.

Between these many conflicting factors, Jo felt herself being pulled apart. She was invested in fighting to make sure the bad guy didn’t win. But who was the real bad guy?

As these narratives were battling in her mind, things were happening in the physical world to bring edification to her beliefs, worries, thoughts.

Her dad would say something to her mom and her mom would respond in a way that spoke directly to a ‘private’ conversation she was having in her thoughts with her dad.

And then the saviour narrative suddenly threw in the idea that she was being controlled by both. That this had been going on her whole life.

Jo began to focus on how it was happening so she could stop it. When a certain word was spoken on tv, she heard ‘that’s a cue.’

And then later that evening, when the microwave dinged, she heard, ‘cue.’

Her dad would cough, she heard, ‘cue.’ And she was in the living room with people she believed were hurting her. Just when she tried to believe that everything would be okay, her dad would cough and he would tell her to do something. Then he coughed and slapped his knee. ‘Cue.’

This went on until she was convinced that cues used for controlling her (in ways she was no longer able to distinguish – as she had on that one morning) were everywhere. And that her mom was hurting both Jo and her dad. Things got crazy.

Jo unplugged the microwave. She changed the tones on the iPad. She took a box of bite sized chocolates and threw them into the backyard. (She believed her mom was hurting Nora using the chocolates.)

Looking back now, Jo can see how her mother was probably being gaslit and manipulated, too.

When she threw the chocolates out, this caused a problem with her mom. She said something to her dad. And her dad got angry with her in front of her mom. He told her she was losing it and she was going to have to stop.

The next day, her dad had a chat with her about what had happened. Jo confided in him. She was really scared. Her dad was calm. Comforting. Like he was convincing a wild animal to get into the back of his van because that was going to help him.

He told her that what she was experiencing wasn’t normal. It was something that needed to be addressed right away. She asked him what she needed to do.

Her dad drove her to the emergency room. He told her to tell the triage nurse what had been going on.

As soon as she had talked to a nurse and was brought into a room for observation, the tension and chaos in her mind left her. There was peace once again.

But all she had admitted to was feeling like her mom was trying to hurt her with psychic attacks. She didn’t mention any of the details and nothing about her spiritual journey. Nothing about awakening.

But the peace had somehow been restored. And that’s what she desperately needed.

sunny side up

excerpt

Cooking on a gas range top for months as the valve seems to slowly break.

At first, it was the eggs. I’ve had this stove for years, I know how to work with uneven heat.

Some mornings I had to throw them in the garbage and start again. I mean, eggs. I began to lose my patience.

But I can’t afford a new stove. The money just isn’t there. So, I do what I always do. I work with what I have.

In the middle of the night a few weeks ago, after three days in a row of giving up on breakfast and going to work hungry, I laid perfectly still, waiting for the breeze to reach my sweaty forehead.

Eyes open, looking at a stucco ceiling in the dark as the light from street lamps play with the ruffled leaves and cast certain shadows, shapes that feel familiar.

A desire to give up cooking eggs altogether rising up from my chest, from somewhere behind my heart, but there’s nothing else for breakfast. That’s it. That’s all I have. Eggs that are delivered to my door each week as part of the communal fresh food project I signed up for. It was supposed to reduce the grocery bills.

But now I can’t remember how to shop in a store. On the third day without breakfast, I tried to find something in the cereal aisle. Picking up boxes with shaking hands. Reading ingredients out loud, hoping a nice old woman would come by to offer help.

The store was pretty bare that morning. And nothing on the boxes made sense. I couldn’t figure out what I would have been ingesting, so I put the boxes down on the floor and walked out without anything.

Watching the blotches of light on my ceiling and how they don’t bleed into the shadows. Wondering what is the purpose of light that remains separate.

Going to the bathroom at four in the morning, splashing water on my face to wash off the sheen of sleeplessness. In the mirror, in the dim light afforded by a lamp I had left burning in the other room, I look at myself.

There I am. There is me. The me that I am right now. The me that is a harmonious collection of each moment I’ve lived so far.

If harmony exists, then so must discord. And this sets my tired brain cranking the handle that starts up the cogs.

Parts of me hurting parts of you the way they hurt me, the way you reacted to them.

Parts of you twisting parts of me the way they twisted you, the way they tied me down.

Parts of us working together to kick parts of them in the back of their knees, felling them the way they once tore us down.

Parts of them laughing at us, picking us up by the hair, flicking us back through the air.

Parts of them leaving us the way they were left, the way they would, so long ago, discard a stale, half eaten butter and sugar sandwich even though they were starving.

None of this makes sense to me at four oh nine in the morning. But there it is, a jumble of ideas flowing through my mind, coming out as words that might make sense later.

Back in bed, reluctant to close my eyes, hesitant to allow time to march forward.

To face another morning trying to make eggs when failure seems likely feels like too much.

I want to curl up under my blanket and stay all day, forgetting about everything, letting whatever needs to be done be put on hold.

Have I reached the summit, I wonder. Could this possibly be what the summit feels like?

I always imagined the highest point to come with elation.

And then I remember, almost eight months ago, how I climbed that steep hill and stayed with the breath that filled and then left my lungs.

At the top, I threw my hands up in the air like I had won the lottery. I knew somehow this would change things. And my nerves spoke gently to my mind. Somehow, I believed the accomplishment would bring a need to be more cautious.

Maybe this giving up on eggs for a day even though there is nothing else for breakfast is a low, not a high.

I can’t tell anymore, because so many summits have felt like pain and so many valleys have felt like relief.

POSTCARDS FROM HELL: leaving the cult

story 7

Once upon a time there was a girl named Anne who was born and raised on the campus of a clown university.

There were secrets and magic at the university. First of all, these clowns were no ordinary clowns. And the classes were no ordinary classes.

At this university, there was no classic training. No tramp, no auguste, no mime.

In fact, it was a cult masquerading as a university. And that meant everything that was taught was taught to support the singular self-serving ideas and ideations and delusions of the leader, the founder and CEO. The prophet Sir Gregory.

The self-appointed prophet had many wives and daughters and sons. Nobody gives a fuck about him anymore, though, not since the Feds infiltrated the cult and threw him into prison.

But some of the young up and comers in the cult had envisioned Greg’s demise years before the fall.

They began to work in secret to divvy up the inheritance.

You see, though these men would suit up and travel with circuses in public, what the cult really taught was metaphysical law and how to bend it.

These men were pulled off the streets and given shelter and food at their weakest, most vulnerable moments.

They were groomed based on their God-given talents.

Some were natural healers, others magicians, still others mediums and time travellers, shape shifters.

You name a gift and Greg had pulled it off the street.

Anne was betrothed at a young age to one recruit who was a talented telepathic. Her father chose him because he knew that unless he taught Basil how to handle that wild gift in the insane ego-driven world, the potential to lose his mind was always there as a way to control him.

But his skill came in handy. And he needed someone with flimsy morals to control Anne as she started to come into her own God-given talents.

The exchange was this: Basil would get the prestige and title of son-in-law plus a few other perks (like the keys to a certain purple basement room) and Basil would do the work of keeping Anne locked in an invisible metaphysical box with no windows.

At first Basil thought it was a little harsh, but Greg flashed the gold and he was charmed.

Anyway, as the cult began to fall, Anne’s marriage began to fall apart.

Other young men who had grown disillusioned with the lack of advancement in the ranks started making their own plans.

Many were sick of putting on their clown faces and going into the crowds like soldiers with no true purpose.

Anne’s father had never figured out a way to remedy that. In private, he cursed millennials for their strong sense of self and ability to know they deserve more when they are being cheated – either by themselves or those around them.

It was a truth he couldn’t distract from, take away from, turn into something else or hide.

As Anne was mourning the loss of something she once thought of as real, scheming and backstabbing was happening all around her.

She had no idea why anyone would want to spend time with her. She was the daughter of a tired old cult leader who was losing the respect of his inner circle, and the soon-to-be ex wife of a man who had never thought of her as more than a pay out.

But they did. They did want to spend time with her. She hated the fighting. She hated competition.

And one night, while she was sleeping, a man who was really good at being invisible put a magic hood over her head and transported her to his room.

Anne wasn’t aware there were magic hoods. She had been taught nothing. The whole reason for Basil was to keep her as far away from learning about her natural talents as possible.

But this hood was able to daze and fog any person. It made a person more susceptible to brainwashing.

He set her up in a bed. He told her she was sick and that he would nurse her back to health.

Anne was incredibly vulnerable at that time. As Basil was ordered to leave the complex, things that he had blocked from her mind started to flow back in. She started to feel terribly afraid of her father. And her mother.

The only two people besides Basil that she felt she could trust in her whole life.

The things that came in were so horrific and violent, Anne had trouble believing it at first, but the intense fear would not leave her.

Yves told her things were crumbling. He said that life would change but not to be afraid because he would always be with her.

She believed him. Yves was the first face she saw when he took off the hood.

Anne loved him, her savior. This man who picked her up and carried her away from trouble. She believed he would always keep her safe and take care of her. She thought he took the risk because he loved her.

But then Greg found out that Yves had betrayed him.

It became a war of manipulation and lies and defamation. They both took shots at each other’s futures using the dark power of knowing how to bend the universal laws.

Anne was stuck in the middle of the danger without even knowing.

Yves would go out at night and she didn’t ask any questions. It wasn’t her place.

She was raised to be complacent. Just curious and lively enough not to raise red flags with anyone Greg or his wife had to interact with outside of the cult.

Yves presented himself as a knight who would rescue Anne and her unborn child.

Greg didn’t know about the unborn child when he ostracized Basil.

Yves had had a vision about the child, though, and if Anne hadn’t been hooded, she might have questioned his motives.

But she was too vulnerable when Yves swooped in to do anything but be thankful.

As the war raged on, the years went by. Anne’s child was born. A beautiful girl. She named her Rebecca.

Yves said he would teach Anne some basics to keep her safe. He said she had so much innate talent, it wouldn’t take much teaching at all.

But he was always busy clowning. He said he had to or Greg would know for sure that he was the traitor hiding his daughter.

In the meantime, Anne enjoyed more freedom than she ever had in her life, and she really liked the new neighborhood.

Her and Rebecca would go for walks and play in parks. They would go out for lunch sometimes with the money Yves left for groceries. It wasn’t actually his money. But there it was, in a jar in a kitchen cupboard.

Anne wanted a burger. Back home, they used to eat burgers all the time. Even though she knew it was no longer a happy place, Anne still missed it. It was her home. All she knew. She had nothing else but memories and this tiny apartment where Yves had taken her and claimed her for himself.

On the street one day, as she and Rebecca headed out for lunch, she bumped into a man. Literally bumped into him.

She was looking away at Rebecca, and this man was looking down at a book.

He smiled. She smiled. There was something familiar in his eyes. But she didn’t know what to call it.

It turned out this man worked on that street. And more and more, Anne would find herself going into the store to say hello without really saying hello.

This new world was wonderful and terrifying at the same time.

People just spoke their mind. Without hesitation or permission.

There were no rules.

Anne wished there was rules. Only so she would have some idea of what to do, where to go, how much of herself to share.

She was used to giving all of herself to anyone her father had okayed as needing her gifts.

Which, as far as Anne could tell, was her attention.

But to give her attention without command was seen as blasphemous. A brazen overstepping of her role.

But Anne kept going back. She loved to play with the wooden and steel puzzles as she sipped her tea and watched the world.

Yves, of course, though he was away clowning almost always, knew that Anne had met this man.

He never said he would marry her, but he made it clear he didn’t want Anne to be with other guys.

It was all very confusing for Anne, but familiar as well.

She loved Yves and would do anything for him. Anything.

But she didn’t want to be her mother. Wife one of fifteen.

Yet, Yves had rescued her. And that meant something to her.

So, she kept her interest in this man platonic.

One day, Yves came home from clowning and told Anne they would have to move. He couldn’t keep her and her daughter anymore.

He had run out of money. He had nothing left.

Anne didn’t know what to do. She had never been in the world all by herself. She had Rebecca to take care of. She didn’t know what she could do to make money.

Yves said he couldn’t take care of her. He had to go. He was sorry, but she was on her own. He knew she could do it, though. He believed in her.

She stayed on her own in that apartment as long as she could after Yves left. But the landlord started threatening eviction after one month short. And money for food was running out quickly.

Anne had no choice. She had to call her parents and beg them to take her and Rebecca in. She knew that she would be punished. She knew she would likely pay for the rest of her life.

Part of her wanted to explain the situation to the man down the street, but the last thing she wanted to do was pull him into the clown cult.

She knew the best thing she could do for him was to keep him safe the only way she could think of.

Yves had never been around, so the man assumed she was fully single. And there was no way to explain the clown who had rescued her from the cult run by her father.

She started to wear a ring on her left hand. She had found one in a bubble gum machine and it looked realistic from a distance.

About two weeks before her parents came with a moving truck to take her back, Anne walked down the street while the man was taking a break.

Her heart was breaking but she was good at burying grief and fear. Rebecca wanted to say hello, but Anne said no, they had to go to another store.

He had an expression on his face that she couldn’t scrub from her mind no matter how many years went by.

The man never knew what came of Anne. And though Anne prayed for him, she never saw him in her dreams.

She did mail a letter before she left. But she had no way of knowing if it got to him, or if he would understand what she was trying to say.

(photo from madonna bible on Twitter)