Saturday, October 5, 2013
It's a brisk Saturday morning. The sun shines over the horizon with those long streaks of sunbeams that make the autumnal coloured leaves literally radiate. It's a beautiful morning. The type of morning one imagines to spend doing all sorts of wonderful, active, healthy, things amidst the majesty of mother nature. And here I am, out to kill things.
It's early, not as early as I was instructed to arrive, but I had pleadingly negotiated a more humane start date with Trevor, my guide for the morning. Yet, the time is still ungodly. Trevor is around my age, but, measured in terms relevant both know and a hundred years ago, he is far more advanced in age. He owns a house, a truck, and has a well paying job and doesn't have a hard time waking up so early. Also, by the frontier yard stick, he is a man because he has killed things. You know - for sport. Trevor is a big time hunter. Elk, moose, dear, squirrel, and one time, bear; he's hunted it all. The friend of an acquaintance, Trevor has about as much in common with me as he does, say, a lobster. Which is, ironic because I feel as though a lobster would be better adept as traversing the wilderness, blood-hungrily. Why I'm out here, on such a mission can only be attributed to the fact that neither Trevor or I was ballsy enough to call each other's bluff. His amusement that I had never been hunting, in lo my 26 years, and my amusement in his amusement has led us down this path. He offered and I, seeking material, took him up on it.
Trevor is sitting outside on his front step when I show up. "You're late" the only greeting I receive before he stands, and enters his front door after which I assume I am to follow. "You're not dressed right," he says as he opens his front closet and riffles though and pulls jackets, hats, and various other articles out and throws them at me. Camouflage, I realize, comes in many shades and patterns. Each specifically designed to trick an unsuspecting beast into thinking we (the hunters) are just simple bits of twigs and leaves before "BANG" they're dead.
When Trevor deems my ensemble (a word I feel safe in saying, that Trevor has never uttered) passable, he wordlessly leads me to his truck, we get in and head into the wilderness. Or rather we drive outside of the city, turn off a few roads, ditch the truck and stalk off into the brush. As an admittedly less-than-red blooded male, I am perplexed by the urge for my more blood hungry brothers to go out with full bellies in order to murder innocent and quite cute-looking deers and other quadrupeds for kicks. When I broach the subject with Trevor, the one word, grunted response as to his motivation is simply: "Fun."
With that settled, and after I am shushed by Trevor for the hundredth time (he is not one for words, and certainly not a fan of other's either) we head deeper and deeper into the heart of the forest. The walk would not be easily compared to a stroll in the park. I trip, I fall, Trevor's camouflage pants are far too long, his boots a size or two too big, which only hinders my already unsteady progression and further irritates my guide.
We reach a spot in the trees that over looks a serene meadow. It stretched east, and the sun, barely visible, paints it harvest gold. the air is cool and still. Trevor has with him a gun, a scope, and a veritable utility belt of handy woodland tools. He does not have, much to my disappointment, a cinnamon dolce latte. Nor does he have ample good humor enough to appreciate me asking. At first the fresh morning air was refreshing. y body, unaccustomed to taking so much of it in has sprung to life. Now, however, I was getting sleepy. My facial region, and my hands were freezing while my core, wrapped in Trevor's hunting jacket. We are sitting on a log which is not the most comfortable for my posterior. I fidget, but am reminded by Trevor to stop moving and focus.
And so I tried. The problem being there is not much for me to focus on. The field, as far as I can see, is empty. No deer wandering about, ready to meet their maker. No birds singing. There is no sound besides my stuttering breath, and Trevor's steady huffing. I want to pull out my phone but I reminded that I am in the middle of no where, where no one can hear me scream and Trevor has a gun.
Despite it's badass reputation hunting is surprisingly boring. Which I am thankful for, actually. I am not entirely on board with this purpose of this outing. Hunting, to me seems silly. I am not a vegetarian, but lazy enough that the idea of going out, finding, and killing an animal to satisfy my hunger seems archaic. There is a Subway down the street that does that job well enough, thank you. The second part of why I agreed to trample out in the wilderness with Trevor is to try to understand his motivation. Try to comprehend his desire to conquer nature by shooting guns at it.
This motivation might be the only aspect that I will be able to investigate because, as Trevor reminds me: "If you keep making so much god-damn noise not even the most retarded deer will come within a hundred miles of us."
We sit for what seems like hours watching the field. Trevor has, after a lesson in carefully handling it, given me possession of the scope. I scan the horizon, my eyelashes looking like giant spiders legs against the eye piece. There doesn't appear to be any signs of life, and I have to admit that hunting for all it's manly fronting is really just sitting in the bush. Mind you there are guns involved. Trevor's gun is supposedly a pretty nice one. Meaning he uses a lot of big words to describe it and it's functions. The naming of his rifle may be the largest collection of words that Trevor strings together so when he is finished I give him a hopefully impressed sounding "Ooooh!"
My stomach rumbles just as Trevor tenses beside me. He has spotted something and with a lot of restraint he doesn't clock me. There, he silently point out, across the meadow is a beautiful young buck. Not the kind that is typically pointed out to me, but the actual one with antlers. I spy him, with my little eye through the scope. There he is just minding his own business, sniffing the air as he raises his head. He is pretty young, if you count points on antlers like the rings in trees, a fact that was never clarified by Trevor. He has few points and looks awkward and gangly. He is teenager and he is about to get shot. I have personified animals ever since I was young a threw a few cat weddings that are still remembered as the social highlights of spring/summer '94. So I find it impossible to not imagine a Deer News Anchor reading the news on a log TV as a deer family watches and reports on the tragic shooting of a young buck. A senseless act of violence.
Time moves in slow motion as I watch Trevor raise his rifle. He looks through his scope and I look through mine as the little deer's ears twitch and he bends down to munch on some grass. I put the scope down. I can't watch. I see that Trevor's finger rests on the trigger. And...
"Don't!" I say.
Trevor signs deeply, and pulls his gun from position, lowering it as he looks for me. Which is a blessing. He might just take aim at me.
"Please don't shoot him," I plead. "He looks so young and innocent"
If looks could kill, Trevor would be strapping my shot riddled corpse to the hood of his truck. His expression is fierce. I would feel guiltier if he didn't know what he was getting into. He had been informed by multiple sources that it was unwise to take me out on a hunt. That is was stupid even. That I was ill prepared. Emotional. Silly. To be fair, I knew there was a chance that he would shoot something but I only thought of it in the abstract. As in Trevor would shoot something and that would be that. Not that I would see it happen, think of it's family, and then god-forbid see it's dead body.
Trevor is a handsome enough guy, which already makes me want him to like me. But that possibility is shrinking by the second. He glares at me and I try to give him an adorable, innocent little shrug that I hope makes him less likely to kill me. To his credit, he doesn't. When I explain to him the thoughts on the deer TV anchor, and the story getting back to the deer's family, he actually smiles. Headway!
At this point our hunting trip turns into sitting in the woods. Trevor has beef jerky with him and he gives me a strip. It's hard and tastes like what I imagine dog food tastes like, but I skipped breakfast so therefore it's the most delicious thing I have ever tasted. I stretch my legs out from the log, and as the rises rises higher and higher over the meadow, and as Trevor puts his gun away I think I could get used to this hunting thing.
Sunday, February 10, 2013
The World Solar Challenge is a biennial event that draws the best and brightest (pun intended) minds in the solar-powered car field together in teams, to compete in a race across the Australian outback. The purpose of this event is to promote research on alternative forms of powering vehicles, but symbolically it is also a race against the sun. The drivers of the cars must travel the farthest distance possible while the sun is shining. A kind of "make hay while the sun shines” type situation crossed with an interpretation of Greek legend Icarus and his golden wings. Soar as far as possible, the race challenges, but beware the awesome power you are attempting to harness, for the dessert like conditions in that unforgiveable environment can reek havoc on both car and driver. The race is a mix of myth, proverb, and science; if the interpretation of those three things could be packaged into a 1996 movie starring Halle Berry and entitled "Race the Sun." And, if such a retelling had nothing to do with flying but rather cars, and not falling to your doom, or promoting science, nor making the most of your time in the sun, but rather a vehicle to showcase a lot of Halle's Berry's caramel skin, then you have no reason to be unfamiliar with the race. But I digress...
I have never, to my knowledge, participated in a World Solar Challenge. I doubt that I have had practically anything to contribute to a race such as that, even though most would assume otherwise. They would be wrong. I did watch the movie and I remember thinking "this isn't the greatest" even though I was nine, and that was the extent of my critique of both the movie and the race. Until now. Now, I view that wonderful collection of cast and participants as heroes, role models, and mostly -cautionary tales. What they were trying to do, on a metaphorical level was to take advantage of everything that each day has to offer, and maybe translate blatant sex appeal, and Miss America pagent-winning, into a long lasting, Oscar winning career, but no matter. The World Solar Challenge is about taking the gift or life, and light, and energy and transforming it into a message of "This is what we are capable of, World! Get a load of us! This is what we are all about!" If they are triumphant then people know them, know what they are all about, and even in the smallest, simplest "the sun makes that car go" type of way, understand them. But, what if you are gifted with never ceasing sunlight, and instead of striving, thriving, and sending out the message of "This is me! This is who I am" you don't? What would the biennial participants have to say? How could you look any of them in the eye? How could you face yourself?
Because of it's Northernmost location, Iceland, as a nation experiences the waxing and waning of the sun's daily journey in extremes. In winter, there is darkness. At the spring equinox, which just so happened to coincide with my visit to the country, the sun does not set. Like, ever.
For lovers of the sun, those carpe diem type optimists with brains that contain, at least, a minimal amount of serotonin, this sounds like a real delight. "Hours of sunshine! Who wouldn't love that?" they'd cry. “A never ceasing day!” Well, those people are jerks, and like those Solar Challenge scientist punks, they shouldn't go to Iceland cause they'd ruin it and most importantly wouldn't get the point of this essay.
I was given fair warning that the sun may always be at my back. I had read about it, knew it happened, thought "weird" and imagined going forward with my trip by preparing to shake hands with Puffins, and maybe, a sheep. The sun not setting isn't unheard of. The Northwest Territories, part of my home and native land, for instance, experiences a varying degree of this. I had just never experienced it myself. When I first noticed the oddity of the sun cycles in the midst of the plane ride, I thought it was cool. "Cool!" I said to myself as I looked one direction and saw the moon, and then the other way, and saw the sun, bouncing along the surface of the northern Atlantic. Then I shrugged and redirected my focus to an episode of Homeland I had been watching, and avoiding the smell of the stinky old lady that was sitting beside me.
Upon landing, it was morning and before me stretched a whole wonderful day where my circadian rhythms felt at ease on the island. I ate breakfast, I ate lunch, I ate supper. Sure, I was a little tired but that was to be expected. I had flown for what ended up being like two day and there was jet lag to contend with; who wouldn't be a little beat?
If the history books were to describe the first day of our vacation, they would summarize it as perfection. My family and I rode into town on a bus by ourselves, we checked into our hotel without a problem. I went shopping with my mom and sister at a store with an adorable pig logo. We had coffee in a little bakery and I pretended to know what people were saying. I had a personality. We were ‘this’ (holds fingers very close together) close to riding tandem bicycles and laughing gaily. At dinner that night I ever so adorably pointed to items on the menu and had the waiter pronounce them in his native tongue and then un-apologetically laughed at him and his culture and his crazy speech. In other words I was my terribly obnoxious, self-satisfying, terrible self! And I liked it. Dinner was fabulous, and an after dinner stroll was just what our little family of weary travelers needed before heading off to bed. We walked the streets, climbed a church, looked out the steeple, and saw little people. It was idyllic. It was still…light?
This was the first sign of disaster. The sun dipped, into an anticipated, teasingly long, prolonged sunset that never came to completion. It still sparkled above the water long past the time when it should have gone to bed. As I crawled into a bed of my own, utterly exhausted, I felt as I had many years ago at sleepover birthday parties where us kid's would stay up till the sun started rising. Eventually everyone would fall asleep and I wouldn't be able to and then I'd feel sick and have to call my mom to go home. But here there was no going home, not for two more weeks. So as my brother and sister and mother and father slumbered on, I watched the sun stream through the window. I pulled my sleep mask down and tried to pretend that outside of that silken eye pillow the world had gone to sleep. Because I didn't. Not truly. I closed my eyes and lost track of time for a while, but I never did fully reach sleep actualization. I didn't ‘fall’ asleep so much as ‘exited into state of unconsciousness’ for a period of time.
Time, when on vacation is a malleable thing. What seems like hours is only minutes, days are long, but weeks are short. The interim between waking moments, is thankfully separated by the empty blackness of complete darkness to at least visually, split one day from the next. A proverbial curtain drawn at the end of each day. But when the sun shines constantly, fading only to the point of a hazy afternoon, you don’t get the daily cut, print, wrap. You are the actor stuck in the spot light center stage; your porcelain smile showing more and more cracks the more time ticks by under the unrelenting illumination. You can bow and bow, but unless some un-seen force drops the curtain, you’re stuck. And like any star, enshrined too long in the lime light- you lose it.
I can’t say, with any certainty that the next day wasn’t terrible, because maybe it was only later the same day. But I do remember waking up, or rather reanimating my body after a period of stationary activity, and still feeling a sense of excitement. Sights and sounds are more stimulating the first time you hear and see them and I buoyed myself up by experiencing as many as I could. I ate a hearty breakfast and set out with my family to learn more about the land of my ancestors.
As it happens, the land of fire and ice is rather chilly, especially when the harshest wind you’ve ever felt, blows constantly and makes you think that you’re skin is going to stretch away from your bones and turn you into an unwilling human parasail. So cold in fact that feel momentarily energized when waking in it. Only momentarily, however, because the minute you step out of it’s gale forces, you feel your eyelids droop. Because I find it near impossible to fall asleep while chewing, I found that I could stay awake by constantly consuming food. y family would be walking through a history museum, learning facts and collecting stories of our ancestors and I would be in the lobby, gesticulating enthusiastically at cinnamon buns at the café. One day I was nearly in tears because the hot dog stand I wanted to go to was closed when I walked over to get one. After I had just eaten dinner. I was out of control, but at least I was vertical.
I’m just going to come right out and say it: I'm not great at meeting new people. I feel uncomfortable around strangers. I'm too aware of myself: the way I talk, the way I look, and too aware of what strangers act, sound and look like to be ever truly at ease. I'm even less comfortable meeting new people surrounded by my family. It may sound strange, because the oft-imagined idea about family is that they are the people you feel most at home with. And while, that is the case, on the regular, it’s is ineffective to have them around when meeting new acquaintances. For usually, to put myself at ease I conjure up a persona or air of mystique to protect myself. I could be a carefree vagabond; I could be an up tight know-it-all. The persona doesn't have to reflect any truthful characteristic within myself, but it helps me be less focused who I actually am and how I am being received. But when I am with my family- when I am literally standing beside the source of my entire life force, personality, and caporal form- the cultivated personality doesn't fit quite right. There is no fooling these people. They know me too well. So, I'm forced to just be myself.
The only problem associated with being myself then (minus the crippling self doubt coupled with low self esteem) is that it takes a lot of time to become me. Appearances can be deceiving, but it takes hours of in the dark silence, and mindless watching of TV, and reading of ten year old Entertainment Weekly articles to bring forth my (Oprah Word!) "true self." On top of that I need a lot of sleep. REM sleep. Sleep and aloneness in a dark space of my own, preferably. When I get none of them I become about as exciting as an old turnip in the back of the fridge: soft, ugly, and not something that anyone is looking to spend a lot of time with.
Which is, precisely, what I became.
I was sullen, for no legitimate reason but because I missed having dreams and not feeling like (and not having the complexion of) a zombie. Within my natural habitat, I strive to make a good impression. I smile and nod, offer a joke, remember details about the people that I meet, and generally convey the general attitude of “Like me! Like me! LIKE ME!” But, on that small island, after a certain amount of rotations of the earth, with too little downtime for the old noggin’, I simply didn’t care. For this, I must apologize to my relatives there. I was not of sound mind. As they would talk, with abundant pride for their nation, I would, abruptly stand up from whatever table we were seated at and go to sit on a couch, a bench, a patch of grass or sand and try and try and recalibrate my personality adjusting it for lack of sleep. They probably thought me rude, standoffish, snobby or worse but there was little I could do. When someone asked me what my hobbies were one day I blanked entirely. “What was it I did in real life? How did I spend my days and nights?” I couldn’t recall. I knew I had some sort of life back from whence I came, but I wasn’t sure what I did with it. So I replied with the one activity, indeed the only activity, I could think about. The word that ran through my mind over and over and over again on constant repeat, that word that would have haunted my dreams if I had any: “Sleep.”
I shudder to think what those relations I came into contact with said about me, in their incomprehensible dialect, after I would make one of my unannounced exists from the conversation.
“Get a load of that one.” They’d say as, off in the distance I was trying to remember conversational etiquette with a tree trunk as a parnter “Not the brightest of the bunch.”
“Why doesn’t he breathe through his nose?” they’d wonder, “Does he not know how?”
Once, when I was about 21 or 22 I experienced what I liked to believe was insomnia. For about a week I didn’t sleep, or at least slept very little. Either way, my sleep patterns were severely distorted; the result from what I think was too many processed foods, too little actual physical exertion and probably an overabundance of sleep the previous week. However, I treated the entire experience as some sort of glamorous, eccentric affliction and secretly reveled in it. I lay, with hand over brow, Norma Desmond-style on sofas, and swanned around my house in oversized sweaters lamenting my desire to sleep, and used it as an excuse to skip classes. The problem resolved itself after a while, and although I was extremely tired for that time, it wasn’t so bad. I watched a lot of old movies and hung out with my roommate who was kind of a night owl, and had a reason for acting erratically. A disorder. A problem. A cause. However, when you want to sleep. When you have real, important things to do and real, important, majestic sights to see and try your damndest to sleep but never feel rested? That is something altogether more horrifying, and torturous than the Hairspray routine I preformed in my living room window at 4 am during the week I had “insomnia”. It’s a waste of a ceaseless day. It is making no hay while the sun shines, but rather whispering nonsense sounds into your sister’s ear while the “grown ups” are taking and then laughing too hard at it like it was supposed to be a joke. It’s having the most meaningful and insightful interaction with an extended branch of your family’s tree be with a three-year old, because although he can speak more words than you at the present time he doesn’t judge you when you only make inquisitive or impressed monkey-type sounds at his building blocks. In my own personal race against the sun, I was the Icarus/ Halle Berry character and thankfully Iceland is a place so chalk full of interesting, fantastic, magnificent imagery and people you’d have to be blind, deaf, and dumb (not just sleep deprived) to miss out on it.
Friday, November 2, 2012
Bricks can shatter window panes with marvelous intensity.
Those little jagged shards exploding with such poetic tendency,
Their beauty quieter than the text upon this page
which seems no longer strong enough to quell my rage…
I hate your face and hate you hair
I hate you nearly everywhere.
You’re eyes are stupid, I hope they bleed.
You have no purpose. Serve no need.
Driving slowly, past your residence,
the world turned slow, mirroring my hesitance.
But I mustered, blustered through
threw my brick; screamed: “fuck you!”
It seems an awful waste of brick
to send a message to you, you dick.
But this action is much more legal than
to keep you bound in an unmarked van.
So I gave to you as such,
a brick with a message, saying much
As I felt it served the purpose,
to make you sick, and scared and nervous.
Next time, perhaps you will pause
think of consequences, results, and cause
and you won’t, so callously, and with intent
not respond to that text I sent.
Sunday, September 30, 2012
By all accounts adolescence is a time of discovery. Discovering hair, discovering hair product, discovering the other sex, discovering the same sex; all in all there is a lot of discovery. In places never before imagined, things begin to change. It’s a time of turmoil and change, and growth, and panic. It should then, come as no surprise that I too came to a startling realization at this pivotal age: I was a witch.
I came to this conclusion, coincidently while watching the hit WB series “Charmed” staring born-to-be-bad girl Shannon Doherty. If you’ve never seen the show what happens is, after her grandmother dies Doherty and her sisters discover that they are witches with special powers. Not only that but they are the “Charmed ones”, and it was by pure happenstance that I too, although possessing two alive Grandmothers, came to the exact same revelation at the same exact time that the show first premiered. A spooky coincidence, I know. Sure, my family had tried to hide the truth until I came of age but I knew, in my heart of hearts, that behind our linen closet there was a magical alter room containing our own Book of Shadows and that it was only a matter of time before my powers came in full force, and destiny came knocking.
Because of the universally know special nature of the witch-ly hierarchy, I never came right out and said that I knew we were witches. The jig was up, but for their sake and the sake of the family, I had to pretend we were just nice normal people going about the mundane existence of mere mortals. If the grand council, the governing force of the witch community that I fabricated in my own head, ever heard of my family spilling the beans to me before I was of age, we would be in serious trouble. However in my day dreams, this scenario only provided the fertile material for me to demonstrate my unique ability to make moving speeches and perform heroic feats with my powers. After such an event I would, undoubtedly, be crowned King-Witch, and be given riches, and mansions, and free reign to do whatever I want.
I am absolutely not the first teen to play out rich, power hungry scenarios in their head, which allow them to temporarily escape their ultra-controlled reality. But I was certainly of the much smaller cross section of the population that didn’t leave it in their imagination and took it a little too far. In regular teenage daydreams you play out your fantasies in your head, have a little fun, and then return to reality. Call it desperation, call it un-medicated schizophrenia, or whatever you want, the outcome was the same: I was a witch. And it would take a lot more than a lack of any supernatural tendencies, evidence, or the faintest semblance of reality to convince me otherwise.
You know how sometimes when you need to find a very specific thing, say for instance a screwdriver, and then you find one in the first, most unexpected place you look? That was kind of how I found my compatriot in magical activities. To find another member of my coven I needn’t look further than my high school homeroom. Her name as Luann and I had but to mention, off the cuff, of course, that I was looking for a particularly good spell book, when she seized the moment to come out of the cauldron, so to speak. She was a witch too, wouldn’t you know it, and a more experienced one to boot!
Luann and I had gone to school for many years and truthfully I hadn’t always given her much attention. She must have been more advanced than I expected to mask herself from my witch-radar (a nice talent to have in your bag of tricks come the uprising of hell I often predicted). As a bonus Luann had long black hair that lent itself to the ideal witch image, something my pale skin and freckles couldn’t achieve. So it was, at the tender age of 13, did I become one of the most powerful sorcerers that ever lived…
Luann and I did not rise to power so quickly, and our trajectory was not nearly aimed that high. Though very soon, we would possess unlimited power we focused mainly on wildly immature revenge pranks; scaring classmates, turning them into mops and buckets and the like. Our creativity wasn’t our greatest strength, but we had special powers to make up for it.
To say my parents were concerned would be an exaggeration. They had raised five children by then, and although familiar with my none to insignificant need to be different, had fried bigger fish. In the grand scheme of things, a wanna-be warlock muttering incantations rates lower on the parental exasperation scale than say multiple car accidents or addictions. To their credit they let me do, believe, and say whatever I wanted. To the detriment of my street cred they let me do, believe, and say whatever I wanted no matter how stupid. For this reason alone I felt that they were witches too, and I came from a long line of special beings, caretakers of magic, and soon they would reveal themselves to me, and marvel at my intuition. The word misguided used in this context would only downplay the severity of the entire situation.
My parents raised the six of their children with a buddy system /democratic mentality. Members of the group were controlled by other members of the group. Should one step out of line, say if I was being a smart alec, pain in the ass to my brother, he would pound on me till I cried, and next time around I would no longer be a smart alec pain in the ass. Or I would learn to run faster. So, it was through this method that I am sure my parents prayed my witch behavior would be corrected. Certainly after merciless taunting from my siblings about how weird I had gotten I would give up the sacrificial goat and return to reality. Except in this case the system failed. Seeing, or maybe not wanting to see how weird I was becoming the group took the avoidance route and refused to comment of my amazing powers or the eerie supernatural aura of mysticism that followed me where ever I went. That or they were all older, getting laid, and didn’t care if their little brother was a witch, a warlock or a kangaroo as long as it was happening far away from them.
So it with my irrationalities unrestricted, my ties to reality un-tethered, and a partner by my side I dove further into the wiccan world. Or at least what I understood of it from my viewing of Spelling Entertainment television shows.
For a couple of weeks Luann and I tried to conduct our coven meetings in the breaks between classes. It was hard to draw a sacred circle, cleanse it, and perform our meeting incantations while people are pulling books from their locker right beside you, but I give us credit for trying. Also, while we waved our broomsticks proudly in private, we were still in high school, and despite our ignorance towards 1000 year old spiritual practices, were not complete idiots. Waving a smoking wand of incense and chanting is going to attract attention, even if the intended purpose was to dispel negativity. Attention was kind of the last thing either of us needed, but desperately sought. Of a certain sort. While I can’t speak for Luann, I was certainly seeking out ways to be different to cover up for other more glaring, serious differences I felt. Being labeled an outsider and acting like an outsider are two very different things and I felt that if I could be different in a sort of impressive, magical way I could make the other abnormalities disappear.
Of course the more conscious part of me really just wanted to make stuff levitate; which is what I’ll blame for leading me to Luann’s house one day after school. I don’t know why, but I was very hesitant to spend a lot of time with her, despite our obvious magical compatibility. Maybe it was easier for me to believe on my own, or maybe I was unsure about her and her intentions, or perhaps I did possess precognitive abilities and foresaw what was to happen and desperately wanted to avoid it. But whatever my reservations, I submitted to her invitation and decided to rip off the band aid and have an out of school meeting.
It should come as no surprise to people trained in psychological diagnosis, or are loosely familiar with dissecting flimsy narratives but our first coven meeting coincided with a dire situation in need of our talents.
Luann lived very close to our school so I decided to go over to her house after last period in order to get my hands on this spell book of hers. I didn’t have a spell book but I really wanted one. I was working on writing my own, as my earlier preoccupations with tea-staining paper lent themselves to the aesthetics of the project. The problem was finding genuine spells, and I thought taking a few from Luann could really get me started. For weeks and weeks she had gone on about her spell book, never wanting to bring it to school to show me because of its value and power. Simultaneously, she could not stop talking about it, nor could she reveal anything about it. Had she offered me candy that day I would have moved in, that’s how excited I was. I don’t think I even phoned my parents to tell them I was going to her house, I followed her, piped piper style to her house, my mouth watering with magical expectation, sporting a full on wicca-errection in anticipation of seeing her book.
Luann’s house was slightly shabby; the white paint peeling on the outside, the lawn un-mowed. It was close to Halloween and the skies were grey and it gave the whole world what I thought to be a very magical incandescence. Luann was too pleased to be having me come home with her, which on various multiple occasions had led me to suspect that she might have a crush on me and wanted to be something more that fellow practitioners of magic. But sadly, that would never do. First of all I was unwilling to compromise the purity of our coven, and secondly, I was about as attracted to her as I was to tube socks. Real talk: not at all. A big part of me wished Luann would pull herself together, and like Siegfried and Roy channel all of her frustrations into our magic, but she had other plans.
I first became suspicious when thirty seconds after entering her house, I demanded to see her spell book and noted her hesitation. Upon settling into her room she wanted to spend precious time talking about school, and most notably my best friend who just so happened to be another girl.
“What’s up with her?” Luann would ask upwards of a bajillion times a day, rolling her eyes afterwards. She seemed to desperately want me to confide in her all the hateful feelings I was having about my friend. Feelings I didn’t have but feelings which Luann wanted me desperately to have, and I’m guessing feelings Luann had herself. But as far as I was concerned, I was only there for one reason and one reason alone: to get my hands on her spells.
Because of my asking every five minutes, and probably thinking that once she showed it to me, the real romance would begin, Luann reluctantly brought out her Book of Shadows. She had told me earlier in the week, while she had my rapt attention, and in an effort I’m sure, to keep it that way, just like the Halliwell sisters on TV, her spell book was also called the Book of Shadows. I was floored. “What are the odds!”I thought to myself, “How a show that I love and a girl I suspect has crush like feelings towards me have the exact same name for a spell book with which I am obsessed?”
These were not the only allusions that Luann had made to the Hit WB series. Like the witches on TV she claimed to fight evil, and be able to move things with her mind. When I would corner her in art class and ask her to show me, she claimed someone was messing with her powers or that she couldn’t risk it in public. Again, I swallowed all this hook line and sinker. I wanted to believe so badly I was disregarding all evidence contrary to what I wanted. In much the same way, I imagine, that Luann wanted to me like her so badly she believed I liked girls.
Pulling out her spell book, from under her bed of all places, should have tipped me off. . It was not a text of old. It was not even a text of yesteryear, but more appropriately from yesterday. It was a white three-ring binder. Not exactly brand new as it had half stuck on anime stickers on the back flap and “Book Of Shadows” written in yellow and orange highlighter in a squiggly script, an attempt to convey spookiness, I suspect, on the front cover.
If I was disappointed I tried not to look it, something that I’ve struggled with for most of my life. In fact not long ago I had a discussion with my sister about how we both feel that no matter our emotional state, our faces display an air of mystique. We both felt we slip on a mask, something that displays an emotional reading of zero for others to see. When in reality we do not. Both of us wear our emotions on our sleeves, or rather our faces and are as easy to read a Dick and Jane book.
Luann must not have noticed though. Because she showed no shred of embarrassment, and I read from her not a single note of remorse for her actions; namely leading me to believe she had a real spell book. What I had imagined would be a sacred and mystical gateway to knowledge of the magical world looked like it was thrown together in a half hour by teenage girl, which of course it had. Still, I was probably less disappointed than Luann who had probably imagined something a touch more romantic for our first after school date.
Still, I made the most of it. I don’t recall if it was a conscious decision to disregard the obvious, or if I really wanted to believe I hadn’t come to her house for nothing, but I acted as if nothing was at all the matter with her spell binder. I turned the pages, added in some mild reverence as I turned the pages, and read page after page of straight from the Internet printed computer paper. As I flipped through, Pikachu smiled coyly at me from the inside cover, I fondled pages of crisp white computer paper. At home in my basement I had pages upon pages of tea stained paper with singed edges tucked inside a pained cardboard box in the rudimentary shape of a book. It had taken me weeks to tea stain that paper, and many coats of paint to get the cover to look semi legit. To top it all off I hadn’t been bragging about my spell book for weeks on end. The pages and the spells contained within the book I held in my hands were printed directly from a website. The links of the sidebar had been turned a neon yellow from her printer’s lack of coloured ink, and it was hard to read part of it because the header for the website “Spells.org” with a drawing of an mysterious looking woman and a crystal ball had smudged and covered most of the page. Luann had obviously cared enough to print these pages out, thinking it would surely be enough of a front to get me to her house, into her bedroom, and into her warm embrace. She had displayed some effort to protect certain pages from further smudging by way of contact with magical ingredient by placing them in protective plastic covers.
“Well,” I thought to myself, “Don’t be judgmental.” Which is something my brain only thinks when I should, indeed, be judgmental. Luann, to her credit, might have picked up on the cues that I was less than impressed with her handy-work, and quieted the part of my brain that was clearly tell me this was BS.
Because I was raised in a shame based punishment system, I knew how to conduct myself with decorum and poise, which usually results in acting like a complete idiot. I knew that Luann had printed these sheets of spells, complete with advertisements for free psychic readings and love potions in the margins, mere hours before I came over, probably during lunch recess. Therefore I knew that to spare her feelings, and to keep the flickering flame of my beliefs alive, I was going to have to play along.
“Wow,” I said, “there are some really good spells here.”
Luann just stared at me. Clearly, she too would have to go along with this charade a lot longer than she had anticipated. Thinking back on it I see that maybe Luann did have special powers. Powers that made it possible for her to firstly, have feelings for someone who had once told her he had a premonition about kicking a popcorn popper down the stairs (that did, to my credit, come true!) and secondly, an insane ability to think on her feet.
“Yeah,” she said, “I have all these copies here, rather than bust out my original copy. Also, all spells are the same, because they’ve been passed down from generation to generation of witches.”
I would like to say that I saw right through this, but I didn’t. It made sense. Because of my highly evolved sense of “decorum” or “idiocy” I have a habit of not processing information accurately right away. It made sense. The internet? Lie to me? I don’t think so.
Sometimes you go so far down a road, even though you know it is going to lead you nowhere but you stick to it because there is a slight chance, a tiny molecule of hope, that it is going where you want it to. That is why I stuck around that day with Luann. I knew she probably wasn’t a witch, and that truthfully neither was I, but I still thought that maybe through the reading of internet spells, or speaking in tongues we might just end up there. Instead, just like the dirt road analogy we ended up at shed screaming our heads off as a demon was trying to take possession of us.
Okay, so maybe not every dirt road leads to that exact situation but that’s where we ended up.
So, I went along with it. But maybe ‘along with it’ isn’t the greatest way to express myself. Going along with something implies that I was aware of what I was getting myself into. For a lot of my life, I feel that I don’t go along with things, or that stuff happens with my consent or awareness. Instead things happen to me. Which is what occurred this fateful day. I departed my body, or at least the part of my brain that is in charge of rational thought, and watched as Luann and the demon we found living in her shed as if it was happening to someone else. Like how I watched Charmed every Sunday night, except this time I didn’t have a root beer float to sip on during commercial breaks. Also, and this is hard to believe but our production values were even worse than those seen on TV.
As I flipped through the pages of her spell book, going back and forth from admiring how ballsy it was for her to show me this obvious fake and questioning if this was some sort of witch test- to see if I could spot a real from a fake, Luann suddenly grabbed my hand. She was having a premonition, which happened often when we were together. I brushed it off as a coincidence but I suspected it was sometimes just a ruse to grab my hand and hold it. And sometimes is a nice way of saying every single time she did it.
Her vision was clearly a doosey because Luann clutched my hand like it was the last thing holding her to this plane of existence. While I had become somewhat accustomed to the premonitions and hand holding I always tried to act surprised, shocked, or scared. The usual reactions one has when someone near them catches a glimpse of the future. But I always found myself distracted, at least temporarily, by how dry Luann’s hands were. They were so dry. Scaley, like a lizard’s. As someone who has, no matter the temperature, hands of roughly the same texture as week old sun dried mollusks, the sensation was startling. This time, however Luann was having her Oscar moment and she was damn well not going to be upstaged by her dragon fingers. She let out a blood-curdling scream, which if you’ve never heard one, is a bit of an attention grabber.
Playing the dutiful sidekick, and reacting as any semi-sane person would in a similar situation I asked Luann what was wrong- and began to laugh uncontrollably. I laugh at anything. Serious, or not I have essentially two modes: constant giggle, or sobbing. The laughing is just more easily accessible, less dehydrating, and more socially acceptable. I also thought that maybe if I laughed it off, Luann would join in and we could go back to reading spells and talking about things we were going to do some day. This was another subtle difference between Luann and myself. While I was a talker; content to sit around all afternoon thinking, and reading. She was a doer. She wanted to get stuff done, and if I took faking a premonition and whatever else to get what she wanted done- she would do it.
“There is…” Luann struggled to say, “A darkness close by. A great evil is near us!” Her eyes opened wide as she exclaimed this.
Remember how I said that was awfully convenient that upon our first get together, and indeed our first time unsupervised we ended up conquering a great darkness.? Yeah, it’s funny how coincidences work. Sometimes it’s as if they aren’t coincidences at all…
The great darkness of which Luann had caught a glimpse, was surprisingly hiding in her own basement. Just the kind of place where evil would lurk. It was dark and scary and had the potential to harbor all sorts of meth addicts and Satanists. By which I mean it was unfinished. Because my parents had built the house I grew up in the year I was born I wasn’t used to the character of old houses. One time I told my friend that it was completely unbelievable that people still used vacuums. Why didn’t they get a central vacuum cleaning system like the one my house had? I was suspect of anything that creaked or was not covered in gyprock. Luann’s basement fit the bill for a place evil would hide out, especially if it liked moisture. Her basement was very moist. Even the indoor/outdoor carpet tacked to the stairs was cool and damp. The cement floor was actually wet in some places that if you stepped in it, which I did, your socks sopped it up and made slapping sounds as you walked around.
Luann’s basement was a popular hangout. Not only for demon spawn, but also for members of the cool kid group in our grade. Luann had a twin brother in said group and that combined with the fact that for the most part the house was unsupervised, made it Mecca. People converged on that house every weekend. Something about it screamed: “bring me your horny, your sexually adventurous, your soon to be drug or alcohol dependant youth.” And they came in droves. Years later, Luann would pass me a tape, a recording of the antics our fellow classmen got into one Smirnoff ice fueled evening. The recording was crystal clear, but the goings on were definitely twisted. I still have a copy of it tucked in a box in my old closet should I ever find the need to blackmail one of the people on it.
But, that was all years down the road, and as we peeked around the basement - evil lurking behind every old jar of weird pickled vegetables, we weren’t even sure we would live to see it. We had some serious vanquishing on our hands. And I say ‘our’ hands on purpose because we seemed to be sharing appendages. Luann of the reptile handed wouldn’t drop my hand for all the weird, damp, tea in the boxes under her stairs.
They say that most of the weird phenomena that goes on in the world (palm readers, psychics, magicians, hypnotists) work because of the power of suggestion. I am living proof that that theory is correct. Even though I had my doubts about the actuality of the “great evil” in our midst because Luann assured me it was close, I felt it. I began to get that prickly, back of the neck feeling that you get when you run across a dark room immediately after turning out the far light. The feeling that has you run the last few steps to your door when it’s dark outside. I had that feeling in Luann’s basement. The creaks of the floor above our heads sounded like the whispers of an otherworldly creature. For all I knew the wetness in the air could have easily smelled of devil breath. It was a tense situation for us. We were on the cusp of either finding some sort of great evil, or cracking up and realizing how stupid we were acting. I remember thinking that I wish I had just went home after school and put another coat of glaze on my cardboard book and left the vanquishing to real wizards and witches and priests.
I will say that I have undoubtedly, a very active imagination. I do. Which sort of made me the perfect candidate for Luann’s own special power of persuasion. It’s a very real type of imagining too. When I was a kid I would wake from my imaginings at the end of the day, unaware of what had actually happened. They were so vivid and real that I can’t remember my actual surroundings, but I remember seeing what I had imagined in intense detail. On one occasion my babysitter and I actually left this plane of existence and played all day in a world of crazy swirly orange and pink circles. That’s all I remembered. Weirder still is that when my mom came home I snapped out of it, and had a sort of dizzying back to reality sensation, a loss of time like feeling where I was out of my body for most of playtime and just returned to it. I think that’s what happened in Luann’s basement that day. I forcibly left my body and let my imagination take over.
As I walked the perimeter of the room I saw a puff of black smoke slither out of the small rectangular tri-paned window at the top of the far wall. And I say that not knowing if there was smoke spilling out of her house’s ancient looking furnace, or if there was actually a smoke demon. Or if I saw a smoke demon spilling out of her basement window because Luann shouted “Look! There’s a smoke demon spilling out of the basement window!”
Immediately, and with purpose, Luann grabbed my hand (again) and dragged me as she ran and I wet footedly slapped, up the creaky steps and out the door.
I saw an interview once with Dolly Parton in which she said that whenever she stays in a hotel in New York City she sleeps in full makeup with her favorite wig on, in the off chance that there is fire in the hotel and she has to evacuate her room. She doesn’t want to have to hit the streets not looking her best. The point is that Dolly Parton is one prepared lady. She is ever vigilant to every threat or danger. I am quite sure that if Dolly was fighting demons at her friend’s house after school she would keep her shoes on should she need to run after one. Or at least if there was a smoke monster escaping out the basement window, she would run after it in her wet socks and not stop at the top of the stairs to put on those shoes, because a neighborhood was at stake, and stopping to do so really kills the intensity of the moment. Which is exactly what I did. I didn’t want to get my already wet socks even dirtier. Which is not something you think about when you are actually facing a smoke demon. It is something you think about when you are imagining fighting a demon and you are 14 and your mom will yell at you if you ruin a pair of socks. I put my shoes on as fast as I could and stumbled out the door and into Luann’s back yard, losing only a few seconds in our pursuit of a terrible evil.
Unfortunately we had, due to my momentary hesitation to forego footwear, lost sight of the creature. Which was especially puzzling because there was nothing to see in the first place. The brightness of the late afternoon sun was sobering. It was easier to believe that we were hunting demons in a dark basement but out in the warm sunshine it was tempting to blow bubbles and skip around and forget we were witches at all. Luann was more resigned to our efforts. It could be because she was legitimately part of a wiccan force keeping the underworld at bay. Or it was because Luann was a showman. She had saved her greatest feat for last, and if we weren’t going to skip this witch stuff entirely for a little make-out action in her room, then she was going to make sure that I stuck around for her grand finale.
“No! No! No!” she called out as she darted around the corner of the house, to the window from which the dastardly demon had darted. “It can’t be!” she shouted, reaching out and digging her fingers into the dirt of the flowerbed beneath it.
I must confess that I have no idea what Luann is doing now. She may be fighting evil around the world, or she may well be a mastermind of epic proportions because she could be very well suited to both. Because from out of the dirt, and with frantic, nervous fingers she located and unwrapped from a canvas pouch a collection of objects that looked unmistakably witchy.
“Here,” she said, holding out the hoard for me to see and examine closer, “Someone or something has broken the protection amulet.” She gestured to a crumbling ceramic shape at the centre of the damp canvas bag. Surrounding it’s shards were bits of plants and flowers, herbs and the like which I imagined served the purpose of strengthening the power of the amulet.
“We’ve been containing the demon in the basement. Keeping him trapped where we know he can’t hurt anyone.” Luann explained. “He couldn’t have gone far. We need to find him and vanquish him!”
Now that time has distanced me from the situation, I like to think of Luann collecting those herbs and a broken amulet and burying it in the dirt, only to uncover it later with me. I like to think about how she anticipated vanquishing an evil spirit would bring us closer together. It’s probably the most romantic thing anyone will ever do for me. Sure, it was manipulative, and yes, it maybe screams “crazy!” but more than anything Luann was giving me exactly what I wanted. I wanted to be a witch and she was spending hours of her time pasting together a spell book, creating a demon mythology, and orchestrating his escape from her basement so that I’d feel like one. It’s sweet in a really weird and misguided way. And maybe I would have appreciated it more had what happened next not happened.
“Daniel,” Luann spoke softly, looking deeply into my eyes. “Search your mind. Tell me where the demon has gone.”
This was an incredible moment for me. Should any suitors be reading this, playing into my vanity is surefire way to get ahead. And for Luann it almost worked in her favor. Had her fingers been less covered in scales, and her chest less covered with breasts she might have had a shot. For the first time since getting there that day I felt like I had a part to play. Luann was the one calling the shots, but I got my own speaking role. Eager to show off my powers I closed my eyes and searched my mind for the evil’s possible location.
“I’m not sure,” I said, pulling my eyelids tighter. “I can’t see him anywhere,” because I couldn’t and because it didn’t exist. I had no idea where the demon had escaped to, which shouldn’t be taken as evidence of my shotty magic skills, but a testament to how honest I am. I didn’t know where it was so I said so. It could be anywhere, or more likely, nowhere, for all I knew.
“Is it in the shed, Daniel?” she asked me, clutching my hand in both of hers, bringing it up against the worn, black, wizard-sleeved sweater she had worn everyday since we had talked about being witches. “Do you think he has gone to the shed?” leading me gently towards her desired destination.
“Is he in the shed, Daniel? Concentrate!”
“I guess he could be?” I said, looking to her for confirmation. She nodded ever so slightly.
Luann spun around the corner of the house returning to her backyard and heading straight toward the old wooden shed off to the side of the rectangle of grass and weeds that was her rear lawn, pulling me along with her.
“Yes! He’s here Daniel!” she exclaimed as we reached it. “I saw him in the window! he doesn’t have much power left! We can finish him off!”
Luann was really pleased with me for telling her the location of the demon, and I must say I to was pretty proud that I had led us here. First time demon hunting, and I found the demon really quickly. What are the chances? But I had no time to congratulate myself, we had to finish this demon off and I had to get home by six.
Luann reached for the handle on the big orange door of the shed and let out another scream that proved, resoundingly, that she had very healthy lungs, and that something was again, the matter.
“What is it?” I cried out, because I wanted to know and because I felt like I should get into the heat of the moment.
“He’s trying to possess me!” she screamed.
“Oh no!” I yelled, standing there no knowing what to do.
“He’s trying to get out! We need to keep him in the shed!” she said, as she opened and slammed shut the door over and over again. “Help me!”
I threw my body up against the door as best I could, as Luann’s ‘possessed’ arm kept opening and closing it. For no other reason than not knowing what else to do, I started screaming. Luann followed suit and our screams and the banging of the shed door flooded across the yard, and probably the entire town. I was legitimately scared because Luann’s grip on the shed handle was so tight her fingers were turning white, and knowing she couldn’t risk losing circulation to those extremities for long, I tried prying them apart. But those talons wouldn’t budge.
“We need to vanquish him!” Luann shouted between screams.
“HOW?!” I screamed back at her, my voice reverberating from the thwack, thwack, thwacking of the shed door against my back.
“A spell! Repeat after me: Beings of light, erase evil from our sight”
“Beings of light, erase evil from our sight!” we chanted together.
Luann eased the slamming of our door as we repeated the saccharine spell over and over again, screaming it together like our lives actually did depend on it. Finally with one final slam of the shed door, Luann slumped to the ground; her hand loosening it’s grip on the metal handle. I sank down too, my back pressed against the shed door, shards of rust-coloured paint sticking to the fibres of the sweater. Exhausted, I looked over at Luann and asked her if she was okay. She was, but still leaned over and rested her forehead on my shoulder. I bent my arm up at an awkward angle and in the most “just friends” gesture I could think of, patted her three times on the back. In much the same way you would reward a dog for bringing back a Frisbee.
And that’s when I saw them. Standing at the back door of her house, staring out at us from the steps, mouth agape with amusement dancing in their eyes, stood Luann’s brother and an assortment of guys; all charter members of the cool kids gang.
“What are you doing?” her brother yelled out at us, laughing slightly.
Luann could fell me tense up underneath her. She could probably feel my heart rate speed up, and hear the thoughts running through my head “How long have they been there?” “How much did they see?” “How badly will I want to die tomorrow when they talk about it on the bleachers to their little clique at lunch?” So, without lifting her head from my shoulder, savoring the last few second of physical contact between us (all that she’d ever get out of me). She screamed back, in a tone so harsh it stopped the laughter so close to erupting from the other boy’s lips.
“WE COULDN’T GET THE SHED OPEN!”
It was a statement that required no follow up questions and Luann certainy did not sound like she would entertain regardless. So, just like that it was over. And that’s all we spoke of the incident. Our audience had broken the magic spell we had cast over ourselves, and now in the cold, hard, light, of their stares, we could pretend no longer. Thankfully the demon was vanquished, but that offered us very little comfort. No one understood what we were doing, and even if we had explained what exactly we were doing they wouldn’t believe us. Not knowing what else to do, and because I couldn’t make eye contact with Luann for probably the next six weeks, I let out a long huff, slapped my hands on my knees and said:
“Well, I better get going home.” And stood, shaking Luann from my shoulder and bolting past the group of guys I’d have to face in the halls the next day, and ran the few blocks to my sister’s house, where I tried as hard as I could to forget the embarrassment grenade that had just deployed all over me.
In the intervening years I’ve tried hard to forget the events of that day. Embarrassment crashes down upon me, in tsunami type waves whenever I think about it. And not merely because we were caught in the act of make-believing long after it was cute, but because we had to live with the memory of how caught up in something we both got. Luann probably handled it better than I did, at least she had a cause that bellied her actions. My motivation was entirely my own, and therefore the blame can fall only on me.
Or Shannon Doherty.