My feet hurt like hell and I was so tired of talking about myself I was ready to drop. Worst of all, I’d had a real bra on all day and my boobs were rebelling. They’d forgotten all about being propped up and strapped down. They didn’t need to say anything, they were making themselves very well understood. Such weary discomfort was not a good sign, given that the semester had yet to begin.
It was back to school week, and as a new faculty member, I was being put up for show and tell to the board members. The day had included formal introductions at the full faculty meeting, lunch with myriad academic vice presidents, and was winding down with dinner and an open bar at the president’s beautiful home.
Not bad digs for a nun, I must say. The bar was set up on a meticulously landscaped and maintained patio area just beyond a sparkling blue swimming pool. The formalities of the day were behind me, the yet to come was small talk with the money handlers, The Board, those folks who managed the mammon on behalf of god and the sisters.
I was ready for a drink, or two. Two would have to be my limit, otherwise I might head off to the restroom and take off the instrument of torture than was so tormenting the ladies. That probably would not have worked well with my white silk blouse.
I excused myself from conversation with one old coot and headed over to the bar for a glass of wine. Another woman arrived there as I did.
“What would you like, Sister?” The nice young man serving drinks was addressing her.
“I’d like a forty year old single malt scotch, Dearie, but I suppose a glass of white wine will have to do.” I liked her already. She turned to me. “You must be one of the new recruits. I’m Lucille, and pleased to meet you.” She held up her glass in salute and took a sip. “Have you found a seat for dinner yet?
You’re welcome to join me.”
“Hi Lucille. I’m Brooke and I’d love to join you!” It was true. She had such a strong vibe of combined wisdom and wit that I was totally drawn in to it. “I’ll have a glass of the Pinot Grigio, since I don’t see any tequila.” I winked at Lucille and she smiled at me.
“Oh, you and I are going to get along fine, I can tell.” She led the way over to a table for two in the corner. I was so happy to get out of the spotlight I could have kissed her.
“The food here is all so fabulous, even the presentation. It sure is a far cry from what was available at the pubic university I just came from.” Small talk, just a few more hours of it and then I could go home.
“It’s deliciously ostentatious bullshit is what it is”. She took another sip of wine. “It’s really quite a shame that this is how we attract students these days. But I suppose I shouldn’t be saying such things to the new hires, should I?”
Ah, apparently Lucille didn’t do small. I liked her even more. I grinned at her.
“Oh, I appreciate your candor and know exactly what you’re saying. Of course I’d best not be agreeing with you out loud, not at this stage in the game.” I’d also best not get caught up in matching her on the wine, she was clearly no slouch.
“Yes, that’s true. I’m at the stage of doing mostly what I please. Mostly.” Her smile dimmed a little as Sister Pauline le Taureau, the big boss of the U, approached our table.
“Ah, Dr. Schaufelkot! I see you’ve met our past President, Sister Lucille.” Sr. le Taureau’s name had obviously been divinely conferred. She was bullish. It fit with her focus on marketing and not education. She had something to sell, not knowledge to offer. I chastised myself for being so judgmental, until the two white pines we were sitting beneath were even more so.
Bitch said the first.
But such a bullish bitch said the second.
I just smiled, mainly to compose myself while I did the same with my response.
“Yes, we were just talking about how lovely and delicious the dinner is, don’t you agree?” My smile was genuine, as Lucille was making faces at her colleague behind her back.
“Our customers demand quality food for their children. It’s one of our top selling points.” She turned to face Lucille, who was transitioning from cross-eyed lip pursing to another sip of wine.
“Isn’t that right Lucille?” The threat in her voice was unmistakable.
“Well, it surely isn’t the quality of education we’re offering. I suppose good food is as strong a selling point as any”. Lucille smiled sweetly and again raised her glass and said “´A votre santé”.
“Well, yes.” Sr. Pauline turned and stormed away.
Apparently I’d found a soul sister at my new job.
I also found a savior.
We first met during the course of my interview. After surviving the day long run through the rite of MajQa, Rennie and I did a little R’uustai over the beer that he and I and our three other colleagues within my new department shared at my interview dinner. That dinner led one of the three to reject me outright, and his sidekick naturally did the head bobbing he’d been trained to do very well by the time of the Mek’ba of my hiring decision.
During that dinner, I’d made the near fatal mistake of making a comment about the challenges of teaching evolution in the bible belt to a bunch of fundamentalist Christians. As it turned out, the guy who so loathed me from that point on was pretty hard fundamental in that department himself. Oops.
Ren, on the other had, was a hard core atheist who also happened to hold a Masters’ degree in theology. He and I got off on some philosophical discussion after my statement while the other guy started working on ways to crucify me. Little did he know that he’d find me within a year standing before him shouting “Qab jIH nagil! “ All that aside, over the course of my year there, Rennie and I became fast friends.
Our daily discussions were far more of a philosophical bent and did not include tales of talking monkeys, although we did cover some pretty cosmic ground. We discussed things like Zen and Catholicism, fate and free will, karma, and the relationship between butterfly wings and hurricanes.
“You know, Ren, every event that’s occurred on earth over the past 3.8 billion years had to occur just as it did for you and I to end up here having lunch together.” It was a joy to throw those zingers out there to start a conversation. I enjoyed messing with his atheism much more than with the other guy’s dogmatism.
“Don’t be ridiculous, Brooke. While it’s true that my parents had to meet for me to exist, that doesn’t mean that it was destined or anything. It just happened. Shit just happens sometimes.” Lots of shit had happened to Ren, so his attitude was actually a pretty healthy one, I guess. I smiled at him.
“You’re a very wise man for one so young, my friend. Lucille tells me that you’ve got an old soul, and I’d say that I have to agree.” Lucille knew Rennie well. It seemed everyone on campus knew Ren well, and all of us adored him. He was an incredibly charismatic young man.
“I’m not so wise, I’m just not a sheep. Too many people are sheep. Hell, most of these kids around here are total sheep, they need someone to tell them what to do. Half of the faculty and staff are, too.” He was trying to get somewhere with this change of gears, but having trouble deciding which way to turn.
“Is that why they follow you around so much? Are you the good shepherd?” I was really grinning at that point, totally yanking his chain, hoping the real answer would be a whole lot easier. It wasn’t.
“Yes. Somehow I find myself with a cult-like following. They call themselves the Reninites.” He was serious as a heart attack, and I knew it was true. Shocked as I was, I was darned near ready to sign up myself. It honestly shook me.
How, one might ask, would something so simple as an unlikely young man with a group of rapt and religious admirers be more earth moving than a talking monkey or a witch or a ghost? It’s quite simple, really. Once one does learn the language of the spirit world, the truth of its speakers becomes obvious. Ren didn’t see himself for what he really was, something very special indeed. He was right on up there with the Voodoo woman, but her polar opposite. He had a vibe.
I’d found my savior.
The angel didn’t show up in the north country. He was in the holy land of Sedona, Arizona.
As it turned out, the job sucked. It beyond sucked, it was the black hole of suckitude, it drained damned near every erg of energy from my body and soul, day after day. The cosmos had totally shut down on me; the trees had gone dormant for the winter, Bubba was back to speaking strictly feline, and I developed what could have blossomed into a near fatal attraction for good red wine in response.The only thing that gave me the courage to return after my first semester there was Rennie and his warm companionship. When spring break rolled around, I was way past ready to get away from the cold and do some hiking and spa time. There’s no better place to put those two loves together than Sedona. It’s a great place to reconnect with the cosmos.
Before meeting the angel, who passed a gift on to me, I apparently passed something I didn’t even know I was carrying around to someone else. Funny how that works.
I’d booked a few days at the Yah-Ha-Say resort in one of the redrock canyons there. It is an incredibly ostentatious and ridiculously expensive place, one where a person can choose to regress to past lives or have her aura photographed. I wasn’t in to such things, I wanted world class massage, which typically goes along with lots of New Age hoo-ha. I also wanted to be close enough to some of the holy sites there to pay them a visit. I wasn’t a complete cynic, just a person who trusts the land and its spirit more often than its human inhabitants.
Sadly, the spa had apparently really upped its staff for the week of spring break for the students and spring training for baseball, and I’d been disappointed by a couple of rookies. The woman to whom I passed the gift, on the other hand, worked magic on me.
“Do I know you?” was the first thing she asked. That was not a typical question preceding a massage, but not unreasonable, either. I’d spent over a decade down in the Phoenix metro area and had visited Sedona many times.
“I don’t think so, but there’s no telling. I lived in Tempe for a long time, went to school there.”
“Ah, maybe that’s it, you seem very familiar. I used to work at Monty’s, was a waitress there for years” she said.
“Oh”. I wasn’t sure how to proceed, so I did what I usually do in such cases and stumbled along blindly. I’d never eaten there, it was quite upscale and out of my price range. “I was with Monty when he died. I used to work at Tempe St. Luke’s.”
I said it as I climbed up on the table for the Thai massage scheduled, while Tina prepared herself to stretch me to my limits.
The death of Monty was one I remembered well. He was a much beloved restauranteur and rather famous in town. He was a very old man and his time had come, but his family was taking it to the limit and he was in full code when they brought him into the ER. I was under the gurney trying to get blood from a body whose heart was no longer beating while a priest gave us both last rites.
A few tears slid down Tina’s cheeks. Something told me that she and Monty had been more than just friends. As she worked her wonders on my fatigued body, she seemed to draw something from it, some energy that had been held there for too long. It transformed both of us for the better. It rejuvenated me so much that I decided to hike on up to the vortex site the next morning.
It was an easy hike and offered a lovely view. Since it was so early in the day, I had the spot to myself. Well, almost to myself; I was the only human around, at least on the way up. Now that I think back on it, perhaps I was the only one on the way down, too.
When I got to the top, I offered some of my water to an old juniper as I sat down to contemplate life. It thanked me.
Although I didn’t make any decisions about what to do with myself, the beauty of the place and the companionship of the ancient one offered me a level of comfort impossible to describe. Ironically, the angel I encountered on the way down did not. I was still too cynical to recognize him. Luckily, he didn’t mind.
I almost ran in to him as I rounded a large boulder on the trail.
“The spirits thank you for your kindness to old lady Tsin on the mesa. Kachina woman told me to give this to you. You will know when to pass it on”. The man was old and silver haired, with skin the color of the red rocks of the canyon. He looked remarkably like the food vendor in Atlanta.
He handed me a heart shaped red rock.
“I don’t have any money on me”. I assumed he was looking for a hand-out. He simply shook his head and walked on by up the trail, around the boulder.
Oh what the hell, I thought, I can give him a few bucks. It’s got to be really hard trying to make a living out here, most of the folks at the spa probably never come up this way.
I turned and headed back the way I’d come, he couldn’t have gotten far. Apparently he had, though, he was nowhere to be found.
It took some time to find the family the heart was meant for, but I found them. Or maybe we found each other. But I’d best not get ahead of myself, there are still dragons and trolls to meet.
Linda Brooke Stabler, Ph.D.